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.

10 September 2017

Judgement and Love


Today's Readings:
Si autem peccaverit in te frater tuus, vade, et corripe eum inter te, et ipsum solum: si te audierit, lucratus eris fratrem tuum.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
Matthew 18:15

Who was the first person ever to let you go off on your own and sin your own special way? Who was the first person ever to call you back and tell you to stop? Ezekiel has a job for us: the entire passage laughs at our fear of being offensive.
Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, "O wicked one, you shall surely die," and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.
Am I my brother's keeper? YHVH says, Yes, indeedy. Who let you go and run amuck? How far away did you get before someone called you back? Paul says, though, Love is the fulfilment of the law. The Incarnate Logos tells us how this is all true.

The Latin peccaverit translates the Greek, ἁμαρτάνω hamartanó: It's a verb. It means "missing the mark" although the Latin runs directly to "sin".  Missing the mark is the phrase used for sin in all the New Testament. What is the mark? Meaning of course, also, how do we miss it? In a culture that fails to imagine "sin" as a real thing, we all recognize "missing the mark" although increasingly things like "participation awards" seem to even erase that idea.

Jesus seems to deny the possibility of a participation award, however: he is very clear that someone can miss your mark; or that I can "sin against you", I can miss the mark you've set.

Additionally, Jesus doesn't say you should ignore this. The advice is not "if anyone sins against you do not judge or do anything that will make them feel uncomfortable. Quite the opposite in fact: if someone misses your mark, go talk to them!

At work, among our cultural values we list candor. We ask for candid feedback at every turn. Our CEO once explained the process as "has someone made you angry, go talk to them."  And then he asked of the gathered staff that we should raise our hands if we would welcome that sort of feedback.  Everyone in the room raised their hands.

Can you imagine that at your parish?

Jesus wants that to be normal. I have sinned against you: you come talk to me. Failing that, you get a buddy to come along. Should that also fail, bring the whole parish.

The whole process is set up to lucratus eris fratrem tuum, to "gain your brother"; to restore to unity him who has walked away in sinning.  While you're to be about your business of forgiveness, that does not mean nothing bad has happened: they've walked away from communion with the Church.

Sin does that, it shatters communion. But to acknowledge the Communion is broken is not a sin. In fact to pretend it's not broken, to go on as if nothing is wrong, only confirms someone in their shattered state. Who let you go so far away that you didn't even want to bother coming back?

Jesus wants us to (first, quietly) gently tell someone they've broken communion, in love. Hiding the truth here is not love. It's tolerance. It's disinterested regard. It's presenting a neutral affect. It's cutting ourselves off from communion. Because if you really loved someone you would be holding them in communion and not letting them walk away. Not telling the truth here, damning them, is the same thing as hate. That person that let you walk away without even a word of condemnation? That was hate, pure and simple.

The wicked shall die for his guilt, but God will hold you responsible for his death. 


05 September 2017

More Sober Vigilance

Today's Readings:
Omnes enim vos filii lucis estis, et filii diei: non sumus noctis, neque tenebrarum. Igitur non dormiamus sicut et ceteri, sed vigilemus, et sobrii simus.
For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do,but let us stay alert and sober.
1 Thessalonians 5:5-6

We have it here again, that combination of Sober Vigilance that is so important to the Apostolic conception of the Christian life.

Satan never says, "Hey, let's do this awesome bad thing." He uses the "Hey, let's do this less-good thing" over and over until you're doing a bad thing.

I have this problem: I want to be in bed by 9:30. I love writing these daily meditations, but, really, about now (8:34 PM as I write) I should stop and set about my evening prayers and getting ready for bed... so that I can get to bed by 9:30.  But these meditations are a good thing - for myself, and for my readers. They touch people, they invite people into relationship with Christ. But, in the end, if I start writing at 8:30, it's going to be 9:30 before I'm done. There's the teeth brushing and the bed making and, tonight, the putting away clothes from the dryer.

Then I skip my bedtime prayers and tell God I'm sorry and go to sleep.

See? A less-good-than.

In the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, the 8th daily prayer is for our power of estimation:
Grant that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them, that we may never turn away from higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods for the sake of sinful self-indulgence.
And tonight at a meeting discussing the Ignatian exercises, the group leader pointed out that it's discipline that leads us to self-control.

So, with those passing thoughts, I'm going to be sober and vigilant. It's 8:43PM now.

Asking your prayers.

(Stick it, Satan.)

04 September 2017

Memento Mori


Today's readings:


Quoniam ipse Dominus in jussu, et in voce archangeli, et in tuba Dei descendet de cælo: et mortui, qui in Christo sunt, resurgent primi. Deinde nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Christo in aëra, et sic semper cum Domino erimus.
For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

How's your bucket list doing? Got a lot checked off? North Korea just exploded a bomb that world media turned into a veritable Fright Night of clicks and ad revenue.  Al Jazeera literally made it into clickbait with this tweet:


Since I grew up in the Cold War, I'm pretty much over all this stuff: but fear is real. I think some part of the tensions in this country are the venting of the fears we're experiencing just now, although granted our Glorious Leader Don al Trump also scares a lot of folks.

My twitter response to A-J's tweet was three points long. The first is, "Everyone dies".

Literally, everyone dies. Today, tomorrow, sometime in 2050, whatever. Everyone Dies. Personally 18 mins warning as we prepare for Nuclear Evaporation is way better than I don't know, a sudden gunshot, or a car accident, or an earthquake. All of these are likely. Yet I don't walk around afraid of them. But, nukular bomb, thuggee, ninja, gangsta, old lady driver,  or the mother of all San Andreas shatterings, none matters. We're all going to die and share one thing:

There is nothing pretty about death at all.

The breathing becomes labored. The edges of the body, if you will, start to crisp up and die first. The light in the eyes full on and there is terror. Then out. And there is nothing. If you've ever had anything die in your arms... or watch someone pass... it's nothing like a movie at all. How's your bucket list doing?

There is nothing pretty about death.

But God has done it.

There is nothing pretty about death on a cross. Nothing at all.

One of the things that makes me ready to accept the Shroud of Turin as really the burial shroud of Christ is because it's been around through a part of the Church's history when we did not prefer to think of Jesus as a maimed and bloody mess. The shroud shows a man covered in blood; not just blood prettily staining his hands and feet (or even garishly flowing from those wounds) but literally covered in blood. This makes sense if you know anything about the process of being scourged... but I'll stop there.

There is nothing pretty about death on a cross. Nothing at all.

But God has done it.

There's this invocation from the Ninth Petition of The Jesus Psalter: Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.

That is the Christian Mystery right there: We walk this road neither unscathed nor unchanged, and yet for all eternity though it lead to death and darkness, now it leads to life and light because God walked it himself. The map is the same, the path is unraveled and rewoven. The tapestry undone and repaired.

I heard a sermon yesterday about (among other things) the Satanic appeal to human pride that is this concept of "Death with Dignity" and legalized mercy killings. I will post it when I can. But for now, let's just note: God walked the path, we can't turn aside from the path and say we're following him. We have to walk it through to the end, all the way, without chickening out.

This is dignity because God has done it: this path leads to a known ending now. Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.

But we all want to Run Away. This fear of death is just more of the usual Fear of Missing Out: what will we miss when we're not here? How's your bucket list doing? 

I'm afraid we are all haunted by our bucket list into thinking that seeing the Pyrenees or riding the Orient Express, making love in the Grand Canyon, or making a pilgrimage to Mall of America are all as equally as important and as valid a goal as getting right with God and persevering until the end to Salvation.

I had a bucket list when I was 29. Oddly enough I've done a lot of the item on it. I feel nothing at all of the sense of accomplishment I imagined I would feel when I was 29. Quite the opposite in fact, I'm aware now of how shallow they were, how pointless, how totally irrelevant all the petty and prideful sins on that list were and are. And they are sins exactly because petty and prideful. Yes, I can say I've done something... that was on that list... but did that something save anyone? Make the world better? Heal the sin-sick soul of myself or anyone else? No.

How's your bucket list doing? We walk this road neither unscathed nor unchanged, and yet for all eternity though it lead to death and darkness, now it leads to life and light because God walked it himself. The map is the same, the path is unraveled and rewoven. The tapestry undone and repaired.

St Paul says hat those of us who are alive will be changed. That those who have gone before will rise first. And that all of us together will rejoice in the presence of the One Who went before us. He is the only Dignity we have - any of us. Even those who reject him are only measured by him, by how much they (unknowingly) reflect his light.

I have climbed Everest, I have seen the moon by standing on it, I have ruled the world, I've cause chaos on three continents by my internet communication skills in an era when those were few and far between. But if I can't meet Christ in the air on that last day, I have failed.

I may have "made the world better", I may have helped a lot of people be "happier" or "more free", I may have done anything and everything that would make someone think "he was a good person."  But if I can't meet Christ in the air on that last day, I have failed.

The rest of the Ninth Petition of the Jesus Psalter:
Jesus, grant me grace always to remember my death and the great account I then must render; that so being kept continually disposed, my soul may depart out of this world rightly in Thy grace. Then by the gracious intercession of Thy blessed Mother and the assistance of the glorious St. Michael, deliver me from the danger of my soul's enemies; and do thou, my good angel, I beseech thee, help me at the hour of death. The, dear Jesus, remember Thy mercy; and turn not, for my offenses, Thy face away from me. Secure me against the terrors of that day, by causing me now to die daily to all earthly things and to have my continual conversation in heaven. Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.
Throw away the bucket list.
Learn to feed the poor at your doorstep without worrying about those on the next block.
Pray.

I'll see you there, but only if you pray for me to meet you. I totally need your prayers to make this.





03 September 2017

Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary



In preparation for the Consecration of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, this act of personal piety seems a good thing, indeed, a very good thing.

12 Day Preparation | Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary

Week One | Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary

Week Two | Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary

Week Three | Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary

October 7 Consecration Day | Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary


I've never been to me...


Today's Readings


Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequatur me. Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet eam: qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me, inveniet eam.
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 16: 24b-25

It's not quite as fun as it was all cracked up to be. In the end, there were no blessings for being free - if by free you mean, "You ain't the boss of me." For all there were were more things left to wander about and the distinct paranoia of our modern world, the Fear of Missing Out.

We have only one job in all of this. What if one job is more like watching bread rise than being Katy Perry's Fireworks?

At the middle of the Rosary there's the Mystery of the Carrying of the Cross. It's come to me lately that that's really all there is: this is the only part of Our Lord's Passion we're asked - nay, commanded - to emulate. Yes, we're to die with Christ, and yes, we're to be baptised, and yes we're to eat this bread and drink this cup, but the only part of the Passion we're told, specifically, to repeat, each in our individual life, is this one thing: Carry the Cross.

This is Christianity: carrying the cross.

It's not about "finding my passions" or "doing what I do best for God". It's not that "Jesus has a plan for your life" (and he does, but he's not going to show you...). You have free will, you have choices to make. Wake up in the morning and carry the cross.

This passage is very Psychological. Reading these verses, you might remember another translation that asks "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul." The greek word is ψυχή psyche, used over and over:

For whoever wishes to save his psyche will lose it,
but whoever loses his psyche for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his psyche?
Or what can one give in exchange for his psyche?

Psychological - not in the sense of modern mental onanism that tries to find the "me" in all this and "fix it", but rather in the classical, Christian sense. You have a Psyche. It's not the "soul" living in you like the Platonists and the Gnostics taught, nor is it the Mind like the Greeks imagined: it's your very self. You are a union of body and spirit, of Matter and Eternity. Your Psyche is this presence of place and time that is your fulcrum into the Cosmos. You. We are not souls living in matter, but rather matter living in souls.

And if you try to hog all the stash, you will die.

We are created in the image of God whose entire being is self-emptying, kenosis. Not self abnegation, but emptying AS self. This is what God IS. And so are we... unless we miss the point.

So very much of our modern world is about finding my me-ness, and being that. Well, guess what, your me-ness is about giving it away. Literally, that's what we call Love. Wiling the good of another until you sacrifice all of you for it.

Jesus says that when you find it and be it, you will die.
But when you give it away... then you actually live.

What if the very thing you thought was your me-ness was a black hole that sucked in everything and everyone until there was nothing left but a yawning maw of pride and bullied corpses of your enemies? Then you die.

What if the very thing you thought was your me-ness was only skin deep, was driven by hate, was a sociological and unscientific construct that had nothing to do with either biology or history. What if it made you push away everyone and everything in the name of a dream of some sort of revenge of the underdogs. But you could only love people like you. Then you die.

What if in the end, all you had left was your few treasured possessions and an illimitable sense of you'll never catch me! Then you die.

Me is not in the getting, the having, the experiencing, the sexing, the dancing, the working, the pain-avoiding, drug-taking, fear-filled-zombified thing the world calls "life" and "reality TV".

There's no me there at all.

We're going to die so fast that we don't have time to wait to give it all up. Take up the cross and walk. This is the me that we are each offered.

St Paul takes if further than Jesus, telling us to offer our bodies as sacrifices too.

And in the end, where there is nothing left but the divine and eternal life that is the very act of kenosis enfleshed in each of us - at that point when we are surrounded by so much joy that we don't miss our toys and our games - at that point we say with Jeremiah, "you seduced me, Lord, and i let myself be seduced."

But it will not feel that way here, now - or, maybe not for the next few centuries. For if you speak out the World of YHVH today, you will - like Jeremiah - feel as though you've been sucker punched. To actually preach the Gospel in word and/or deed is to step out of the world and to actively critique it. To Love in the fullest sense, in the Gospel sense, anyone at all is to will the Good, the True, and the Beautiful into their lives - even if they don't want it. (Yes, there are good, better, and best ways to do this, and they vary with the person... but to not do it at all is so much not-love as to be hate.)

And to love like that - to pour out your life, your heart, your soul, your art, your job, your whole being in love for another person - is to find life, is to be life, is to be the image of the Father, of whom the Son is the Icon, and by whom we are made to share this eternal outpouring with the world. And when we do that - and the world spits it back into our face, or our friends leave us in disgust and hatred, then we will say with gusto, faces buried in our elbows, bitter pints of IPA on the table, "Lord, you seduced me... but I let myself be seduced."

As Catholics, we know that Jesus doesn't promise us success or victories. We know there are no full wallets in the Kingdom of heaven. We know that there are no full bellies, no full closets, and no full mouths. But there are full hearts pouring eternity into each other.

We may not yet have our bodies on the line, but soon, it is possible, that we shall.

And then it is us who must love beyond life itself. Willing the good of all - even when they don't want it. We have only to walk away from Love to die... but we are seduced into living instead. This is who we are. Christians are the ones who will die to show they love their murderers, to embody the love they feel for whomever is in front of them. Before of a society that will offer a pinch of incense to any Caesar that promises to liberate them from any sense of obligation, we will throw ourselves under the bus, jam the gears like so many Luddites, and stuff our bodies into the air vents to seal out any poison lest anyone else die. We are seduced. We can only love more.

We must make our bodies, our minds, our pride, our sense of self, an offering all to Christ in his person and in the person of our neighbor. The ever living Christ is as near to us as one seat over on the bus, the shopping cart in front of us at WalMart, the door just down the hall.

That's when we are finally loving, we will have psyche then. Each and all of us.

We are seduced.

Into carrying the cross daily out of service: We don't want them to have to go too far when they need a place to nail us up.


02 September 2017

How not to be a useless servant


Today's Readings:

Et inutilem servum ejicite in tenebras exteriores.
Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside
Matthew 25:30a

We all have gifts. Some of us use them. Some of us run away from them. I posted this a day or two ago, from Cardinal Newman:
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
The thing that I see there, that is the most important, is that Blessed John Henry doesn't send you out on some Vocational Discernment Weekend, nor does he say you need to go hide in the desert until some vision strikes you: only, I shall be a angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling,  by which last he means "in my daily work".

Elsewhere in this same book, (Meditations and Devotions) he offers a very simple rule of life - as quoted by the Catholic Gentleman - to direct us all on the way to Sainthood. Not nominal least common denominator mushiness, mind you, but full on sainthood:
  • Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
  • give your first thoughts to God;
  • make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
  • say the Angelus devoutly;
  • eat and drink to God’s glory;
  • say the Rosary well;
  • be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
  • make your evening meditation well;
  • examine yourself daily;
  • go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
To this I would add this simple rule, offered by Alexander Schmemann in his journals (Mindul that he was writing privately, but to a hypothetical reader who was craving monastic obedience as the magic panacea for whatever it is that ails you):

  • get a job, if possible the simplest one, without creativity (for example as a cashier in a bank);
  • while working, pray and seek inner peace; do no get angry; do not think of yourself (rights, fairness, etc.). Accept everyone (coworkers, clients) as someone sent to you; pray for them;
  • after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations;
  • always go to the same church and there try to be a real helper, not by lecturing about spiritual life or icons, not by teaching but with a “dust rag” (cf. St Seraphim of Sarov). Keep at that kind of service and be–in church matters–totally obedient to the parish priest.
  • do not thrust yourself and your service on anyone; do not be sad that your talents are not being used; be helpful; serve where needed and not where you think you are needed;
  • read and learn as much as you can; do not read only monastic literature, but broadly (this point needs more precise definition);
  • if friends and acquaintances invite you because they are close to you–go; but not too often, and within reason. Never stay more than one and a half or two hours. After that the friendliest atmosphere becomes harmful;
  • dress like everybody else, but modestly, and without visible signs of a special spiritual life;
  • be always simple, light, joyous. Do not teach. Avoid like the plague any “spiritual” conversations and any religious or churchly idle talk. If you act that way, everything will be to your benefit;
  • do not seek a spiritual elder or guide. If he is needed, God will send him, and will send him when needed;
  • having worked and served this way for ten years–no less–ask God whether you should continue to live this way, or whether change is needed. And wait for an answer: it will come; the signs will be “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”
You can grow and use all your gifts this way. 


And if you can't then try again. Be faithful in piety and love, God will give you ways to use your gifts and you will see them and fulfill them.

01 September 2017

Give me oil in my lamp keep me burnin...


Today's Readings:

Et quæ paratæ erant, intraverunt cum eo ad nuptias, et clausa est janua.
Those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.
Matthew 25:10

There's a reason this is a wedding feast, above and beyond any of the other possible events: you don't come late, or poorly dressed, to a wedding feast. You just don't. When you do, it's a country music song, and it's a hit... because you don't do it.

But we're an egalitarian society (or we pretend to be) and it's perfectly alright to show up to the wedding late - it's just a religious sham anyway. Let me in to the party, dang it.

It's just not nice to keep people locked out just because they ran out of oil or, to be honest, the oil was running low. But it wasn't gone. They just wanted to borrow some. Those selfish prigs said no.

So - to do honor to the bridegroom - they ran out to buy some (on the chance, mind you, that they would run out... they hadn't run out yet...)

And that manipulative scum of a boyfriend locked them out.

At least that's what it sounds like to us modern folks. Those five women with no oil do not know how lucky they are! They are only pounding on the door because the have been acculturated to do so. What they need is a vacation in the good old US of A.  We know how to treat guests here.

But I think we miss a major lesson in the first verse of this chapter. Tunc simile erit regnum cælorum decem virginibus. The kingdom of heaven is like ten virgins. Before the Parousia, all these people are the Church together. The kingdom of heaven is the Church.

The foolish virgins are just as much a part of this party as the wise ones. The foolish ones heard the same teachings as the wise ones. They worshipped the same God, had the same sacraments, celebrated the same feasts as the wise ones. They got distracted though. They decided the bridegroom wasn't coming. They had all day to get ready. They had all night to rest up. Instead though, they neither got ready nor did their shopping early. When the time came, they could have bothered. They didn't though. But now that he's here... now they think better get ready.

All of Christianity seems to divide into these wise and foolish virgins. I've met wise ones and foolish ones in the UMC, the ECUSA, the PCUSA, the OCA, the AOCANA, and the RCC. I've met them both in the nondenominational world, and in the indy Cath world.

Across the board, in each one of these groups, there's a group that is all sticklers for the particulars that make one a Roman Catholic as compared to the OCA. There's an Organization that will tell you what is special about ECUSA as compared to the ELCA, or why the UMC is unique among the churches. And in each body there's a second group that doesn't do that very well at all. Their uniform doctrine is "let's all get along, none of that matters." Whilst claiming the name Christian, after a while they even let go of nearly everything that identifies a Christian as one: beginning with our uniform and historic focus on sexual purity (viz teachings on sex outside of sacramental marriage, birth control, abortion, and divorce) and progressing right up to the foundational dogmas of Trinity, Incarnation, and Eucharist. All Foolish Virgins are all alike. Across the board. The sticklers can't seem to agree on if there is such a thing as baptismal regeneration, but they know Jesus is God in the Flesh.

I know I've staked my soul on the teachings of the Catholic Church, but I have rather more in common with someone who has made the same stake on Luther or Cramner than I do with someone who supports the Concordat. All foolish virgins are all alike, and they are all boring. I've been in all these places and lots of people asleep in the light.

This is why the foolish virgins are knocking on the the door and asking to be let in: they know what they are missing. They remember the promises that are made at baptism. They have heard the legitimate teachings of the faith all their lives. Yet they rejected them, walked away, found other teachers that would satisfy them by saying things like 'that's not a sin' and 'do whatever you want, but just love..." But they knew it wasn't the Church. They knew, inside, that there was a place they were supposed to be.

And in the end, too late.  They made so many choices, picked their way through so many things, that, that sudden realization that oh, it's all true...





31 August 2017

The Voices in My Head


Today's Readings:

Vigilate ergo, quia nescitis qua hora Dominus vester venturus sit.
Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Matthew 24:42

I have my phone, essentially, turned off all the time. I have my spam filters on high on my email. I never answer the phone if I don't know who is calling (caller ID is our friend) and never open emails unless something is supposed to be here, now, about that thing there. 

So why do I accept ideas no matter what they offer?

I know a lot of people (perhaps you do, too) who say they might miss an important email or call. They talk to anyone who rings the phone, they open and click around in every email.

They also get viruses and get hacked a lot.

In NYC, there were these people that would hear their apartment door buzz and just press the "open" button: buzzing in whomever was there. They never worried about this door person robbing them - they were home, big and strong. But, really, the people in danger were the elderly and the alone in the other apartments. Someone would hear a knock on the door and then get beat up. Or someone would turn a dark corner in the stairwell. Boom.

Letting in anything and anyone is a recipe for danger in a lot of cases. In today's parable, Jesus uses the same word he will, later, use in the Garden. (Matthew 26:40) "Could you not watch with me?" and St Peter will use this word in his Epistle, telling us to "be sober and vigilant." (1 Peter 5:8) And at the end of time, it is the word used to remind us, "Blessed is he that watcheth". (Revelation 16:15)

The Greek is γρηγορέω grégoreó. The Latin is Vigilate. Although it means "vigilant" and "Wakeful" and "Watchful". Just as "falling asleep" means "dying" this also means "Alive."  I think The NABRE gets the message best with "STAY AWAKE!" Heads up, eyes bright! Keep the homefires burning.

You don't know when Jesus is coming back, stay on your toes.

That sounds like "Jesus is coming, look busy." In fact, there's something else before this - at least in St Peter's text, it's "Be sober".

The Parable of the Wicked Servant who goes out and abuses the others needs to be thought of as something out of Inside Out, or Ratatouille, or the granddaddy of the concept, Herman's Head. Think, as well, of this verse from the Psalms:

Blessed be he that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock. (136:9), the wicked servant is doing the same thing... but he's doing it to the wrong things.

The Fathers saw that passage from the Psalms as referring to taking wicked thought and dashing them against the Rock of Christ. By staying awake and sober we catch the evil thoughts as they begin and dash them in pieces against Jesus.

The reverse is when we let the wicked servant (our passions) get in there and dash everyone else about and bully them into submission to his lust (or pride, or envy, or greed..) If the wicked servant is running the show, when Jesus shows up, it's too late. But if we are sober, vigilant, AWAKE, we can catch these things before the get in motion, at all.

Frederica Mathewes-Green once compared evil thoughts to messages tied to rocks thrown through the windows of our mind by the evil ones. The trick is to pick up the rocks and throw them back out without reading the messages: to get the stuff out of your mental house before it infects other things. We each know how quick that can be, I think, although the time will be different depending on the situation, the sin, the setting. The ramp is short and sweet: oh, hey, look at this.. that sounds fun.. omg... too late.

It's like that for sex and anger for me, anyway.

So, you don't open and click on all the emails. You don't answer your phone all the time. Why do you respond to this?

Letting the wicked servant beat up everyone, getting his own way, it a bad place to be in. The servant gets used to running the show. Everyone else gets used to being bullied. In the end, no one get's what they need or want. Even the bully misses out. (Only Satan gets lucky.) Being watchful, all the time, is how it's avoided (being sober is the way to be watchful, but that's another essay.)