17 February 2018

Who's Coming to Dinner?

The Readings for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at San Augustino
Et fecit ei convivium magnum Levi in domo sua : et erat turba multa publicanorum, et aliorum qui cum illis erant discumbentes.
And Levi made him a great feast in his own house; and there was a great company of publicans, and of others, that were at table with them. 

My grandfather died in 2002. On the first anniversary of his death, I went to my new priest, Fr V, and asked if we could have a Panikhida said for him. This is a memorial service prayed after death and on the anniversary every year. It's not a mass or full-on requiem. It takes about 15-20 mins to sing. But it's a nice memorial. Many ultra-Orthodox do not allow such things to be prayed for Protestants, so I asked Fr V if one would be possible. Of course! Why not? Because he was not Orthodox, Father. His reply, which I can still hear, "Raphael, if we didn't pray for the non-Orthodox, who would we have to pray for?"

Jesus sits and eats with anyone. This table fellowship (which is not the same as communion fellowship - which he shares only with his apostles) is an important hallmark of Jesus' ministry. This eating-with the unclean was a serious thing. It proceeds through the New Testament, marking not that "there is no chosen people" any more, but the realization that we are all sinners.  Jesus is God, communing with us. We find in that not only our salvation, but the will, the desire to eat with others.

But Jesus' actions are not isolated one-offs. We must eat with sinners too, not just nightly at the supper table, but in all parts of our lives. We don't just eat with sinners because we are sinners, we are evangelizing. In fact, since communion fellowship is becoming at-one with Christ in the Holy Mysteries, we can say that Table Fellowship is Christ continuing his work of evangelism. By inviting strangers to eat with me, Christ continues to eat with us sinners. This invitation to fellowship is a covert invitation to come see a Christian up close. Isaiah wants someone who will feed the hungry and keep the Sabbath. We are to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God - ie be generous and easy to all except in the first person. Eating with sinners does not override the universal call to holiness, but it does focus it in the first person. We must each be able to say, "We're all called to sainthood, you're closer than I will ever be."

My friend, T, used to get on the Subway in NYC with a bag of Sandwiches. He would give a sandwich to anyone who needed (or just wanted) food. And he would take money from anyone who would donate to help. There's a model for you. My friend, J, would make piles of pancakes on Saturday Mornings and give them away in a park in San Francisco until he was out. Who's coming to dinner? Or Lunch? Or coffee with you? Don't just give 'em $5, bring them to Taco Bell and ask what's up with their lives. Awkward for everyone, I know. But so good for everyone too.

Of course, it's Lent, so I talked about food.

16 February 2018

Why We Fast

The Readings for the Friday after Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at Santi Giovanni e Paulo
Ecce ad lites et contentiones jejunatis, et percutitis pugno impie.  
Behold you fast for debates and strife. and strike with the fist wickedly.

I have to be fast. It's far too late for me to be up writing. So, here's a sketch.  On Ash Wednesday, an Atheist tweeted something mildly off-putting to a Catholic Nun. And Catholic Twitter played Dogpile on the Rabbit. Then, for most of yesterday, there was some fight between two groups who shall remain nameless. All in all it's been a good Christian Lent already, here on Day Three.

St John says "let the mouth fast from criticism..."

St Paul says (in I Corinthians 6:1) Audet aliquis vestrum habens negotium adversus alterum, judicari apud iniquos, et non apud sanctos? Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to be judged before the unjust, and not before the saints? 

And yet we expose each other before the Unjust on Twitter and Facebook.

And that's only after one day of fasting for most of us, because the Roman Practice in the USA is Way Lenient.

Food, however, is not the point, as St John says and so does Isaiah. 

Look, I know: it's the internet and everyone does it. I do it, making fun of My Favorite Martin. Forgive me. I don't mention it to scandalize anyone, but to say there's a difference between mature adult discussion of faith and disagreements entre nous and airing our dirty laundry where the media and the nattering nabobs of negativity can get at it.

So rend your hearts (and not the garments of the church). We totally have work to do before we can get to our Easter Joy:
Dissolve colligationes impietatis, solve fasciculos deprimentes, dimitte eos qui confracti sunt liberos, et omne opus dirumpe; frange esurienti panem tuum, et egenos vagosque induc in domum tuam; cum videris nudum, operi eum, et carnem tuam ne despexeris. Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. 
One reason for giving up actual food during lent (and not chocolate or coffee, etc) is so that there is actually money left in your hands to feed the poor. As the Pope has taught: after you pay your bills, and set aside a small stash for emergencies, the rest of your money is for feeding the poor.

Fr Alexander Schmemann said the same: after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations.

So giving up the food is logical - as would be giving up netflix, or internet etc, as long as it saved you money to give to the poor.


Stop fighting with each other.
Stop fighting in public.
Feed some poor people with your left-over money.

15 February 2018

There's a better choice...

The Readings for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Station at San Giorgio 
Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet illam.
For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it.

There is the most wonderful word play here, in the Greek. Our Lord says, in 3 short verses (from 22-25), that  anyone who wants to follow Jesus must... 

Deny himself  (v. 23) 
Take up the cross 
Trying to save his life he will lose his life (v. 24a)
But losing his life he will save his life (v. 24b) 
Who cares if he gains the whole world
If his self is destroyed (v25) 

See those two couplets? 

Deny self - take up cross : gain world - self destroyed
save life - lose life : lose life - save life

The Greek seems to make the parallels using two Greek words, one for soul (rendered "life" in the English, but as soul in the Latin) and another word for self. The NABRE follows the Douay here, both sticking to "life" even through the Greek and Latin say "soul" 

I could venture that we are to read "soul" (or "life") and "self" as the same thing. But words are chosen for a reason by their writers. What it "self" means a little less than "soul"? I think it's important that the two choices are "Deny self" or "Self is destroyed" Either way the self goes away, right? Whereas the soul can be saved or lost, the self, not so much. You can gain the whole world and yourself is still going to be lost.

What is the difference between "self" and "soul"?

The Fathers speak of a sort of false self constructed when the passions run amok. If you've ever been addicted to nicotine (as I was for a long time) you might be able to relate - especially if you've joined the unhooked generation and kicked the habit. Those first few days/weeks of not smoking, you get lost or angry and eventually realize this is a nicotine fit. The difference between "normal you" and "you in a nicotine fit" is also the difference between "normal you" and "you on cigarettes." You just never noticed it. But your friends did: in Starhawk's Dreaming the Dark (I think... it may have been the next one) she says that if you want to know what is wrong with your presentation, go stand outside with the smokers. Then she comments: "I don't know if cynics become smokers or smokers become cynics." Either way, today I would reply, "Ex-smokers don't have time for that crap, Sister." That cynic is a false self, the "you on cigarettes". 

All the passions from anger to sex to bickering on facebook create a false self that we nurture and defend and risk our lives for. When we stop whatever it is to just "be ourself", the difference between normal you and you stressed out without your favorite self-medication is exactly parallel to the difference between you on your self-med and the real you. 

When we stand up at the cross and nail our false self to it... and let it die... then Christ can live through us: Christ, the Logos of all Creation, is our true self. St Paul says, "I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, not I but Christ who lives within me."

The Cross is our model, our protection. Letting go the "self": ideas of who "I am" and "what defines me", letting go of all the things that make me prideful and unloving, taking up, finally, the only sign of hope we have: the Cross of Christ on which he - like all men - must die in order to bring salvation and on which we - united with our God - will live forever.

It's a curious interchange: giving up self for soul. The soul may be weak when this process starts. What passed for living before is now not part of the deal. Seen for a crutch, though, we toss it aside and now without it we limp. But Christ the eternal healer can work with us on that: whatever the "soul" version of "rehabilitation therapist" is, Christ is that. He gives us stretches to do, people to love, mercy to perform, and gradually our soul gets stronger until we rest in him for all our strength.

We need no "self" other than Christ. And we have no self other than this thing that will die. Better to go with the ever-living one!

14 February 2018

This week was next week last week.

The Readings for Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at Santa Sabina
Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile, ecce nunc dies salutis.
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

What is your life worth today?
What if I told you it is worth an infinity of love and light.
That all the death you have ever eaten and all the light you have ever snuffed out.
Is ready to be turned to Life and Light by he who is Life and Light himself.

All the doors you've ever slammed shut.
All the escape hatches you've sealed.
All the bridges you've burnt.
To lock yourself away.
To hide yourself.
To close yourself off.
Can be blown open, repaired, and repurposed.

All the hate you've received.
All the lies you've been told.
All the pain that has been inflicted on you.
Can be healed and given to you as Strength for the Journey.

There is nothing that cannot be done today, not because it is Ash Wednesday, but because it is Today.

Today is the only day of all eternity on which any of these are possible.

Today. Tomorrow is the stuff of pride - even "I will see you tomorrow" is hella prideful. Yesterday is not a day on which action is possible. Today.

So NOW is the day of salvation. Paul said that at at time when a letter might take weeks or months to get to where it was going. When is now? It is always now.

Sorry for all the Timey Wimey stuff. But it is now Ash Wednesday again, as it has been in the Liturgical West since the 8th Century, at least, back before the Schism. It's a way to make holy the passage of time between now and Easter. 

What is salvation? Today is the day, but what is it? In short it is the Human Being, restoring the Icon of God (which we all bear) and doing the work of God, which is Love, yes, but a very special kind of Love. In customer service (where I've been for 25 years, give or take) we use a special sort of skill called Unconditional Positive Regard.  It's defined as "Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does." This way you can deal with customers, assuming their best intentions, and always leading them to the best choices made in their relationship with your company. Some agents do this better than others, to be honest, but most of us do it, also, as a means of self defense: I can interact with you on a professional level without having to emotionally get involved.

It is to be noted that this is not love. It is also to be noted that this is, basically, the attitude of most of our culture. This is why crying on the subway is, basically, a breaking of the rules. Nearly all of us want to help someone who is hurting... or in danger... but we can't let anyone else see our involvement. We play the Unconditional Positive Regard card and we benignly pass by. We do this for homeless families on the street. We do this for elderly folks who need a seat on the subway (when no kids will get up). We do this when people are rude to one another. We just smile and decide not to judge and benignly pass by.

Love would leap to the defense of the injured.
Love would sacrifice itself for the good of the other (even if the good wasn't willed by the other).
Love would rather die than see someone else do so.

Love is not Unconditional Positive Regard and this is life, not a call center phone call. Life and death hang in the balance when most of us wake up. And for many of us, by the end of the day, death has won and there is no tomorrow ever. 

Love then, is the benchmark. God is love, but specifically, God is this this self-emptying love as the Father pours out everything on the Son and the Son pours it back to the Father and on us in the person of the Holy Spirit. God empties himself and models for us the same resources. Love dares for us to pour ourselves out in a constant stream of giving!

This constant loving, self giving, pour out of all our self for the good of another: this is love and this is salvation.

Imagine if every Christian could work in one act of love a day from to Lent's end in Holy Week. Imagine that, trickling out across the culture, across the world. Today. Now. Here.

Now is the day of salvation.

There is a custom among the Byzantines that the vespers on the night before Lent begins, all the congregation gathers round the church and begs forgiveness each of the other. And each, prostrating, says, "Forgive me, a sinner." and the other says the same, and they embrace saying, "God forgives, and I forgive." This custom is, it seems to me, worthy of all men to be received: that we should start Lent asking forgiveness. We don't just skip over someone who is a good friend and "I know I've done nothing to hurt them..." for all sins hurt all of us. Every sin I commit draws the venom of evil just a bit deeper into our common life. So even the sins I commit and take to confession so that the only folks who know are me and the priest... they hurt us all. 

So forgive me. All of it. I know bunches. And some of you know me well enough to be affected by it. I beg your prayers.

13 February 2018

The Hunger Games

Westin St Francis Hotel in SF, 1904
The Readings for the 6th Tuesday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras

Nemo cum tentatur, dicat quoniam a Deo tentatur : Deus enim intentator malorum est : ipse autem neminem tentat.
Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man. 

The Apostle, St James, points out here the oldest bugaboo: Original Sin or, as the Byzantines call it, Ancestral Sin. It's a weakness - not a "mark" on the soul, but more like that shopping cart that has one wheel that's wonky and always pulls to the right as you make the first left  at the end of the bakery aisle in Ingles. The cart just will not drive the way you want it. God does not tempt us, nor did God make the wheel go wobbly wobbly to the right at the end of the aisle.  

12 February 2018

I've got the joy joy joy joy....

The Readings for the 6th Monday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Omne gaudium existimate fratres mei, cum in tentationes varias incideritis : scientes quod probatio fidei vestrae patientiam operatur. Patientia autem opus perfectum habet : ut sitis perfecti et integri in nullo deficientes.
My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing. 

In short, the Apostle is saying here, "Remember how Jesus just submitted to all the bad stuff done to him? That's your job too. Bear it up in patience and that patience works on you and it will make you perfect."

There is this traditional morning prayer in the Liturgical West. It's found in the 1962 Missal, in the St Ambrose Prayerbook, in the Key of Heaven (my copy comes from the 1920s) and I can find online versions of it back into the early 1800s. It says, 
Adorable Jesus! Divine Pattern of that perfection to which we should all aspire, I will endeavor this day to follow Thine example: to be mild, humble, chaste, zealous, patient, charitable and resigned. Incline my heart to keep Thy commandments. I am resolved to watch over myself with the greatest diligence, and to live soberly, justly and piously, for the time to come. I will take care of my words, that I may not offend with my tongue. I will turn away my eyes, that they may not see vanity; and I will be particularly attentive not to relapse this day into my accustomed failings, but to struggle against them with Thy gracious assistance. Enlighten my mind, purify my heart, and guide my steps, that I may pass all my life in Thy divine service. Amen. 
It pairs well with the morning use of the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus which refers to Jesus a "meek and humble of heart" and also "most obedient" and "most patient".  Obedience to God's will means realizing that nothing can happen to you without God's allowing it and he must be allowing it for your salvation, so your job is to wait, patiently, until the tides change.

And all of it is joy.

Patience has never been a strong suit for me. By patience I don't mean waiting for the Senex and Anucella in front of me at the store or the smiling while the family of four folds their clothes, one piece at a time coming from the dryer. Totally some good things to practice on, but not the sort of patience we are talking about here. A good and saintly (and humorous) example of patience comes from St Laurence who, whilst being roasted on a gridiron, rather famously said, "I'm done on this side. Turn me over." Or all the Martyrs of England who so elegantly prayed for their Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth I, even as she sent them to the hurdles and gallows.

Count it all joy when crap happens to you.

In the Gospel today Jesus says this generation demands a sign but no sign shall be given to it. We want what we want when we want it. When we don't get it we huff away sad. Jesus said, "Not my will, but thy will be done." And then he was brutally tortured and killed. And silent the whole way down his path. It's a sign: but it's not the sign we want to see, so we can't see it.  But it is our salvation.

In our world today we are more likely to seethe with rage, or rant online, to complain, to whine, to binge drink, or to go postal. Passive aggression is not patience. Finding out an employee has plotted for a long time to quit "suddenly" just before the Holiday Insane Season is not the sort of thing that makes one give good references. 

Work can be that way, but we'll do it for anything: avoiding conflict in the face to face, but convinced we're being oppressed in the worst way. We function in what you could call the bite or bide reflexes, sit here and bide my time until it's time to bite. 

This is not patience. It is, however, madness. How do we get the spirit of Patience that St James is talking about? How do we find the time to bear as in joy all the things that come to us?

There's this other prayer, written by Pope St Pius X, that is filled with ideas about work but is equally applicable to the line at the grocery store, the laundromat, the freeway. Anything in our life that seems to be sucking the life blood out... if we treat it as a joy... will be for our salvation.

O Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my watch-word in life and in death. Amen.

That's the key to joy: to move forward (in whatever process we're talking about here) mindful of the call of duty above my natural inclinations.  No one wants to be roasted on a gridiron. But it can be joyful.

11 February 2018

Soft hands are important...

The Readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
...et tangens eum...
...and touching him...

Lepers in ancient Israel were untouchable. We are told in Leviticus that they had to not only avoid other people, but also they had to scare other people away. It's a sad story. But it is not the last time that this story could be told. By the time of Jesus lepers were still untouchable. The leper in today's Gospel comes to find Jesus, and asks only to be made clean. But Jesus touches him and this is a revolution as well as a revelation.

In May of 1983 my friend, Fr Mills, an Episcopal Priest, was diagnosed with AIDS and, in those days, that was a death sentence. We didn't know anything about the disease itself, and we didn't know anything about where it came from, how you got it, or how to help. All we knew, or thought we knew, was that most men who had it died quickly. 

During his first stay in the hospital, back in the days when they sealed off these rooms with plastic, and nurses would not go in them, visitors had to wear gloves and masks and suit up in plastic things. My friend, a hospital chaplain and seminary professor, took me to see Fr Mills. We suited up outside in the hallway, and parted the plastic sheets, and walked inside. Then my friend did something revolutionary and revelatory, she took off her plastic gloves and her hat and her mask and told me to do the same thing. I, unquestioning, did so. Then we kissed Father Mills on the cheeks.

Later, as the Bishop of New York was on television saying we cannot ostracize people with AIDS he was also - almost at the same moment - removing Fr Mills from his parish. So great was the panic. If we only knew then what we knew even a few years later, that Mills  had the HIV virus for some time long before his first illness. He had been just has "dangerous" to us his entire time with us.

But panic is real. And I asked Fr Mills once for a sip of his coffee and he reminded me that was forbidden. Never again to say Mass with others. Never again to hug and bless... June of 84, he was dead.

Today though, in another matter,  we have pills, although I never hear about getting the homeless druggies on PrEP: just giving them free needless. The homeless don't look like you want them to. They are scary and smelly. In our oddly anti-humanist social justice world, it's not abnormal to hear even political activists wish the homeless were less visible. It's, sadly, always been this way: even in the 80s, we didn't want to know that the Homeless had AIDS and other issues. We didn't want to know what high percentages of them were kicked out of their homes for reaching different conclusions about sexual morality than their parents.

We wanted nice, liberal San Francisco to be clean.

One night in 1987, running down Second Ave, late for a lecture by Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme, a man asked me for money, which I hadn't. He began to jog beside me! He asked me if I could buy him some food. This was in the days before ATMs were everywhere, so I still couldn't. Then he offered to buy me a beer if I would only stop and chat with him. I couldn't do that because I was late for this lecture. He engaged me on the political angle of the lecture and we came quickly to an agreement. He hugged me (he smelled so very clean) and using a name I was only called by kids in my cabin at summer camp in Connecticut, he said, "Way to go, Mongo". And as I walked away and realized what he said, I turned around to look again, and he was gone...

Who are these homeless folks asking for money? I gave an old woman on a stoop all my change one night (she reminded me so much of my late grandmother, sitting there) and it might have been $8 or $9 of quarters and such... and as I walked away she called after me, "Never forget that tonight you touched the Virgin Mary."  (150 years ago today Mary appeared in a garbage dump in France and overturned the New Secular Order that was ruining that country.)

And I met the Archangel Michael once as well. The world is filled with mysteries of revolution and revelation.

Giving money, or anything else, to a friend or family memeber we always make it a point to touch. Hug. But not when giving alms. Yes, some people can be smelly. Some people can be unwashed.  But that, right there, is Jesus. He's deranged. (He can give you scabies, as my friend Kelley shared on Good Friday last year.) He's in need, he's lost, and he really wants human contact. He is the Body of Christ placed in your hand as you give away your worldly goods, entrusting them all into the hands of the poor. In their safekeeping those goods will become your stairway to heaven. 

In short, redistributing your own wealth is a revolution against the kingdoms of this world and a revelation of the Kingdom of God.

Oddly, although we learned about people with AIDS and how to deal with HIV and all the medical choices we could find, we still have not learned, in several millennia, how to deal with the poor. Jesus shows us, over and over, that it is touch, the restoration of communion, the return of that person to the community, that is important.

Paul says we are to do everything we do as unto the Lord. In the case of the poor we are literally doing it to Jesus. No: I don't want to give you money, you'll probably just do drugs with it, Jesus.  Just add his name to your judgements and see how it goes... Jesus doesn't need my help. Jesus chose to live like that. The Government will give Jesus housing, why should I care?  

Or... in the case of one flyer recently posted up around a local Trump Tent Town, "We will pound you, burn you, beat you, Jesus…if you are within a 100 yards of this park starting after sundown tonight, we are coming for you, Jesus."

Yes, this takes an act of God, because we are all lepers of one sort or another. We are all in need. Some of us are more acceptable because we have ideas about bathing more in sync with our neighbors, but that is NOT what this is about. Every homeless family ignored on the street, even if they are only goldbrickers, will pass into heaven long before I do. They've had purgatory enough. Asking them to pray for me when I give them the money is probably a good idea.

They are not there to be judged any more than the people with AIDS: say nothing about where or how one gets sick. The servant of Christ is obligated to serve the sick, the weak, the lost. And not to judge. Take off your hat, your mask, your gloves, your creepy plastic suit, and kiss Fr Mills Jesus on the cheek.

That's Jesus in action.

09 February 2018

Nothing so Deep

The Readings for the 5th Friday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Et suscipiens in caelum, ingemuit, et ait illi : Ephphetha, quod est, Adaperire. Et statim apertae sunt aures ejus, et solutum est vinculum linguae ejus, et loquebatur recte.
And looking up to heaven, he groaned, and said to him: Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened. And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right. 

Corrie Ten Boom said of God, there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. She was speaking of Ravensbrück concentration camp, near Berlin. How one can come to that conclusion in a concentration camp... is proof of Faith.

Physical darkness (blindness) is a thing that comes up in the New Testament, but Jesus' healing stories are also (as Bishop Barron points out) spiritual stories, stories that can apply to you and me in our day to day world. Today's Gospel is no different. We each live in a darkness, imprinted on our minds. But, the Psalm says, "Even darkness is not dark to you."  
Think of Helen Keller, alone in a world with no light or sound...

This healing is so much more than just "Zap! Here's your talking and hearing back." Ephaphtha says Jesus not just may your mouth and ears be open... But rather, May your very being be open to the imprint of the Logos of God. Do you see now? 

He was speaking plainly.

How awesome is our God! Modern medicine, indeed no medicine we have imagined can do this. What is there that God cannot restore to its rightful telos, its lawful use, its natural end?

Et loquebatur recte...Do you know what this healing means? Think how awesome is our God. Look: a mute man has never formed words. His tongue and his muscles are not used to making vowels and consonants. Now... This mute man is deaf. He's never heard words. His very mind is not even used to the concept. Words? People use words? 

There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.

We do try though, to dig deeper pits every day. In a class on Ignatian spirituality and the 12 Steps, I was challenged to offer my emptiness to God. What thing in me has had me asking for healing but still, I hold on to it. In my case it is fear. Offer your fear to God. What? This is the most broken of things: I want to be cured of it. Really: Offer it to God. Stop digging this pit for yourself because you'll never get out. Offer it to God. (Corrie also said, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. 
When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer." Again, remember: she's been through Hitler. I get nervous when someone emails me about a spelling mistake.)

The writer of I Kings (or III Kings, depending on how you count) is saying Recessitque Israel a domo David, usque in praesentem diem. And Israel revolted from the house of David, unto this day.  Israel and all of the rest of us, Sister. Except for you, Sister. You're right with God.

I'm not though. And God in his grace is constantly taking away 10 parts of our kingdom so that we can once again focus on him. God in his mercy knows what we can't handle - even if we think we can. 

There is no pit so deep - even the ones we dig for ourselves - that He is not deeper still. If I offer even my empty fears to God, my empty ears, my empty lips, my empty mind... Can God bring them to Telos?


08 February 2018

What I did for Love

The Readings for the 5th Thursday of Ordinary Time (B2) 
Tunc aedificavit Salomon fanum Chamos, idolo Moab, in monte qui est contra Jerusalem, et Moloch idolo filiorum Ammon. Atque in hunc modum fecit universis uxoribus suis alienigenis, quae adolebant thura, et immolabant diis suis. 
Then Solomon built a temple for Chamos the idol of Moab, on the hill that is over against Jerusalem, and for Moloch the idol of the children of Ammon. And he did in this manner for all his wives that were strangers, who burnt incense, and offered sacrifice to their gods.

A temple for Chamos... and of course, you remember Moloch... It's fun to make an example out of Solomon's wives. If Shakespeare wrote in Yiddish we might, today, have Di Frey Froyen Fun Shlomo. and it would be a Cecil B. epic as well.

But all joking aside, what does Solomon have to teach us? How much time do I have...

When you let even good desires draw you away from the one desire that is important you end up building temples for Moloch. Yes, they're on another mountain. You may keep them outside of the sacred precincts. But you pay for them. If you had that money could you not have given it to God?

What thing in your life do you love more than God? What thing in your life can (probably has, at least once) kept you away from Mass? Fear (people will know I'm a Catholic)? Pride (I don't want them to see me like this)? Thing crazy little thing called Love (she would never understand, we can skip today it's fine)? Greed (I have a chance to work overtime)? Power (I can go to Mass anytime but this meeting is important)? Health (it's better to take care of my body at that hour of the morning)? 

Whatever it is, whatever that one thing (or more, in my case) is: that's a temple to Moloch on the mountain opposite.

God is Gracious.

But you have to go tear it down.

And the time you spent building it? Is gone.

07 February 2018

Unto the Beasts that Perish

The Readings for the 5th Wednesday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Omnia haec mala ab intus procedunt, et communicant hominem.
All these evil things come from within, and defile a man. 

In the world of Middle Earth, every race has their own language: there's dwarvish, two different elvishes, orkish, something called the Black Tongue, and several humanish languages as well. There could come a problem if you wanted everyone to hangout together, though. How do they talk to each other? Tolkien included something called the Common Tongue, whereby all the races could talk together. It's the Lingua Franca of Middle Earth, the way to do business.  Evidently the phrase, "Lingua Franca" refers to "Italian-Provençal jargon with elements of Spanish, French, Greek, Arabic, and Turkish formerly widely used" in the Levant, which is perfect! I think today of how so many different varieties of English are spoken in the "Anglosphere" on top of so many other local languages from Hindi to Hebrew, from Inuit to Irish. 

In Jesus' Day the Common Tongue was not Latin (as the Royal Tongue of Rome) but rather Greek. It was the common, shared language of businessmen in much of the world since the days of Alexander the Great. It had devolved a bit, picking up bits and pieces here and there. The Dialect of Greek thus spoken is called Koine, or common Greek as opposed to Classical or Attic Greek. It was the common language of the lower classes as well as of those who travelled. This language, Koine, is important: it's what the New Testament is written in. It's the language of the Greek Liturgy

It's also an adjectival form of the word Jesus uses here as a verb, κοινόω, koino, meaning "to make common" but rendered as "Defile".

I think this is important because (although they are sins) in this passage Jesus list a lot of things that make a man common: 

Ab intus enim de corde hominum malae cogitationes procedunt, adulteria, fornicationes, homicidia, furta, avaritiae, nequitiae, dolus, impudicitiae, oculus malus, blasphemia, superbia, stultitia.

For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 

Again, although they are sins, here Jesus list them as things that make a man common.

But the verb koino doesn't refer to "common" as in common tongue or shared (community) property. Common here is a very particular thing, one is made common after one has been made holy: 

A chalice sanctified for the Mass used as a receptacle for beer pong or tiddly winks.
A steak dinner served on an altar.
Priest's robes used for a Halloween Costume.
A wedding ring melted down and used for a septum piercing.
Taking something holy and using it for a common, everyday, unholy (not always "anti-holy") purpose. 
What is interesting about this passage is that it means Jesus is equating the idea of ritual impurity with what we would see as sin.

This is why it is easy to avoid issues of kosher food in the Church, whilst still worrying about the parts of the Mosaic code that talk about sex - even when they come in the same couple of verses. Why it's ok to not worry about mixing linen and wool, but divorce is right out. It's the things outside the body that don't matter. Things inside make us common. How do they make us common?

Psalm 49 (in the Coverdale) closes with this image: Man being in honour hath no understanding but is compared unto the beasts that perish.
Homo, cum in honore esset, non intellexit. Comparatus est jumentis insipientibus, et similis factus est illis.

This is how far we are fallen in our passions, our sins, our use of the holy for everyday things. We are beasts. We use all the things of this world as people who live in this world and so we are defiled (made common) by them. Jesus calls us back: to come out of the things that defile us. He calls us to use the things of this world not as they are used here, but as steps to God; to use things as they were intended by God in creation before the fall. To use things to their telos, their intended end.

Lent is coming (in 1 week). Now we are in what is traditionally a time of "carnivale" which means "goodbye, meat".  Carnival made good sense: it was a way to use up all the meat and dairy products one had - but was not going to be able to use until Easter. So, as good stewards, we are called to use them up rather than waste them. So what started as a just and decent use (by sharing) of superfluous goods became, over time, an excuse for surfeiting. 

The time of abstaining that should lift us up becomes just more excuse to party. Now we have the party even without the fast.

What were we before?

There's the thing. We were created to be in the Image and Likeness of God. We were intended to stand at the celestial heights, the Queens and Priest-Kings of Creation. We were called to be "a little lower than the angels" but we have fallen from there.  

We are become common. 

05 February 2018

Mitis et Humilis Corde

The Readings for the 5th Monday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Factum est autem, cum exissent sacerdotes de sanctuario, nebula implevit domum Domini, et non poterant sacerdotes stare et ministrare propter nebulam : impleverat enim gloria Domini domum Domini.
And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the sanctuary, that a cloud filled the house of the Lord, And the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord. 

In 1985 or maybe 86, activists attended mass with John Cardinal O'Connor at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York. They prayed alongside of everyone, stood for the hymns and sat silent and respectful through the sermon. (One Episcopal Priest in collar stood for the whole sermon and got his picture in the paper as a protesting priest... but he wasn't Roman Catholic... a thing never quite made clear.) Then, at communion time, one of the activists received the consecrated Host and threw It on the ground, and trod It underfoot. 

A visibly shaken - in fact near tears - Cardinal retrieved the dirty and broken Host from the floor and consumed It before continuing to give out communion.

The God of the Old Testament scares folks. Don't worry: I'm not going to get into that odd 2,000 year old heresy, always new, always wrong idea that Jesus was somehow theologically different from the God of the Old Testament. I mean, the God of the Old Testament tends to show up in clouds and lightning; floods and tornadoes, earthquakes and fiery wheels. 

Cute baby, cooing with angels; Jesus grows up and heals folks. He says (some) nice things. He's very different from the fiery wheels. He's relatable. He's not (often) scary. He's also funny. He disses his family. He jokes his friends. His miracles are (mostly) ones we all would like to see. And he has a cool, righteous anger. Whips? Who hasn't wanted to use whips sometimes to clear a room, maybe even a room at church?

But the orthodox, historical Christian, is that this Jesus is the same God as that Fiery Wheels guy. In fact, the Orthodox will tell you full on that it was Jesus (pre-incarnation) who was walking with Adam. It was God the Son who made the universe (all things were made by him and without him was not anything made that has been made). If you are alive (in him was life...) it is because of God the Son. That's Jesus.

So the Christian teaching is, a bit, scary. Just a bit... but there's this other thing: Jesus' humility. We hear this said, over and over, but we do not understand, we do not get what it can mean for the God of All Creation, the Lord of all Time and Space to be humble. He was humble in his passion, subject to spittings, torture, and death.

Come to Adoration.

Kneel in silence before the One Who Is. 
The God of gods
Lord of lords
King of kings
Summum et Perfectisimum Bonum (the Totality and Perfection of Good)

Present in fullness of Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity...

In a flat disc of bread. That can be subject to torture and being spat upon, or trod upon. Mute and omnipotent, the Word of God accepts still our blasphemy and mocking.

This is the God of the New Testament and of the Old.
Before you.
This is love.
The face of eternity.
The heart of grace, wounded for us.

Tunc ait Salomon : Dominus dixit ut habitaret in nebula.Then Solomon said: The Lord said that he would dwell in a cloud. But here is a Greater Thing than Solomon ever had or imagined.

Fully God, fully subject to human violence, also to Human Love, the humility of God on display, the Majesty of Infinity made finite and real by his will.

This is Love.

04 February 2018

Throne of Judgement


Before this throne
I will come
for judgement
to here
you daily call me
I cannot but come
your call is all
I sleeping hear or waking

here angels surround
saints and blesseds watch
my sins must waft
a stink to heaven
and at this throne
judgement surely comes.

still your faithful sheep
round me kneel
in calmness, grace
and none recoil
my imposture you must
all of you must

I have sinned against
and before thee
surely stain
the pews
the rails
the stoop
the housling cloth

I catch your eye on calvary
and turn down
that even now
you most clearly see

Jesu, Jesu,  Jesu, esto mihi Jesu.

before me
judge me

You raise me up
wash me and hold
in your hand,
my face
and part my lips
and fed me
your very flesh
and love
fills my eyes
with radiance
my soul is healed
with truth

how can I hold to earth
how can I to time adhere

what is time and space collapsed
eternity enters me
my soul more spacious than the heavens


Before this throne
I will come
for judgement
Jesu mercy then
as now

clothed and in my right mind
I rise from your feet
and am sent forth
not me but you
not me but you
not me but you

a message to shout from housetops
a gospel to proclaim.

And now, the good news

The Readings for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Nam si evangelizavero, non est mihi gloria : necessitas enim mihi incumbit : vae enim mihi est, si non evangelizavero.
For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel. 

In HBO's brilliant work, Rome, there is a newsreader. He's a reasonable portrayal of the mass media of the day: go stand in the town square and read off the reports from around the empire. He's often used to report action taking place off camera or to highlight spin. He also gets some of the best lins: No prostitutes, actors or unclean tradesmen may attend.

He is an Evangelist. 

Evangelium, good news, is the political spin of the day. When the Armies of Rome had conquered yet another city, they would send criers into the city (and back to Rome) to announce the Good News: Rome has conquered Cisalpine Gual! This is Good News, right? Civilization  has welcomed another people into her fold. The Emperor would style his decrees as Good News and send out Evangelists to announce them.

Good news! My lover now a god and you must worship him! Also my horse.

Into this culture comes the truth of God's liberation. God has invaded, set up his tent among us, and is taking on souls all over the world. The army of conquest marching forward... in love under the banner of the Cross, the invincible weapon of peace.

When Paul says Omnibus omnia factus sum, ut omnes facerem salvos I became all things to all men, that I might save all, what does he mean? Notice that the things he lists are all the things of this world that divide us one from each other. We pull ourselves apart when God would unite us. Paul doesn't say "to the licentious I became as one with license." This is not an invitation to build a bridge to more sin or to participate to prove how cool we are.  But at the same time, it is an invitation to realize the weaknesses we all have. We can comfort those beaten by bullies, even if the things that led to the beating are, themselves, sins. God is not calling us to build up sinners by participating in their sins, but to reject sin in all its forms. 

This is the advancement of the subversion of the enemy's ways: all the things that used to lead to death now lead to life. And the sin that used to lead us further and further away is now defeated in grace - and the struggle to do so is, itself, salvific.

The evangelium, the good new is that this world has been conquered. It's no longer like what St Job says: it's not despair, it's blessing. Even the people who are struggling against us are building up our salvation. The war has been won: liberation is now.

This month's public bread is provided by the Capitoline Brotherhood of Millers. The Brotherhood uses only the finest flour: true Roman bread for true Romans.