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.

01 May 2017

Who will help us escape?


Today's readings:

Respondit eis Jesus, et dixit: Amen, amen dico vobis: quæritis me non quia vidistis signa, sed quia manducastis ex panibus et saturati estis.
Jesus answered them, Believe me, if you are looking for me now, it is not because of the miracles you have seen; it is because you were fed with the loaves, and had your fill. (Knox)
John 6:26

You're looking for me, not because of the things that prove me to be the Messiah, but rather because you got food. In the Golden Chain, the Patristic Commentary on the Gospels compiled by St Thomas Aquinas, we find this:
Augustine. As if He said, you seek Me to satisfy the flesh, not the Spirit. Chrysostom. After the rebuke, however, He proceeds to teach them: Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures to everlasting life; meaning, you seek for temporal food, whereas I only fed your bodies, that you might seek the more diligently for that food, which is not temporary, but contains eternal life. Alcuin. Bodily food only supports the flesh of the outward man, and must be taken not once for all, but daily; whereas spiritual food remains for ever, imparting perpetual fullness, and immortality. Augustine. Under the figure of food He alludes to Himself you seek Me, He said, for the sake of something else; seek Me for My own sake.
Seeking him for his own sake.

We hear a lot about the Prosperity Gospel these days - both in the preaching of it and the preaching against it. Some have even found it in the Catholic Church, noting that the "Jesus has a plan/spouse/job for you" can be read as more of the same.  As an Orthodox priest once said to me: we know God's will, "That all should come to a saving knowledge of God." After that it's all trivia.  My two friends, Steve, have done podcasts and videos about God not having a plan for you or me beyond willing our salvation. (Steves: I love you guys.) Reading this passage, I'm mindful of a thing my friend Pietro said one Easter in a Bible Class on John: Are we running to God or away from Hell? And I am reminded of the Act of Contrition, where we say we "Dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell" but most of all we're sorry because we've offended God who is "all good and deserving of all my love." We want God not for himself, but because we don't want to die.

I would venture that it is better to love Jesus for his own sake, because he is the Truth, the very light, the Second Person of the Trinity, he is love, itself... it is far better to love Jesus thus, than to seek him out of "Salvation".  For the latter is objectification. It's turning Jesus into a tool.  It's making Jesus into a Fire Escape, we love the Fire Escape when we're in a towering inferno. But - to Love Jesus for himself, to Love him as he himself is, is salvation. To fall in love with Love himself, is to become saved, to be heaven here on earth to those around us, to become Salvation to those with whom we journey. As St Seraphim of Sarov rather famously said, "Acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved."

Today is 1 May, the beginning of the Marian Month par excellence. Mary opened her heart to God without equivocation, saying "Yes" to the incarnation without ever knowing what it would mean in full. That is the level of trust needed here. To Love God fully as himself, to know that he wills nothing but your good, and so to follow him, not because "whatever you ask in my name" or "pressed down, over-flowing, full measure", Name it and Claim it, or "God has a plan for you..." but to walk in his light because he is light, and to love fully because he is love.

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love God.

Love.