27 July 2017

To Them It Has Not Been Granted


Today's readings:

Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
Matthew 13:11

I am coming to you in a dense cloud, 
so that when the people hear me speaking with you, 
they may always have faith in you also.
Exodus 19:9

One of the things that gripes me most is when someone who rejects the scriptures wholeheartedly tries to tell me what they mean.

I don't care if that's your average person-on-the-street who says "let me tell you what you're doing wrong", or the historian who makes shibboleths of science, the textual critic who wants the scriptures to have no content; or the liberal who wants to turn it all into useless poetry and left wing politics, the fundie who wants to lick the text looking for the macrodot of right-wing acid, and instead is just left with a sour taste in their mouth because ink is not salvific.

As God did to Moses, so he did to the Church: imparting the meaning of the text: it's the Church's job to teach us. And our job to learn from her. Nowhere does any part of the scripture, read in the context of the rest of the text, say "You (singular, second person) can tell what this means." For God imparts the wisdom to "Y'all (plural, second person) by the Holy Spirit will be lead into all Truth." And it is in his Church, the pillar and ground of the truth, that "y'all" are. 
 And the minute someone says "but wait... my Bible says..." you're in the wrong classroom.

If you want the truth: go to the source - which isn't the text, at all, but the Spirit of God living in his Church, and the Logos of God, spoken only once for all time in Jesus.

21 July 2017

Book Meditation: Why I Don't Call Myself Gay (Part 2)



This is part 2, thinking about Daniel C. Mattson's Why I Don't Call Myself Gay. For part 1, now see here.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of Mattson's book move in a wide arc from theology to friendship, from love to loneliness. There are ample quotes from his journals, and there are odd moments where I nearly threw the book across the room (and, especially, two places where I wrote "no" in the margins).

Part 3, How to Run the Race: Living Out the Daily Battle for Chastity, saddles up along side part 1 as the best sections of the book, most especially the chapter entitled "The Wisdom and Example of the Saints." I need to know very little about how they teach gender theory to kindergartners (which is covered in the blogger-voiced part 2) but I need to know a lot more about the saints! This section, citing saints from Cyprian of Antioch and Basil the Great to Ignatius of Loyola and Alphonsus Liguori, is filled with encouragement, and acknowledgement that many of our saints were scoundrels, and not a few of them helped rescue people that make my life seem rather pedestrian. Lots more of this is needed! The Story of St Mary of Egypt, advice from Pope St John Paul, St Francis, St Benedict... St Teresa of Calcutta... there's so much out there. That this chapter was so short and so good, though, points to what I think was a major failing.

There are no demons in this book; no, nor angels.

In fact, the book seems largely, psychotherapeutic rather than, to coin a term, nousotherapeutic. This follows in the footsteps of many a modern (pardon the language) Western and a few modern Eastern Christian writers who forget the Christian Anthropology taught by the saints. We don't need Freud, Jung, or any other modern pagans to enlighten the teachings of a Liguori or Loyola. This school of thought seems to treat our temptations as, largely, a psychological issue, and hardly at all as a spiritual malady; always addressed in a mental rather than spiritual way, as in a school of prayer. A good confessor or spiritual director/spiritual father knows that Psychology might get to the root of how this happened, but it won't fix the who or why as effectively as a prayer against demons who inhabit spiritual wounds, who lurk in dark places in the soul, ready to trip or trigger us. Yet we like to sound modern and scholarly. Even the good Fr Benedict Groeschel in his brilliant "Courage to be Chaste" makes this a mostly psychological and moral issue, rather than a spiritual one. (At one point Groeschel even makes fun of those who used spiritual weapons without seeking a psychological cure, and so fell.)

Our weakness may result from fault lines in our psychological makeup, scored by parents, teachers, bullies, or ourselves. However it takes a Nephew Wormwood or Uncle Screwtape to bring them to full flower and it takes our own willing, human dance to keep them going. The verse that needs to be at the heart of every Christian's struggle for chastity is Ephesians 6:12: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our psychological damage (real enough) or our culture, our nurture, whatever, is nothing until it's taunted, teased, and bullied out into full on fantasy life (the prideful fantasy of an existence lived contra the plan of Life). I think the author gave himself too much credit in the creation of his mistakes, to be honest. And likewise, it is the angels on our side that help us fight the warfare that leads us to victory. Mattson does advise fasting, prayer, Adoration, and frequent recourse to the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, but the Church is filled with other weapons for use in this Angelic Warfare. In a how-to book like this there could be nearly half-again as many pages of prayers, novenas, listings of confraternities, prayer groups, etc. (Liturgy of the Hours and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity do get footnotes.)

In part 4, there is a wonderful essay on the language of "Disorder". It talks about how we are all out of order, how we are all working our way back into God's pattern for life. I find language of disorder to be liberating. This chapter gave me so very much support in that area! My mind was blown by the passages regarding the human reproductive system. I remember sex ed, where the teacher in Monticello, NY, taught us all the stuff about zygotes, spermatozoa, and all the rest. Yet it never dawned on me until reading this book the the "human reproductive system" is entirely split in two. It's two three-piston halves of a six-piston engine. It's an organic system in two parts. I'm sure that's clear as day to readers who are married, but welcome to my brain. My grasp of the Church's teaching (following Aristotle as much as Moses) that function follows form, that form dictates telos, that the shapes and meaning of bodies are self-evident, was just abstract to me until I read that passage. Recognizing disorder also results in hope - for order, for direction.

The passages on friendship were, again, autobiographical and I did recognize some of my own missteps. But the blogger's voice returned here. The reader felt sorry for the friend (the pseudonymous Jake) who seems to have endured rather a long friendship with the author and also gets to endure it again in the reading of the book. I was happy to learn so much about my own mistakes, but I felt sorry for Jake that he was made to be the Example. (Unless Jake is a hybrid of several people...)

There was a chapter on loneliness. I didn't identify very well here, so, maybe I'm not as introverted as I thought, or maybe I've just gotten used to it, or maybe I'm in denial. But alone time, for me, is different from loneliness. The author shares some very painful moments, some very jarring images of emotional pain. I nearly tossed the book away when he compares this to a story from a Nazi concentration camp and learning to "offer it up" for the salvation of the world. It was at that point in reading that I began to wonder uncharitably if there would ever be a spiritual cure here.

Today (Thursday, as I write), coincidentally, I listened to a Byzantine Catholic priest in a podcast talk about getting away from his loneliness by taking all the money in his wallet and buying McDonalds gift cards and giving them away to strangers on the street. I remember a priest in confession telling me to get out of the house, to go to the park, to just sit there and be with people. The cure for loneliness is love: self-giving to other people; to will the good of another. I feel the walls of loneliness closing in on me when I listen to music in my headphones as a way to avoid talking to homeless people. Open up, give, share. It's the cure.

The author is happy in church, but he talks very little about it. It comes up in the acknowledgements, so I know he's doing it! But the Church is also the cure here. St John Paul reminds us
For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church - the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate - must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'
Pope St John Paul II Familiaris Consortio
So I think there's a challenge here - to elicit more writing from Mr Mattson. He's come so far, and there's so much more to do! There's the Rosary and daily mass, there's mens fellowships and choir. There's a whole spiritual side to this battle that I think he's using that wasn't in the book. I'm leery of over-psychologizing this: that's the weapons of the other side. We have entire armies of majestic fear and disarming beauty on our side. Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17) and we have a cloud of witnesses around us. We are never alone in this battle.

I'm getting off track. I want to close with this other thought... there's a temptation to cave into the cultural war.

Christians are seemingly aligned with one or another side of this war, but I don't think that's right. Our battle is not with flesh and blood. It's certainly not with political parties or politicians. When we let our writing (about chastity, about liturgy, about whatever...) get suckered into the political sphere, we are in danger of losing our prophetic voice. There is only one illustration in Mattson's book. If a random reader were to pick this up in a bookstore and flip through, it's likely that that one illustration would catch their eye - it's the rather controversial sheet explaining gender theory to young kids. Our hypothetical shopper will, likely, judge the whole book on page 99. I'm not sure that's a good thing. I sold an article once to Touchstone Magazine. It became the go-to thing for a time, as far as SSA was concerned. It was edited to avoid the context of a then-recent Episcopal Election in Massachusetts, and turned into a full-on broadside against the gay movement. At the time I didn't care: cuz I got published! But later, I regretted it. Once in awhile I used to get an emails about it, but they are all some version of "See, I knew we were right..." and I think, "I never reached anyone with this, only confirmed people's hate."

Preaching to the choir is much easier than preaching to the Areopagus. But the latter is what is needed.

When we realize that our sins are our own dance with the devil, when we realize that our family, God's Church, stands ready to help us, we finally have very little time to worry about the people we used to sin with save as regards their souls. In those cases, Bishop Barron is right: leading with "Disorder" may not be the best thing.

Right at the end, I wrote "no" again in the margin. The author seems to be saying "this world sucks and as soon as I can get out I can get to heaven." No. No. No.

A quadrillion times, No.

We're here because we have work to do. We're here because we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We're here because we need to love, more and more and more until that love becomes a fire that consumes us and we merge into the fire of God. We're here to be the fire that consumes the world in love. We are here to struggle against whatever our passions are so that we can learn to love first, in spite of them, then, eventually, to their cure.

One Lent, reading the Life of St Mary of Egypt in the Matins service devoted to her (in the Byzantine rite), I broke down. Another reader had to jump in and read for me. Mary realizes she spent years leading others astray. Having made that realization she prayed for them and their salvation. I'm not quite there yet, but that's where the road to healing lies. We can't go there if we buy into the Cultural War language of us against them which pits humans against humans. There is an us, and there is a them. We are all the humans whom God loves so much he became one of us: them are the demons. Full stop.

Three quarters of this book was so good that I want more of it. I imagine the one-quarter that seemingly caters to "our side" in the Culture War will get quoted more, though. Stuff in the one quarter needs to be said, sometimes; but I think of how little anger one can hear is when certain clergy talk about sexual sins as compared to the anger I nearly always hear coming from people in the middle of this path. We need to wait until we can speak like St Mary of Egypt.

May she pray for us.

19 July 2017

Book Meditation: Why I Don't Call Myself Gay (Part 1)


TL;DR - Good book. Although I've some style issues in Part 2 and 4, all the parts are all engaging and thought provoking. All parts, too, are educational both in a spiritual way (if you want to be a faithful RCC) and in a "getting inside the mind of" way if you don't want to be RCC at all. Excellent as a spiritual guide for the faithful, this book would also be a strong placement alongside other works with differing POV in a group discussion setting in or outside the RCC. 

Back in 2014, reviewing Eve Tushnet's Gay and Catholic, I took issue with her ascribing a sense of beingness to her sexuality. It seemed to me that Eve's approach was "I am this way, and now I have to live - still being this way - into the Church's rules." Reading with her filter in place, it was easy for me, from outside the Roman Church, to interpret all of RCC teaching the same way. My objection to this line of thought as posted in that review was:
I "am" gay because I like sex with guys as I "am" a carnivore because I love bacon. I can be a vegetarian - but I'd still love bacon. I can even be an "ethical vegan", opposed to the anthropocentric use, objectification, and slaughter of other living creatures - but still admit that the taste of bacon is one that I love. I "am" gay rather as I love bacon. It's fun. It's a preference, but it doesn't mean I am gay in my being.
My essential response was "I am Orthodox and a sinner." (You can read: Review part 1 and Review part 2 if you wish.)

Now I'm Catholic, and it is largely because of a group that I met at that time, ironically, as a result of reading Eve's book. I discovered that Eve's tack isn't really all of the RC's teaching. This doesn't surprise me: I'm a convert too.


This idea that one is gay the way one used to be considered male, or white, or 53 years old seems to be common. In fact in a culture where much of what used to pass for "identity" seems fluid, orientation is given an oddly concrete status. It is also rather recent and socially constructed - as people from Foucalt, to Paglia have pointed out. What we do with this sense of being we have, though, that's the important part.

Into this conversation now comes Daniel C. Mattson with his wonderful and challenging Why I Don't Call Myself Gay. It is the spiritual autobiography of a man trying to live faithful to authentic Christianity's teaching on sexuality - towit, that sex as a vibrant and powerful gift from God, is intended to be rightly used in one context, and outside of that context it is not only wrong in a moral and spiritual way but also harmful to the human person.

Liber est omnis divisa in partes quinque.

The whole book is divided in five parts, but I'll address the review in two posts. Here parts 1 and 2, then there will be another post on parts 3, 4, and 5. In defence of this division, I note that Parts 2 & 4 are the ones I had trouble with so that will divide these two posts into "some good/some bad". And I do not want, in any way, for the discussion of the bad to eclipse the good.

Mad props for getting Robert Cardinal Sarah to write the foreword! In the front matter, the book raises a crucial issue: Cardinal Sarah and Fr Paul Check (writing in the introduction) both point out that we need a Church that moves along side of those who are struggling. Tushnet points this out as well. Two of my brothers in Christ recently punched a hole in my gut talking (also in two parts) about the compassion that Catholics need to feel along side these struggles (The Catholic Man Show, Episode 61, and Episode 62). A recent movie, called "The Third Way" did this as well. It does my heart good to feel not-alone, but fully a part of the Body of Christ in ways that mere denial or mere affirmation never allowed me to feel.

Part 1 is the most autobiographical. It's the story of a boy conceived on the night of the first Moon Landing (I rather like that story more than mine, which involves the weekend of the JFK assassination, but anyway...) and who grows up feeling lost among boys and men who are athletic and jocular, easy going with themselves, confident and outgoing with women. His own sense of inadequacy was such that he got turned in on himself.

It continues with him sexualizing these feelings, and then finding ways to express those sexualized feelings. Once the feelings get sexualized, then it becomes only a matter of finding ways to express them.

It's worth a read: I had the exact same experience. All the way through I was like "um, wow."  And the same story came up again in another place recently, a film. So alike were Daniel's story to the other story that I had to jump to the film's credits to see if this were not the same guy! There may be a number of reasons for having these feelings, but "Falling for the guy I want to be" and then sexualizing it seems to be the most common one. It also explains why some men get locked into dating the same aged guys over and over again: that's the age that one wants to be, wants to be for ever, that one keeps trying to "fix".

There were a couple of places where my experience parted from Mattson's path, most notably in his adult attempts at dating women (which I stopped trying to do in college - even then hurting dear friends). Also, I had the departure from the Church phase, coming back at about the same time as the author, although I only had anger at the Church - in a real sense - for a couple of years in my darkest occult phase. Still, the author's stories of flipping the finger at a church made perfect sense - and I've seen others do it as well whenever they passed a church.

The sense of disempowerment in the World of Men becomes, itself, the driving force. Although Daniel is not going to get to this phase (or if he did, he didn't discuss it), the inadequacy and downward spiral can continue, until - far from eroticising the men you wish you were like - you end up eroticising the inadequacy itself. You stop acting the role of the class clown, the jokes on me, look I'm about to swing a bat... and you end up playing the class fool: go ahead, beat me up, please.

I found this first part as valuable in understanding the spiritual journey as I found parts of Merton's Seven Storey Mountain and for much the same reason: it underscores that no one has a unique story. There is only one story, with variations on the theme. In my pride I want to be the only one. But really, we all have the same story. It only takes the breaking of a rare few things to result in the same scars, the same inflection, the same inversions, as they used to call it. Reading this story though, was earth-shaking. Each moment of "What, you too?" was like a brick gone from my wall: not a loss, for it was never a gain, but still, an absence to be filled by Grace. When the whole wall is gone, then I'll be dead... but it will be a pretty bridge.

The second part, though, I wrestled with. As a blogger I can hear the blogger's voice. This is not a voice for putting thoughts in print. In fact if it had continued for much longer I would have put the book down and written a bad review never realizing there were other parts to read. To my mental ears, this part is Daniel's "I was in Hell" moment. It's his chance to say how unsatisfactory the gay world was. I get that. My experience though is this anger is like admitting one has had sex with an astronomical number of people: it may be true, but the left doesn't care and the right only cares for the scandal. Yes, the idea of "Coming out" is all empty promises. But so what? This seems to be the part of the book written for other people - not for people struggling with church teaching on sex, but people who want to be scandalized or at least titillated about people not wanting to live that way. It's the part that will sell the book to people who don't really care about a collection of struggling Christians, but do want to feel superior to them. This is the part I imagine I'll hear quoted in certain circles - this part and part 5. I'll discuss this more, though, in the second post. Part 2 is not the longest part, though. I agreed with most things said, but it's the tone. (I begin to think tone is everything in Evangelism.)

What else can a book about the sexual teachings in the Church be, but evangelism? As I said, this would be a good book in a discussion group with different points of view. But this book raises some interesting issues - especially in the "this is my life" portion. These are not all comfortable questions, perhaps, for the author. I'll get to them later. But - vague spoiler - here's where I think there is a huge difference between several sorts of books in this genre. They fall on a spectrum:

1) I hate this. I love God.
2) I hate this. I hate God.
3) I love this. I hate God.
4) I love this. I love God.

Each category then asks different questions. All four category can be written with one of four endings:

1) Yes-Gay Yes-God
2) Yes-Gay No-God
3) No-Gay No-God
4) No-Gay Yes-God

Eve Tushnet's book falls into category 3 with something of a 1-4 Hybrid ending. Mattson seems to be a Category 2 with a 4 ending.

I don't think that's good evangelism, but it is a good part of mystagogy, the after- initiation teaching. Tushnet's book was good evangelism in that it'll get you through the door.

I have not yet talked about the title of the book - but the title is why I bought it. In 1995 or 96 I was getting off the N train at 42nd Street with my housemate, Ray. Ray was explaining to me why he didn't feel a part of anything called the gay community. "Basically," he said. "The only thing we have in common is what we like to do in bed. And, really, we don't even have that..." It was a throwaway line that I ruminated on for nearly a decade. We have nothing in common. Wait, if there is no gay community, is there a gay? And all through college and on into adult life, I met well adjusted folks - most of whom were also attracted to the same sex - who said things like "I don't want to be called gay" and "I hate gay as a noun".

The fact that most all of these people were "Teh Ghey" - and sexually active, etc - but yet didn't want to be using the word was interesting to me. And, like I said, made me examine my own thoughts, words, and deeds in this area. There are some that might say most of those folks suffered from some sort of internalized self-hate, but I'm not a psychotherapist and I don't want to diagnose people based on my level of Psych 101 at NYU.

I did feel uncomfortable reading parts of Mattson's book. There were places where he sounded remarkably sound, able to navigate the nuances of a person working out his salvation in fear and trembling. And there were places where he sounded simply hurt and angry. I found myself in those places saying, "I'm not sure what went wrong here, but you don't seem to be telling the whole story." Like in Seven Storey Mountain where Merton never comes clean about fathering a child... but notes his life was a mess sexually. I don't want Mattson to do a kiss and tell chapter, or write out a true confession of his life, but the Bio Part seems a bit short, to be honest, and a bit light on the workings. Has much as I loved it, I wished there had been more.

That would be evangelism, I think. And it would be the blogger's voice rightly used. It may also require a different life pattern - one where "This felt really good" was a thing. I think of St Mary of Egypt, really.  Although, later in life, she realized she had made a grave error - earlier it was not that way. And she was honest about it not being that way. I don't think she laughed or bragged, but she was honest that the younger girl was not prone to really care about morality.

Daniel Mattson's story might work for some while St Mary of Egypt's story works for others.  I hope there's a "Gay St Mary" out there... forgive my phrasing.

In the second posting on this book I will discuss parts 3, 4, and 5. Which I think are the spiritual fruit of Mattson's labor in some ways - and quite well done in all ways.

That's for reading - part 2 is here.

08 July 2017

Run that up the Crucifix and see who genuflects


July Fourth always leaves me wrestling with my identity as a person born in this country. I have very little problem identifying with our past (even the bad parts) but the present has been a problem since, about 1980. That was the time I started to see through our Mythology. I remember one of the youth of our (Methodist) church running upstairs from the polling station, located in our Church's basement, to announce that Ronald Reagan had won in our tiny little town of Rock Hill, NY. Our leader raised her hands heavenward and thanked Jesus.

I spent the next 8 years thinking Jesus had a funny sense of humor. I've continued to think that through the last 5 administrations - and even more so now.

When St Paul says, "there is neither Jew nor Greek" and elsewhere, "neither Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free" he is undoing all our identities. As Christians we are nothing by the world's lights, "but Christ is all".

Yet the secular authorities have a place, a purpose. And so it is that we pray for the king - even if the king, or queen, or czar, or dictator, or president hates the Church, persecutes the Church, tries to destroy the Church. The Churches of Russia commemorated their communist oppressors and prayed for them daily, that they would do their God-appointed jobs, perform their God-appointed functions, and leave the Church in peace. The Churches prayed for Obama and pray for Trump in exactly the same way.

The place where we are is all part of the mystery of Providence, like the family into which we are born. The whole of the universe has been designed to bring us to salvation. So, I am an American. To deny or wish otherwise is to belittle God's design. We live in a hemisphere visited by God's own Mother, and raising up saints to this very day in all the cultures that live in this half of the globe.

Yet, though individual laws passed or supported by various governments may tend more or less towards Christian morals there is no such thing as a Christian state or a Christian government. There may be a Christian sitting in the office, but no one following Christian morals can today (if ever) navigate the turbulent waters of statecraft without frequent recourse to the confessional.

And so it is that I sit here on the on the 482nd anniversary of the martyrdom of St Thomas More, and I wonder: how can I be the king's faithful servant, but God's first.

How is it possible to live in this world, to gain sanctity, to work out my salvation in fear and trembling, while still being an American in any way other than only by the accident of what's on my birth certificate.

I don't think it is possible at all.

To live Christian Moral choices into the office of any elected official, into any state appointment, into any official function may well be impossible for me (for me not for you) because I am timid, fearful, irresolute. Having made that confession, I do honestly wonder about the sagacity of those who make that choice, who march knowingly into the post office, the political party boss's calendar, or the county clerk's office and ask for a job. I don't doubt their faith - that's known to their confessor alone - but I admit I don't believe for a minute a faithful Catholic could knowingly vote for either abortion laws or anti-poor laws or anti-marriage laws and still honestly say in her heart she is a Catholic. So either these persons are foolish, silly, deluded, or outright evil.

God helps fools, the silly, and does not fault the deluded (unless it is by their own choice). But the Evil, now, the wolves in sheep's clothing... these we must avoid at all cost.

Nancy Pelosi & JFK. Catholics(?)
And so, maybe, it's possible that this very thing: this learning that we cannot be loyal Americans and faithful Christians is our reason for being here. Faithful Catholics and Orthodox were not loyal Soviets, but they were good citizens. They lived in the community God gave them, they became Saints in the the world in which God saw them born. We don't have to be nostalgic for a mythic past or even pretend to be flag-wavers. We can be thankful for what God has given us, aware of what man has corrupted in God's gifts, and wary of the Evil One's prime temptation: to imagine that we did this, some how. To claim that the Church must thank anything secular for the blessings God has given us. Any good there is here must be known as God's gifts, not the product of anything in the created order.

Any liberty we enjoy, is not by or because of America or the secular government, not by virtue of any national grace or unique identity; all good comes to us because God used America to give it to us. God is the author, America is only this chapter in the book. When it pleases him, this chapter will close (or is already closing) and something new will come along. It will be our duty then, to go, move, shift... and do a new thing joyfully.



03 July 2017

Seven Storey Mountain - reading along


At the tweeted suggestion of Steve, aka Steve the Missionary, as part of my post-RCIA Catechesis (Adult Reading for the Catholic N00b) I've been reading Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith (from which edition all the page numbers are cited below). I very much dislike autobiography, to be honest, as of course would anyone like me who spends hours a week blogging a real-time autobiography. My ego is too big to make room for another's... but I first met Thomas in high school, reading The Sign of Jonas, and although the meaning of that book escaped my young self, this one punches in the gut from nearly every page, and not occasionally takes away breath, rips out tears, and stuns with phasers aimed at the heart.

It's not expected. More Merton is heard from Liberal Mainlines than one cares to note. Merton is the Liberal Mainline's go-to Catholic. I had no idea at all that the warm, fluffy, nearly New Age Merton I keep hearing quoted by the Spiritual but Not Religious would ever rip a new one like this:
How did it ever happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in western Europe, when Goth and Frank and Norman and Lombard had mingles with the rot of old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all of them notable for ferocity, hatred, stupidity, craftiness, lust and brutality -- how did it happen that, form all this, there should come Gregorian chant, monasteries and cathedrals, the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, the Moralia of Gregory the Great, Augustine's City of God, and his Trinity, the writings of St Anslem, S Bernard's sermons on the Canticles, the poetry of Caedmon and Cynewulf and Langlad and Dante, St Thomas' Summa, and the Oceniense of Duns Scotus?
How does it happen that event today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice, and put a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grows up at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American Universities? (7SM, p33)
Yet it is not cultural punches but the Spiritual Journey for which one goes to Merton. Journey is not the right word: Merton is not on a happy-go-lucky labyrinth-winding pilgrimage without possibility of failure here. Merton's engaged in Jihad, a spiritual struggle, a Podvig as the Slavs would say.
Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity. (7SM, p92)
He's aware in hindsight (even though he was not in real-time) that he had lived on the edge of a precipice, that he needed only to stumble one way too far and all would have been lost. He knows, again in hindsight, that the world almost got him.
And so I became the complete twentieth-century man. I now belonged to the world in which I live. I became a true citizen of my own disgusting century: the century of poison gas and atomic bombs. A man living on the doorsill of the Apocalypse, a man with veins full of poison, living in death. (p94)
Then he quotes Baudelaire, but he's talking to the reader... Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère... (??).  Thomas puts the reader in his own life: this is not the ego of the blogger who puts his own life before the reader to say "look at me" this is the kenotic love of a spiritual writer who says, "you are where I was and I'm worried, praying, holding a little light..."

There's more anon... I'm 256 pages in already, but it's so stunning that I have to take time to digest.

01 July 2017

A Daily Offering to the Holy Family of Nazareth


Holy Family of Nazareth, hear the prayers of a prodigal. I have sinned before heaven and against you. Take me as one of your hired servants.


Chaste Heart of Joseph, I beg thy prayers. Like thee may I be chaste and stable. May my work be done with all due speed and diligence; ever be ordered only to the provision, safety, and advance of God's Kingdom, the Church. Bless my skills and talents that, like thee, I may ever use them to God's glory and not my own. Let me be temperate, neither greedy nor sloth; let not the noonday demon find me ready to make a mockery of God's labor or my own. Fix me in chastity in action, word, and thought.

Pray for me, St Joseph, together with thy Most Immaculate Spouse, that I may work out my salvation in fear and trembling; that having thee as my father and Mary as my mother, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.


Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg thy prayers. Like thee may I be open to the will of God, and ever ready in whatever state of life I find myself, to keep silent save only to say "Do whatever he tells you". Cause me, by thy prayers, through pious devotion and faithful adherence to the divine precepts, to yield a fruitful harvest of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and all the other virtues.

Pray for me, Holy Mary, Mother of God, together with thy Most Chaste Spouse, that I may be constantly bringing forth the Word of God to the Joy of all the World; that having thee as my mother and Joseph as my father, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.


Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in thee! Hear the prayers of thy Most Immaculate Mother and thy Most Chaste Foster Father on my behalf. May the fount of mercy flowing from thy side wash me. Set up thy Cross in my soul. Nail my flesh to the fear of thee. Undo my slavery to my own reasonings. Take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, on fire with love for the world, and wounded with compassion for the weak and lost, especially for those whom daily thou sendest to me.

May I truly have Mary as my Mother and Joseph as my Father, and be thou, Jesus, my Brother, Saviour, and Friend; that in service to the Holy Family of Nazareth, I may live in stability, safety, and peace.

May thy Church be my only home, thy Word my only teacher, and thy Eucharist my only food.

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.

Amen.

19 June 2017

Disorder as Liberation


One year in High School our Marching Band raised money by working at Six Flags in Atlanta. I'm unclear how it worked, but basically we performed various minimum wage jobs around the park for one of three half-day shifts and all the money went to the band. In exchange for working 4 hours the volunteers got to spend whole day in the park. It was a fun day (although I will never eat park food ever again) and I got to ride the Mind Bender 15 times.

The Mind Bender opened that summer and was billed as the world's first triple loop roller coaster and I had no reason to want to do any of the normal stuff which I'd done before. This was not only new to me, but new to everyone! Until the pre-monastery purge, I still had the commemorative coin they gave out that year. Anyway, that day I rode the thing until I got bored, literally. After 12 times through (in fairly rapid succession, since I had an employee pass and needn't stand in the whole line), I couldn't have cared less: all my adrenaline burned out, the endorphins went away, and all I had was a jolting and jerking sensation caused by the motion. I was numb. Still, I rode it thee more times, then I stopped.

I was talking to my brother in Christ yesterday over wings and biscuits; there was some beer as well. We were talking about how moral theology has basically two categories: the way God intended something to be (aka properly ordered) and every other way we try things, (aka disordered). It's important to realize that moral theology doesn't use "disordered" as we might when describing a mental disease. It's more along the lines of putting a penny in a fuse (if you are old enough to get the reference), or what happens when you use a flat head screwdriver that is also too small on a Phillips-head screw.

Since the human spirit is made to follow God's will - and yet we do not - we are disordered. Disorder is a sign of the fall. To find in one's life is disordered is to admit that one is human - no less than any other. Given what we know about the human propensity to sin, as my friend said, even ketchup packets are a sign of the Fall. All of Creation groans under the situation caused by our fall: man was intended to be the crown of creation, the Primus below God. That we have fallen from grace disorders all things.

The Jesus Psalter, a 16th Century English Catholic devotion closes with two prayers referring to the disorder of our dance: Jesus, grant me grace to set my mind on thee; and, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to thee. Both of these points (our minds and our lives) are to be ordered - focused, line up behind, pointing at Jesus. When we say something is disordered we mean its pointing the wrong way. That "wrong way" may only be a fraction of a degree off course, but in the distance of Eternity, that fraction grows until we miss the mark. Please note: disorder, itself, is not missing the mark. We miss the mark when we deny the disorder, when we treat SNAFU as "right".

Imagine that you have a square peg - and you have to fit it in the proverbial round hole. Imagine you spend your whole life shoving and pounding, chipping off corners, trying to stretch the hole, all in vain. In the end, you give up: you settle down, the hole unpegged, the peg without a home. What if someone came by and said, "I have a square hole over here..." It would finally feel as though you'd found a home. You've finally connected. Only connect, as E.M. Forster sys in Maurice, it's the solution to the isolation that cuts us off.

In talking about human sexual expression, "disordered" as category applies to everything outside of the procreative act within sacramental marriage. Anything else is using tools given by God in ways not intended. The Church's tradition, beginning in scripture and unfolding in the lives of the saints, is pretty clear about this. There are degrees of departure from plumb, but all such - even by half a degree - proceed from a fall and miss the mark entirely.

My friend asked me how I - a Catholic man who experiences sexual attraction to other men - felt about that label "disordered". I did not think twice before I said, "Liberating!"

All of our modern world is about catering to our whims, our desires. Everything we do is "because we want too/feel the need to/crave..." It's bloody exhausting! To "follow my bliss" when what I want to bliss out on changes from moment to moment is like trying to navigate with a compass through a maze made out of magnets. We are told that we must consume, that we must get our just desserts, that we deserve more than we have, that when we die we should leave a proper viking horde of stuff and experience behind to prove that we were here at all: when the sex and the shopping stops, we're dead.

Worse, we become so involved in this that we don't even notice when we continue the pattern in strange parts of our lives. Amazon - mistress of all the vices - feels better than therapy. Online dating is only a 70s Singles Bar or Bathhouse that needs no brick and mortar expenses. Church shopping and parish hopping is just the Tinder or Growlr app, but with God. We choose our name, religion, job, residence, friends, medications, and whatever all based on only our drives and tastes; only in hindsight do we realize that "drive" and "taste" are more matters of "peer pressure" and "marketing". "My" taste is not personal to me. I can walk out of the house in purple sneakers and yellow socks firm in the knowledge that there's probably another 100k or so people dressed exactly the same way within 500 miles.

Disorder is a way out! To realize that this not at all how it has to be, or even how it's supposed to be; to realize that this chaos is not what is intended, that this chaos is self-replicating, and only a re-ordering from outside will fix it is to be graciously liberated from the ever-spinning wheel of illusion.

Living a life fulfilling every desire, every whim, running away from every pain and every sorrow, is like trying to dig one's way out of a pit: each fulfillment gives rise to more craving - even if only for a repeat performance. Mmmm that felt good. Do it again! Like my ride on the Mind Bender, we do it over and over until all the chemicals in our brain burn out. Then we just keep going on some autopilot function. Our cravings have turned into an addiction, our lives into empty recreations of patterns we claim to enjoy. But we are not free: we are enslaved to our reasons, our cravings.

No! You don't have to fulfill that whim, that craving, that lust! Let it go: if you hold on it will only take you further and further off course. Simply: Let. It. Go.

Disorder, as self-realization, is discovering the square hole for the square peg. It's realizing that one is human: not special, but average; not unique but a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve. There is nothing unique or special about your desires: they are shared by millions of others in history. There are only differences of response. Desires, as such, are only a sign of being part of our fallen humanity. They are not needs to fulfill, but rather comments on or signs of our human weakness. A disorder - experienced as an action or only as desire - is a sign that we need God. Knowing it is a disorder, something that needs to be reordered, to be fixed, turns it into an on-going opportunity for grace to be poured in. And the Church is both the fountain from which grace is poured and the vessel that contains us as we are filled with that gift.

In riding the Mind Bender, I not only got bored, I also kinda ended my fear-love relationship with Roller Coasters. I don't really like the adrenalin rush that one gets. It's not at all heathy to trigger one's own fear mechanism. I feel the same way about horror movies too. Like, I have only so many "Endo-Dolphins" as a friend's daughter once called them. I don't want to waste them by crying wolf too many times. Using the endorphins this way - a hit of adrenalin, a rush of fear - is disordered in a minor way, just has a hit of lush, a rush of sweaty fun - is disordered in a major way. But we live in a society that says "fulfill it!" at every turn. That's not what we are here for. In fact, we're here for the opposite. And when you grow tired of jamming the square peg into all the wrong holes, you can finally settle down and let the proper ordering of things take over. The Church is the school that not only teaches that solution, but resolves the conflict, and heals the resultant pains.

Recognizing the Disorder and yielding to grace are, in fact, the first three of the 12 steps:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over Fill In the Blank —that our lives had become unmanageable. 
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 
St Paul says, in Galatians, "Christo confixus sum cruci. Vivo autem, jam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus." With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. Our cravings produce a false sense of need and that need/craving produces a false self. This is not me. I am not my cravings. I am not personified by my temptations. We crucify our fallen self, as Jesus gave himself up for us so that we can finally live - yet not us, but Christ living in us. Grace (which is God's energy, God's presence in our lives) orders our life to Christ. We can only get there when we see everything is not good as it is. We are liberated by seeing the disordered lives we lead, the disordered world in which we live for exactly what it all is: Disordered.

18 June 2017

It's your choice, really...


Today's Readings:


The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." 
John 6:52-53

You may know that the laws of Kashrut, or how to make and keep food Kosher, require all blood to be drained from the meat. The Blood is the life force and it is sacred to God. For the life of all flesh is in the blood. Therefore I said to the children of Israel: you shall not eat the blood of any flesh at all, because the life of the flesh is in the blood, and whosoever eateth it, shall be cut off. Leviticus 17:14

Jesus would have known that law. Would have know blood is not allowed, and eating human flesh? Never! We can be reasonably certain, therefore, that Jesus never would have said this, right? Someone made it up later to justify their liturgical life.

So the Sophists and game players would have us say. They reject the love of God given to us in the Mass because to accept it... they know: they have to accept the whole package. So they play games with the text. They make up their own mythologies about how the text came to be and why we can ignore it. Having eliminated all the texts they don't like (moral teachings, miracles, etc) they are left with a politician who sounds remarkably like Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders: somewhat boring, left of center, and oddly anti-religious. The people who buy it are, themselves, remarkably like Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders: somewhat boring, left of center, and oddly anti-religious. Amusingly, the reverse is also true: it's possible to edit the Bible in such a way as to end up with Donald Trump.

Neither side wants to admit that they are doing what the other side is also doing. Neither side can stand to look in a mirror. The Jesus Seminar is no better than Westboro Baptist Church: both equally fundamentalist, both equally committing idolatry before the mental ejaculations of their theological onanism.

They both reject the literal truth of today's Gospel.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

Here, at this table in the forms of bread and wine, is God himself; the very flesh of God, the very blood of Him who even now, in full ambient perichoresis with the Father and the Spirit, reigns in caelestium, terrestrium et infernorum, in heaven, on the earth, and in hell. Here, on this altar. Now.

Here, though you cannot see, the entirety of heaven sings in awe, the entirety of hell quakes in fear; angels on either side of you are in awe of our God and of you whom he has blessed to stand in his presence. Demons running in fear, turn in wonder to see you in flesh and blood come near.

Here are your loved ones gone before, here are those whom we would most dearly love to see also standing unseen with us. In this very moment all of heaven and earth, all of eternity and infinity, meet here.

All space and all time which cannot contain him, all universes, all eternities too small. Is here: in a bit of bread the size of a quarter, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Can you see the humility of our God?
Can you bear the love of our God?
To lay flat and silent before all, to be chewed - the Greek says "gnawed" - like a child getting the last bit of Popsicle off a stick, or a man ripping the meat off of spare ribs.

This is our God.
We consumer our God.
Yet...
Our God is a consuming fire.
This meal will not leave you alone.
You may come to it as you are.
But you may not leave it unchanged.

God will get into you. God will tear you limb from limb, passion from flesh, soul from body, spirit from will, and will remake you into his own lover, someone who cannot be without him, as a fish cannot be without water, as a song cannot be without air.

God will gnaw on you, will find the savor in you, will suck the very marrow of life from your old shell of death and will make you anew into the living members of his body.

You.
YOU.
Will become this bread

This meal consumes you.

You are what you eat.

And you will give yourself to others as living bread.

Wine will pour forth from your heart like love and all will come and drink.

Your life will be sacrificed so that they may live. You will discover love in you. Because God is in you and you in him.

Or, maybe Jesus never said this and we can all have sex, and die.

Your choice.

Supper's ready.

Grok?

09 June 2017

Metanoia - Flashback Friday Playlist


A musical meditation on being a prodigal. Everything from Garth Brooks to Kylie Minogue with yer host as a V.J. and a story teller in the middle. And a come to Jesus Moment.

Lumiere!
Musique!

05 June 2017

Fourth Petition - Jesus Psalter


To see all the other notes in this series, click on "Jesus Psalter" or in the labels below. To see the first post click here.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus comfort me. (x10)

Jesus comfort me and give me grace place my chief, my only joy in thee.
Send me heavenly meditations, spiritual sweetness, and fervent desires of thy glory; ravish my soul with the contemplation of heaven where I may dwell everlastingly with Thee.
Grant me, sweet savior Jesus, contempt of all damnable pleasures full of sin and misery.
Bring often to my remembrance Thy kindnesses, Thy great gifts, Thy unspeakable goodness often shown me. When Thou bringest to mind the sad remembrance of my man sins whereby I have so ungratefully offended Thee, comfort me with the assurance of obtaining Thy grace with the spirit of perfect repentance, which may purge away my guilt and prepare me for thy kingdom.

Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.
Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.

O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me.

Our Father (or Pater Noster). Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)


This petition asks that we realize and live as though all joy is in God - and so in pleasing him.  A friend of mind throwing away his past sins told me he chanted, "It's not a loss because it was never a gain." If Aquinas is right and all sin is either a lack of love or a misdirection of love, then throw away the former and fix the latter. The first was never really important, and the second is not gone. As Kansas sings in, The Wall, "There is no loss."  What we give up or sacrifice in our God-ward journey is not us and what really is us (as God created us to be) can never go away.

24 May 2017

Paul on the Hill of Athens


Today's Readings:
{The Spirit} will guide you to all truth. John 16:13
What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. Acts 16:23

I love that these two readings are a set, coming as we ramp up to Pentecost. The entire mystery of Passover is about to be revealed to the entire world: What was for the Jews the "Liberation from Egypt" was only a sign, a type of liberation for all the world. What happened in Holy Week broke that open like a sealed scroll and handed it on to all the world, no longer revealed only to initiates, but common to all. What was, at Pentecost, the giving of the Law to those same initiates, prepared now to evangelize the world, becomes the Keys of Heaven for whole world. God's farmers, God's shepherds, God's workmen sent out into the Vineyard to gather all in. And what do they find - Peter, Paul, John, and the other Apostles - when they get out into the world?

They find that God has been sowing seeds in all cultures, in all places: not only Israel, but all places are prepared for the Gospel! Athens, Rome, India, all are ready to be freed in the Liberation from Demons by the world's Passover; brought out of Egypt, with the law inscribed on their hearts, to the Glory of a land flowing with milk and honey.

Pope St Gregory the Great realized this, as did so many others: the Jesuits in China, the Franciscans in the Americas, the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac... we stand not in a world empty of God, but in a world made by God, through His Logos. Jesus is the very warp and weft of the universe. We will never go anywhere he has not been first.

Not even grief, or joy:

Imagine the man you call "Daddy" died and you get to see him, finally, in heaven... and Jesus has done that.  Our Lord has done even that: lost a parent, and been reunited with him. And I can't but imagine  how much more heaven must have been filled with Joy at that meeting. When Jesus says, "Daddy."

Anything that is, is for us now: for our salvation, for our uncovering, for the Passover of God has redeemed it all.

Still we push it back into darkness sometimes.

And in fear we hide from it, we slay children in the womb and on the street, we bomb music venues, we bomb villages. Islam has done nowhere half as much damage to the world as Wal*Mart, and for every girl kidnapped and freed by Boko Haram, there are 11,575 children enslaved in China making our t-shirts and electronics.

We struggle to hide in a darkness of our own making from the very light God uses to make everything.

And yet God cries out: what you worship unknowingly, I proclaim to you. Hear me and I will guide you into all Truth: the only truth that is or can ever be. Jesus.

23 May 2017

Serve'n'Wash'n'Serve


Today's Readings:
He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
Acts 16:33b-34

The Jailer (like Lydia yesterday) swings into service without asking questions. In fact, he does so before he's baptized. His whole family converts and then they all celebrate.

A friend asked me what I was doing each morning at Church (Mass, a Rosary, Morning Office) and seemed a little taken aback at my practice but I had no justification for it. Another friend, doing the same things, asked for his own information "what am I doing this for?" and I said, "It's only two hours. It's a tithe. Not even." And suddenly it all made sense.  To the God who asks for your all, you can, at least, give 10%? The Sabbath day, alone, in the old law would be 15%. If you're worried about burn out, maybe you're thinking about it wrong: burning out is not as bad as burning up.

But seriously think about how many thing you would devote 2 hours a day to: classes, work, watching TV, clicking on the internets, pr0n, Baseball, a good day at the mall would be 6-8 hours in my youth. I'll sit in the park for 3 or 4 hours doing nothing. Hobbies get a whole lot of time.

Why not God? Why are we worried about "burnout" in the one place that should be giving us more joy over and over?

22 May 2017

Wash'n'Serve


Today's readings:
After Lydia and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, "If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home." 
Acts 16:15a

What's the first thing the new believer wants to do?

Serve.

The natural sense of the clergy is to wait a bit... the text says she had to work at getting them to come stay with her. They know the problem of burn-out, but she also knows the best way to learn it all is to have the clergy come over and stay with her. Sure, it's a couple of extra mouths to feed, a bit more cleaning, and, finally, it's that sense of "always 'on'" when there's someone in the house. My Grandfather had a saying that guests, like fish, start to smell after 3 or 4 days. But for St Lydia and St Paul - for anyone in their day - hospitality was a commitment. As long as the guest was there, the host was there as well. St Paul may have had people over for prayer and counselling. He may have used Lydia's house as the Temple for the community growing there. Still, Lydia put herself forward for service, not knowing what it might have entailed.

Alternatively (at least for us) the New Believer can go on the Internet and find out how to do it all right. I did that when I became Orthodox. There are so many ways to be right! And most of them hate the other ways (or at least think the other ways are not good enough). Also, none of them have anything to do with the reality of even the writer. I was shocked to learn from my priest that the author of one of the most Archly Trad Orthodox websites was a member of what his own website would have called a "Modernist" New-Calendar parish in a "Modernist" jurisdiction that even lets women preach!

What St Lydia knows is that it is in the the Face-to-Face, in the Relationship that one finds the Christian Life. Sure, there are facts to learn. I had to learn how to say a thing or two, several months of classes, and had to put a phrase (well, two really) back into the Creed. I don't know why, but the Byzantine Creed doesn't say "God from God, Light from light, very God from very God."  The Byz Rite says only, "Light of Light, true God of true God."  But all those facts and all those words are meaningless without my Monday Morning 6AM faith sharing group: five of my Brothers in Christ, and myself, praying our way through parts of the Scriptures. That group has become one of three hinges on which my faith swings.(the other two being daily mass and the daily office) and it is the one with the most face-to-face time. And the most dialogue. It's the one where my faith is shaping up into something.

Our time online also holds no one accountable for the stupidity we accumulate: least of of all, ourselves. We end up collecting things we like and judging others for not liking the same things. Being in relationship with others is messy, but we are constantly held accountable, held in check.

What Lydia gets in exchange for heroic service (and I'm sure that Paul stopped at her place whenever, as, most likely, did any other passing brethren) is an on-going dialogue with her spiritual elder(s), a continuing education project that is worth far more than any list of facts, or book of texts, or - for us - any Google. This, alone, prevents her burnout: that she can turn to the Apostle who brought her into the faith to continue her growth in Christ. It's ironic that our Google-God-Facts time takes away from the thing we really need to grow. But the Evil One will work that way, cutting us off from the very people we need.

Remember: no one is saved alone.

21 May 2017

Sanctify in Y'all's Hearts.


Today's Readings:


Dominum autem Christum sanctificate in cordibus vestris, parati semper ad satisfactionem omni poscenti vos rationem de ea, quæ in vobis est, spe. Sed cum modestia, et timore, conscientiam habentes bonam.
Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience.
1 Peter 3:15-16a

Whenever this verse was quoted to me, it was always part "B": "being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you" but you can't be ready always without part "A", that "Sanctify the Lord Christ" portion.  I'm not sure why the KJV says "Sanctify the Lord God" when the Greek says "Sanctify the Lord Christ" but a number of more recent translations seem to hearken back to the nearly-arian reading of the KJV. No: Peter tells us to sanctify Christ.  That's important. Now, forgive me a little of what, in my deep Protestant past, used to be called a "Word Study".

That word "Sanctify" at the beginning of verse 15 has an interesting context for Judaism.  It references a practice in Hebrew Liturgy, "to Sanctify the Name" and it goes back to a prayer in Aramaic (still in the Synagogue liturgy) called the "Kaddish".  That this word in the Greek NT is that same Kaddish (at least in the mind of a Jewish writer - St Peter - to other Jews) is easy to trace through the OT, using the LXX. In Greek the word is ἁγιάζω and we find it all over the LXX, including in the book of Sirach 36:3 (LXX) or 36:4 (in the Vulgate and translations that follow it) we find it in a text called "The Canticle of Sirach".  ἁγιάζω is rendered into the same Latin word sanctificate/sanctificatus

Sicut enim in conspectu eorum sanctificatus es in nobis, sic in conspectu nostro magnificaberis in eis:
For as thou hast been sanctified in us in their sight, so thou shalt be magnified among them in our presence...

The "Sanctification of the Name" in our Hearts, the Aramaic prayer begins:
יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא
Yitgaddal veyitqaddash shmeh rabba
May his great name be exalted and sanctified.

So: how do we Sanctify the Lord Christ in our Hearts? And how does this get us to having a good answer for those who ask us about our faith? It's right there in the Gospel:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments... Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.

We sanctify Jesus in our hearts by the keeping of his commandments.  Which are only love. My failures in this area arise always when I forget that I am not the first person to Love God.  The function of the Church is to draw the boundaries of love as surely as our vows draw the boundaries of marriage. I imagine that I can love Christ in the abstract - that his body is not the Church, that his voice is private and not corporate, that I am the first person he's ever spoken to and so I can feel my way through to new things, new ideas, discarding ones that don't feel good, "to me".

That's not sanctifying Jesus in my heart.

The secret to the Gospel and nearly all of the Epistles is to read them in - as written in the Greek - in the Second Person plural.  I cannot - I must not - read the Gospel this way:

If Huw loves me, Huw will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give Huw another Advocate to be with Huw always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But Huw knows him, because he remains with Huw,
and will be in Huw.

(My name rhymes really well there - but put you're name in instead!)

The real text is this:
If y'all love me, all y'all will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give y'all another Advocate to be with y'all always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But y'all know him, because he remains with y'all,
and will be in all y'all.
It's not me. It's us.  It's not "my feelings", it's The Church - Christ himself.  In playing within the bounds described by the Church for 2,000 years we sanctify Christ in our hearts.

Modern Culture wants us to practice a sort of Cafeteria Consumption of everything. We get to pick and choose. The problem, of course, is that picking a bit from here and a bit from there, some of my feelings, some random bits of CHinese mysticism, some Marxist political theory, and some new junk invented in a "Consciousness Raising" coffee klach, c. 1967, only gives us an incoherent pile of junk. The Church's teaching, God's revelation, is a seamless garment, a unified whole. We cannot give an answer for the "hope that's in us" (if we have any) if we insist on using a Toss Salad to embody our "logic".

We sanctify Christ in our hearts when we limit our diet, and exercise custody of our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds. And, when we have grown strong on that diet, we can begin to see the other patterns in the world, not as true in themselves, but because they reflect Christ - the only Truth there is. We can give an answer for the hope that is in us using the language of the culture around us, only then: when Christ becomes the filter through which we view everything. When the Spirit opens our eyes, we see Christ the Logos - the logic God has woven into everything. Then we can show him to others.

07 May 2017

If Found: Send me Back to Barbary Lane


Sometimes there's a sort of frisson around SF, that I belong here, that this is home in ways I can't explain, that - as Anna Madrigal says to Mary Ann, "You're one of us."  She means Atlantean because it was a good HippieSF idea that when all the Atlantean souls reincarnate they will all move back here and the whole thing will fall into the Sea again.  But... ok.  One of us. This week, however... well, really, in the three weeks since the Easter Vigil, it's been more like a whirlwind or earthquake, the latter being, perhaps, a better choice given the locale.

When I first visited SF in October of 1996, I craved to be here. It was love at first sight. In April 1997 I lived here, having quit a job of ten years and sold nearly everything I owned. I moved in with Patrick, a friend from college, and started to find a life. By May I had one: a job. An apartment followed shortly. And boom.

I left in 2003 for a number of reasons I won't go into. But I had the blessing of my priest (Fr V) and thought I was done. But I wasn't. When she came with me to SF on Easter 2010, Sarah said that all the things I make fun of Buffalonians for in Buffalo are true for me here. And I thought she was silly. Less than six months later, I was back. And two months after that I had a job and an apartment. Boombidy boom. As Jay pointed out being able to live on your own in SF is evidence of success. I've done it twice. I don't credit that to myself, save that I have a low bar for where I'll live. But it is a great thing to have.

When the Job ended in Jan of 2015, it felt as though I should do something else, and, although I won't say I messed up - b/c a lot of things have been learned - I did make a wrong choice. Everything was sold or given away, and off to the Benedictines I went. And six months later, that ended. So... where to? Mom and Dad for a short while (and for a man over 50 that's an odd place to be) and suddenly Sejal made it possible to come back here.



Then I decided I was going to say: that this time I was here for good, making my vow of Stability here. Am I the only person who loses a job and moves 3,000 miles? How about, the only person who does it repeatedly? And then things happened again. A job. Boom. A place to live. Boom. A church community. BOOM. (Bigger Boom.  A huge boom, really: an 8 megaton, Dominican BOOM.) And all kinds of Atlantean awesomeness.

I feel like Sally Field. I mean I know I have friends who love me, but I have a home too, a real home. That is SUCH a blessing for a man over 50 to have.


PS: The header shot is Mary Ann Singleton coming down the steps at Barbary Lane. Once there was a scavenger hunt at my office and I sent the entire company there. When I left here, in 2015, saying goodbye to those steps made me cry. So.

Thanks, God. Thanks. I really mean it.

03 May 2017

According to Hoyle


Today's readings:


For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Baseball and Mixed Martial Arts are very different sports. One can play both, of course, but not at the same time and not on the same field. One cannot play baseball by MMA rules, nor vice versa. Neither can one crossweave the two sets of rules into something new and call it by either name. The rules of baseball are the rules of baseball. The rules of football, of America football, of rugby, of hurling, of all sports are each unique and their own thing. You can't make them up as you go along, and, should someone do so, they are in fact playing another game. Equally fun, perhaps, but it's not Cricket.

As Easter rolled closer this year I was reminded of how many of my friends do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ and I do not speak of the Atheists or others for whom this is laughable. Rather I am thinking of those who would take the name Christian, even saying that they are "reclaiming" it or defending it from people who believe silly things like Virgin Births and Risings.

What has me mystified is why? What's the point? I mean, seriously: the Jesus you're left with is laughable, powerless, and without purpose. In fact you have to make up stuff - politics and social justice - and fill his mouth with words he never said in order to have any religion at all. You have to make palatable myths out of the doctrine, to say "this isn't really true" even while you profess it. You have to yell "Christ is Risen" while you cross your fingers and say, "well, it's really just a symbol, or historical artefact..."

I don't see the point. There are social justice groups that do that, there are political movements that do that, there are even other religions that already do that. Most of these folks strike me as a cross between the Humanist Society of New York and Reconstructionist Judaism, to be honest, but not really either of those, either. It's better, somehow, to corrupt one that has historical boundaries and turn out from their communities people who are faithful to God whilst making claims against them of "h8" and "bigotry". It's better to make up new doctrines and call real Christians "sticks in the mud" and other names less charitable; to make the claim you're being inclusive whilst undermining and destroying both the structure and the foundation. You cannot say something has evolved when you've torn it down; when you've jury-rigged a "worship space" in the ruble of your theological deconstructions.

Somehow this is all good, I guess.

Yet, following the Apostles, I shall take my home in Christ who is Way, Truth, and Life; and in the Church he founded. I will rest in his light and eat his bread. Increasingly I find there that I have more in common with the pious and respectful faithful of other religions than I do with those who would destroy my own; with those who follow a different path and name it such rather than with those who follow a different path and masquerade it about as mine. I will pray for his mercies on those within and without his fold and I will not confuse the two in the name of politeness. It is neither mercy or charity to say someone is right when they are wrong. Nor is it grace. But the Truth of the Apostolic Preaching (who is always and only the Risen Christ) can always and only be spoken in love.

In love, therefore, with the very salvation of your soul: baseball is baseball.




02 May 2017

All the Dang Time


Today's readings:


Dixit autem eis Jesus: Ego sum panis vitæ: qui venit ad me, non esuriet, et qui credit in me, non sitiet umquam.
Jesus said, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
John 6:35

We've reached that part of the scriptures that Jesus didn't mean literally. So let's all take a deep breath and realize he's speaking figuratively here, or maybe mystically. Perhaps he's only speaking symbolically. Or, likely, this is interpolated text from some liturgical meditation in the, oh, I don't know, 3rd century that they made up and read backwards into John. I'm sure the Jesus Seminar can save us here.

You'd best skip the rest of Chapter 6. Orthodoxy and Catholicism agree here. Body and Blood. Not symbol, not sign, not sorta, but actual. Real. Solid. Flesh. And blood.

I asked Catholic Celebrities on Twitter... (ok, sorry... I asked Catholics in my twittersphere anyway) if they had advice for a Catholic n00b such as myself. They all agreed on three points - the first one, ably expressed by @SteveMissionary is where I'll stop today:

go to mass all the dang time!

This is the secret, I think, of Catholic Piety. In a parish of 1800 like mine, give or take, it's the 30-50 people at Daily Mass that make or break it. They're there every day. They know you. They miss you when you're gone. And each mass has its own style or flavor of community: 6:30 followed by Morning Prayer, 8:00 with a Rosary, 5:30 with its healing prayers and veneration of the relic of St Jude.  There's probably more than 50 at the 5:30 Mass. I don't know. But it's amazing that so many people will stop their day (or start it, as it were) with 30-45 mins or more at Church. At NYU, at the Catholic Center, there were 4 or 5 people who made the Noon Mass their own. St Agnes parish in NYC was the same way - although there they were the office workers on lunch. St Christopher's Chapel near Grand Central was my favorite. I was not Catholic, but something was there that just wasn't anywhere else.

Tolkien calls Caras Galadhon, the city at the center of Wood Elves' realm of Lothlorien, the "heart of Elvendom on earth". That's what daily mass is just now in my book: the Heart of Christendom on Earth.

Words fail me. This is God saving us.

I find myself daily praying these prayers from the Anglican Use and also the Byzantine Rite:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. 
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen. 
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom. 
May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.
This is love: God giving himself for us, daily, before us and to us, freely, humbly, meekly. And in silence.

This is love: Body and blood, soul and divinity. Mercy and grace in the forms of bread and wine, the most simplest of foodstuffs. The most holy of foods.

Go all the dang time.

VIII - Eucharist
He wash'd their feet & now would make them free:
a mundane miracle will now combine.
The God-Man bids that man on God will dine
& daily service now makes unity.

These common building blocks of bread & wine
our Saviour takes into his holy hands
& those, around him sat, his love commands
in mystic rites to make all men divine.

The Apostolic preaching in all lands
will be enliven'd by this bread. God gives
to Church her dancing food. She moves & lives
By sacraments now altar'd by Christ's hands.

Salt, flour, water, grapes, & yeast we see
yet very flesh & blood of God they be.