30 October 2017

Continuity and Rupture

In the last two weeks of the Lectionary, Weeks 29 and 30 of year A, we've had this story (in two parts):
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." At that he said to them,"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." (Matthew 22:15-21, 29th Sunday) 
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"  He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:34-40, 30th Sunday)
There are, in addition, several other moments in the Gospel stories where Jesus is seen in discussion with the religious leaders of the people. It is a homiletical commonplace to use these to say, "Jesus was offering a different vision than the Jews had hitherto." In fact, it can be tempting to do so because so may have done so. That such often arises from a covert Anti-Semitism, especially among the more liberal, is dangerous. The approach is, generally, "The legalistic religious experts were wrong. Love is the Answer". We place a homiletic rupture between the Good Jesus and the bad Jewish elders. Specifically, it's right up there with the Jews killed Christ in terms of misunderstanding what's going on here.

A cursory reading of Jewish Culture will recognize what's going on here: rabbis debate. Rabbis debate with their students to understand the law. Rabbis debate with each other to sharpen their skills. Rabbis debate with each other to correct errors. This debate can be rather calm and contemplative, or it can be heated. We see all types of this discussion in the New Testament: Jesus at dinner parties, Jesus on street corners. Now, to be clear: Jesus is God. To disagree with his point is sin - and it's the trump card for Christians. But on the streets of the Jewish Communities in the Roman Empire of the 1st Century, AD, this was not a thing. Jesus was God using the cultural tools available. Rabbinic Debate was the way to be. Jesus' actions are in continuity with the actions of those around him. We must read the Gospels in this hermeneutic.

Dealing with the second Gospel story first (because it's what made me grumpy) we have to know the history behind Jesus' response. The greatest commandment is one that pious Jews recite three times a day as part of their daily prayers. It is the obvious answer. The second one, like unto the first, though: there's a story behind that one. I've heard two versions of this story - and I will cite the one I don't like first. It's not the first one I read, though, which is the same all the way through except the punch line. It is the one that comes with a citation, though.

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this--go and study it!"

(The cited text backs up this version.)

The second version of the story, the one I read first, has Rabbi Hillel respond thus: The main idea of the Torah is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Although the text of this second story is not backed up by the Talmud as such, the Rabbis tie that text with love of neighbor as self throughout Rabbinic debate.

Jesus would know this story about Hillel. Jesus would know this context. Jesus was not putting the Pharisees in their place with a new teaching, but rather taking a side in an existing Rabbinic Debate.

Specifically the question should be heard like this: Rabbi, some of us say that all the laws are equally important. But others say some are more important than others. How say you?

Then Jesus - God in the Flesh - gives a shoutout to Hillel.

That's a much better sermon! In another Gospel passage recounting the same story, the querent responds with "you have answered well..." Jesus is agreeing with a certain party of Pharisees.

The first Gospel Passage, with the Herodians, is beyond funny. Jesus is still debating with others, but in this case, he's debating with Herodians. They are fans of the established political order. They don't rightly care what the religious folks do as long as the Herodians get to stay on top of the secular pecking order. They are, basically, successful, secular Jews in our modern understanding. They are as closely aligned with the political power structure as the pro-Israel lobby is in the US today.

So, on the coin, whose image is this? In Greek Jesus asks, "Whose icon is this?" The answer is correct: it is Caesar. But, brothers and sisters, Whose icon is Caesar? Every human being is created as the icon of God!

When the Herodians, not even thinking religiously, hear "Render to Caesar..." they are pleased.  Yet Jesus says something even more shocking: and much more in keeping with the Hebrew Prophets. Jesus says whatever political authority you have... This is part of God's icon, part of God's plan. This is the root of St Paul saying that all authority is God-given and that the King is God's instrument. This is right in line with the Hebrew Prophets saying God has used Persia to save the Jews (even calling the King of Persia "Messiah" at one point!)

Jesus says, "You're right... but not enough. You're drawing distinctions where there are none to draw."

We, friends, must stop drawing lines of rupture between Jesus and his culture. God in the flesh decided the time and the place of his incarnation. The culture, the people, the politics, the family structure, the class war, these are not accidents. Nor are they necessarily divinely ordained for all time, to be clear. But they are the choices God made for making points.

If we rob the Gospel story of those points, the rest falls apart and becomes a nice story about a hippie with a leftist political agenda... but that's only for us, today. Another party could rob Jesus of his Judaism and make him out as a hatemonger. (Failing to invoke Godwin's law would be an error here: Nazis said there were no real differences between Jesus and Hitler. Right wing hate groups today make Jesus out as a white supremacist. Although conservatives often have Anti-semitism in their works, I say "liberals" because they often drive this point home to toss out all the Jewish Law, including teachings on sex and morality. Also the "Jesus Seminar" and their ilk,  eliminates anything from the sayings of Jesus that other teachers were saying at the time... so that Jesus becomes almost entirely disconnected from his Jewish conversants. This idea that the Jewish Scriptures are so filled with error that we toss them out is a heresy condemned by the Church.

23 October 2017

Albion's Blessed Curse

Henry chose to downfall on his lust
in twain and millions rent the church
twain for where but one claim
was now one and all else
millions for without Peter
each in his own barque now rows his way.

Henry's daughters war and slay
each the other's pawns
until one has won
and she unwed
but not unknown
now stands bestride the altar gate
some new colossus guarding entry
and births a novus ordo saeculorum
the bastard child of fear and hatred
of all who would say her nay
rejecting all but truths approved
and holding none in esteem
for each can change with whispered oath
of crown or judgement granted
so all truths now are judged by men.

Here crowned rises Tyburn's tri-corn'd tree
to hold all the more of those who seek
Truth, unapproved, undimmed, unreformed.
And they to their fate rejoicing go
as gallows swing and are cut down
growing thus a many tentacled beast
bestride the fields and meadows of
perfidious Albion.

But hark how now as homeward wend
the wayward sons of Regina-past,
the light that rises now from this crown.
Become a great Tri-cornered chalice
filled with wine by martyrs new-made
and now the Blood of Christ.
Here where strident heretics did faith break
with fathers and with Christ
now vows remade
and prodigals dance
with words first Cramner prayed.

Here now the feet of she
who Holy Wisdom banned
now perhaps can yeild to prayers of those
she cast aside,
and in their mercy
be forgiven as
Tyburn's Chalice
in Priestly Hands is risen

Let Martyrs and the blessed
and all who bore this cross
prostrate in heaven beg for all that the Church
has lost and can regain
and all the heavenly host
the weak, the hanged, and the shriven
from out of purgatory can win the souls
of those
that would us very damn.

Love your enemies
pray for them that persecute you
bless those who curse
And even more now
that closer to our God you stand
bring us home
pray us in
hold aloft the chalice of Christ's blood
as light to show the way

Arise three cornered Chalice
in hands whose necks you wrung
and open wide
the portals now
that were once jolly decked.
Full tree of fruit that was the best
our own hope we slew
now open heavenly bliss
that we can dance with the angeles
where we once death did kiss

Bells are rung
Mass is said
where heretics on martyrs trod
but over all
and for our good
there works the hand of God.

11 October 2017

Five Very Joyful Mysteries.


AFTER THE CONSECRATION of the Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on Saturday and, following Father James' sermon Sunday... Rosary Sunday... and a lot of Marian focus recent, here is my witness to the Rosary! I wanted to share this story of how Our Lady brings us, via herself, to Christ, holding the Cantena Aurea, the Golden Chain that is the Rosary.
I was introduced to the Rosary in 1974 or 75 by my grade school friend, Barbara, who lived next door to us. One day she was doing a craft project for school, to raise money for missionaries. She was making Rosaries with plastic beads and twine, following the instructions of the sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at the school she went to. I became interested in the craft project and started to work with her. We made rather a lot of Rosaries!

Barbara also shared the story of Our Lady of Fatima.

We were in 5th grade at this time and when she told me, a member of the United Methodist Church, how to say the Rosary I took her literally. You'd be surprised how fast the Rosary goes when you say "Hail, Mary!" ten times followed by "Glory be!" And then, "Our Father!" Barbara's story of Our Lady of Fatima did elicit one question from me: Did this really happen? I remember that Barbara had a coloring book of Our Lady of Fatima - or maybe it was a children's book that was done in simple line drawing I can't remember - but it showed the story including the miracle of the Sun and it amazed me. I couldn't imagine what it might mean that the Virgin Mary was appearing to people. And at that time less than 60 years ago! Did my grandparents remember this happening?

At a local store I acquired tiny, golden statues of Jesus and of Mary. They were about an inch and a half high. Might have cost me $5 - all of my allowance. But I put them up in a tiny little shrine, the first prayer corner I ever had and I would say my Rosary in front of them. Really quickly: took maybe three minutes. When I heard that Our Lady of Fatima at told The Visionaries they had to pray at least 3 decades if the rosary a day, I couldn't imagine why such a short prayer was so important.

A few years later in high school I found a book in a used book store that talked about several appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and how important they were to Catholic teaching. The book discuss Lourdes, Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, La Salette, and Guadalupe. I also learned how to say the entire Rosary, really. And also about the Parents οf Mary, the Immaculate Conception, her entrance into the temple, and the Assumption. In 1979, I may have been the only United Methodist high school student in Georgia who could tell you the difference between the Virgin birth and the Immaculate Conception. The Entrance into the Temple, now, and the Assumption... why didn't people talk about these things if they were so important?

I fear that question (and the realization of differences between Catholics and other Christians) that led to much of the rest of this journey. At that time I was also getting into a learning curve of "the Cults". And the same people who deftly (and correctly) explained why Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, the Worldwide Church of God, Seventh Day Adventists, and followers of Christian Science were not actual, orthodox Christians, also explained that Catholics were a cult. Thus does Satan lie...

A retreat brought me into the "Confraternity of Christian Life", an ecumenical community which no longer exists. I had a great profession cross given to me, actually. And I explored my first experience of community life. "Come and See", indeed. While on retreat there, with the (Anglican) Brothers of the Holy Cross I was given an amusing mental image. One of the brothers said to me that the Wesley Brothers had been Anglo Catholics, and that John, at least, died with Rosary beads in his hands.

In hindsight, this is probably false. But even untruth can draw one out: and I was a member of the Episcopal Church within a year. And now I had a Rosary.

In that the Anglican Communion is liturgical, and that traditional Catholic piety continues in pockets (Rosary, Saints, fasting), and some places observe traditional Catholic liturgy, I mark this as my Catholic birth. The Church of St Mary the Virgin, in NYC, had full Orchestral Requiems, and Rosaries for the departed, and Cardinal Spellman was reported to have had recourse there when the Novus Ordo Mess got the better of him. Yes, it was an extreme pocket. I was told over and over by other folks, "There is no Mass in the Episcopal Church: we do Eucharist." But when other parts of ECUSA started to fall away (eventually even this parish) from traditional piety, I had a benchmark by which to judge.

I wasn't Roman Catholic, but I didn't want to be. When I started that journey: ECUSA was as Catholic as I needed. And even though it was mostly a liberal mainline at a fancy dress party, there were some places that seemed, sometimes, to believe what they were saying. It wasn't until I ran away and came back that I discovered they didn't believe what they were saying at all. By the time I came back some folks had insisted on their right to stop saying at all what they didn't believe. And so "The body of Christ" became "bread made holy" and what didn't get consumed got dipped in hummus after, or sliced and passed around for buttering at the Agape feast.

I was well aware of what was going on in ECUSA was also part of what was going on in the Catholic Church: the same liturgical, theological, and moral innovations were creeping in. Liberals in ECUSA were just waiting for Rome to get on board with women's ordination and sexual liberation. Through my college years and on into adulthood, I thought this as well. Back in the days before Internets, one could see it on the news, of course, but one really only had to go to church. The parochial vicar at our college was gay friendly and inclusive (and setting up dates) way back in 1983. My first exposure to a "clown mass" was in ECUSA, but I wasn't surprised when I saw one in the RCC. ECUSA's "Integrity" ministry for gays was sparsely attended: if you wanted really huge, cruisy attendance, you had to go to the "Dignity" mass at the Catholic parish uptown. And it was huge.

When I moved to San Francisco, it was the same way: both groups just as inclusive and welcoming; both groups as likely to juggle rainbow stoles and bad guitar music and call it "relevant" liturgy.

Struggling with my Rosary in a place where Mary was not called the "Mother of God" because Jesus wasn't called "God", I had to leave. But given what I "knew" about the Catholic Church, I couldn't go to Rome. So I went East.

Presentation in the Temple
The Eastern Orthodox Church does do liturgy very well: eastern and western liturgies, actually. On the parish level, both are heavily redacted, but they are stately. Even the conservative places skip a verse or two every now and then, keeping most church gatherings down to under two hours. But a few get them down to 1 hour. I took me years to figure this out: to learn that what was the ever memorable and unchanging liturgy of the East was often only something done in my parish and totally different in content (not in style, mind you) from what was up the road. What they don't do, however, is pray the Rosary.

I can't count the number of times I prayed a Rosary on my fingers, trying to remember if I counted the thumbs right. I had a Jesus prayer rope that had beads every ten knots. I still don't know why that was: but the odd design let me pray the Rosary! I would buy Buddhist malas because they had interesting beads and I would make Rosaries from them. I dismantled old Rosaries that were missing beads to make single-decade models. And would surreptitiously pray these in quiet ways in Orthodox churches.

Affiliating with a Western Rite monastic community, I was sad to learn they didn't pray the Rosary, but I made do on my own. And I continued to pray my Rosaries even though I knew I wasn't supposed to make a visualization of the thing up in my head. I was just supposed to be aware of it, so I wove in my own intercession: As Jesus was born in Bethlehem let my Sister's baby be healthy. As Mary interceded for the married couple at Cana, accept this decade as a prayer for Anna and Mark who are getting married.

Eventually, I learned about Orthodox Liturgy what I learned about other liturgy. Although it is largely stable, there is still no "Ur Liturgy". There is no one place to point at and say, "They Do It Right". There's all sorts of wonky experiments out there: revivals of older liturgies done facing the people across picnic tables parked in front of the iconostasis, open communion, altar girls. Some of these I've seen with my own eyes, some I've heard discussed by clergy who did them. Then there's the gay stuff: bishops who support gay relationships, clergy who function as "pastoral guides" for gay couples, seminarians who run off and get married to each other (and, thankfully, become ECUSAns). It's all the same because people are all the same. Where there's Church there will be people.

Orthodoxy is the Church. But after 15 years, I couldn't quite accept that she was all of it. And if Church was going to be this messed up wherever I was going, could I at least feed sme homeless and pray the Rosary?

There was one place I could go. I was, by her own account, practically, there already!

Finding Jesus in the Temple
When I first entered the parish near where my parents live in Alabama, I was, I admit, unimpressed. Later, when I heard the comment of a visiting bishop, "Is this a Church or a Pizza Hut", I totally understood the joke. It's not that it's not beautiful: it's just very... big and kinda dead. So I crept to the back right corner of the stadium seating, where the lights were low, and prayed a Rosary and waited. The preacher that day wanted everyone to pray a Rosary every day.

And fast on Fridays.

And maybe go to Mass more than once a week.

And I was hooked.

In short: What Mary had been telling me all along was here... was here. It was my pride that kept me away: my pride over my favorite sins, my liturgical pride, my cultural snobbery; but here it was still, and by a Rosary pulling me forward.

This past weekend Archbishop Cordileone preached a sermon calling all Catholics in SF to pray a Rosary once a day for peace, and once a week to pray it with their family, to Adore the Eucharist once a week (even if just before or after Mass), and to Fast on Friday, going to confession once a month. He added the 5 first Saturdays in honor of Mary's Immaculate heart to the list. Here was again. Catholicism, even here, in the heart of the most liberal city in America. The Archbishop called us to pray for the Spirit's revival in our Church.

When I wrote the priest that day in Alabama and said, "I want to be Catholic", I cited the Rosary in his homily. His reply was that he can't imagine another way how anyone could be Catholic.

Neither can I.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Take Back Hallowe'en!

NB: I edit and repost this essay most every year, I know.  Archive has this going back to at least 2006, although it says there that I was reposting it again, so, at least 2005?  Anyway, it's still good.

October rolls around and the accusations fly:
        You stole our holidays!  - Pagans
                     You're being Satanic! - Protestants and former Protestants

In the Fall, as certain as badly flavored lattes and poptarts, we will be bombarded with bad history and bad social science and bad theology - although I confess that for two years or so it seems to be a lot lighter because our media and social mediæ are filled with real and trumped-up demons anyway. But, laying aside all earthly cares, let's talk about Halloween. After ten-plus years as a pagan and twenty plus years as a Christian I’m just annoyed by all the emotive, illogical silliness out there.

Some Christians take the Irish name of the holiday (Samhain pronounced "sow-wayne" or "sow-in") and makes it into a god’s name – claiming he was a god to whom human sacrifices were offered. This deity never existed. Samhain is simply Irish gaelic meaning “End of Summer”. It is, nowadays, the name of the Month of November on Calendars printed in the Irish language.

Modern Neopagans get the history all wrong, too. This holiday was not stolen (by the Church) from them. Firstly and most importantly because in northern Europe (outside of the Roman Empire), pagan feasts were not celebrated on fixed calendars. Secondly because their modern practices are almost all modern – based on a Christian culture – so their patterns are not the “real, ancient practice” of any people. There are those who are doing reconstruction work and actual historical research, trying to free modern paganism from the limits of Christian fixed calendars and the like.  They know "October 31st" is meaningless to ancient ears and hearts.

A good deal of the modern evangelical, fundamentalist, and Eastern Orthodox (mostly-convert) complaints about Halloween are just badly disguised ultra-Protestant, Anti-Roman Catholicism. In some cases (Jack Chick comes to mind) it’s not very thinly disguised at all. Other sects often succumb to such uber-frummery, too. When I was first Chrismated as Orthodox my only reply was “it’s not my holiday”. In this I was following my priest – Fr J. We were forgetting that the Orthodox Western Rite folks all celebrate All Saints day with the Christian West; so, in fact, some Orthodox do celebrate All Hallows’ Eve. So also do Roman Catholics, Anglicans and some (most?) Lutherans. In other words a majority of Christians around the world have this day on their liturgical calendar.

It is my assertion that the celebration of All Hallows eve as such is Christian; that is was never Pagan.

"A Christian Holiday" in this conversation means that it is part of the Christian liturgical calendar.  In East and West, being on the calendar may mean various liturgical functions. Although East and West do holiday traditions differently, both East and West treat their most important feast days the same: there's a Eucharistic liturgy (communion service) and there is something of a complex evening prayer the night before.  All Saints Day (Hallows is an older word for "holy") fits this pattern: there is a communion service on the day of, and a complex evening prayer service on the vigil, the "Eve".  It's this "Evening" or "E'en" that is "Hallowe'en".

A pagan holiday is one that is non-Christian, or Pre-Christian and, usually, localized: there was no pre-Christian religious tradition that was pan-European.  There were Celts and Romans and Greeks, there were Scythians, Gauls, Goths, Visigoths, Egyptians, etc. Each one of these ethnic groups would have had their own pagan holidays. They may have celebrated holidays with each other, or moved around taking holidays from home to new locations, but, in the end, each had their own, localized parties.

Not every Pagan European culture had a festival at this point in the year - the late fall or beginning point of winter. To find any festival at all at this point of the year, we have to leave the urban Roman Empire and go to the edge of the known world: the Celts of Ireland. There was a festival in ancient Ireland as the Sun reach halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  The Celts were big on halfway points. In fact, they have one at every halfway point between each set of Solstice and Equinox.  A case could be made that it was these halfway points - and not the Solstices and Equinoxes themselves - that are the most important.

The bards report the feast between Autumn and Winter was celebrated on the Hill of Tara with the Ard Rí – the High King. Should one visit Tara today one will see a “passage grave” on the hill, called the Mound of Hostages. In the back of the grave are small spirals carved into the wall. Around November 7th on the modern Gregorian calendar as the sun passes the halfway point between the Equinox and the Solstice, a shaft of light penetrates the cave and strikes the spirals. Does this indicate the timing of the Feast of Tara? We don’t know, although it's a good guess. It does show that the astronomical point – not a calendar date, per se – was marked at Tara. Ditto the other bits of pagan Ireland and England: New Grange marks the winter solstice, not 21 December. Stonehenge marks the Summer Solstice (among other events). The Pagans in the only part of Europe not conquered by Rome didn’t use the Roman Calendar – and so wouldn’t have known what 31 October was. The passage on Tara shows that (in modern terms) it was the Sun at 15 Degrees of Scorpio that was celebrated – not a specific day.

Bonfires were lit that night, but it was a culture without writing.  We don't know that the Irish even had anything to say about the dead on this night.  Anthropologically it would make sense for this festival to be a harvest festival and it would be likely that the dead might be invoked or appeased at harvest time... but that's it.

How do the Christians get any party at this time into their calendars?

The East
In the east, St John Chrysostom (4th Century) set a celebration in memory of all the “other” saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. Since he did not (nor does his successor) have universal jurisdiction, this holiday would have, of course, only applied to those dioceses and parishes under his patriarchate. It was a good idea, however, so the tradition spread among the other Eastern churches. Additionally, in some places the second Sunday after Pentecost is observed as All local Saints. Thus in the Russian Churches, this is All Saints of Russia. In the Orthodox Church in America, that Sunday is “All Saints of America” but it is not so named among the various non-Autocephalous or “self-ruled” groups in the US.

This celebration was not commanded to those churches under the Patriarchate of Rome although the tradition began spreading there, as well.  It is, to be honest, a good idea: there are oodles of saints without feast days.

The West
In AD 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the ancient Roman Pantheon as a Christian Church. The new name was St Mary and All Martyrs and the anniversary of the consecration, 13 May, was a feast celebrated in all the western Church. It still is, in fact. This was the beginning of All Saints’ Day in the West. It’s important to note two things: (a) this happens after the coming of St Augustine to Canterbury in 587 (when the Roman Church met Samhain); and (b) it doesn’t happen on 1 November. These are important because of the claim (sometimes offered in error by many, myself included) that Augustine merely baptised a pagan feast day he found in England and that it came back to Rome. Nope. Sorry.

About 100 years later another Pope, Gregory III, dedicated another All Saints’ chapel – this one in St Peter’s – on 1 November and began to commemorate the feast on that day. The next Pope Gregory made that feast (on 1 November) of universal practice.

The Roman Martyrology, still read daily in monastic orders, tells the story this way:
Festívitas ómnium Sanctórum, quam in honórem beátæ Dei Genitrícis Vírginis Maríæ et sanctórum Mártyrum Bonifátius Papa Quartus, cum templum Pántheon tértio Idus Maji dedicásset, célebrem et generálem instítuit agi quotánnis in urbe Roma. Sed Gregórius item Quartus póstmodum decrévit, eándem festivitátem, quæ váriis modis jam in divérsis Ecclésiis celebrabátur, in honórem ómnium Sanctórum solémniter hac die ab univérsa Ecclésia perpétuo observári. 
The Festival of All Saints, which Pope Boniface IV, after the dedication of the Pantheon, ordained to be kept generally and solemnly every year on the 13th of May, in the city of Rome, in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of the holy martyrs. It was afterwards decreed by Gregory IV that this feast, which was then celebrated in many dioceses, but at different times, should be on this day kept by the whole Church in honour of all the saints.
All of these Christian dates are very important because these dates mean the festival of All Saints (and thus the Vigil the night before) is a feast of the pre-Schism Patriarchate of Rome. 31 October/1 November is not a Pagan festival: it is a traditional celebration of the unified, Roman and Orthodox Church - if you insist on limiting that title to western events before the 11th century.

Would the Church have adopted the pagan practice of a remote tribe from the hinterlands and commanded it to the whole of the western world? Unlikely.

Bad Victorian Mythology
Costumes? Trick or Treat? Pumpkins? Mostly bad Victorian-era Scholarship – and that mostly American, not European at all. Like us moderns, the Americans of the Victorian era had a penchant for things that “feel ancient” and, like us, they tended to make stuff up when they didn’t know the answer. They just call it “ancient tradition”. Americans feel guilty sometimes that most countries have indoor plumbing older than our culture.

Our American custom was, until recently, to becostume ourselves and trick-or-treat on Thanksgiving! In fact this may go back to a Roman Catholic custom on St Martin's day: and and this custom was moved to Halloween in the early 20th Century and, as things happen it is the “American Style” Halloween that is only now being imported into Europe. It’s our American customs, superimposed on All Hallows Eve that we now deck out as “ancient” and then call pagan. So follow this: Prot Americans adopt Catholic Customs from St Martin's Day, move them to Thanksgiving (which was, really, a bit too late in the year to go trick or treating); then we culturally move them to a Catholic Holiday, commercialize them, market them to the rest of the world and then - to validate it - claim it's not mid-20th Century Marketing, but rather Ancient Celtic Tradition... and poof! we've all been duped into spreading the marketing ploy.

Everything else we claim to know about the holiday is from this American Marketing. So we like to blame wearing masks on the ancient Celts. We claim the sweets used to be foods left outside, offered to the Ghosts. The Jack O’Lantern is a candle lit to show the dead how to get back to their homes. All of this is without proof of course – positive or negative. The ancient religions were not literate. They didn’t write it down in guidebooks on How to Be a Druid. Almost all of these later inventions have to do with Protestant ideas of the all the departed commemorated on 1 & 2 November. Romans say they are saints – but Protestants know there are no Catholics in heaven so all their “saints” must really be spectres and ghouls. Having made up a pretty fun holiday (admit it!) it caught on! Even Europeans now like this idea.

31 October is Not Pagan.
Modern Neopagans take up this theme – using American Christian customs! – when they say “Christians stole our holiday”. In fact, 1 November was never their holiday – it was, however, the closest Christian party to their own historical party at 15 Degrees Scorpio. So they moved their gew-gaws and froo-froo a week over or so and stopped counting days by small spirals carved on walls and tried this new Roman invention – the Fixed Calendar. They did this so as not to be continually persecuted by the Christians – they wanted to blend in. I’m clear on that – and Christians need to be honest about our persecution of other religions throughout our history. We see the same blending-in in Yoruban cultures where their Afro-Caribbean and South American cultures adopt Catholicism as a cover for their African Gods. In like manner, albeit, a thousand years earlier, the Celtic tribes covered up their pagan traditions with a Catholic overlay. But the Church didn't do that, as such: the Pagans pretended to be Catholics, not the other way around.

We might better say that the ancient Pagans, to avoid persecution, stole a Christian Holiday. Certainly the idea of the Western All Saints being stolen from the Celtic “day of the dead” is not at all historic. Since the ancient religions did not write stuff down, we have no way of knowing from Pagan sources if the Festival of Tara was anything to do specifically with the dead or the “Veil between the worlds” getting thin. We don’t even know it was “New Year” for them – we may have made that up too. Like other pagan festivals some of this stuff may have carried over: the “bonfire holidays” in England are mostly pagan festivals that were transferred to Christian days. This is especially clear on St John’s day in the Summer when they light the midsummer bonfires. This tradition of moving traditions to the biggest party continued through history: in England, now, the Mid-Autumn bonfires are not lit on Halloween, but rather on Guy Fawkes Night (Nov 5) which is coincidentally much closer to 15 Degrees Scorpio.

The Aztecs?
Because huge parts of America are, largely, encultured by folks from Mexico and further South, it’s worth talking about the Day of the Dead, Dìa de los Muertos. It's one of my favourite times of the year to switch cultures: it's practically a public Holiday in San Francisco. We may have no idea at all what the ancient Celts did, but the Day of the Dead is a living, evolving tradition. Some Protestant commentaries are quick to point out that this is Paganism+Catholicism. But it is Catholicism – not paganism – that rules the day. When it is the other way around, it is a stolen holiday (again, stolen by the Neopagans).

The Aztec (Ancient Mexican) Calendar had almost 30 days dedicated to the dead in or around the Gregorian month of August. These were dedicated to the “Little Dead” (children) and the Adult Dead. It's likely that these were the ghosts of human sacrifices, as well as the ghosts of the beloved dead.

Within a few decades of the Spanish conquest all the traditions of these festivals had been transferred to the Catholic feasts of All Saints and All Souls. The Church didn’t move them there – nor did she “take over” the Aztec feasts. Instead – as in the case of the Celts and the other pagans – local traditions were, effectively, baptised when they got there. There were no human sacrifices anymore. But people still wanted to commemorate their dead. These traditions were seen as way-pointers on the way to Christ who is The Truth and therefore all things true point to him. There is nothing to be afraid of in the truth: nothing at all. And anything that really is True really is Christ.

Now does any of this mean that the modern, Non-Christian silliness that goes on in Schools is really-Christian or even Anti-Christian? No. No more than singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is an act of Christian piety although I know some who would file a lawsuit nonetheless. That said, let's be honest: most of the secular holidays that happen now - from Christmas to Easter to Halloween - are decidedly not Christian and should be avoided.  The revelries that happen on this night are lewd, crude and are often designed to mock Christianity. That is Satanic.

But bobbing for apples, trick or treating - or using this day and season to commemorate the dead and the departed are not Satanic at all.  In fact, it's an Orthodox practice that is so evidently healthy that even the pagans took it over: All Saints Day (and the Vigil) and All Souls Day and the whole month of November. Should the kids be allowed to have that fun? Well, that’s up to the parents.

One major point edited in in 2017: I'm Catholic! This is my holiday now.

NB: To be fair, the internet itself has a growing crop of research, and I'm not alone in this. But it's my blog so I can do this every year as long as I update it!

07 October 2017

I'm running for your heart.

Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: If you wish you can become wholly flame.