31 January 2018

The Prison of Our Minds


JMJ
The Readings for the Memorial of St John Bosco
Wednesday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Et non poterat ibi virtutem ullam facere, nisi paucos infirmos impositis manibus curavit, et mirabatur propter incredulitatem eorum.
And he could not do any miracles there, only that he cured a few that were sick, laying his hands upon them. And he wondered because of their unbelief. 

What do you make of this? It sounds, does it not, like I might hinder God if I refuse to believe in him. "God is not there, so I don't have to worry about him" is the Credo sine qua non of the current aeon. I know those who would argue that it is a non-credo, but it is a credo. You have to believe there is no God, for you cannot use scientific methods to prove it irrefutably.

It will not surprise you (if you read along) to know that the Greek has a different tone than the Latin. But in this case, it's very subtle. For, in fact, the Greek word, ἀπιστία, apistia, means unbelief. The Latin is correct in rendering it as incredulitatem. We might today say incredulity or a lack of gullibility. But that Greek word, apistia is, again, our friend the a- suffix meaning "not", and that Greek word, pisteo, meaning "Trust".  The word, in a literal rendition, means a lack of trust, or not-trusting. So, yes, it is a lack of credulity, but it means a lack of trust.

We have a marvelous example of this in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle. I won't give too many spoilers, but by way of set up, the Good Guys and the Bad Guys are fighting and the Dwarves have decided they are not going to pick a side. "The dwarfs are for the dwarfs" is their motto. So they sit on the sidelines of the last battle until they are captured and thrown through a door to certain death (so it is assumed).  In fact, the door is the gateway to Paradise. And all others who enter the door find themselves in a garden with Aslan himself; the Good Lion, the Messiah figure. But the Dwarfs are all trapped in darkness, sitting on the ground grumbling. Finally Aslan agrees to do something even though he knows it won't work.
Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’
‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’
Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

That's the folks in Nazareth. Jesus is unable to help them because they won't let him do so. It's not that their lack of faith takes away Jesus' magic power: rather their unwillingness to cooperate makes it impossible for Jesus to act at all.

Think of how many other stories involve people coming to Jesus, or people asking for something, or people being brought to him (even against their will). In the traditional understanding of the Church this action is called synergia, or synergy: we must act with God. God is playing the music, but we must dance... often out in space where there are no visible means of support. And we must do so full in the Trust that God's got this.

For each of us, our prison is only in our own minds, yet we really are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in by others that we can not be taken out of our prison by hook or by crook. Failure to let ourselves out dancing leads to even the music fading. Doing so makes the music stronger and more present each time. 

God says to each one of us (over and over), May I have this dance? God wants to be present through you with your friends, in your family life. God wants to be present through you at work and at your Church, but - although he can easily find someone else to do the work, no one would come to the tasks with your gifts, with your skills and memories, with your relationships in time and space. God can find someone else's gifts and use them. But he'd really like yours.

What say you, will you sing and dance to Jesus lead?

30 January 2018

Of Bessie's Butterscotch Pudding and Scriptural Inspiration.


JMJ
The Readings for Tuesday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
(Jesu) dixit dari illi manducare.
(Jesus) commanded that something should be given her to eat. 

My late grandmother made this amazing butterscotch pudding. I will ask Jesus for some when I get to the other side. I hope he won't make her cook it, but.. We can't find the recipe. When Grandma died on Columbus Day (as it then was), 1984, the pudding passed out of living memory. I've tried several internet recipes. I know it involved a double boiler, and a LOT of cooking. I think it may have involved cooking flour, but it may have involved gelatin. Grandma owned a restaurant, that served travellers to her father's gas station in Edenville, MI (pictured above). That leads me to imagine the gelatin may have been involved - it's very easy to make for a crowd that way. But Mom says, No, to that. So, research will continue apace.

When someone dies, the line of Oral Tradition is broken. Things get lost. The breathing stops and we have to pick up the story at a later time.

The word εὐθς euthys Immediately occurs 87 times in the New Testament. 46 times are outside of the Gospel of Mark. The other 41 times are used by Mark in his descriptions of just about everything. We get the word four times in our passage today (there are only five uses of it in all of the fifth chapter) although the NABRE doesn't convey it very well. 

The woman is healed immediately.
And immediately Jesus realizes something has happened.
The little girl immediately gets up
And immediately all are amazed.

Add to that that this story is really one miracle story inside another miracle story: like "Hey this happened, but oh yeah that happened too, and this happened along as well." It's an odd turn for a religious text: it's not very orderly, it's not very sensible. You should tell one miracle story. You move on to the next. 

Some folks have theorized we can hear the "Marcan community" talking here: that this is someone taking almost literal dictation of a bunch of folks trying to remember Jesus, trying to get it all written down before the elders die off and we lose these stories of this guy we like so much. They don't need these stories to get lost like Grandma's butterscotch pudding.

And so the date of composition of the Gospels becomes terribly important: was the Gospel written by witnesses? By someone interviewing witnesses? By someone recalling stories they heard from witnesses? Or was it even further back?

To a Christian these questions are meaningless. We have to believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Church: the Church is called the ground and the pillar of the Truth. If we don't believe the Holy Spirit could have (and did) protect the stories within his bosom until they were written down, then what are we even doing here?

The scriptural texts were written to make points (some spiritual, some political). Yes.
The communities that produced the texts seem to have disagreed on some points. Yes.
We know that oral tradition and human memory are failable. Yes.
Therefore the scriptures are, at best, historically suspect if not highly so. No.

St Paul says all scripture is God breathed. He said so at a time when he was writing scripture! (Did he or did he not know he was is another issue.) But if you claim to believe in an all powerful God who can do anything... why can't he keep the right stories intact, even calling different stories from different communities? Why cannot this all powerful God move his Church to make the right choices in this context?

We're not talking Grandma Bessie Mae's butterscotch pudding, here, nor even the guessing about the Founders' intent in writing the 2nd Amendment. We're talking the boundary between Salvation and Death. Coming from another tradition, you may not think that is so: but for a Christian it must be so.

This is not a plea for inerrancy, or reading the Bible as a science or even history text. This is a plea for not ditching or even dissing the text because of Oral Histories and human weakness. Either the Holy Spirit works through the Church, or he does not. If he doesn't, all those assumptions are still on the table. If he does, though, work through the Church, then you have come to the text asking why is this here and what does it mean? Not how does this get here and can I ignore it? It is this latter question that many are asking, either covertly or overtly. They want to ignore the scripture (or some part of them) as the Product only of humans and our biases. We can't point to culture, either: oh, well, that's just a cultural bias and Jesus wouldn't have done anything else. So Jesus is not God then? Jesus, who is about to toss out swathes of the Mosaic code and Rabbinic teachings, is bound by culture?

Raising such claims, in order to discount the Bible's text, is a dogpile of three different heresies: 1) Arianism, that taught Jesus was not God; 2) Marcianism that taught the Old Testament was written by the wrong God; and, 3) Pneumatomachianism, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The braid of all three is woven through with the Heresy of Modernism, and the assumption of Chronological Arrogance; that we in these latter days, finally, know what was really going on.

In a Bible as literature class, or in a textual discussion of the contents, all bets are off: but that's not the Church. Did Grandma use gelatin or flour? Was the butterscotch all made in one batch or over time? Does this recipe in a wartime cookbook come close? Is the Joy of Cooking better? How about this modern one with a crockpot and sweetened condensed milk? It's not the way to liturgically read the Bible, though. Nor is it the way to teach it in Church. An historical debate about pudding will not get dessert on the table. The Bible must be read through the Church's eyes and with the Church's heart because it is, cover to cover, the Church's book and she knows what it means. She put it together, she canonized it - even that portion we call the Old Testament: for she has kept certain parts that are not used in the Jewish Community and reads all of it in ways that are different.

Mark's Gospel is quite possibly a compilation of many stories, remembered by members of his community and, perhaps, edited together with an over-zealous use of the word Euthys in the way a child would tell a story about the day at school. That in nowise makes it less inspired, or less God breathed. The breathing has never stopped. In fact, it is in our weakness that God's strength is made known. 

It is our trust in that breathing that is the sign of the Church in the world but not of it. Without that breathing we build a bridge from heaven to earth, and, crossing over to earth, we burn it behind ourselves so that no one can get back across.

28 January 2018

Last Will and Testament


+JMJ+

The 11th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.
Wherein we pray for our Will: that it may never be opposed by our sensuality, that it may never be divided or conflicted in the moment, that it may hold fast to chastity no matter how difficult it may be.
I've been discovering that will goes hand in hand with courage,  and it's curious that courage, per se, never comes up in these intercessions. But the will is there. What's the content of not-fearing? St Paul opposes timidity and anxiety to singleness of mind (focus on Jesus). Jesus does the same with Martha and Mary. This seems like will - the mind locked in on one single fixed point. Jesus accuses Peter and the Apostles of fear and timidity because the do not trust God. These are moments of lacking in courage which comes from the French word related to "heart". Heart does show up at Intention #13, but it's heart as center of being. Courage, which means "heart".

You gotta have heart, miles and miles and miles of heart...
Fear then is a weakening of the will, and a lack of heart, and also a failure to surrender in trust to God (#14). Finally, fear is a failure in love (#15). Fear as product is woven into 4 of the final five intercessions - which, by the way, I've only just discovered as I was writing.  This is the content of fearing: weakness of will, failure to surrender to God, a failure of heart, and a lack of love. I can add this to the 5th of the five payers as well (conscience), but it's only as a secondary issue. 

Will is one of those powers of the soul that for my own experience is almost entirely corrupted. It's not enough to will something. One's will (like one's conscience, as we will see in a couple of essays) has to be entirely in conformity with Christ before it can do any good, before it can be a tool for one's salvation.

It is not enough to will to overcome a sin, if one refuses to call on Jesus for help. It's not enough to will to do good for one's neighbor if one does it to make one's self look good in the eyes of others (or one's own eyes). It's not enough to fix the walls of your neighbor's house if you do so to protect your property values and make a good sale. One's will must be in conformity with the Will of God in Christ Jesus.

This thing? I just saw it in a window....
(Accidental Gentrification: when you improve a couple of properties, and make a sale, driving up the assessment and so, the taxes, on everyone else's houses who then must move because they cannot afford the taxes on their family's longtime home.)

We tend to get mired in self will: "I'm doing this. "I've got this." We forget the reason we do Good is not to earn God's favor (as if we could) but because God wills us to do Good. I should give to the poor because I own nothing and all I have comes from God for the explicit sharing - without judgment - with those around me. I note Judgment: I know folks who won't give money because maybe drugs and alcohol will transpire. But, I ask, were you going to do anything more moral with the money before you were asked to give it away? Giving Charity only because I get a tax write off is not giving to Charity. 

Saving yourself for marriage isn't the same thing as saving yourself for God. No one around here is good enough for me does not answer the question of what happens when someone is, in fact, good enough and still doesn't want to get married.


We are not praying to be strong willed. Certainly not when what we have is self will. It's that bit about bringing the will into conformity with God's will that is the hardest, I think praying that our will not cave in or be swayed will do nothing if it's not in conformity with God's will. And if it is in conformity with God's will, then his grace is sufficient in our weakness. We are praying for our will to grow in strength, though. This is a function of grace, not of will-power. Will-power is what one uses to stay on a diet in a sitcom. Anyone who has stayed on a diet in real life knows that it takes will, and support of friends, and healthier choices, and dealing with some mental health around body image issues, etc. etc. The will, per se, is most likely involved in other bits (I will to feel good about myself... and right now feeling good is this ice cream.) Being strong-willed in that instance will result in a lot of ice cream and a big blow-off to anyone who gets in our way. Chastity programs based on will have the same results.

Twelve Steppers know that, in fact, the first issue is that of powerlessness. We must admit that we are powerless and that by virtue of our floundering in powerlessness, we have, in fact, ruined our lives. Admitting our powerlessness we  decided we needed God to take this on for us and help us grow to a place where we were strong enough to join him in this struggle. This movement towards chastity is exactly the same: we are turning everything over to God and asking him to help us grow up to join him in the fight. By the time that growing has been accomplished, we may well be dead.

This realization of a Spiritually dead will (that needs reviving) is one that concerns me deeply. Fr Benedict Groeschel's Courage to be Chaste is an important work that never seems to get to the spirituality of chastity. Ditto, Mattson's Why I Don't Call Myself Gay and some Catholic discussions on pron addiction. Also the entire program of Courage, itself. These all seem to rely on a secular, therapeutic model of human sexuality that is, really, just one step away from "do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". I will follow God because I feel like it is the best we can come up with on Self Willed Self Improvement.  My will might make other choices later.

Take my will, God, and make it over into thy Will. Then I will be able to all the better hand it over to Thee. 

This is the only true freedom there is.



Tao of Paul 2

JMJ
The Readings for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Volo autem vos sine sollicitudine esse.
I would have you to be without solicitude.

This picks up where the Tao of Paul left us last Sunday. I don't think the Latin does as well with the Greek, though.  Sollicitudine... to solicit: as if one were doing charity work.  The Greek says St Paul wants us to be ἀμερίμνους amerimnousIn Greek the prefix "a" means simply "without" so we have a-merimnous or, without-merimnous. This word, merimnous, is verrry interesting, both in its meanings and its use in the New Testament.
Werry Intewesting.
Jesus says we're not to be this about what to eat or what to wear because we're worth more than sparrows or lilies. We're not supposed to be this about tomorrow at all: it's going to have it's own troubles there anyway. Martha was this while her sister sat with Jesus. We're not supposed to be this if the authorities arrest us. Doing this will not make us taller or let us live longer. Paul says, in Philippians that we're not to be this over anything. But it gets used, as a word, the most times in this 7th Chapter of I Corinthians: 6 times in three verses the "merimn" root gets used.

Now, what's it mean? Divided. Broken up into little bits.  Paul wants our mind focused on one thing: the Lord Jesus. Paul wants us to have single minds - not divided up into little compartments. In the Tao of Paul, Christian spiritual practice is about unity. Unity of the Mind, unity of the Mind and Heart, unity of Husband and Wife, unity of the Church, unity of the Church with Christ, Unity of Christ with us and the Father. Continual unity and reconciliation until God is all in all.

St Paul says elsewhere, do everything as unto the Lord: even your menial tasks and daily chores. All for Jesus. Loving your wife? All for Jesus. Teaching your children to play baseball? All for Jesus. Taking court stenography classes? All for Jesus.

And do not be anxious (divided) in your mind: Jesus gave you this task to do and it is he who will see you through it.

Do not be afraid, as we said yesterday: God's got this.

All of our actions will flow out from this unity of mind, of being with Jesus, who is the Great I Am. This is the etymological root of "Authority" by the way: ek (out of) eimi (being, or am-ness). Since Jesus is the Great I Am incarnate, very being himself, in our unity with him we begin to share in his authority. This is not magic or anything like that. Our will, too, becomes subject to his. But St Catherine, for example, could command kings and the pope, himself! Calling herself a worthless servant, the servant of God's servants, little daughter, or little sister, she could, at the same time, say to the Pope, "I command..." and no one thought it odd: because of her deep, mystical union, in mind and heart, with Our Lord. This is teaching with Authority. It only comes from one place.


27 January 2018

The Benedict Option

If I Werrr King of the Forrrrressssht
JMJ 
The Readings for Saturday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2):
Et ait illis : Quid timidi estis? necdum habetis fidem? 
And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet?

July 4th, 1981,  I was sitting behind the elementary school with my friends Faith, Marc, Denis, Jody... we were all there to watch the annual fireworks display. These were shot off from behind an oak tree that grew at the back of the playground by the village sheriff.  We could see him now, moving in the twilight, setting up the tubes and things. As he shot off each one, Faith would lead us in a sound, "OOOOOOOO" or "AHHHHHH", etc. We were annoying folks around us, but it was fun, sitting on the blanket, sipping out of little Budweiser nips, and not yet being of age.

About 10 minutes into the program, a rocket went up (Faith had us ready to cry, "Ohhhhhhh"). But then, after about 20 feet it gave up and the rocket came down. We watched it bounce. 

But then... it exploded! (The Sheriff had the sense to run, duck and cover). And there was an amazing amount of chaos: because the exploding rocket caught all the other fireworks and lit them all! There were rockets going everywhere. An entire 40 mins of remaining program including the grand finale went off in about 5 minutes. It was intense. It was astonishing. It has ruined me for fireworks because I tell this story every year and no fireworks display can ever match it.

The mob of people were running into the forest, off to the farm field next door, or out towards the parking lot. 

Faith sat motionless and so, so did all of us. And we saw the intense beauty and humor of it all.  And we drank our beers as people screamed.

Then we applauded.

Faith said to my Mom later, "I figured if one of those rockets was meant for me, running into the woods wouldn't have helped, so I sat there."

So, Jesus: say the Apostles. You see here, we're about to be killed! Why are we afraid? You were asleep and we were just three splashes short of a full bucket here, and going under fast. Why are we afraid? Right. How can you sleep? You have to admit the Apostles would have had any reason at all to yell back something like this. The English makes it sound that way, anyway: almost as if Jesus stood up and said, "What, this? You call this a storm? That's not a storm..."

That's not a knife...
But Jesus asks a rather more interesting question in the Greek (and in Latin): Why are you timid? Do you not yet have faith? The Latin timidi is a perfect rendition of the Greek δειλός deilos. Both of those would be a perfect name for the Lion in the Wizard of Oz (δειλό λιοντάρι). And we know from that story that the lion is lacking Courage... which means heart.  (Middle English [denoting the heart, as the seat of feelings]: from Old French corage, from Latin cor ‘heart.’). The Greek, deilos means the same thing only worse:
1169 deilós (an adjective derived from deidō, "fear-driven") – properly, dreadful, describing a person who loses their "moral gumption (fortitude)" that is needed to follow the Lord.
1169 /deilós ("fearful of losses") refers to an excessive fear (dread) of "losing," causing someone to be fainthearted (cowardly) – hence, to fall short in following Christ as Lord.
[1169 /deilós is always used negatively in the NT and stands in contrast to the positive fear which can be expressed by 5401 /phóbos ("fear," see Phil 2:12).]
Lacking moral gumption. OK. And fearful of losses and because of that fear falling short... a level of fear that causes you to back down in the service of Jesus.

Once, meditating on the roots of anger, I found fear. Not Phobos, but Deilos. And I've been praying for Cojones de Latón ever since. The curious thing is that one doesn't need to be scared of anything. I can get up and move 3,000 miles tomorrow: find a new job, make new friends, make a real go of it. I've done that so many times that I could write a how-to manual called "How to Quit, Move 3,000 Miles and Start Over Anytime You Want." I've walked on outdoor ledges 3" wide 6 floors above Manhattan, I've walked in parts of several cities in which I'm supposed to be terrified. But I'm not.


But I am more worried about offending the persons who control my lease or my paycheck than I am about offending Jesus. And that shows up in a false bravado, a weak-willed acquiescence, a persecution complex, and a simmering stew of emotions that run the gamut from "why can't I get anything done?" to "one day I may find a new job".

Jesus posits a curious solution to this timidity: Necdum habetis fidem? Have ye not yet faith?  Faith is the answer. Faith in what, though? What is this faith of which you speak? Faith is different from assurance or confidence. 


I have confidence in meeeeeee
Faith is trust. Faith is trust in God. Jesus can sleep through a storm (or an Earthquake), or walk through an Angry Mob (or a trial), because he knows his heavenly Father has got it all under control. Yes, he had some doubts and fears in Gethsemane, and he asked for help... but he never gave in to them. 

Trust. The Greek word rendered "Faith" here is πίστις pistis and it's not the blindness of belief. Rather it's the assurance of knowing. In Greek one has pistis in a contract.  One has πίστις in a marriage. The Latin prayer called the Act of Faith begins, Domine Deus, firma fide credo et confiteor... "Lord God, with a firm faith I believe an I confess... The Greek version of the Nicene Creed begins "Pisteuo" or "I trust..."

When Jesus says, Why are you timid? Why do you not yet have faith?" He's asking, flat out, Which part of God's Got This are you missing?


If one of those rockets had my name on it, running into the forest wouldn't help.
(I make no apologies because her name really is Faith)

I wonder, though what makes us think anything else in this world works differently? If God's got this... then whatever is happening is what's best for me: for my salvation, for my journey home. What I need to do is find the best dance for now. What is not acceptable is to run away, to hide, to chicken out, or to back down.

I'm currently reading a Biography of St Catherine of Siena. Of all the amazing things she did, the thing that surprises me most is not that she rebuked the Pope for being in Avignon, but why she did so: he was there because Rome had riots and wars and it was scary. She knew though, that the Bishop of Rome belonged with his people. The popes were scared and running: and that's no way for a Christian to make decisions, certainly not a Christian leader, and especially the Vicar of Christ.

So what about my fear problem? Or, what about our fear problem? We don't get to go hide in the hills just because there's war, or rumors of wars, or laws we don't like. The late Francis, Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, once said 
I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. 
We're not there yet, but the prophecies of section 17 in Humanae Vitae are coming true. And we may not have long to wait.  Come what may, though: The Lion of Judah ain't no Dandy Lion to go hide in a cave until the terror is over. Christians don't get to run away when things get tough. They stay put, they raise their kids in the faith, they serve the Gospel, they proclaim the truth, and they get killed.

That's the will of God and so they go rejoicing, forgiving their oppressors, blessing those that curse them, and praying for those that kill them. The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Cardinal George's quote ends rather more hopeful than it beganHis successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

That's faith. God's got this.

Glory to God for all things.

25 January 2018

Saul. Saul...

JMJ
The Readings for the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul
Thursday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Ego sum Jesus, quem tu persequeris : durum est tibi contra stimulum calcitrare.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.  

Kicking against the goad is such an image, isn't it? Driving your car the wrong way over one of those pointy sharp tire traps that keep you going in the in ramp and out the out ramp. Like that but for horses. 

You have to admit that personal evangelism from Jesus is a big thing. What would you do if Jesus were to appear before you in a blinding light with any proof you want that it was, in fact, Jesus? What would you do? 

What sort of questions would rush through your mind? 
How could you know it was actually him? Folks way better at holiness than I have been tricked by demons claiming to be Jesus. Folks way smarter than I are tricked all the time. (By their fruits, etc)
In the Orthodox Church if an icon starts to weep or gush myrrh, or blood or something, the first thing that happens is an exorcism is performed.
If the Orthodox Church can't tell at first blush about even the holiest of things (Icons), how would you know?
And so, how did Saul know?

How do you reach the decision to reach out to Truth himself, standing before you?
In a few years, Saul (now Paul), would go from "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples" to dying for them.

In changed someplace between Jesus' word, goad, and Paul's word, Lord

Astonished? Yes, I would be too at the words coming out of my own mouth.

We know all the stories that come after that. But how that split second changed the world! How that moment between goad and Lord made all the difference.

Saul, does it hurt when you do that?
Yes, Lord.
Then don't do that.

Yes, Lord.

But, how would you know? I mean how would you really know?

What has worked for me is hearing the Voice through the voice of others who, likewise, heard it through the voices of others. The entirety of the gospel works that way: Luke says he researched everything, interviewing eyewitnesses etc, before he wrote it down.  But the words are not powerful: it is the telling of the words. In the hearing of the stories of others who, too, have come from this Savior speaking the words of Grace.


Whose life will you touch when you leave the presence of the Lord and share it with others? When you speak, who will be transformed? Where will your light shine?                                   


24 January 2018

I have a cunning plan...

JMJ 
The Readings for Memorial of St Francis de Sales, BCD
Wednesday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 


Et fidelis erit domus tua, et regnum tuum usque in aeternum ante faciem tuam, et thronus tuus erit firmus jugiter.
And thy house shall be faithful, and thy kingdom for ever before thy face, and thy throne shall be firm for ever. 

I'm certain that, if God had wanted to become Man, he could have just done it.  That is the whole point of God, is it not? Rather better than Nike, just thinking it is to have it have been done already.  Just... oops already done. What we know of God in the Old Testament, though, after that Great Poem of Creation, the Hexaemeron, is that God prefers to work in relationship: walking in the Evening with Adam, lamenting the death of Abel, reaching out to Noë and his Kin; Abraham and his family, Lot and his, the sons of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and all their generations. Moses and Aaron, and all the 12 Tribes of Israel, all coming together out of Egypt. 

This God doesn't just do things for people or to people: he does things through and with them. This Great God of ours is in love with us.

So it is right and just that, to start the movement towards the final act, he begins by promising David an eternal throne. From that promise, we are set careening at a positively Orthodox speed down the Road to the Final Apocalypse when that Davidic throne will hold the Lamb that was Slain from before the Foundations of the World and every tribe, every nation, every knee will bend and every tongue in heaven and on earth and in hell will proclaim, to the Glory of God the Father that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!

God, had he wanted to become Man, could have, you know, just done itBut that would be magical at best and meaningless, more than likely. God needed to work with us and in us and through us. God needed a family history. God had work to do: to arrange everything so that when the Incarnation Happened, everything would be in order.

1 Particular Man
1 Particular family.
1 Particular clan.
1 Particular ancestry.
1 Particular set of roots (Bet-Lechem. House of Bread, get it?)

Marriages to arrange, and adulturies to account for, and tribes to be lost and empires to rise and Alexander had to find India to open the way there and Augustus, for one Brief Shining Moment, and then cue star, cue shepherds, cue terror, cue state sponsored torture, cue... you.

When I think of all the things that lined up to make you or me possible - and that's without any divine signals, signage, or stars. I just got born in the city that Margaret Mitchell wrote about about 100 years later... and I'm not yet sure of the stories around my birth. But I think they may be true. What about yours? At least as easy? 

God had to literally (pun intended) write history to make this one happen. When the people of Israel whinged for a King... because the Judges were generally not a good choice... that was all part of a Cunning Plan. It stretches back at least to Abraham, but it was first mentioned in the Garden of Eden. 

To get to this one Particular Man.

And now you... this one Particular Man... and you. How are you here reading these words? What do you need yet to do to get in on this cosmic dance?

This whole thing's a setup, see? A setup of a scandal of particularity of cosmic and universal proportions. And it involves you. The sooner you see that the better things will get. Let go.  Come along for the ride.

The water is fine.




.3;

23 January 2018

Similam Frixam Oleo!

JMJ 
The Readings for Tuesday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 


Ecce mater mea et fratres mei.
Behold my mother and my brethren. 

My Freshman year in College, I won a preaching award with this Gospel. In fact, it was an annual award, open to all students. I was the first freshman to win it. Behold the oddities of Protestant preaching: when a preacher makes a good delivery, and can back up his preaching with decently researched Bible quotes, it is his interpretation that matters. Even though everyone on the committee disagreed with me, I still won. In giving me the $250, the college chaplain acknowledged that he disagreed with me, but that I had given a well-written, passionate, and well-delivered sermon.

I was so wrong in my sermon. 34 years later I think with horror of my poking at the non-sacramental evangelicals who filled the halls of The King's College. But a well-written, passionate, and well-delivered sermon is all anyone really wants on a Sunday afternoon in that world: and maybe some good music. If we all go home and talk about the sermon - even how much we disagreed with the content - but can come up with our own well-written, passionate, and well-delivered sermon for later, maybe one of us will get to be a guest preacher one day.

Still, I was horribly wrong in my sermon. It started out well: in this Gospel Jesus seems to dis his own family of birth in favor of a family of choice. I went horribly wrong after that, but in the opening line of the sermon I was right:

St Bede says, Being asked therefore by a message to go out, He declines, not as though He refused the dutiful service of His mother, but to shew that He owes more to His Father's mysteries than to His mother's feelings. Nor does He rudely despise His brothers, but, preferring His spiritual work to fleshly relationship, He teaches us that religion is the bond of the heart rather than that of the body. Wherefore it goes on, "And looking round about on them which sat about Him, He said, Behold My mother and My brethren." And St John Chrysostom adds, By this, the Lord shews that we should honour those who are relations by faith rather than those who are relations by blood. A man indeed is made the mother of Jesus by preaching Him; for He, as it were, brings forth the Lord, when he pours Him into the heart of his hearers. (Both of these are cited by St Thomas Aquinas in his Catena Aurea.)

This is our family: we are initiated into this family by having one great King and High Priest who is our Father in the Faith,  Jesu, Pater Futuri Saeculi, Jesus Father of the Future World, as the Litany of the Holy Name puts it, and Pater Pauperum, Father of the Poor, for we are the poor in spirit, and poor in the eyes of the world for our seemingly stupidity of Faith. We are grafted in to the family of God prefigured by King David, who, bringing the Ark of God to rest in Jerusalem, feasted all of Israel as one would feast one's own family.  

Benedixit populo in nomine Domini exercituum. Et partitus est universae multitudini Israel tam viro quam mulieri singulis collyridam panis unam, et assaturam bubulae carnis unam, et similam frixam oleo : et abiit omnis populus, unusquisque in domum suam.

He blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. And he distributed to all the multitude of Israel both men and women, to every one, a cake of bread, and a piece of roasted beef, and fine flour fried with oil: and all the people departed every one to his house. 

(Regardless of what the NABRE says, similam frixam oleo does not mean raisin cakes but fried in oil... David was giving out... well, the Hebrew is חַלָּה, challah: bread used for the sacrifices. The Greek says, "Cake Bread". The Latin however, says "flour fried in oil" which an only mean pancakes and that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Why is the King blessing folks? Because David is a Priest-King, the father of his people, treating all of his nation as his family, as his children. This is why, in older style, a King is called "Sire". Not because it's a pompous pronunciation of "sir" but because he is the Father of his People. David is the Anointed Messiah, the prefigurement of the Christ. 

Jesus is our Sire, in the spiritual sense, in the only sense that really matters, uniting all peoples into one. The entire church is a family, into which we must draw all people for outside the Church there is not our family, at least yet.

Today I am mindful Family of St Dominic into which I find myself grafted: the living Dominican Tradition present in my parish, the Dominican Friars that run it, the Dominican sisters that teach there, the Dominican cloistered nuns that serve as spiritual advisors, the Dominican Tertiaries which I am petitioning to join, the Dominican priestly fraternity that I cannot escape even when I go to another parish for Mass, together with all the Dominicans I'm coming to know online and off... this is a huge family, and a blessed one. These are my family in a real and present way. I daily find myself uplifted by their prayers and by the prayers of so many Dominican saints and blesseds! 

This clan though, growing through time and space, is only one branch of the vine of Christ: through centuries  and all the globe, in heaven, purgatory and on the earth. The one great family of man united in Christ, the God-man, and through him united to the Holy Trinity in one great fellowship of love.

These are my mothers, brothers, and fathers.

The verse .3

22 January 2018

A Solution to a Shutdown

JMJ 
The Readings for Monday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 


Venerunt quoque et seniores Israël ad regem in Hebron, et percussit cum eis rex David fœdus in Hebron coram Domino: unxeruntque David in regem super Israël.
The ancients also of Israel came to the king of Hebron, and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the Lord: and they anointed David to be king over Israel.

The BBC's Monarchy is absolutely one of my favourite documentary series. (It's tied for first, really, with The Power of Nightmares. While it documents the history of the Celtic, then Saxon, Norman, and English powers that have held the Matter of Britain under their royal sway, the series also discusses the attitudes and cultures that gave rise to what we now know as a "constitutional Monarchy". The British Monarch is rather more than a Figurehead, but rather less than Imperial; certainly not a fairytale figure, but also not just a non-elected president, or a Dictator for Life. I think the host of the series (Dr David Starkey) also makes a wonderful if, (only) perhaps unintentional point: that this marriage of Crown and Control, of People and Prince is, perhaps the best governmental option we have.

Our first reading today give us a glimpse of a constitutional monarchy set up in early Zion. The Elders of Israel had had enough of Saul and so, not wanting another excitement, they came to David in Hebron and made a covenant with him, a "B'reet" in the Torah or "Bris" in more colloquial usage, which is also the same word used for the Covenant of Circumcision. That will give you an idea of how important this was. The Elders of Israel, before the Lord, made a compact with David like unto the very Covenant between God and Israel. That's how important the Davidic Kingship is - and so, by extension, the Messianic Kingdom.

After the covenant... but wait. Not yet. 

This is a constitutional Monarchy. That's the point that is important: it's a deal of free will, entered into by choice on the part of all parties. It has obligations and rules important to both sides to follow, a contract that says "I will do this and I can be your king. You will do this and you will be my people." Should either side break the covenant, it's a personal affront to the other side, not just a "regime change" but more like a divorce. It's the ending of a relationship. 

After the covenant is made the Elders of Israel again anoint David. I say again, because Samuel anointed him back in I Samuel 16. So something new is happening now. Saul was not anointed twice. The elders of Israel did not have a say in his selection. Here, something new is happening. Before they asked for a "king like other nations have" and they got the Royal Schmuck. Now, though, something new, a king that is "after God's own heart" and the forefather of Jesus... something new that will take nearly 30 generations to mature, something new in relations between the People and the Ruler - who is only a stand-in for God.

The Davidic Crown is a prototype for the best of government throughout history. Not the mass hysteria we call "democracy" but rather covenants, between adults in community, to rule and be ruled, to govern and be governed, in the sight of God. Even God's kingdom comes with choice attached, the Freedom to be in it, or not, the uncoerced decision to enter into the covenant or not.

This is why John Adams said our constitution would not work for an irreligious people, and why Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that religion in America was like a bit and bridle on the otherwise ungovernable horses of human passion and mob rule. The American system's genius was a constitutional monarchy in a very real sense: the governed and the governors all bowed to the monarchy of the Constitutional document. That is no longer where we are. Neither religion nor respect for the Constitution holds us in check as a people. We are all rather short sighted and nothing allows us the patience of 30 generations to work something out.

Jesus says, "Si regnum in se dividatur, non potest regnum illud stare. Et si domus super semetipsam dispertiatur, non potest domus illa stare. If a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." That's where we are living right now. Neither president nor people imagine themselves in league. Even those who think the President is somehow for them find themselves divided, rather than united by that support. Anywhere there is division, it is not God's spirit at work, but rather the real presence of the evil one.

So we are limited in our actions' power by our divisions and our divisions only worsen as we wait inactive. That this reading comes up as America's Gov't is in Shutdown mode is purely coincidental. But were there someone in power over the President and Congress, she might dissolve the gov't and say "try again..." 

We have fallen into the world described by The Power of Nightmares. We no longer are guided by our best dreams and visions, but rather by our fears. And the one who can project the biggest fears onto the most folks rules. Augustine realized that we have a whole other obligation: building up the place where we are and yet not being attached to it. To work to heal and yet also, to let it pass as having another homeland.

So then, what? As Christians who must refuse to be governed by fear (for perfect love casts out all fear) what is to be our watchword today? 

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;
Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end, and round His piercèd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;

Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Words: Verses 1, 4, 5, 6 & 9: Mat­thew Bridg­es, The Pass­ion of Je­sus, 1852; verses 2 & 3: Godfrey Thring, Hymns and Sac­red Lyr­ics, 1874.

We have a king to follow even if this world is falling apart. We have good to build up, and bad to let pass away. We have, to use yesterday's readings, all the world to use but not according to its use. We cannot be partisan, for no party is wholly with us, but we can be biased in favor our our king, and aware of how each action moves us either closer to him or further away. We can make all steps for the former and avoid the latter at all cost. Following the Truth, himself, will make us very disloyal in the secular eyes that watch us, and dangerously subversive to both right and left, liberal and conservative, "red" and "blue". 

But he will make us free.