28 February 2018

Can we? Yes we can!

The Readings for Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)
Ecce ascendimus Jerosolymam, et Filius hominis tradetur principibus sacerdotum, et scribis, et condemnabunt eum morte, et tradent eum gentibus ad illudendum, et flagellandum, et crucifigendum...
Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified...

Jesus says, "all these bad things will happen to me" and then Mrs Zebedee says, "Take my boys with you." But she doesn't do it like Hannah does in the Old Testament - offereing her son unreservedly to God; nor does she do it like Solomonia does it in Maccabees - urging her sons to martyrdom. Rather, Mrs Zebedee says, "After all these bad things happen, let my boys come and sit with you in your kingdom." Something ain't right.

But Jesus takes pains to set it right, offering a way out: Can you, he asks, drink the same cup as I? Yes, we can! OK, then you shall... but I can't give those seats away to anyone. That is my Father's job. This is, pardon my pun, crucial. Jesus does offer us rewards, yes: but he asks of us everything and offers no shortcuts.

One huge purpose of Lent is to learn to give up things. That we want them at all is a reason to give them up.  Such wanting, such or constant craving, is an offense against our human freedom. We are  divinely appointed as free to make choices: our first choice being to submit even our freedom to God's will. Cravings, desires, lusts, all impinge on our freedom. They impinge upon what is properly our only desire: union with God. Anything that comes prior to that desire is out of its proper order. It is disordered.

So we give up things which are otherwise good to learn to say no to our body's desires. Simply wanting something is no reason to just get up and get it. We give up sinful things all the time, right?  But we train up our wills, slowly, by saying no to silly things (like meat, or fish, dairy, eggs, oil, etc)  so that eventually we can give up big things like disordered choices and sins that run amok aka the passions

Jesus wants us to drink the cup of his passion. Full stop. Even though he can't promise the seats on his right and his left, he can promise us crosses just like his and penance tailored to fit. 


27 February 2018

Might have beens

The Readings for Tuesday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)
Projicite a vobis omnes praevaricationes vestras in quibus praevaricati estis, et facite vobis cor novum, et spiritum novum.
Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart, and a new spirit.

Forgiveness, absolution, is not a sign that things never happened. Make yourselves a new heart - but the damage has been done.

I had a boss once who was, shall we say, not the nicest of persons. He was a good coworker, but when he wanted to be a boss, he was a bad one of those. And he would yell and scream and all the things that one doesn't want at work. So one day I yelled back. Which ended the conversation, and let us all retreat to our corners. But when I reached out to apologize for "my 50%" as they say, the response was "words can't be unsaid... we can both apologize but the event happened."

For us who believe in confession and absolution, we know it's not like this at all, but some like to imagine it is: I can do anything I want and, as long as I go to confession, it's ok! IN reality, even the smallest of sins changes things.

In the Byzantine rite, on the Sunday before Lent begins, there is a service called Forgiveness Vespers. During this service everyone from the Parish Priest on down to the youngest child asks forgiveness of everyone else in the parish with each person making prostrations to each. What should one do, you might wonder, if one has done nothing to ask forgiveness for? This is where Byzantine teaching underscores that all sin is communal. Even the sin I commit in private affects you in ways you don't know. If I commit a sin at work that leaves me angry and hurt, maybe I bring that feeling to church with me. In turn, that feeling infects you in a discussion we had or rubs off on your spouse at coffee hour. When you and your spouse get into the car a fight ensues and fills out your car ride home with expletives and hurt feelings. You may never even know that it was my grumpy work emotions that got transferred to you by human sin.

Even if I have gone to confession for whatever happened at my job, the shockwaves of my sin, if you will, continue to ricochet off the walls of space and time. We are left needing to confess to each other  and ask each the other's forgiveness. The things we have done hover like a small cloud in the pattern woven about us. Even if I go to confession I may never know how many folks I triggered.

Casting away all your transgressions as this Pre-Gospel antiphon asks of us may suddenly seem insurmountable. Things done have actually been done and even though the grace of confession is like the grace of a second baptism, washing away all the linked and balancing patterns may require far more effort on our parts that just saying I'm sorry. To borrow images from my D&D days, our new heart has rather a good few more experience points than the old one. We can be forgiven for Original Sin, but we actually have the Experience of Good and Evil in our life patterns. That cannot be undone.

So it is grace both to be able to move on as if nothing had happened, and yet to know something has happened - and to be able to take the good away. What can we learn?

Getting a new heart does not undo the way the old heart broke. Being forgiven our sins does not mean that we can backtrack and fix them.

26 February 2018

Who am I to Judge?

The Readings for Monday, the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)
Nolite judicare, et non judicabimini
Judge not, and you shall not be judged

Thomas Aquinas, in his Catena Aurea (The Golden Chain) notes the following comments from the Fathers on this verse:
Ambrose: The Lord added, that we must not readily judge others, lest when conscious of guilt yourself, you should be compelled to pass sentence upon another.

Chrysostom: Judge not your superior, that is, you a disciple must not judge your master; nor a sinner the innocent. You must not blame them, but advise and correct with love; neither must we pass judgment in doubtful and indifferent matters, which bear no resemblance to sin, or which are not serious or forbidden.

Cyril: He here expresses that worst inclination of our thoughts or hearts, which is the first beginning and origin of a proud disdain. For although it becomes men to look into themselves and walk after God, this they do not, but look into the things of others, and while they forget their own passions, behold the infirmities of some, and make them a subject of reproach. 
Chrysostom: You will not easily find any one, whether a father of a family or an inhabitant of the cloister, free from this error. But these are the wiles of the tempter. For he who severely sifts the fault of others, will never obtain acquittal for his own. Hence it follows And you shall not be judged. For as the merciful and meek man dispels the rage of sinners, so the harsh and cruel adds to his own crimes. 
Gregory of Nyssa: Be not then rash to judge harshly of your servants, lest you suffer the like. For passing judgment calls down a heavier condemnation; as it follows, Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. For he does not forbid judgment with pardon. 
The Church Fathers go quite far in this teaching. St Maximus the Confessor says, "Interior freedom is not yet possessed by anyone who cannot close his eyes to the fault of a friend, whether real or apparent."

Fr Olivier Clement, commenting on the above, says "'Agapeic' love is not aa sentimental whim or a physical attraction, both of which are doomed to fade away quickly, and anyway do not come at will. No. It is the awareness of God's love for another person." St Isaac of Nineveh adds "Spread you cloak over anyone who walks into sin and shield him."

When the image of God is present before us (as it is in all persons) there is an easy way to not Judge: say to yourself, that person there is the image of God. I know this.  This person - me - is a sinner. I know this as well. I know that I am, as St Paul says, the foremost of sinners. That person, there, is the image of God. Venerate them.

I fail in this all the time, still: I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ to me.

Bishop Robert Barron blogged this about a year ago
When you read the great evangelizing texts of the New Testament—the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the book of Revelation, etc.—you don’t get the impression that what their authors wanted you primarily to understand is sexual morality. Rather, they wanted you to know that the great story of Israel had come to its highpoint and that God, in the person of the crucified and risen Messiah, had come to reign as king of the world. God, redemption, the cross, the resurrection, Jesus the Lord, telling the Good News—these are the master themes of the New Testament. Again, please don’t misunderstand me: God impinges upon all aspects of life and therefore placing our sex lives under the Lordship of Jesus matters. But I fear that for so many people in the secular world today, religion is reduced to the policing of sexual behavior, and this is massively unfortunate.
To be fair, much of the secular world is involved, as well, in policing sexual behavior, albeit in other ways that Christians would. "Pelvic issues" and one's attitude to them are a prime marker in our society and, as the Bishop comments, "this preoccupation with 'the pelvic issues' has served to undermine the work of evangelization."

When Jesus says, "Do not judge" we are inclined, as a culture, to think of pelvic issues and she me want to say God doesn't care who has sex with whom. But Jesus' idea of non-judging cuts into the very core of our culture which judges all the time.

It is ok, say those on the right, to judge folks for their supposed sexual sins, or their lack of traditional morality. It is ok, say those on the left, to judge folks for their supposed hate or their lack of charity. It is ok, say those on the right, to judge folks for being "libtards". It is ok, say those on the left, to judge folks for being "deplorables".  To this all the Christian must say, "It's not ok to Judge." It is no less ok to judge for one's sexual choices (which can, in the eyes of the Church, be a deal breaker) than it is to judge for one's political choices (which also can, in the eyes of the Church, be a deal breaker).

The Greek word rendered as "judge" in English, and "judicare" in Latin means to "Cut off" or to separate. When we judge we cut ourselves off from the other person. We say, I have no part in her. And we send her away. A judgement is a spiritual boycott. But I speak the truth here: the cut goes both ways. I have cut you off, but I have cut myself off as well. If my salvation comes from communion, by excommunicating you, we are both lost.

Agape never fails. 

But this is not some wishy-washy "do whatever you want and I'll still love you" love. Agape can see sin. Agape always wills the good of the other: that means always will the other to leave behind sin. But Agape means that the way out of sin is less a momentary decision and more a bunny hop line dance; less a life changer and more a continual progression. 

Agape leads by example not by condemnation. This is not a quid pro quo. This is a thermometer. As you do not judge so you will not be judged. That is not a case of if you do this thing you will be saved, but rather, as you progress in this path so you will near perfection. You can see how far you are along the path of salvation by how well you do not judge others. 

The awareness of sin comes from within: not from without. The Holy Spirit loosens our spiritual joints, like an oil can on a tin man until we can move freely. But we were beginning to be fine from the minute it started working. I am only beginning to be aware of how much God loves you, my reader. And it is only through that awareness that I can become aware of how much God loves me.

If someone is moving along that path, who am I to judge?

25 February 2018


The Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (B2)
Non pepercisti unigenito filio tuo propter me.
Thou hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake. 

There is so much pain in this story. The Lent that I was at the Monastery, I couldn't even read this outloud at Matins, I was so overcome with emotion. Father Prior excused me saying, "I think we know the story." What about the small boy, I kept wondering; what was Isaac feeling? Yes, I'm sure Abraham felt something too. But what about the boy?

I attended a Mass of Thanksgiving last year, celebrated by a newly ordained priest. After Mass he gave his mother the cloth that had wrapped his hands after they were anointed in his Rite of Ordination. To his father he gave the stole he wore when he heard his first confession. They were to be buried with these items, he said, to show that they had given up a son to the Church. There was not a dry eye in the place.

In her letters, St Catherine of Siena spends a lot of time counselling parents of kids who have joined the church as clergy or religious that they have not abandoned their parents and run away. Rather they have come to their true Mother, the Church, and their true Father, God. From within the loving embrace of their true Mother and Father, they can, from there, to more good for their natural families than they could ever do otherwise, by simply getting a business and raising more kids. If we love only for natural reasons, (who will take care of me, who will carry on the business) then we are not actually loving, but a special breed of blinded selfishness. It is in loving God that all other loves are practiced. We do for the poor, not because doing for the poor is, per se, good but because God loves everyone. So we should love everyone. The deep, intimate bond is between the Lover (God) and the beloved, you. All other loving actions flow from that, or so St Catherine would have us see. 

Jesus says, elsewhere, if you do not love him more than your family, you are not worthy of the Kingdom.

All rightly-ordered love is a reflection of our love for God And so, in a real way, we are all called to sacrifice our families on the altar. Daily. And, really, our selves as well: which of us has not lost something we thought precious in our service?

But what about the boy?

I heard a homily once where the preacher said this text "proved" the Israelites once practiced human sacrifice like so much of the Ancient world. And you can imagine that if you want as Isaac says, "were is the sacrifice?" and Abraham says, "God will provide" and snickers behind his hand...

Or you can imagine Abraham being angry with YHVH, being just like all the other local deities, finally revealing himself as just another baby murderer. 

Or then, there's the possibility that the story is true as we have it. That God tested, and Abraham trusted. Israel triumphed.

The Church Fathers see here a foreshadow of God not sparing even his own son in his love for us.

But what about the boy? What was he thinking, bound up, laying on the altar?

I have no answer. This story makes me cry. This is one of those places where God heals and does not reveal: for clearly Isaac grew up and trusted God rather a lot - a LOT - in the rest of his story, even though it was hard work. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger, I guess? Perhaps that is for us the best lesson here. Trusting this God is hella hard.

God provides.

But there's some deep, hard questions here. Our faith is not a broad, smooth road.

24 February 2018


The Readings for Saturday, the 1st Week of Lent (B2)

Ego autem dico vobis: Diligite inimicos vestros, benefacite his qui oderunt vos, et orate pro persequentibus et calumniantibus vos.
But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.

I am thankful that we have finally learned how wrong Jesus was here. We know, now, after 2,000 years of feeling guilty about hating folks, that if someone says or does something we don't like that we should politically silence them entirely, we should boycott them, we should belittle them in public and elect politicians who will bully them on our behalf. 

No. Wait. My sarcasm always fails in pint.

But seriously. We rarely find hate among the civilized folks any more. No one has the emotional depth to actually hate. We can be nearly clinical in our niceness as we seethe with righteous opposition though. Our passive aggression is only topped by our schade freunde and both are best served chilly and callused.  We don't have the depth to hate. Just to wound without killing.

Yes, I could be talking about purely secular politicians (I think of the recent presidential race as entirely made of of surrogate bullies) but I'm actually talking about the Church. I've seen some pretty stupid stuff done in the Church in my day, from ECUSA to the UMC, from the OCA/ROCOR battle to the Mtr Phillip vr the Tradies battle, to getting an earful from a Roman Catholic deacon who thought I was walking away from a Latin Mass. We Christians have some choice names for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We may not like the communists or whomever is on the Other Side of a political battle, but we save what passes for hate these days for someone who might be in the pew next to us.

And when that emotion is directed at us we respond in kind.

It's not hate so much as it is a de facto (and de operare) ex communication.

Only the Church can do Excommunication, friend. If the Church hasn't done so yet, maybe the rest of us should lighten up? We all know the Church is wrong for letting Them stay here. But neither you nor I are Pope, so what will you do about them?

To love means to will the good of the other. How do we will the good of "The Other" who is into singing Eagles Wings and Liturgical Dance? How do we do we will the good of "The Other" who women should cover their heads in Church and that everyone should learn Latin? How do you will the good of someone who says a Faithful Catholic can use birth control? or, if you are that person, how do you will the good of someone who thinks you're going to hell?

This is really how this needs to be phrased.

I don't really care how you feel about someone who disagrees with you on Gun Control or immigration if you can't Love the person who is praying next to you.

23 February 2018


Did you learn
bread at Mary's knee
Were you there
toddling and giggling
as flour was
watered and kneaded
leaven added
gluten formed
did she let you help
hands washed and dried
to play with dough
in time to learn
the whole rite
and to smell the bread
roasted on the stone
as the neighbors all
waited their turns
at the fire
flat breads
and braided
brown and rich
or fancy and white
for the Sabbath
or more flat than flat
for the holiday
did Mary offer bread
on holy days
that you had helped make
from the maker's hands
blessed and broken
and shared
bread baking
learned at my grandmother's side
I too would offer
if you will but have the baker

21 February 2018

Whales Tales

The Readings for Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent (B2)
Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam secundo.
And the word of the Lord came to Jonas the second time.

The first words in the Book of the Prophet Jonas are "Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam..." and there follows two chapters of Jonas running away from God. There's a boat. And there's a whale of a storm. And there's a whale, of course. Then there's a long Lament that makes everyone so sad that the whale spits out the mournful prophet. And none of that is the point. In fact, if you get hung up in the first two chapters, debating where Jonas was in all this or where the sea was or how big was the whale, then you're totally going to miss the point. The whale's a red herring.

But then there is "Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam, secundo....  (it does the same thing in Hebrew, the same opening repeated with the addition of only one word.) This is one of the best punchlines in the Bible. 


God loves to give second chances.  In fact, the whole book of Jonas is about Second Chances. The whole city of Nineveh gets a second chance. And Jonas does too. 


Almost, when Jesus talks about the Sign of Jonas, I can hear him say, "This generation will be given a second chance..."

Today's verse before the Gospel get us into the act:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart
for I am gracious and merciful.

So what path have you walked down that you thought was so right... but turned out being wrong. How far did you make it before turning back? 

19 February 2018

How to Play Ball


The 12th 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 Conscience: that it may never be swift to judge what is the chaste thing to do, swifter still to execute it and wholly protected form all the assaults of demons.
We will all agree that Baseball has a certain set of rules and that when you change them or make up something we've stopped playing baseball and are on to something else. You can't for instance, play baseball with a pitcher who won't bat or with a batter who won't run. Nor can you play it with a football, or one of those two-ended pointy things Americans kick around.

We do, however, imagine religion to be different. We can make it up anyway we want. Some of us can even cite Catholic teaching on this. In his declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, Pope Paul VI said, 
On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. 
His late Holiness was making a point about two different things: no secular gov't has the power or authority to compel in matters of conscience; nor has the Church any obligation to retreat from her claims to teach the full truth of Jesus Christ. The Pope also acknowledged that at times the Church had forgone the evangelistic examples of Christ and his Apostles and opted, instead, to - essentially - have secular gov't pass laws that compel in matters of conscience. I like to call this absentee evangelism.

This is not, however, a statement of freedom for the Catholic to do whatever she wants because her conscience says it's ok. These two teachings, in concert with the Church's tradition, were balanced by a reminder in the same document:
In order to be faithful to the divine command, "teach all nations" (Matt. 28:19-20), the Catholic Church must work with all urgency and concern "that the word of God be spread abroad and glorified" (2 Thess. 3:1). Hence the Church earnestly begs of its children that, "first of all, supplications, prayers, petitions, acts of thanksgiving be made for all men.... For this is good and agreeable in the sight of God our Savior, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4). In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.(35) For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself. Furthermore, let Christians walk in wisdom in the face of those outside, "in the Holy Spirit, in unaffected love, in the word of truth" (2 Cor. 6:6-7), and let them be about their task of spreading the light of life with all confidence(36) and apostolic courage, even to the shedding of their blood.
The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it, never-be it understood-having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel. At the same time, the charity of Christ urges him to love and have prudence and patience in his dealings with those who are in error or in ignorance with regard to the faith. All is to be taken into account-the Christian duty to Christ, the life-giving word which must be proclaimed, the rights of the human person, and the measure of grace granted by God through Christ to men who are invited freely to accept and profess the faith. (Double emphasis added.)

The Christian, having made a choice for Christ, is called to continually offer up his freedom to be more and more conformed to the will of God. You can't play baseball with some guy picked to play half the pitcher's game, nor can you make a Designated Protestant Doctrine in matters of faith against the Church's teaching. 

The Church cannot use secular Authority to compel in matters of conscience.  Yet she is not compelling the Christian who has already settled the this question for himself and already made a choice declaring, Domine Deus, firma fide Credo et Confiteor omnia et singula quae Sancta Ecclesia Catholica proponit quia tu, Deus, ea omnia revelasti, qui es aeterna veritas et sapientia, quae nec fallere nec falli potest. Lord God, with a firm trust I believe each and every proposition of the Holy Catholic Church because you, God, have revealed them all, you who are eternal truth and wisdom, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. We then add, In hoc fide vivere et mori statuo. In this faith I will live and die. We've made a choice already. Our job in God's grace is to stick to it.

The Prophet Samuel makes a bold statement to King Saul, who has disobeyed God. Quoniam quasi peccatum ariolandi est, repugnare: et quasi scelus idololatriæ, nolle acquiescere.  Because it is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel: and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey. 

What had the King done? Saul was given a clear command of God to kill all the Amalekites and destroy all their wealth. But he ignored that and - doing what any good war leader would do - he allowed for there to be plunder. Saul's defended his choice by saying that the men had made sacrifices from the plunder. So they had paid their tithe, as it were. They gave thanks to God. Samuel goes to Saul to say look, you have sinned in disobeying God, and Saul's reply is very telling: his men took sheep "to offer sacrifice to the Lord their God" which must be good, right? (Now a sacrifice would be a feast for a family, so, yes, "to the Lord" but also "for all of us...") They were not, you know, really disobedient. They were doing something good. 

Samuel says, no, that's not the case. Doing what you are told is good. Disobedience is always bad. How bad? Samuel compares it to Witchcraft and to Idolatry. We might argue at this point about the "Primacy of Conscience" whereby even an "erring conscience is binding".  And so we must follow our conscience.  No one can compel...

To this proposition Aquinas says "if erring reason [that is, the conscience - DHR] tell a man that he should go to another man's wife, the will that abides by that erring reason is evil; since this error arises from ignorance of the Divine Law, which he is bound to know." (Summa II.i.19.6) The Catholic teaching is not that the Conscience will always lead us right, but rather that a Conscience, properly formed by the Church into conformity with the Law of God will always lead us rightAs Catholics, we must submit to the teaching of the Church even if our erring conscience would lead us elsewhere. We reform the conscience, we train it up in the ways of the Lord. We do so for the inculcation of virtue, whereby the knowing and doing of the Good becomes effortless.

Sometimes God commands things that are hard. That's the way things go. But it is impossible for God to command what is untrue, unjust, or evil, for God is goodness, truth and justice in his person. We cannot fail in love, in truth, justice, or goodness by following God's commands. It is better to follow these commands than to make up stuff on our own. Aquinas, again, "The eternal law cannot err, but human reason can. Consequently the will that abides by human reason, is not always right, nor is it always in accord with the eternal law."

Jesus walks us down this path as well, with an interesting saying about sewing and vintnering. 
Nemo assumentum panni rudis assuit vestimento veteri: alioquin aufert supplementum novum a veteri, et major scissura fit. No man seweth a piece of raw cloth to an old garment: otherwise the new piecing taketh away from the old, and there is made a greater rent.

Saul wants to take what he knows about running an army and do - mostly - what God has commanded. Our temptation always is to say that we can take our old lifestyle, our old patterns of thinking and just sew on a Christian patch. We can oppress the poor a little bit and deny our workers a little bit of their wages as a Christian. We can be alittle bit racist as a Christian. We can seek a little wealth as an end as a Christian. We can do a little sex outside of Marriage as a Christian. We can do a little sex inside a Marriage with contraception as a Christian. Samuel compares all of this to Witchcraft and Idolatry. We might as well do a little fortune telling and play a little with the Ouija boards and burn a little bit incense to Kuan Yin. (just a pinch, right?)

Jesus is clear: our old things will tear apart from the patch, our wineskins will burst spoiling both the wineskins and the wine.

When our conscience wants us to go against God, it is our job - our salvation - to reform the conscience. Not to make an idol of our will, nor to say, with Luther, "Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir." (God help me be standing here against God?) Rather we are to say, with David, 
Concupivi salutare tuum, Domine, et lex tua meditatio mea est. Vivet anima mea, et laudabit te, et judicia tua adjuvabunt me. Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit: quære servum tuum, quia mandata tua non sum oblitus. I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my meditation. My soul shall live and shall praise thee: and thy judgments shall help me. I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek thy servant, because I have not forgotten thy commandments.

Virtue is when doing the good has, by habit, become nature. The reverse is also true. Grace builds on nature. The reverse is also true. Sin functions like a chemical addiction: it builds on a weakness in our nature, using the choices we make, until it becomes engrained in a habit. As with chemical addiction, we (dys)function convinced that this sin is our nature and threatening the sin is seen as threatening our very selves. But weighed down under layers of habit, and anti-virture is the real, human nature in the image of God. Grace can still build on it. Grace, by way of the Sacraments, applying bit by bit, to remove encrusted rust, well-worn ruts of habit, layers of shellack and varnish, to oil joints, to limber muscles, to rehabilitate muscles, to restore life where was only necrosis, to bring light where only darkness was. The tiny spark of life in God's grace can be restored to a blazing light by which others can be guided to God's manifested presence. Grace builds on nature, until virtue's armor, treble-forged in love's flames, is strong enough to win through.

We form the conscience this way. We meditate on the law of God - not to find loopholes or ways around it, but to grow in it. We need our conscience. It is a gift from God to walk us through this world. We train our conscience properly because we know we are fallen, but when push comes to shove, we pray it will guide us right. Only a properly trained conscience can guide all the time. For some God's grace even reaches in: St Paul says the Law of God is written on their hearts and they obey even without knowing. But for those of us who struggle he says it's even possible for our conscience to become seared as with a hot iron so that we no longer feel any compulsion to the Good and just do whatever we feel like. 

Those of us who come late in life to this Confraternity may well know what this means, as huge parts of the conscience, like scars, must be cut off and healed by God's grace so that they can be rehabilitated; so that the conscience can once again be submitted to God's will without compulsion, but in love.

By way of Postscript: Absentee Evangelism. I think the churches have long be satisfied with laws that laid a Christian Veneer on Society. Blue laws, that kept businesses closed on Sunday, eventually fell. But why do Christians now, as well, shop on Sunday? As long as no one could do anything on a Sunday, no one bothered to talk about it. But the Church failed as teacher because even when the secular laws changed, Christians should still be respecting the Sabbath, right? The veneer removed, we discovered we had long all been pagans together. We should be more like the National League who did not fall to the temptations offered by the wealthier American League (even though that cheating has given them a two series advantage since 1973...).

We can totally ignore this part...

The Readings for Monday, 1st Week of Lent (B2)
Et ibunt hi in supplicium aeternum : justi autem in vitam aeternam.
And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. 

A friend outside of Catholic Mass, gathering signatures for helping the homeless was told by a parishioner, "No, I don't care about homeless children, homeless families, or homeless anything." The man said this after receiving the Sacrament and my friend couldn't tell if he was joking or not so she joked back. Sadly, the man was very serious. Really, though, why should these verses be any more important than any other part of the teaching which, for American and European Catholics from Nancy Pelosi to me in the pew with you decide we can ignore most of the time?

All post-modern Theologians from James Allison and James Martin to Rob Bell and Dominic Crossan are quite clear that God doesn't care what we do, God loves us anyway, and that when it's all over these random verses in the Bible are just legalistic verbiage that people use to beat each other up. We should stop using the Bible that way.

So, we can ignore the poor.

Have a blessed Lent.

Don't worry: be happy.

If the scriptural moral code is optional, why are these verses more important? The same God who said, "Do not defraud the laborer his wages" and "when I was hungry you fed me" also said, "go and sin no more" and a whole lot of old fashioned "thou shalt nots..." we don't like nowadays. Who is to say action X is good as compared to action Y? This is what none of my post-trad Christ-follower friends have ever been able to answer to me. Which is why I drifted trad-ward.

It's ok: God doesn't care, don't worry. Be happy. Also worth noting: there are folks do totally ignore this part - and the part about unjust wages - and only focus on the other things. They're in the same camp as the first group. And both groups pretend to be better than the other.

18 February 2018

Preaching to those in Prison

The Readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent (B2)
In quo et his, qui in carcere erant, spiritibus veniens praedicavit : qui increduli fuerant aliquandont"
In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison: Which had been some time incredulous. 

This passage from St Peter is rather rough, depending on who is doing the parsing out. It seems to say that Jesus preached to those in prison (unbelievers who had been there since the days of Noah).  Or does it say Jesus preached to the unbelievers souls in prison (and then something else about Noah)? Or does it say Jesus preached to the souls in prison (who are somehow connected to those who didn't believe Noah in his time)? Or does it use those who doubted Noah as a figure for all of those who even now do not believe? And that is my reading here. All those souls in prison.  And even now. This is not "hell" as such, although another name for hell is "Tartarus" which is a "place of restraint". So preaching to the Souls in restraint... but unbelief is hell. So: all of us (Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.)

I've been thinking about things lately. And after the shooting this week I remembered an article, tweeted by my friend, Steve, out there in cyberspace.  Steve asked if you could imagine preaching the gospel in this nation (some highlights):
America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society...
...So there is of course also an “opioid epidemic”. We use that phrase too casually, but it much more troubling than it appears on first glance. Here is what is really curious about it. In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy. So the “opioid epidemic” — mass self-medication with the hardest of hard drugs — is again a social pathology of collapse: unique to American life...
These two factoid-heavy paragraphs got me but there are others in the article (go read it, seriously). And of course there was a shooting this week, and there was all the usual US vrs Them political ax-grinding silliness that comes out of it. And I thought of these factoids again. And naturally the shooting happens on Ash Wednesday. Which, if you're not a Catholic-minded Christian, is like discovering a death metal concert in the basement of a rented space where you're attending your grandmother's funeral. It makes you angry and then you realize you're not supposed to be angry and then you're angry and then you realize...

There is a lot of Tartarus in America right now - restraint. It's not caused by Government, or anyone in power: because those folks, too, are suffering from it. I saw hell, once on a recent bus ad: a woman looking like she had a gun to her back and was told to smile getting all excited about a garbage truck coming to take away her junk. We are making this world, ourselves. You can see hell anytime you want by going to the Apple Store: a couple of hundred people waiting to buy the Next Greatest Thing which - you can tell if you look at them - they all know will be useless in 6 months. It's torture to stand and watch.

Thursday, walking to Mass I passed an honest to goodness Robot on Howard Street. It was carrying a book bag and was followed by a minder looking at his phone as he walked, looking supremely bored. That's what it's like to be prepping for the next six month release in the Apple Store. Howard Street: The runway to hell.

Rereading that article, the author gives America too much credit. We have seen these Pathologies before: the greed and predatory indifference that ate up an entire world. It started just before Cicero laments at the passing of the Republic and climaxed with Caligula. And that was when the 400 year long collapse was just starting. Augustine was still mourning it. Or think of Egypt, passing from Pharaoh to the Ptolemies, ending up with the drug-addled princess Cleopatra.

And in that world of decline, death, and darkness, comes Jesus preaching to the souls in prison. We've totally been here before. And we get here every time we turn from God and start amassing metric tons of useless disposable trash in the centers of our personal global empires

A famous San Franciscan, Harvey Milk, once gave a speech where, to be honest, he'd probably be angry I'm quoting it, but anyway, he pitted all the "us" folks against the "them" folks. And since I have deeply loved friends on both sides of Harvey's divide (now and in 1977), I take it personal that he divided the world that way and I refuse to do so. But he said:
The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope... the “us-es” will give up....  I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you… have got to give them hope.
Where is there hope in this world of robots and disposable thousand dollar toys? Can you not divide the world into Us and Them? Can we remember that every "them" once was an "us" to their parents and can we love them back home? Can you remember that Every Last Them - even the most deplorable - is a deeply loved and terribly important "us" to God? Refusal to do so makes you the "them" here and so God loves you all the more.

If hope is built on other humans building new things, then there's no hope because all humans fail. We'll next be excited about the garbage truck coming and of America is just the Empire waiting to fall, I live in Rome. 

And still there's Jesus, speaking to the Souls "In Prison". Those who waited for God incredulously. That's the entire world today. Harvey classed himself and a lot of his "Us-es" into those exact incredulous chains, although unintentionally.

Christian: what are we going to do about this? Lent is here. Our 40 days of fast and prayer. What are we doing to weave real, honest-to-God hope into the fabric of our daily life - hope so strong that others catch it? How is your fasting from chocolate or coffee going to help with all this mess? Is this loving your neighbor? Is this making your loving more real, more present today than it was yesterday?

17 February 2018

Who's Coming to Dinner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 February 2018

Why We Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

15 February 2018

There's a better choice...

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

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

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

See those two couplets? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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