20 September 2017

All Teh Feelz

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JMJ

Today's readings:


Dixit Jesus, "Cui ergo similes dicam homines generationis hujus? et cui similes sunt? Similes sunt pueris sedentibus in foro, et loquentibus ad invicem, et dicentibus: Cantavimus vobis tibiis, et non saltastis: lamentavimus, et non plorastis."
Jesus said, "To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, 'We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.'"
Luke 7:31-32

The first time ever I wrestled with this description I think I imaged that Jesus liked "the people of this generation", or at least pitied them. Pity, in a way, may be a good word, but like is not. In fact Jesus is calling them fools. He's also saying they are foolish for all their feelings.  Over and over, it seems to me today's generation(s) are more intune with Jesus' time than we like to admit. 

I recently re-read Calvin Miller's wonderful retelling of the New Testament story, The Singer Trilogy. Chapter 13 opens with this verse:
No person ever is so helpless as
the man in whom joy and misery
sleep comfortably together. 
No physician can give health and
happiness to the man who enjoys
his affliction. For such a man
health and happiness are always
contradictory.
It goes on to tell the story of a man with a maimed hand and arm. The Jesus character (called "The Singer") offers to heal the man fully if he "will just desire it whole and believe it can be." The man cannot do so, for his whole being is subsumed in the pain, almost as though to be healed would be to rob him of his being. In response to repeated offers to heal him, the man says only, "Stop your mocking. I am a sick old man whom life has cheated of a hand." In the end the Singer leaves the man alone and in pain waiting "for the Singer to join him in his pity."

So many of our stories today are about people who don't want healing, they want mutual pity. They don't want a way out, they want to be trapped in their pain, confusion, and lament - and to trap all of us there with them. Their anger forms walls around their pride, their self-definition is generated by negation: I am not-that. Our affirmation of even the possibility of truth causes pain. I wrote yesterday that to save those around us, "The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit." Someone who has been there might have to thread the labyrinth again and slay the Minotaur. 

But who would do that? Who has been there... and wants to go back in? I think Jesus calls each of us to that task. We are, each of us, skilled at some labyrinth somewhere. Go get a ball of thread.




19 September 2017

Enculturated


Today's readings:

Suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate. Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?
He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God?
1 Timothy 3:4-5

It sounds odd to our ears to read this for three reasons. One: since the 70s, at least, these have been shared duties - in theory. Two: for the 200 years or so prior to that, although the man was the "head of the house" the woman was the manager. We see this in such bizarre images as the 50s housewife, and the Grand Dames of Downton Abbey. Even downstairs, Carson may be the muckety muck, but it is Mrs Hughes that actual runs all things - even Carson.

The third reason this sounds odd: no one does adulting any more. Managing a house? Blergh.

Jesus raising from the dead the son of the widow of Nain is often seen as an act of cultural compassion. The woman had no man to fend for her, she was to become an outcast. By restoring her son to her, he gives her household a head. So it seems. 

Neither Jesus nor Paul waste a lot energy critiquing the culture in which they find themselves.  Paul makes comments about the sexual morals of the gentiles, Jesus makes comments about the religious liberals of his day being "whited sepulchers", but in the end, neither says "boo" about the Roman power structure, or the ways different groups of people are treated in the society.  Jesus doesn't question Pilot's authority over him, Paul blatantly appeals to Caesar in an attempt to get away from his own people. 

Paul appeals to the family structure of the time. Jesus uses the political, ethnic, and religious forces in his homeland to God's greater glory.

Does this mean "God approves these things" and "cultures at variance are to be considered sinful"? 

What about rather, at minimum: God uses what's there. God starts where people are and moves them to where they need to be. God leaves none of us unchanged, sinful, alone. But God gets to us where we are.

I've been thinking about the Story of St Mary of Egypt a lot recently. Very brief, Mary enjoyed sex. A lot. In fact, she did a lot of things just to have sex - or to have time to have the sex she wanted to have. She's very clear: she didn't sell her body for money. She was doing this because she enjoyed doing it. One day she saw a bunch of young men waiting for a boat and, flirting with them, she discovered they were going to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Places and attend the Elevation of the Holy Cross - a feast we celebrated last week. She decided that all these youths on a boat was too much fun to pass up and when they said "you need money to get on the boat" she said, "Take me with you, you'll not find me superfluous". And they all had sex all that time...

When she got to Jerusalem, some invisible, spiritual force kept her from entering the Church.

Realizing this "force" is her own sin, she prays before an Image of the Virgin and asks for grace to venerate the cross... which she does... and then she begins 40 years of struggle to get back to purity.

God got her.

God used her own addictions to pull her to him.

And then got her. Grace builds on nature. It is our weakness that lets God take the lead.

What if God does that even to cultures? 

A slow process of meditative, prayerful change brought out of the death-happy world of Rome (where the Father of the House could expose a child or an older person on the hillside just to improve the economics) a Christian culture of life where abortion, euthanasia, political murder, even war itself was seen as sinful. How did that happen? And where did it go?

Today we struggle with the same sort of Questions. How do we engage the culture without becoming contaminated by it? How do we dance the Gospel in the world without becoming part of that world ourselves? Can we use the internet for evangelization? Is there a place for technology? What do we do with all this sex?

Rome has come back with a vengeance.

Can we walk alongside the culture and find the good things, and let grace build on nature? The Salvation of many depends on the answer. The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.

18 September 2017

May G-d Bless & Keep the Tzar...

+
JMJ

Today's Readings:


Obsecro igitur primum omnium fieri obsecrationes, orationes, postulationes, gratiarum actiones, pro omnibus hominibus: pro regibus, et omnibus qui in sublimitate sunt, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate: hoc enim bonum est, et acceptum coram Salvatore nostro Deo, qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri, et ad agnitionem veritatis venire.
First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

St Paul, writing to St Timothy, says Christians should pray for all in authority. The emperor Paul wants us to pray for, here, is Nero. This is important. Why? Because I don't think we have a choice. No choice at all: our duty is to be in the world as the soul is in the body, as leaven is in flour. We have a job to do.

What this means is we need to praying hard for President Trump.

And what should we be praying for, what are we commanded to pray for? That he will keep the peace long enough to let the Church be the Church, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate, in all piety and chastity, to use a bad English rendering of Jerome's word choice here. The Greek includes elements of dignity, probity, and purity. Gravitas might have been a better Latin word (building on the Pagan Roman virtues as understood then). Translation always leads to simplifications. Castitate includes emotional and physical elements that can be understood to include modesty, will, the affections, and all the senses, also our interactions with our memories, fantasies, conscience, etc. "Chastity" however, sounds like a code word for "not having sex". So, ok, the NABRE goes for "dignity".  I prefer Courage to Dignity, as the former is more Catholic. But I see where the NABRE was going with it, anyway.

That's it, really. I think there's nothing wrong with writing letters to the Emperor to say, "You did a bad thing", but the whole point is to get the gov't to let the Church be the Church. To let Christians get about, quietly and unmolested, being Christians at each other and the world. We don't need an assist from any of the political parties. Our job is not to force the gov't to be Christian (although if Christians get into Gov't that is *exactly* their job). But rather, our job is to subvert the order: keep things quite out there, we're saving the world.

Our job is not to overthrow the unjust, nor to change the laws. Our job is to ignore them, subvert them, live as if they didn't exist. Can the Church decide that someone has to go? Yes, the Pope's the Vicar of Christ. But until then, pray for peace and do the Kingdom's work in the vast expanse of interstitial space-time. Do it even if the Emperor isn't doing his job at keeping the peace.

Take as your example all those first century protests, barricades, bottle rockets, picket lines, and letter writing campaigns. They didn't make saints then... they won't do it now.

Pray, and do.

I'll close with Merton, from the Seven Storey Mountain.



15 September 2017

At the Cross her Station Keeping

+
JMJ

Today's readings:
"Behold, your mother."

After the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (yesterday) comes the commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows, noting, as St Simeon prophesied, a sword has pierced Our Lady's heart.  Mary stands at the foot of the cross experiencing loss, a deep painful loss that anyone can understand if they have seen a parent mourn the loss of a child: especially a young child, but any child dying before the parent at all triggers this grief. I think it's something we all can see - the thought that "I should not be here, parents are supposed to die first." 

And this adds to Jesus' pain as well, God knows this grief, the pain of watching his own mother suffer, of being unable to help her, to comfort her.

But Mary knows the grief, also, of a widow. There is this image at my parish of the Death of St Joseph, that is so tender, so loving. Joseph laying in Mary's arms, while Jesus commends Joseph's soul (in the form of a dove) to heaven. God, too, has experienced this grief: of watching a parent die; of being unable to help his mother even then.

And so this goes on: When God reaches adulthood and must leave home, must leave his widowed mother alone. And her in the keeping of the family, perhaps, or maybe just alone with people to look in on her from time to time. God has things to do, the Cat's in the Cradle, as the song goes. It's time to move on, there are things to do: taking care of Mother has to be left as a lesser good. And she knows this - but both feel the pain.

Our Lady knows our pains as well as her divine Son does. She is faithful through them. When she said yes to the incarnation she opened the door to all this pain, all this sorrow. She didn't know about this stuff at that point. It was all coming though, site unseen she accepted it.

That is our lot as well.

Baptism is a road, a journey. As Bilbo said to Frodo, “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

We may bite off more than we think we can chew. Or we may find ourselves alone - quite literally - with no one except God.

And in the end.. what? What comfort in knowing that Mary and Jesus have a sense of this?

I've been obsessed for the last few weeks with this line from the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast; this image from after the first Easter, maybe after the Ascension, or some other point... of Jesus meeting Abba Yosef in heaven... and just... crying. Hugging. Abba... Daddy.  Although the Second Person of the Trinity was never parted from the Father on the Throne of Glory in Heaven, the baby, Jesus, did not have the brain, the words, the mental skills to know anything (for he was Fully Human) to see aught but the Momma, and the Daddy. And when formulating an image for others of God the Father, Abba Yosef would have been part of that... and they meet in heaven. There is joy and love.

Then a few cosmic moments laters - years later on Earth - when Mary arrives and there is a reunion of the family, the Holy Family, and like the Patriarch Joseph in Egypt, all of God's household knows and there is rejoicing.

And in the time of all the things, where we are, in the space where there is real sadness and pain, God has stood here and known it intimately. All of our sorrows, all of the swords in our hearts lead only to our salvation. They have been turned from our pain to our healing, by this love, this divine Charity, that doesn't undo our damage, but repurposes it. The deep magic can't be undone, but the deeper magic from before time can change and redirect it.

Mary stands weeping at the foot of the Cross - as do we - and in that weeping: salvation.

Love wins.

14 September 2017

We wanna go back to Egypt.

+
JMJ
Today's readings:
Cur eduxisti nos de Ægypto, ut moreremur in solitudine? deest panis, non sunt aquæ: anima nostra jam nauseat super cibo isto levissimo.
Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!
Number 21:5b

We would never raise our voices against the Lord and against Lord's anointed like they did in Moses' day!

Certainly not.
You can't count complaining about the current president.
Or the congress.
Nor the economy.
These are not the same thing

You can't count our complaining about the weather.
About the state of the culture.
You can't count our complaining about the Bishops.
Or about what the Pope may or may not do when he's on an airplane.

This has nothing to do with whining about crime
Or about persecution of Catholics.
Surely we should be ok moaning about the healthcare system
or the state of sexual morals and murdered babies.

We would never

Then again, we might.

And God calls us to look at the Cross and be healed.
But, you will say, such contemplative action cannot fix healthcare or the climate.
It will never stop monks who murder in hospitals
Or bishops who want to juggle at mass.
It cannot heal the racial divide or wound to death our sexual pride.
We must do something.

Yes: look at the Cross and be healed.

Have you even tried?
Do you even contemplate, bro?

Be quiet before the Cross
As Mary and John were
As time stands still and opens up across all dimensions at every liturgy.
Behold the wood on which hung the price of the world's salvation.

Just there, the eye of the storm of all time and space.

There.

Silence and stillness.

It is finished.

Have you even tried this?

Really.

It's the answer.




13 September 2017

Pie in the Sky By and By When You Die


Today's readings:
Beati pauperes, quia vestrum est regnum Dei.
Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Luke 6:20b

It seems entirely possible to read this and other passages as if God likes poor people and hates the rich, as if there are so many ways that the poor are blessed in the afterlife - and the rich are damned - that it must be quite easy to "buy your way into heaven" by getting rid of all your stuff. That reading can work really well for a certain sort of activist who wants to overthrow the system and make everyone "equal", whatever that might mean. It also works equally well for another sort of activist who wants to condemn all religion as the opiate of the masses.

It is not so: there is no state on this life that will "fix" us in this problem. St Basil says (emphasis added):
Not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us. For the Lord Himself has fulfilled every work which leads to happiness, leaving Himself an example for us to follow.
You are not virtuous simply because you are poor. Wealth, per se, is not listed among the sins, but pride and envy are, both.

In the Gospel, however, we have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn't have time to care about our political squabbles.

St Ambrose of Milan notes (emphasis again added):
But although in the abundance of wealth many are the allurements to crime, yet many also are the incitements to virtue. Although virtue requires no support, and the offering of the poor man is more commendable than the liberality of the rich, still it is not those who possess riches, but those who know not how to use them, that are condemned by the authority of the heavenly sentence. For as that poor man is more praiseworthy who gives without grudging, so is the rich man more guilty, who ought to return thanks for what he has received, and not to hide without using it the sum which was given him for the common good. It is not therefore the money, but the heart of the possessor which is in fault. And though there be no heavier punishment than to be preserving with anxious fear what is to serve for the advantage of successors, yet since the covetous desires are fed by a certain pleasure of amassing, they who have had their consolation in the present life, have lost an eternal reward. 
St John Chrysostom would warn that all of us are in danger of condemnation:
The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.
I've noted, often, a desire to care for the poor in abstract, but not in specifics. A desire to run charities, while at the same time a fear of the poor procreating; a desire to educate, but not to evangelize (cuz, why would they want to come to our church?). There are people who smell out there. The first time I heard Christians not wanting to let "them" into "our" church was not with Joel Osteen was worried about Hurricane Harvey, but rather back at the turn of the century when a nice Episcopal congregation was afraid that feeding the homeless on Friday would mess things up too much for liturgy Sunday.

We're really scared of the lower classes in this country: see how easily a populist political movement that, a few years ago, would have been called part of the 99%, is now called "deplorables". We're ok with poverty in the abstract, but not in the particular.

Jesus was, I think, mostly poor and perhaps often homeless. But not always. But he was always from among the laboring class: lower class, smelly, sweaty. Pious. But not always the "best class". God has no preferential option for the poor in terms of salvation. And, even if there was such a thing, here in the first world, with you reading my essays on the internet, neither of us qualify. We're rich.

And condemned. We can all be equally warned by the words of St Paul, Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Jesus wants to draw us all into his Kingdom. With man - and our political aspirations - this is not possible. But with God, all things are possible. We're left holding the bag of junk and our job is to give the junk away to those who have none and then offer all of it to Christ. 

11 September 2017

Making Up for Whatever is Lacking


+J+M+J+



Today's readings:
Adimpleo ea quæ desunt passionum Christi, in carne mea pro corpore ejus, quod est Ecclesia.
In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church...
Colossians 1:24b

You have to admit that's a shocker.

Paul, who is not God, saying his pains somehow complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions? The Greek word rendered in Latin as "desunt" is ὑστέρημα, husteréma, meaning "lacking" but also "a defect". It's a strong word here.

The Anglicans, contra St Paul's divinely inspired teaching, underscore what most of us modern folks (I dare say, many Catholics as well) would understand as the truth, that Christ on Calvary, made "by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world". We'll get into the daily, omnipresent Eucharistic Oblation at another time, but today let's let the Anglican formulary (and what I presume is the understanding of most modern folks about Jesus' actions) wrestle with St Paul's idea that he can add something to Jesus' sufferings.

Follow me here.

Jesus says: Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do to me.
Paul says: For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ...and are made one in Christ.
Jesus goes further and says: As the Father has loved me (which love we understand to be the Holy Spirit) so have I loved you; and we are also to love one another.
Even Cramner says that in the Eucharist we are made "very members incorporate in the mystical body of" Jesus.

By Baptism and Eucharist, by our incorporation into the Body of Christ, we participate fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do not thereby exhaust the power of God in those actions (which is infinite) but rather make those actions present in place and time. Our simple somatic presence in this world is replaced by God's divine Zoe, the life of Christ. 

What happens to us - in that state of Grace - is part of the Passion of Christ.

And all of our lives, if properly offered to God, can partake of that divine transaction. 

Thus our suffering - our back pains, our arthraticky, our lumbago, our agony over the place of America in the world, our wrestling with the ideas of the current political climate, our pain at feeling rejected for our faith, our humility in submitting to an unjust boss or landlord, our willingness to go without so that our children might not go hungry, our setting aside a former life, our chastity, our abstention from meat or any other thing that is good by itself, our pains of withdrawals, our doing without an extra vacation or winter coat so that others might have one winter coat... these are now all become the action of Christ in his redemption of the World if they are offered up in that way, apud Josephum per Mariam ad Jesum
Dearest Jesus, after the example of the Chaste Heart of Joseph and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all of my plans, dreams, and intentions, all of my thoughts, words, and deeds, all of my joys and sufferings, my hopes and fears, all of my crosses and crowns of this day and all of my life, all for the intentions of thy Sacred heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope.