27 November 2017

A New (Old) Commitment

15 years ago I started a daily post on the assigned readings in the ECUSA Daily Office.  It was a two year commitment, and I made it all the way through. Most weeks I missed one day (some weeks 2), and if I went on vacation, I announced the downtime.

This process involved research and meditation, prayer and writing. It replaced television in my world: it became the thing I did every night after supper, most nights right up til bedtime. It was, sort of, Electronic Lectio Divina, and - I've learned - it was also very Dominican: Contemplation, and sharing the fruits of Contemplation. But it was the most fulfilling of all my blogging (legit blogging since October of 1998, and email-based journal sharing since 1994... gadzooks). By fulfilling I mean that it evolved until it was a teaching, training, and growth tool both for readers (as I heard) and for the writer.

After those two years I tried to move into the Eucharistic Lectionary but life got in the way. I've made daily Bible-related posts from time to time, but never with a solid commitment to do so for a period of time.  I want to do so now: next Sunday we begin Advent, the first season of the Church year. In the Roman Catholic Sunday Lectionary, we are beginning year B (of three years), and in the weekly Mass readings we're on year 2 (of two).

My Commitment is to do the full three year Sunday Cycle (which will hit the two years of the daily cycle as well).  So, starting on Sunday 3 December 2017 and going to Saturday 28 November 2020... here we go.

I hope you'll come along for the ride...

Addendum: Rather than repeat Year 2 of the daily Mass readings, for 2019-2020, I'll try to do the one-year Daily Office readings...

In the Ballpark, yo?

The 8th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

I have an app called Twilight on my phone and on my Chromebook. As it gets dark outside, the app gradually shifts the color balance on my screen from a blue-white to a red. This is supposed to help the brain get ready for sleep. It also makes the screen get a little dimmer. In direct light (as, for example, on a bus) the combination of dim and red together usually equals black. So I sometimes find myself pausing the app so I can look at my phone.  If I leave Twilight paused for too long (I think it's a week) the app turns itself off and comes back only when you start it manually. Even then you have to unpause it: it's not sure you want it until you tell it you do.

We pray with intention for our power of Estimation: that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them. And that we may never turn away from a higher good for "the sake of sinful self indulgence".

Estimation might sound like imagination. But imagination is less like estimation than it is wish fulfillment. Imagination is, "hmmm, I could do that. What would it be like if I did that? Oh, that would feel nice..." Estimation is along the lines of knowing at Noon, if I wait fifteen minutes, my watch will say 12:15, unless the watch stops or the world ends, or I die... but even in the latter case, the watch would still say 12:15. Estimation is not just a prediction, it's a good guess based on past experiences and the ability to read between the lines in a conversation. It's not "evil imagination," but rather a safety valve. 

To know the difference, listen to your internal dialogue. The conversation with imagination usually runs like this: "Hey, if we do that, we might get this other thing! Whoa really? That would be awesome. Might be a sin, so like... but fun, right?" The conversation with estimation runs like this, "I think doing that would be a bad thing. It might even lead to sin. (Which, in my case, is usually followed by:) Nawww. I can stop before it gets that far...

I feel that my Estimation kicks in a bit too late to stop things, to be honest. So this prayer makes perfect sense. But in reality my Estimation is usually dead on - it's my listening skills that need help. Your mileage may vary, of course. But it's the hearing and following of that danger signal that's important. Socrates said he had an inner voice that always said, "No" at the right times, but the voice never said "Yes". 
You have heard me speak at sundry times and in diverse places of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign, which is a kind of voice, first began to come to me when I was a child; it always forbids but never commands me to do anything which I am going to do.- Socrates' Apology 
Socrates was usually sad when it spoke up - but yet he always followed the inner voice. I find the less I listen to it, the weaker it gets. Like the app I mentioned at the top of the post, if you leave it in pause mode for too long it turns off - meaning not that it goes away, but rather we can't hear it any more. Like Socrates, I must learn to always hear that voice and do what it says.

Now, did you catch that part about higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods? How often as a kid did I really enjoy sitting in the corner reading! Reading is a good, seriously. I devoured books by the stack! Often (at least once every couple of hours, to be honest) I'd be so engrossed in reading that I couldn't hear Mom call me to a chore. I'm not making that up as an excuse: my focus was so great that sometimes Mom could shake my shoulder and scare me. At those times, though, I was missing a higher good - honoring my parents - by indulging in a lesser good - reading and learning. I find the pattern repeats: that I may willingly do something easy over and over without doing the thing that needs to be done now.

The Monastic Fathers of the Egyptian wastes say that we should be so loving, attentive to the higher good, that we should even lay down our psalter if our Brother comes calling at the door of our cell in prayer. For the prayers will wait: our Brother is Christ present to us here, now, and perhaps in need. I thought of this recently when a friend took me to a Church filled with homeless people who were sheltering there doing a rain storm. The parish knows how big of a crowd to expect for each Mass, so there are a certain number of pews reserved, but the rest of the space is given over to hospitality ministry - even during services. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, present, living, and breathing, is venerated all over the building.

The higher good may call us away from a mundane function at work (in which we feel comfortable) into a project or function where working with outers we may have a chance to evangelize. The higher good may call us away from a comfortable life of prayer and quiet cats to the life of a monastery, or  missionary, or even just caring for parents in their dotage. 

The voice of our Estimation may point a way from sin, something bad, or it may point to something better rather the good we are doing now. But it will never point to the easiest, most comfortable thing, until we are so trained that we find the following to be the easiest thing. The longer we listen, the more control it, that inner voice, has: even though it never can override our free will. The whole purpose of free will is to train it to do things. In this case, the training (like in the gym) is to do something that makes one, ultimately, stronger. But it is a struggle, again, like the gym. We want to lay in bed, but God wants us doing things. It's an ascetic struggle: a podvig, a jihad. The monks are holy warriors in this case, fighting against the demons and sin, but we are called to holiness and struggle in our daily life as well. 

This holy, inner voice that always says no, as it were - no to ease, no to indulgence, no to sin - is the claxon sounding the next battle.

If we listen.

25 November 2017

Wherein We Snap & Play Guitar at Folk Mass

Christ the King Sunday, when it was instituted by Pius the XI in 1925, was placed on the Last Sunday in October. That made it a little awkward for Bible Readings (which still had to be doubled up) and for Calendar keeping. But it made perfect sense: it always came before All Saints Day and All Souls Day. You had Christ the King, and then the Saints, and then the Holy Souls.

Vatican II moved this feast to the last Sunday of the Church Year. This, happened in 1970 and, along with other things, cause d a bit of a kerfuffle with those who like Liturgy to stay the same for at least one generation at a time. But it dawned on me today that Christ the King has been in the new place, now, for 3 years longer than it was in the old place.

That tells us something perhaps rather hopeful about Vatican II and the liturgy that grew out of it. 

22 November 2017

The Smiles We Left Behind

The 7th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

The next intention is "that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord will touch and heal us with hope for a better future." Again, it's tempting to isolate this into memories of sex or impure actions in the past, but we we will learn with intention #9, all sort of things get wrapped up in leading us into sin, in triggering us. Even coming to this as a virgin, one never having a sexual experience, there are memories that can trip us up.

20 November 2017

In a World of Pure Imagination

The 6th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

Imagination is the wildest, the most unruly thing ever. The Church Fathers constantly warn us against it. It's the one that only the Jesuits take on (and see where it gets them, sometimes). It's hella dangerous, to use a Californianism. Imagination is the ability to picture what is not and to act as though it were. If you really want to explore that the Church teaches about the imagination, start with this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

A Dangerous Book

Popular histories can tend to be strident, combative affairs: they carry on arguments on and off their pages, and come with definitive points of view. People love them or hate them. They divide readers and reviewers into camps of good and evil based on reaction to the book. This is very different from scholarly history which is supposed to be "unbiased".  If you didn't like the history text in Western Civ I or American History (shoutouts to Dr Doug!) then you were not evil in the author's eyes: you were only failing in class. Disagree, however, with Howard Zinn's point of view in A People's History of the United States and you, Dear Reader, are part of the problem, not the solution. It doesn't matter if you read Zinn calmly and put it away having done your duty. The author is clear: he's evangelising with his point of view and if you don't agree you're not just "another point of view", you're wrong.

12 November 2017

Again! Again!

The 5th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

We pray for a right ordering of our sensuality. In all of these intentions, this was one of two I had to look up (the other being "Affectivity"). This one is very subtle.

The world around us, we know from Genesis, is created to be good. Something broke in the Fall however. We are in a broken world: and part of that brokenness is not only caused by our own sinfulness, but is exacerbated by it. What feels good to us... we don't know if it actually is good or only feels good because of the fallen world in which we live. We must judge things not on externals, but rather by the teachings of the faith. Take pecan pie, for example.

10 November 2017

Custody of the Senses

The 4th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

The next intention offered is one for our five senses. That "the things we see and hear, the food and drink we eat and the encounters we have through touch may all be pure and holy." How is that at all possible? This is not even a question of time and place: any time and any place, how is it possible for everything to be "pure and holy"? 

St Paul, in his Epistle to Titus, give us the answer: omnia munda mundis. All things are clean to the clean. When we are praying for our five senses we are not asking that all the world be set right (as it only will be in the Parousia): we're asking that we be purified in our interactions with the world. Again, this isn't about things that happen to us, but an opening out of our prayer that we may interact in agape with the world.

09 November 2017

Allure and Glamour

The 3rd of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

After prayers for the world and for our relationships we turn to the first "me-related" prayer; asking for help in our efforts at modesty. Modesty in our culture is so often discussed as either another word for humility (which it is not, entirely) or a tool of oppression aimed at women (which it often is but shouldn't be). 

For our relationships.

The 2nd of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

After praying for the world around us, we pray that all of our relationships may be "holy, healthy, pure, and honorable at all times." It would be very easy (as with praying for the world) to only worry about sex in this context. I do find you hot, so I'll be your friend. In some parts of our culture we might even sleep together once or twice just to "get that out of the way" and get on with being friends. In other parts of our culture that might ruin the friendship. Yet "holy, healthy, pure, and honorable" is not just about sex. This is about love. 

07 November 2017

The Social & Cultural Climate

NB: 1st of 15 (and my second attempt at this series).  A Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

We pray that our social and cultural climate may be "purified of everything contrary to chastity". That's a big ask! Several other intercessions will touch on this topic either directly or indirectly, but this one confronts the machinery that sets it all up. I just want to focus on how big an ask it really is.