12 November 2018

Nukuler Family


+JMJ+
I found out recently that there is, among conservative Catholics, an idea common with conservative Orthodox folks: that a person must decide between "marriage or monasticism". I wrestled with that a lot in the Orthodox church, because I know I'm not called to marriage. Even my dearly loved Spiritual Father, Fr V, tried to fix me up on a date... it was literally 10 years before I realized it was a date... when I got the "well you never called" comment. And I was like, "What? I was supposed to call?"

Anyway...

Then I tried a monastery. I did pick the wrong one... and that may still be my vocation... but when I heard that Catholics, too, had this idea among their more conservative folks, I had to think about it again. What if they are both right?

Thing is, this idea is not in the Church Fathers at all. This idea is not in the canons or the liturgy. There's no sense, even, that one is "called" to marriage until well... 1950 or so. That's when it hit me. Single people in the parish are not a violation of canons, or tradition, or even Tradition: they are a violation of Mid-Century ideas of Autonomy and Suburbia.

We have this post-war fixation on "the Nukuler Family". This idea is far more deadly than the atomic bomb! It's American Autonomy done up in  Sit-Com Costumes. Prior to this time, you family was not just Mom and Dad, Buddy and Sis. It was generations, and kids, and cousins, and hangers on. Your family was large enough to handle marriages and singletons. It was a lot of love for protection and support. But if Mom and Dad have to raise their kids far from the in-laws, and the kids have to grow up and move further away... as a cultural idea than, of course, single people get left out of the package.

To the Church's credit, a monastery is a great place to find community when you don't have it in your family. But it's not because everyone is called to "Marriage or Monastery". Rather, it becomes a stop-gap because we have an unhealthy idea of what "family" is supposed to be.

Yes, I realize that there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in my generation (and younger) that would rather chop off their right arms, and their left ones, than live in the same small town they were born in. But that's only because we taught them not to. We taught them erroneous - even heretical - ideas of self sufficiency and autonomy. We taught them that it was a failure to stay with their parents (even if they had jobs). And we taught parents that their successful children had to move out. WTF for? If Mom and Dad are both working, and the kids too, buy a bigger house, and expand! Get more land, build more rooms, glom on to the tract house ranch in the adjoining lot(s) and take over the whole cul de sac!

We have this sick idea that when I hit 18, I'm not only not supposed to live with my parents any more, but I'm not supposed to pay them back for 18 years of support... until they are old and decrepit and need someone to take care of them. Shouldn't they get the reward of befriending their adult children? Shouldn't we all get a chance to care for each other now? Nearly every social service, every welfare program, every "safety net" is predicated on supporting folks in their autonomy rather than keeping them in family networks.

If I go to a monastery, shouldn't I be able to do so knowing the rest of the family is there to take care of each other? And if I decide not to go to such a place, should I not have the joy of a house filled with loved ones and kids, and life? Until 20th Century America, the idea of running away to "strike out on your own" was just not a thing. Why did we let it take over in the Church?

What can we do to repair this? No, I don't think you should tell all the singles in your parish (regardless of age) to move back in with their folks. But can we create communities that hold and harbor them? I don't just mean at Pizza Night either. I mean in homes, in large networks of familial form and even content. Can we create intentional, multi-generational communities of love including married and single folks looking ever Christward in their service, prayer, and mutual support?

"Marriage or Monastery?" is not the correct question. Rather we should ask "Where is your community?" Which is your family of choice - this large, boundless, familiar tie that weaves through your life, or this boundless brotherhood (or sisterhood) that you would graft on to in the name of Christ? Either way it's an icon of Christ in his Church. The only failed icon is the Cleavers...

10 November 2018

Stopping By Sonic After Church in the Evening


WHAT town this is I do not know
It’s exit one eleven though
So just one short of one oh three
where driving I would homeward go

My little car, this GMC
won’t need the gas: this stop’s for me
between the stores and parking lot
this summer evening breezy, free

The lights turned down I pick a slot
in park the gear the motor hot
My order placed my card I sweep
The car hop serves it hits the spot

This Sonic blast is thick and deep
the flavor funnel it will keep
and I will drink it for I sleep
and I will drink it for I sleep.



(With fondest apologies to Robert Frost from DHR.)

07 November 2018

Count as Loss.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 31st week of Ordinary Time (B2)


But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Is there a way to safely look at all of life that went before Jesus and recognize it has no value? Literally, none.

What once was the very meaning of success. What once was the end goal and target of political aspirations, of angry yelling and screaming in the halls of power... is now anathema. And what once was the assumed end goal is now out of reach.

What was once a stumbling block, is now the focal point. What was once the hated enemy is now home. What was once a bastion of oppression has become the greatest liberty, the greatest joy, the richest dreams, the most potent strength.

What was once the easiest thing to get
 Is now the last thing, least, unimportant thing.
What was love turns out to be nothing.
What was everything turns out to be lost.
And what was never on my mind at all
 Is always there, always pushing forward, always driving homeward.
How at 20 could one be so blind?
And how at 50 could so much light still only be the smallest portion possible?
How is Light never at 100% finally?
How is there always more love?
How can Truth ever unfold into more?

Once nearly everything was freudian and sexual.
And sarcasm.
Meaningless.
Now it's deadly serious.
And filled with Joy.

And this, they say is only the beginning.

And pains and white water all serve to sever connections. Loss and loves all bend to one direction. Even the joys of life like sunrises and winter chills only point one way. And it is foolish to kick against the goads.

One day I will wake up and drop this all and won't care to do so. One day the light will turn up so bright that it will burn and I won't mind. One day the love will pierce through like steal in my hands, my feet, my head, my side.... my heart.

And I will will finally know as I am known.

And only the grace by which I stand...

will be left at all.

Please, be it so.

Amen.

30 October 2018

The Danse Macabre



All hallows eve enchanted dark
A stroll I took in chill
To see the children on their lark
And thus a pipe to kill

The sunset orange watching pass
And night on coming strong
When deep from Mission hill and grass
I heard a haunted song

Then followed I this tunèd curse
Until i found the source
And deep beneath Dolores firs
I saw a morbid course

And dancing came the doomèd mob
In pairs of flesh and bone
A line was paced to plaintive sob
And cold as chiseled stone

Now though i thought in fright to flee
Before my feet would fly
Their rhythmed steps came round me
That each might pass me by

And silent were the corpses all
But skeletons well said
Without the breath or fleshy pall
Upon their bony head

They spoke addressing me by name
Well done to find us here
And will you make our chorus fame
In gruesome verse appear?

I nodded silent as I typed
In thumbs upon my screen
unbidden verse my phone had striped
In pixeled eerie sheen

The first pair came in courtly swirl
And round me then to go
The bone man led a regal girl
Whose years made dancing slow

An empress grand she ruled the globe
A century bears her mark
Now unamused in weeds her robe
Death has a Victory stark

The second pair now came aside
In black and white a boy
The bones and he hob'd horses stride
With a candle as a toy

At altar knelt he near the south
And well he served the priest
But now for prayers he has no mouth
We take both great and least

The third pair came a man in suit
With marching hails the chief
and wearing chains of free world's loot
The leader of their grief

We get them all said clacking jaw
In top hat or in none
No leader yet the world has saw
Who has this dance not done

And next there came in sleeves ore long
A song book in her hand
The lead soprano with her song
And shin bones for her band

Her voice ere piped on eagles wings
Her hands on guitar strummed
But deeply buried graved things
Like songs have her made dumb

Up came an athlete with a bat
A beard and muscles slack
The dodger blue upon his hat
Was fading now to black

In leaving Brooklyn bone man said
The team betrayed their home
And round the world the cursed dead
as traitors made to roam

A priest came next his back to me
His robes arrayed for Mass
In Dance his face I n'er did see
Tho him did thrice me pass

His liturgy was drama trim
The showman ever played
And so in death his penance grim
His face away is staid

A tech bro came: lyft, scooter, vape
And options like the dew
the ghosts of start ups round him drape
and dreams are all askew

A Jesuit next came down the pike
Accompanying his charge
No heresy he didn't like
His tent was mighty large

A politician found her mark
and made a Arabesque
So firm her planks her promise, hark!
To voters now addressed

An Abbot tall with croizered hand
was further down the queue
A skeleton did by him stand
as with all the others too

Then Death herself the reaper grim
astride the path did stand
and all around her they raised a hymn
this morbid bony band

We get them all We slay them all
And none can say us nay
We wake them all we take them all
as night ore-takes the day

And last alone some lonely bone said to a novice he was sent Tis I I said and dropped this phone and dancing off we went

29 October 2018

Pro Invicem

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Subjecti invicem in timore Christi.
Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ. 

Paul opens up this passage with a command that gets lost in the shuffle of modern political readings of scripture. Focus on the command not on the elucidation. Serving... being subject to one another. How does that seem to us today?

Evidently, when two powerful males are introduced, the games of power mean that whoever extends their hands first means they are being subservient. Also evidently if you let someone go ahead of you on the Highway, you are indicating that you know you are blocking traffic. I've read (on twitter) that letting a woman enter a door before me is actually a sign that I am in control: I'm not being polite or subject to the other party.

Silly psycho-political games we play.

And yet, Jesus does say that whoever would lead... must be the servant of all. To use our broken ideas of Psychology, then... while Pope Benedict (above) washes the feet of folks on Maundy Thursday... Pope Francis must be making quite the power play by washing the feet of prisoners:


Or, perhaps, humility is a thing in itself and we should not let modern political babble confuse us.

We are to be servants of each other.  We are to be subject one to another.

This can be harder than it sounds. Social norms are as hard to navigate as white water rafting at night. Trying to figure out who's in a room is enough for me: placing myself at the service of the least in the room requires figuring out who they are. I blurt out questions when it's not my turn, don't know when to jump into a conversation, can't remember names to save my life, and (to be honest) struggle with other psychological issues that are not commonly acknowledged outside of certain Church documents but arise from the sins with which I struggle. So it's a safe thing for me to just say to everyone in line, "you go first". 

Our culture, on the other hand, wants everything to be "fair" by which they mean mostly "as long as I get mine..." Why should I come early and stay late? Others will do that. Why shouldn't I get promoted at work before others? Why would that poor slob win the lottery when I need it more?

I remember reading a story of a pair of Orthodox nuns visiting a parish. You'll need to know that in many modern Orthodox places monastics can be viewed with suspicion. This can be helped by some anti-monastic bishops... anyway... these two nuns were visiting a parish and were at coffee hour socializing with everyone else and suddenly a woman pointed at them eating and having a good time and said, "See, they are hypocrites. They come here to ask for charity, but then they take our food like a member of the parish and just laugh." One nun stood up and and was offended. The other prostrated herself at the feet of her accuser and asked forgiveness. 

The second nun was subjecti invicem in timore Christi.

I love the stories of the Christian Martyrs whose faith was discovered because they were visiting Christians already in prison to bring them food or messages from home. When Christians actually do "Pro Invicem" we get in trouble. Christians get arrested for feeding the homeless, for sheltering Jews, for ignoring unjust laws, for hiding slaves, for helping refugees. We've been getting in trouble for this since Paul was hiding escaped slaves, emotionally bullying their masters into manumission and using the Church to subvert cultural paradigms all over the empire. As government and societies today are trying to force us back into slavery to pagan ideals of nationalism, immorality, and racism, I hope we stand firm.

But I hope we do so by subversion, by pro invicem... we must remember to love our enemies... because we don't have any. Literally every political thing in the world is here to distract us from God, and it is supposed to look like "our enemies" are doing it  - so we blame the other humans - but we forget the only enemies we have are demons? Literally every political or "social justice" thing is a false flag op.

That person over there is not a demon, is a living icon of God. They may be wrong... they may need to be opposed or voted out of office or imprisoned for crimes, but they are also to be served by us. By serving them we will win them for Christ. We will win the world that way.

Stop Sanitizing Communion

+JMJ+

A list of reasons not to use hand sanitizer before distribution of Holy Communion:

1 It only kills the germs in your hands in the moment. If you're sick you shouldn't be giving out communion, and this will not stop you from passing germs to those you touch, breathe on, etc.

2 It contains alcohol which removes the oils from your skin. These are the first defense you have against germs from others. You will kill the germs on your hands now... And weaken your defenses just as you are about to touch many other hands.

3 Unless your congregation is a sterile environment (think surgery ward) this is all for show. By the time you pass the chalice back and forth to one person, the benefit is over. When your finger tips touch the first palm or tongue, all the magic is gone.

4 It's unliturgical and it smells bad. Nothing says "take me Jesus, take me now" like the smell of hand sanitizer as you come near to the Holy Mysteries.

Wash your hands before Mass and pray.

28 October 2018

My Face Hurts...

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia, nec nominetur in vobis, sicut decet sanctos : aut turpitudo, aut stultiloquium, aut scurrilitas, quae ad rem non pertinet : sed magis gratiarum actio.
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks.

The NABRE takes a dodge here... it says "Immorality or any impurity or greed" which is not what the Latin says, nor is it what the Greek says. The Latin refers to "Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia". That first word is fornication. We're not talking about "immorality" in general but about sexual sins. The Greek is even more direct. The word used there is πορνεία porneia. It is the origin for our word "pornography" but its meaning is derived from the verb "to sell off". We trade off our sexual morals for other things - money, yes, but also acceptance, entertainment, self-gratification. This is made even more clear by the words selected in the next verse (which are not so obscured by the NABRE) obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility make it all very clear, and also eliminate about 80% of the internet and 95% of comedic content since WW2.

Why is St Paul so opposed to us having fun?

Matushka Frederica Matthews has this great line in one of her books, I honestly forget which one, discussing our cultural abuse of irony and making everything funny, she says, "Can we stop smiling now? My face hurts." As a culture we make a joke of literally everything. This has gotten worse in successive generations - what was once sacred is now ribald humor. And as this area gets burned over, we move on to the next one... we can now joke about literally anything religious, because no one cares about it - and those who do don't deserve our sensitivity. Only in jest can we talk about such things.

Paul is warning us against doing that to one of the most sacred acts God has given for humans to do - to participate in God's creative generation of space and time by bringing a new human soul, enfleshed, into the world. Making jokes about this cheapen it.

But there is a second reason as well. We are spiritual athletes. We are in training. There is a time and place for everything. Yet there is never a place for baseness, or scurrility. We have no reason to "keep in practice" for the things we used to do.

A friend of mine called me out for using as a self description a word which has become synonymous with a sexual subculture. I hadn't realized how important that word had become to me. I may not use "gay" to describe myself, but I have a "totem animal" anyway, right? Why? Do I need that? Do I still need that word to be part of me? Do I still need to get all those in jokes? Those brain cells might better be left from something else, I think.

Chrysostom reads both of these meanings...
Have no witticisms, no obscenities, either in word or in deed, and thou wilt quench the flame—“let them not even be named,” saith he, “among you,” that is, let them not anywhere even make their appearance. This he says also in writing to the Corinthians. “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Cor. v. 1.); as much as to say, Be ye all pure. For words are the way to acts. Then, that he may not appear a forbidding kind of person and austere, and a destroyer of playfulness, he goes on to add the reason, by saying, “which are not befitting,” which have nothing to do with us—“but rather giving of thanks.” What good is there in uttering a witticism? thou only raisest a laugh. Tell me, will the shoemaker ever busy himself about anything which does not belong to or befit his trade? or will he purchase any tool of that kind? No, never. Because the things we do not need, are nothing to us.
Moral. Let there not be one idle word; for from idle words we fall also into foul words. The present is no season of loose merriment, but of mourning, of tribulation, and lamentation: and dost thou play the jester? What wrestler on entering the ring neglects the struggle with his adversary, and utters witticisms? The devil stands hard at hand, “he is going about roaring” (1 Pet. v. 8.) to catch thee, he is moving everything, and turning everything against thy life, and is scheming to force thee from thy retreat, he is grinding his teeth and bellowing, he is breathing fire against thy salvation; and dost thou sit uttering witticisms, and “talking folly,” and uttering things “which are not befitting.” Full nobly then wilt thou be able to overcome him! We are in sport, beloved.
There is a counter point, I think. One that is important for us in this age - that was not so important for Paul. While everything is funny - because it's meaningless - everything is also taken far too seriously. CS Lewis and others have noted this tendency in our media, to stir up excitement for things that happen hundred and thousands of miles away while ignoring the things right out side. We get anxious over meaningless things about which we can do nothing, and then make light of things that are actually important.

So what would life look like if we took everything only as serious as it warranted, and yet took everything exactly as serious as is needed? What would life look like if one lived as if one's salvation in Christ was the most important thing? Mindful that St Paul says that salvation entails a lot of things: obedience, humility, civic responsibility, passivity before abuse, charity, etc. What would life be like to live in that way?

24 October 2018

All are welcome!

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

In caritate radicati, et fundati, ut possitis comprehendere cum omnibus sanctis, quae sit latitudo, et longitudo, et sublimitas, et profundum : scire etiam supereminentem scientiae caritatem Christi, ut impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei.
That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Paul holds out to the Ephesians - and passing them, now hold out to us not the pale and powerless possibility of "heaven"; not "pie in the sky, by and by when you die" but here, now. No harps and crowns just now: power! The Power to comprehend divine fire in breadth, fire in length, fire in height, fire in depth.  This is what the Greeks call "Theosis":  impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei, to be filled with the fullness of God.

I've sat in discussions with faithful Catholics who cannot imagine this is the Church's teaching. For they only know they should follow the rules, do penance, and hope for something better in the future. They call this teaching of the saints and scripture blasphemy, as they fear traditional worship with its focus on glory. They hide behind guitars and call us all to just get along... 

They are like so many Orthodox who are hung up on "Did you have cream in your coffee this day in Lent?" These Orthodox speak of every mouthful of food taken without first a prayer, gagging us in the afterlife. They say that every drink of wine taken on fasting days will drown us... they wave toll houses at us to keep us from heaven. And they say they know "Theosis" - but say Catholics are in error for teaching Purgatory... meh. There are cancerous growths of legalisms in both lungs of the Church.

St Paul offers us that all divine, all embracing, all changing Love that is called "Agape". Yes, Love welcomes all... But no one can join Love without changing. This Love - a him, not an it - welcomes all to a constant conversion. Jesus tells us, "Ignem veni mittere in terram." I am come to cast fire on the earth. Set the world ablaze Lord! Again as at Pentecost when the very fire of God in golden tongues will fall on all flesh. Arise and blaze across all time and space and burn - yet do not consume - us all in Love.

This is not easy work. And there is no peace in this love. Becoming saints is a lifetime of hard engagement a lifetime of sacrificing self will, of giving up all that comes in the way, of moving apart from all that would hold us back. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father,  a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother... coworkers from coworkers, neighbor from neighbors, even fellow parishioners against each other as one says "The Gospel" while the other says "The Compromise". We stand on the edge of the Spiritus Gladius, the Sword of the Spirit... and we dare not fall to one or the other side. 

And yet... and yet... we know we have to use both hands: one reaching for Jesus, while the other reaches out to bring our friends. For none of us go alone. It would not be Love if we were alone. This is ecstatic Love, call us and all out of ourselves. We must call all along with us. We must dance forward in a great reel or Dionysiac Procession: the ancient Tripudium of three steps forward, one back. No one can know the Liturgy in all its holiness of heaven striking earth with fire... and not be set aflame. It matters not if there are guitars or drums, Byzantine or Gregorian chant: when heaven moves, the earth will follow.

When you know the breadth and length and height and depth of God's infinity how can you hold it back from others? If you are fire yourself, how can you prevent the fire from spreading by the very touch of your eyes on those around you?

Oh dear friends, have you seen it like a fire wrapping a bush that is burned yet not consumed, this love that falls down on us like a gentle, driving, roaring monsoon? We are awash in grace and Love and nothing stands between us and this... save ourselves. There is no other Love without it. And with this Love, there is nothing else. 

Wrapped in prayer, swathed in light, and holding God himself in your mouth and soul, can you not know that here and only here is Love. 

22 October 2018

The Domestics

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Quoniam per ipsum habemus accessum ambo in uno Spiritu ad Patrem. Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenae : sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei.
For by him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God.
We're so very used to our modern "classless" society that we tend to think the idea of class is bad. As we play that assumption we forget to note that class is a very real part of our world: it is only the obligations of class that we have done away with. Rich and poor are treated equally before the law as is proper in things criminal, but in things civil there was a notion of noblesse oblige, the idea that one's higher position required an assumption of charity, of noble largess to those in a lower station. We still have classes of folks in America, we've just done away with the idea of an obligation entailed by participation in that structure.

When the Vanderbilt family moved to Asheville, NC, in the 1880s, they built a huge estate... railroad money, you know... but that was not all that they did: they reforested much of several counties that had been greedily logged after the Civil War and left barren. This actually became the seed (root?) for the first national forest, the Pisgah National Forest. They imported experts to decorate the house... whom they hired to teach the locals how to be artisans. They built housing for their growing family and, in the area known as Biltmore Village, they even built a church.

This is noblesse oblige.

In a similar situation today - if someone owned say a Palace or a Casino, or a Tower with their name on it - these folks would all be thought of as "employees" and may not even get them health insurance or a living wage. It's not just folks who have the trump card in the economic world, either. At one time a single man of my paygrade would have employed a valet and a cook, quite possibly a maid as well. And these would have invested in my success as much as anyone: for my success was theirs as well. Today I do my own laundry and turn out my own lights.

We'd call that a smart business decision. The Vanderbilts would call it greed, sin, and would think it beneath their station to act is such a way.

Why this lecture of the cultural morals of another time?

Because it was the same in St Paul's time. Because to be a wealthy member of the society in which Paul lived was to have servants and one could judge the quality of the person by they way they treated their servants or those less fortunate who lived around them. This was true in the Roman world just as a matter of culture, but in the Jewish world it was a matter of God's law. The latter dictated how the wealthy were to leave the corners of the field for strangers to harvest for free, how temple sacrifices were shared with the poor, how an entire society was built around property and yet sharing at the same time.

All this to explain when St Paul uses one Greek word
οἰκεῖος ekeios to describe the position of Gentiles and Jews united together. On the one hand it means "members of the same household", but on the other hand it's the same word used for what we would call today, The Family, and The Help. Folks upstairs and down are equally part of the same οἰκεῖος.

Paul is using this word on purpose to show that there is no difference between classes of people in the Household of God, for we are all one people. All one household - no matter what our classes are "in the world". In this household we are all together and all servants. Even our Lord and God washes our feet. So much so should we to each other. 
Rich and poor, Jew or Greek, in the household of God we are all there, all with our parts to play, all with our obligations to each other fully in place. None of us can claim to be above the other, for we are all in need in someway, all rich in some way, and all called to share in humility in all ways.

21 October 2018

All I Want is My Fair Share

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Videte, et cavete ab omni avaritia...
Take heed and beware of all covetousness...

The Gospel is messy: it doesn't color between the lines we've drawn. Who in this brief Gospel story of familial dysfunction gets your sympathy? We're not told if we're talking to the younger or elder brother. My guess is younger because the elder would normally get it all - but see Jacob and Esau, or Isaac and Ishmael. Fathers can be capricious. We don't know but maybe the man is the eldest son of a second wife or the eldest son in fact, by a mistress though, rather than the wife. Who knows? Who gets your sympathy? My late younger brother (along with many of his friends) was a bully. I rarely see things in these internecine incivilities without that memory coming into play. I tend to pity the one standing in front of Jesus. I often wondered why I was the one that wanted to go to church, but my brother was the one who got to beat me up. So I don't necessarily see this as an issue of "justice" because my younger brother often got away with a lot of stuff.

What would Jesus say? The answer is one that is certain to annoy anyone who thinks the Gospel is only about "social justice". Jesus doesn't even ask the brother who's right and who's wrong or what might be going on. He says, simply, don't covet.

Aslan would remind us we never get to know what might have been, what could have been, or even what would have been. All we can know is what is (and what was). So yes, I had a brother who was a bully, but that's what providence has dealt. It's created some interesting memories and mental dynamics in my life. However to fight back, to blame, to demand fairness would have only complicated things, and perhaps have lead Jesus to offer me some interesting parables. This says nothing about what he would have said to my brother... or anyone else involved. This is always only in the the first person.

St John Chrysostom directs us to this in another way...
The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.
Mindful, this is from the same Saint who teaches that both rich and poor alike rely too much on having stuff and not enough of God. This same saint teaches it is the duty of the rich to share in humble thankfulness for all they have and the duty of the poor to be humble in their reception of charity. The same saint teaches that laws do nothing for charity, as only a change of heart brings about charity...

See? The Gospel is really messy and doesn't fall neatly into modern political parties.

Jesus asks, "Who made me the judge (literally, the divider) over this?"

In the first person singular and plural the Gospel offers no justice at all. In talking to Christians the only thing we're promised is hate and eventually death. However we are to do justice - by which the Biblical writers do not mean "pass laws, march in the street, fix things". We have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn't have time to care about our political squabbles.

In the life of Sts Cyril & Methodious we learn: That is why we generously endure offenses caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbors, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds.

The Gospel is very messy. Our problem today seems to be that we are unwilling to "endure offenses caused us as private people". We instantly demand justice and "our fair share". Jesus accuses us (in the first person) of being covetous. Our job is to defend the weak, feed the poor, shelter the lost, but never to assume that is us we're talking about there.

Lord, can we ask you something?

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Magister, volumus ut quodcumque petierimus, facias nobis.
Master, we desire that whatsoever we shall ask, thou wouldst do it for us.

This came up last night at St Dominic's. It was a surprise to realize, but the Apostles - in fact James and John, two of the "Big Three" insiders - were making a secular power grab here. Could have been one of the Borgia Popes for this moment. And so they thought that Jesus was going to be a secular king... and these Fishermen and sons of a fisherman, wanted to be on either side of the throne. Just not getting it: God's kingdom doesn't work that way. Fr James, the preacher, used it to point out that the Church has been dealing with sinners in leadership roles from the very beginning.

James and John, thinking they're in at the start of some popular movement that will overthrow the government want to make sure they're in good with seats secured on the new ruling junta.  They want to make sure they have options that can be exercised when this new startup IPOs. They want their share of that first day stock boom.

They want their share. You know, Jesus doesn't yell at them. This is not like when Peter said, "Don't go to the cross". They are mistaken - but only in some part of the equation. Jesus is a king. And he will drink a cup. And they, too, will drink it... They will get their share.

They are wrong in the application though.

So... I want to suggest something: that being wrong in the application may not be as bad as taking the cross out entirely. James and John don't get the same response as Peter.

There are those who think their faith requires them to make political actions and movements. There are those who feel their faith urges them to take out civic power. Jesus has some hope for them that, in fact, they will drink his cup with him.  James, you know, dies a martyr's death. John lives a long life of martyrdom, caring for Jesus' mother, going to prison, exile... but he dies an old man praising Jesus.

And when the others hear about it, they get all uppity and in each other's faces. Jesus has to shut them up with a teaching moment: You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.

This was also true among the Jews as well in Jesus time: for they had several generations of Maccabees who were a Theocracy - where the king was also the high priest. Then they had client kings who were Jewish at least by birth, but had no sense at all of stewardship or shepherding over the people. The Herods were the most recent of these kings, Jewish in name only and despised by the people.

Christian leadership requires the Cross. This leader is there not as a pusher and mover, not a cowboy with a cattle prod. A Christian leader has to woo, has to call by name, has to give his life for the sheep. Leadership in this role is about sacrifice. It's about self-emptying. It may be next to impossible to be a Christian Civil Servant, but it's not forbidden.

In some cases a Crown worn right has made a King a Saint.

But there are those who take the cross out of Christianity. Peter said the cross wouldn't sell. They don't mind the politics (as long as they agree) but they don't want any, you know, sacrifice or conversion. Penance doesn't play in Peoria. It doesn't pay well in DC. There are those who ignore the cross even as they use it as a label for their own purposes. They too, don't want any conversion or sacrifice. They want prosperity and "justice" rather than kenosis. Their politics leads to victory for "us" and an end to "them". The Cross is for all - or else it is for none. These would not drink the cup of Jesus if they had a choice. It has no meaning, in fact, it may be opposed to all they stand for.

Jesus calls them Satan


20 October 2018

Close your eyes and see

+JMJ+

To see us all in glory spread
Across all ages sown
On Trinal throne our risen head
His members gladly own

Seen thus can demons terrify
By the very brilliance
But focused only through one eye
You see but this demense

How gleeful is the evil host
To make you yeild
'Gainst gates of hell you will not boast
If but this sword you wield

So close your eyes at mass today
And hear not the baleful sounds
Of ag'd sopranos as they flay
And hymns the organ drowns

See not the siblings squalling there
Who torture while at play
And pay no heed to clothings fair
Best worn another day

But open up your soulful eyes
And see the glorious vision
Of heaven's strikes through earthy skies
And Satan's forces riven

The Son of God who's son you are
Has vict'ry ready done
And child of earth though it seem far
The Church is ever won

And we here in this earthly place
Share already now in love
With those whose light we daren't face
As they pray above.

Heed not the stammered hymns and gloom
Of those who fail and strive
With demons hear the martial boom
And know God's church alive

From Trinal throne our risen head
His members gladly claim
United all in glory spread
Across all ages flame

17 October 2018

The Apostolic Life

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Luke, Apostle and Evangelist
Thursday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Nolite portare sacculum, neque peram, neque calceamenta, et neminem per viam salutaveritis.
Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes; and salute no man by the way.

I hear lamentations that some clergy - especially the newly minted sort - don't know what "real life" is like. Why would we wish that on them, these men who are supposed to stand as physicians for our souls?
Should we not rather take their sacramental daze and build it out? Should we not rather work to be in their world?
Can we forget what the "real world" is like?
Can we recognize that even the folks from whom we steal wages by shopping at Amazon are God's children?
The Apostolic life. What must it be like us in this day?
Can we in this day of technology and free sex find a way to abandon all goods and live the Gospel?
Is there a possibility of freedom in this world as slavery catches us in on every side?
Can we accept that the sins of the many do not permit even one extra sin?
Can we grant that it's possible to have too much stuff?
Where will they hear the Gospel if they don't want to hear it? Who will live that picture book for them?
If the Gospel only means treat your employees like dirt, your coworkers like tools, your bosses like kings, and your families like a chore, what makes us any different from anyone else who may rank the order differently... but will use the same words?
We are in the world and we are of it, can we not forget it?
Can we not realize that "all things in common" means "no one need be poor"?
Can we love without lust?
Can we lead without judging even those who lust to what is real love?
Can we forget what the real world is like and live the Gospel?
Can we let go of a mentality of porn so ubiquitous that we fail to see when "food porn" and "motor porn" and "shopping porn" are all real issues; can we realize that all "advertising" is just porn - designed to stir lustful passions for stuff that isn't ours?
Can we let go of the pain, the cries of "What about me?" and the demand for "my fair share" and "what's coming to me"?
Can we untangle the gospel from petty cries for merely worldly "justice"?
Can we redefine Justice as God's Rule and not man's rules?
Can we stop our theft from the future, our massive credit debt we owe to our children, our fellows, our neighbors?
Can we learn the very meaning of "to have" is "to share"?
Can we drop out of the social net without disconnecting from those we are called to save?
Can we forget the calls of "honor" and "respect" and "patriotism" that the world puts on us?
Can enough silence be made to give us time to hear God's heart?
Can we leave behind the "real world" so as to save the real people who live in it?
There's a little voice inside that calls me to pick up and go: to start walking to Mom's and see if I can preach any Gospel along the way. By preaching I mean live. By living I mean love.

Can we?

15 October 2018

I got my Liberty License

JMJ

The Readings for the memorial of St Theresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Itaque, fratres, non sumus ancillae filii, sed liberae : qua libertate Christus nos liberavit. State, et nolite iterum jugo servitutis contineri.
So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free. Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage. 

Paul does some strange things with his argument and I want it to be evident:

Abraham had two sons. God promised him a son, but because of human concupiscence, Abraham was impatient and slept with his slave woman, Hagar. She bore him a son. Then the promised child was born to his wife, Sarah. He drove out the slave woman, again because of human sin: his wife was jealous. But God saved that child as well. Of Sarah by Isaac came all the tribes of Israel. Of Hagar, the slave, came by way of Ishmael, all the gentile tribes of the middle east.

It should be evident that the Ishmaelite tribes of gentiles were not under the law of Moses while the Israelite tribes were under the law. Yet Paul uses these same tags of Israelites and Ishmaelites to describe the Freedom of Christians (Israelites) as compared to the slavery of those under the law (Ishmaelites). It's an interesting rhetorical inversion, a literal head-over-heels, topsy-turvy place where suddenly Jews who reject Messiah become gentiles while the Gentiles who accept the Messiah are plugged into the New Covenant along with the Jews.

But Paul is making this argument to say Christians are not under the law...

One, however, would be a fool if one imagined that Paul is saying there are no rules for Christians. I've been a fool like that. My freshman year in College was spent at a small, evangelical Christian school in down-state New York. We had a pledge we had to sign, saying we'd not drink, dance, smoke, join secretive oath-bound organizations, or use traditional playing cards.  (Those were the words... clearly playing poker with Tarot cards was fine... and while we were not allowed to join Greek-Letter fraternities, the number of professors/alumni/administrators who were Freemasons was actually astonishing.) So, we had this pledge. And in October of my freshman year I wrote a long letter to the student paper referencing - among other passages - this bit from Galatians to say we didn't need to follow any rules.

I made the classic mistake of confusing Liberty in Christ for License to sin.

Sin is actually slavery. We are trapped in our own brains, in our own lusts, in our own desires. We cannot be the self-giving, the self-slaying, the self-sacrificing images of God that we're intended to be. We are set free...

We are only free if we flow in the will of God. This is what Paul is saying. For the covenant of Sinai was the will of God - but no more. Paul invites his readers to move into the new covenant of freedom in the will of God. But not "there are no rules".

Our modern Secularizers are telling us this. That religious rules that impact "freedom" (by which they mean license) must be done away with. They are seeking to enslave us to the world, the flesh, and the devil while calling evil things good, things of darkness as things of light. 

The Men of Nineveh - who heard a few whispers from Jonah and repented - will rise up and condemn us, for we hear the preaching of God himself, and yet persist in our sins and even demand that the Church change to accommodate us.