23 May 2018

Deus Vult!

The Readings for Wednesday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
Si Dominus voluerit. Et : Si vixerimus, faciemus hoc, aut illud. 
 If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that. 

I watched the Pope Francis movie last Saturday. One of the things it did was provide a huge amount of context for some of the Liberal Press' favourite Francis quotes. The one that got me in the solar plexus was a rather loaded question about "the gay lobby" in the Church. It was presented on the airplane in rather oleaginous manner by an obsequious woman who felt she had to ask "permission to ask a question about a very delicate matter..." and then asked His Holiness how he was going to "confront the gay lobby in the church". In the days of my political activism, having heard many such questions, I would have said "hater". In this case, I won't say that because being close to power makes us all very odd - as does being a journalist. Every journalist wants the Power to Say Something and to get kudos from their fellows for getting a good quote.

When confronted by such a disingenuous question the Pope let fly. The question, which, for all that it was well-oiled and fully pumped up with big words, really should be translated as, "Will you tell gay people to get out of the church?" The reply - now well known - was sound bitten as "who am I to judge?" Yet in full context the reply was a reminder to the journalist, to everyone on the flight, and to the rest of us, that God calls us all to holiness. There were quotes from the catechism, and a good bit of puffing from the Holy Father. It doesn't matter where you start the walk, or how long it takes to get there, it's where you end that's important. And the Pope was asking in reply that if someone who identifies as Gay is sincerely seeking the Lord, who is he (or any of us) to judge? There are a lot of folks in the Church - gay and straight - who are not seeking the Lord at all. We have more to worry about. Yes, who am I to judge, but also, who are you to judge? 

Within the last couple of days Pope Francis has said something that has been reported as "God makes some people gay."  I've been asked what I thought about it and, since I don't believe in ontological differences based on sexual desire, I think it's a fair question for me. And, coincidentally, here comes today's reading from St James:
Behold, now you that say: Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year, and will traffic, and make our gain. Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that.
This passage reminds me that we don't get to pick the events in our lives. We only get to pick the way we react to them. There is a line used by the Orthodox to discuss both the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks and also the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia: these God allowed to happen to the Church "because of our sins".  Oddly this same line is never used to discuss the sack of Constantinople by the Latins which can be traced exactly to a political power play inside the Byzantine world that resulted in a bunch of Angry Latins. Does God allow political falls or not? Am I who I am because God made me this way? Does such formation happen at such an early age that it's not possible to answer such a question?

It God wills and we live, we shall...

We are not trapped into our choices: but we are not in control of events. Does God make your parents get divorced? Or does God allow it to happen? Is some part of the "what makes me gay" having been raised by a single mother? Or having been abandoned by her? The divine pattern is not what makes us: it is the matrix in which we are made by our choices and our dance. 

In the larger context of Catholic teaching the Pope has said nothing new. God made me. God loves me. Because I have been raised by Christian parents in a Christian context this is not news to me. Even though my family and my churches growing up had some messed up ways of showing that love, they inculcated that knowledge in me. The older I get, the more I realize that my identity, my sense of self, my actions must all be in response to that primordial knowledge. God made me. God loves me. While I have some seriously rough places of selfishness, of dysfunction, of brokenness, of scars from my past - caused by others and by my own bad choices - I have a daily choice: do I act from those places, or do I act from the knowledge that God made me and God loves me? 

I can freely decide to make any corner of my being the very center and prime directive of my life. Or if God wills and we shall live,  I can act from that knowledge that God made me and God loves me.

I'm with the Pope on this one.

21 May 2018

Cheating on my Husband.

The Readings for Tuesday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
Adulteri, nescitis quia amicitia hujus mundi inimica est Dei? quicumque ergo voluerit amicus esse saeculi hujus, inimicus Dei constituitur.
Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God. 

When James uses the word "adulterers" here, he means we are not being faithful to our relationship with God. We may think we're being polyamorous but God wants us all to himself. We're cheating on him.

I never know how to navigate this. Look sex I can handle. Racism, Ecology, Peace, Justice... this I can handle. But when someone asks me where I want to be in 5 years time, the answer has always been "closer to heaven". In as much as I've always wanted to be a priest, I don't have any map for success, or any idea of what it would look like. Increasingly, though, as that goal seems less and less likely, I've listened to my friend, Steve Robinson: 

  • I need to be an adult: 
    • pay my bills, 
    • say my prayers, 
    • support my parish, 
    • and love my parents. 
In as much as the Church's preferential option must be for the poor, my every breath must be exhausted defending them, supporting them, sacrificing for them. Since I am a single man with no family to support I have more of an obligation to do so than someone with kids and the added vocational direction of supporting his family.

But every paycheck that comes in means I can buy more toys, or save for my future. Every meeting with a manager is a chance to succeed, every business deal with a deal worth making.

And I don't know what counts as friend of this world in this context. When I sit in my own apartment not only do I feel alone most nights, I also feel like I'm wasting money. The question for me is not should I be living in a community and donating more money and time to the mission of the Church but rather how can I make this happen?

This is the part is that is most painful for me: the part that feels like a failure. I've become successful and so as much as I thank God for this success, I also feel like a hypocrite in doing so. It's not an ambivalent relationship to worldly success but rather a train wreck of an illicit affair. Back in September I posted all that follows: it's a way to not be an adulterer. It starts with a quite from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
The thing that I see there, that is the most important, is that Blessed John Henry doesn't send you out on some Vocational Discernment Weekend, nor does he say you need to go hide in the desert until some vision strikes you: only, I shall be a angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling,  by which last he means "in my daily work".

Elsewhere in this same book, (Meditations and Devotions) he offers a very simple rule of life - as quoted by the Catholic Gentleman - to direct us all on the way to Sainthood. Not nominal, least-common denominator mushiness, mind you, but full-on sainthood:
  • Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
  • give your first thoughts to God;
  • make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
  • say the Angelus devoutly;
  • eat and drink to God’s glory;
  • say the Rosary well;
  • be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
  • make your evening meditation well;
  • examine yourself daily;
  • go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
To this I would add this simple rule, offered by Alexander Schmemann in his journals (Mindul that he was writing privately, yes, but to a hypothetical reader who - like me - was craving monastic obedience as the magic panacea for whatever it is that ails you):
  • get a job, if possible the simplest one, without creativity (for example as a cashier in a bank);
  • while working, pray and seek inner peace; do no get angry; do not think of yourself (rights, fairness, etc.). Accept everyone (coworkers, clients) as someone sent to you; pray for them;
  • after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations;
  • always go to the same church and there try to be a real helper, not by lecturing about spiritual life or icons, not by teaching but with a “dust rag” (cf. St Seraphim of Sarov). Keep at that kind of service and be–in church matters–totally obedient to the parish priest.
  • do not thrust yourself and your service on anyone; do not be sad that your talents are not being used; be helpful; serve where needed and not where you think you are needed;
  • read and learn as much as you can; do not read only monastic literature, but broadly (this point needs more precise definition);
  • if friends and acquaintances invite you because they are close to you–go; but not too often, and within reason. Never stay more than one and a half or two hours. After that the friendliest atmosphere becomes harmful;
  • dress like everybody else, but modestly, and without visible signs of a special spiritual life;
  • be always simple, light, joyous. Do not teach. Avoid like the plague any “spiritual” conversations and any religious or churchly idle talk. If you act that way, everything will be to your benefit;
  • do not seek a spiritual elder or guide. If he is needed, God will send him, and will send him when needed;
  • having worked and served this way for ten years–no less–ask God whether you should continue to live this way, or whether change is needed. And wait for an answer: it will come; the signs will be “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”
You can grow and use all your gifts this way. 

And if you can't then try again. Be faithful in piety and love, God will give you ways to use your gifts and you will always see them and fulfill them.

Now: I fail in this daily, but I don't feel like a "failure" in this. All I need is more folks to join me.

Shine! Shine, O New Jerusalem

The Readings for Mary, Mother of the Church
Monday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
Diligit Dominus portas Sion super omnia tabernacula Jacob. Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, civitas Dei! Numquid Sion dicet : Homo et homo natus est in ea? et ipse fundavit eam Altissimus.
The Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God. Shall not Sion say: This man and that man is born in her? and the Highest himself hath founded her. 

In the Eastern Rite, there is a hymn sung at every Divine Liturgy during the Easter Season. In part, it runs:

Shine! Shine
O, New Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord
Has shown, on you!

This hymn, seemingly (and truly) about the City in the book of St John's Apocalypse, is in fact a hymn about the Mother of God. In full it runs like this:

The Angel cried to the Lady full of Grace
Rejoice, O Pure Virgin! 
Again I say: Rejoice! 
Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb! 
With Himself He has raised all the dead! 
Rejoice, all you people!
Shine! Shine 
O New Jerusalem! 
The Glory of the Lord 
has shone on you! 
Exult now, exult 
and be glad, O Zion! 
Be radiant, 
O Pure Theotokos, 
in the Resurrection of your Son!

The interplay of images is important: the New Jerusalem is the Church; it is also the Theotokos, the Dei Para, Mary, the Mother of God. Mary is the birth-giver of God, the church is his body, Mary is the Mother of the Church. In the Resurrection of Christ, the Church rises from the dead as well and Mary, who is both a member of the Church and the Mother of the Church, draws us all upward in her sinlessness. This rich interplay of images is brought to the West today with a new feast, instituted by Pope Francis: the Memorial of Mary the Mother of the Church.

The title itself predates the feast going back before the Schism between East and West. Yet liturgically this title had to wait until Pope St John Paul II added the "Mother of the Church" to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1980.

All of the Psalms are prophecy of Christ: so, taking the city of Jerusalem as a type of the Blessed Virgin, we see in today's Responsorial Psalm that the Lord loves the Gates of Zion above all the houses of Jacob. Zion here is Jerusalem, and so the Blessed Virgin herself. Zion is the Church as well, as the Eastern Hymn says, called to Exult not only in the Resurrection of Jesus, but also in the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, poured out on her in all fullness, and on all the Church in the feast of Pentecost, making a great chiasmas of the Christ Event.

This man is born in her (in Mary) is Christ, but all of us are born in the Church, that is, in Mary. We are her daughters and sons in that we are children of the Church. As the Church is our Mother, so is Mary. The Font is the tomb of Christ, the womb of the Church where we are born anew. The altar is the tomb of Christ, and the table of the Holy House, where our Mother feeds us. The Gates of Zion are round about us. Here is an 11th century image from the Monte Cassino Psalter of the Church as Mother. Mater Ecclesia, (as opposed to Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church).

And so this feast ties a lot of things together: Mother, Mary, Church, Body of Christ, and us as Children of Church, Children of Mary, Sons and Daughters of God in Christ.

I am not even yet adding to this tapestry the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist in which we are the Body of Christ, fed on the Body of Christ, within the Body of Christ. Christ who is both God and Man, uniting in himself the Divine and the Human, the spiritual and eternal, the celestial and the earthly, feeding us himself, into that same divine dance shared by the Holy Trinity.  Created by God the Father, redeemed in Love by the God the Son, and overshadowed in Love by God the Holy Spirit. We are, as St Basil says, creatures of dirt given the vocation to become divine.

Maria, Mater Ecclesiae, ora pro nobis!

19 May 2018

Light one candle.

The Readings for Saturday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
Domine, hic autem quid?
Quid ad te? tu me sequere. 
Lord, what about him?
What is that to you? You follow me.

Peter, with a growing sense of... something... turns around and sees the Evangelist John taking notes like some Cub Reporter. Peter - who has just been given his prime directive - looks back at Jesus and says, What about him? It could mean, What's his prime directive? Or it could mean: Why's he standing there? What's he doing? Does he always follow you around taking notes? Do you have a job for him? Did he betray you too? It could even mean, He didn't betray you like I did, why not bother him with this stuff about feeding your sheep?

Jesus says, Like you should care. Follow me.

When I was Orthodox, advice like this came in handy during Lent: don't let someone else's fasting (or lack of fasting) influence yours. It's so easy to get hung up on how they are doing it wrong. This is especially true if they are actually wrong. Because then the question becomes, Why are they getting away with it? And after that is uttered (mentally, at least) in all its judge-y glory, the very next question is, Can I get away with it too?

Except fasting - Catholic or Orthodox - is not about food. Fasting in the Christian tradition is about training the will. God has said all foods are clean. But it is tough, is it not, to forego something when it looks so good! That thing may be meat. That thing may be ice cream. That thing may be TV shows on Saturday night when you should be doing lectio for the Sunday readings. Fasting is important because it trains your will to avoid the big things later.  And the one thing you should never do when training the will is turn to Jesus and say, Domine, hic autem quid? Yea, what about him? That's what I want to know.... Jesus pats you on the head and says, Zok nit kin vey, Zuninkeh, Don't worry my little one. Fardinen a mitzveh, Do a good deed.

The problem is that this worrying about the other guy can continue.  A lot of my friends ask why they should be chaste when so many people in the Church are not. The question assumes two things: that the asker knows exactly what is going on the person's moral life and that morality is a majority vote when it is not. The question assumes that one's salvation is not as important as other people's fun. The question is best translated, Shouldn't we all be damned together? This is a far cry from Peter's question, true, but who of us is going to meet an apostle talking to Jesus? When we ask, "What about that guy?" We are not asking, "Why is he going to live forever?" but rather, "Why does he get to have hamburgers in Lent?" or, more likely, "Why does she get to support abortion and still take communion?" or "Why do they get to live together and have sex and still work as the parish secretary and choir director?" "Why does he get to be such a crass, rude, and inconsiderate so-and-so and still get to be president and hailed by Christians?"

While this may all be the fault of bad clergy, and the reality of mob-rule, the church is filled with humans: and that includes the clergy.  All these humans need your virtue more than you need to sin. Your  virtue, practiced in the praise of God, will elevate them - and the world around you. Your sin is only more of the same grey swamp. But one lit candle will change it all. Don't fall prey to the darkness. Don't curse it either. Change it.

Feed my sheep. 

18 May 2018

No. Boys always say, "I love you *too*"

The Readings for Friday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
Dicit ei tertio : Simon Joannis, amas me? Contristatus est Petrus, quia dixit ei tertio : Amas me? 
He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me?

This is the Bible reading that made me first get excited about learning Biblical Greek: there is so much word play here! In English, in this passage Jesus asks St Peter three times, "Do you love me?" And three times Peter respond, "Lord, you know I love you." That's how it's translated in English. In fact, that's how it's read in every language except Greek and Latin. In Greek and Latin, Jesus asks two very different questions. He asks the first one twice, and when Peter demurs twice, Jesus asks the second question. This is why St. Peter is sad the third time.

The first two times Jesus asks Peter, do you Agape me. Agape is that divine, all-inclusive, all-embracing love that God has for us. Jesus asks Peter if he has this kind of love for his Lord. In fact, the first time, Jesus asks if Peter as more of this love than any of the other Apostles. It's not, "Peter do you love me?" Rather it's "Peter are you the best lover I have?"

But Peter twice says in response, Lord you know I Philia you. Philia is that sort of love that friends have one for another. The interlinear Bible renders it as "has affection for".  So Jesus says, "Do you love me with a all-embracing, all-controlling, mad, passionate, Divine love?" And Peter responds by putting Jesus in the friend zone.

The third time, then, Jesus comes down to Peter's level. Jesus asks do you Philia me? Are you my friend? And this time Peter is sad. Because he sees that he's missed an opportunity to fall in love with Jesus. And yet again Peter's response is Lord you know I Philia you. What is this? Three weeks after the resurrection? Peter has not yet figured it out. In fact, this scene is the end of a very disturbing passage. Peter wakes up one day and says, "I'm going fishing". In other words, he's going back to his old life. The other apostles follow their leader dutifully, but Jesus doesn't want them fishing for fishes. Still, as this passage continues beyond today's assigned verses, Peter turns to look at John and says, "What about him?" as if to say, "HE loves you... why are you bothering me?" Dude! When will you finally get it?

What we see here is St Peter struggling to understand Jesus, to figure out what all this means, to understand how he is the Rock, and how to love this messiah. But, more importantly Jesus says to Peter all three times, I don't care if you're my friend or if you are in love with me: feed my sheep. Jesus has only one command for Peter and it's not "go back to fishing." And Jesus has only one command for any of us, the friends of Jesus or mad, passionate, insanely in love with Jesus people. Our one duty is to feed each other.

St Paul tells us elsewhere that we are to build up the body of Christ, that we are to encourage one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. St Paul tells us to make all things into Eucharist and to think only on the good things and honorable things. So much of our life today and centered on anger, on hate, on violence. We focus on individual rights. Jesus tells us to be concerned with other people rather than with ourselves. The Church makes even our sins to be about other people rather than about ourselves. We are not to scandalize other people with our liberties. We are not to wound other people with our actions. Everything we do is to be in service to other people. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, "A life not lived for others is not a life."

Jesus asks you do you Agape me? Even if your answer is for now is only, I can be your friend, Jesus, He has only one command for you: Feed my sheep.

17 May 2018

Dīvide et Impera

The Readings for  in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)
Viri fratres, ego pharisaeus sum, filius pharisaeorum, de spe et resurrectione mortuorum ego judicor.
Men, brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees: concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Philip of Macedonia, father of one of my political heroes, Alexander the Great, said διαίρει καi βασίλευε diairei kai basileue Divide and Rule. This political tactic is often deployed to bloody ends: any well written book on Irish history will be filled with the British using it to keep the Irish fighting the Irish. They have their own phrase for it: Playing the Orange Card. Sometimes, though, Divide and Rule can be used to humorous ends, as here in Acts when St Paul plays the Afterlife Card and gets the Pharisees and Sadducee into fisticuffs. The Pharisees believed in the Resurrection of the Dead (and in spirits, angels, miracles, the gradual development of the understanding of religious doctrine, and several other ideas we might recognize from Christianity. The Sadducees, contrariwise, did not believe in any of this codswallop. They thought, like moderns, that you live, and you die, that's it. Be moral. That total lack of hope in the future life is why they were - like moderns - sad you see? Sorry. Well, #notsorry.

Paul is not afraid of playing political cards at all: in 22:25 Paul says he's a Roman Citizen to get out of a scourging. Later he will appeal to Caesar. Paul comes out in front of the council and says, The only thing I've done wrong is believe in the resurrection of the dead. This riles up both sides of the room and gets him out of the middle. It's very well done. It's actually kind of funny.

Paul's experience is echoed today by Catholics and Orthodox, who report (online and off) that they are too conservative for their liberal friends and too liberal for their conservative friends. We find ourselves defending the homeless, no Muslim ban, no wall, and actions of peace rather than violence, and, at the same time, voicing opposition to abortion and the other fallout of modernity and post-modernity; all in the name of faithful adherence to our religious teachings. While being opposed to unrestrained capitalism, we must also voice objection to Marxism. While finding benefit in a well governed state, we must stop police brutality against those cited as "other" by our dominant culture. While praying for our leaders, we must adamantly oppose some of their favorite, vote-getting policies. And with nary a look back, we must break with party or politician when they cross the line into opposition to the revealed moral order.

Which makes us fickle as all get out. 

Except that's the exceptions, rather than the reality. You can't tell a Catholic Senator (of either party) from the others of the same party. You can't tell many Catholic voters from any other voters in their world. I know one man, leaving mass, who said he didn't care at all about the homeless in this city. It is sad but true that some in the church are more concerned with the wealthy who pay the bills than with the faith that will save them.  But I know, also, a lot who try to hold the fort down. I know a lot of Catholics who refused to vote for one or the other candidate in the last presidential race. But I am blessed to know a good few - including clergy - who refused to vote for either.

Those are the Pauline folks and I hope to meet more of them. One day I may even be like them.

As Christians we should be the cultural/sociological versions of hunter-gatherers: grabbing what's needed to advance the kingdom, but leaving behind anything that's too heavy to carry for fear it would weigh us down or, to horribly mix the metaphors: we need to drop anything that's going to make the oil in our lamp run out before the Bridegroom gets here. I, for one, needn't look to hard for other ways to be foolish.

16 May 2018

May not be a Bruce Lee quote. But it's true.

The Readings for Wednesday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
Non rogo ut tollas eos de mundo, sed ut serves eos a malo.
I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil. 

There's this great line in St Catherine's writings, asking God not to take a temptation away from her, but rather to give her the victory over it. Of course, there's also the line in the Our Father asking that we not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. 

We sometimes want an easy ride. We want a sermon that's all jokes, we want a recipe that's all hamburger helper. We want a religion that's light and quick. How may Americans confuse Christianity with Mayberry, RFD? How many westerners are happy to call themselves Buddhists, but only on their own terms? (There are Dharma Punx who parallel the Orthodox Children of the Apocalypse in their serious rejection of Western values in the name of a deeper religious calling.) To be fair, before Americans got into the act, a lot of other people confused religion with "our culture". God even calls out the People of Israel for doing that to Judaism in the Old Testament: creating an easy to get along, cultural thing that had little or no resemblance to the faith taught by the prophets - and a lot of resemblance to the practices of everyone else in the region. Everyone likes an easy religion.

Thing is, most religions are not intended to be easy. Classical Paganism was filled with rules, taboos, stipulations, food regulations... it took late 20th century writers to create a feel-good religion out of all that, a lackluster, Presbyterian sort of paganism for American bookstores. Oprah and Madonna turned the highest levels of Jewish Mysticism into something you could study with friends over a Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Anyone promulgating a traditionally stringent form of paganism gets accused of being a right-wing religious nut just like any other religious conservative.

Jesus' prayer is a reminder that not even God himself thought this would be easy. St Mary of Egypt struggled for 40 Years in the Jordanian desert. If you don't think the story is factual, remember it was told by Monks who, thus, at least acknowledged that theirs was a long struggle, a lifelong struggle. So is ours.

Along with Jesus, St Catherine and St Mary both know that without the struggle, the faith is meaningless. It's ok to make choices, but doing away with temptation, doing away with evil, per se, is not the way to make disciples. 

Taking the easy way out is never the right way.

I'm wrestling with the virtue of fortitude and also with follow-through. It's easier to run away. 

15 May 2018

Work Ethic

Thinking tonight about Duffy's "Stripping of the Altars" and the Henrican Reformation: focusing on the cultural shift away from a Catholic, community village/farmland surrounded and supported by the Church's feasting and fasting, work day and holy day schedule, to a Protestant, urban, individualistic culture, devoid of fasting or holy days (other than Sunday). The idea that most of the week was some religious holiday or other whereon work was lessened or forbidden so that everyone could hear Holy Mass, say prayers, go to the local saint's shrine, etc, went away and was replaced by the idea that Church was on Sunday and the rest of the week was for work.

Work required jobs, jobs require concentrations of people, farm-gobbling became the thing and mobs of landless people moved to the already booming cities. This same process continues now, 500 years later, almost entirely unchanged. The biggest change is that divorcing work from the ethical structures crafted by religion has left the Job as the realm of social darwinism. We call this the Protestant Work Ethic: work hard and you will succeed. The Protestant originals would add "and this is a sign of God's blessing..." but even without God it continues. It's not the ethics of work, it's an ethic developed from the idea that work is required - and all else must give way to work.

As the Protestant Ascendancy began to weaken in the 19th and 20th centuries, the gaps were filled in by Catholics and Others, but the culture as molded by the predecessors began and continues to mold the successors. Not one Spiritual but Not Religious, not one None, not one Atheist is uninfected by the original sin of the capitalist west: the Protestant Work Ethic. We all know that we must work until we literally drop. Those of us rare enough to have retirement plans have to realize that we are essentially being made to work twice as hard to pay now for what we will get later: it's not free money, you know.

Work quotas, once the bane of the factory worker, are now able to be applied to even the office minion and the basil. The job, no longer a function of your person or your vocation, is now an urgent necessity for your rent or food. Yes, this has been so for a while, but it has never been so until recently in all of history. Your local serf's Lord had an obligation to care for the families, to provide food, to see their children well cared for. This is no longer the case: I'm obligated only to give you a paycheck. We call this Libertarian business, but it is solid Calvinist economics.

Are are made wage slaves, to use the Marxist term, by a culture that has no Catholic religious obligation and no sense of noblesse oblige. If I earn money, it is for me to do with as I wish. I can found a charity for my tax benefits and to export my personal ideology, or I can avoid that and invest wisely and run businesses into the ground as write-offs. Only in England did the wealthier Anglicans have this same sense and they cared for their servants as well as the townsfolk around them. Even this culture began to die off after the World Wars. A culture which no longer taught the religious obligation to care for those beneath one began to rely on the state to do it and, in the end, the folks not taught the religious obligation took over the state as well, and saw no reason for the state to do it either.

It is no wonder that we are surrounded by the wealthiest of cultures that is at once terrified of the poor and unable to care for them.

Now even "good Catholics" believe it is the state's obligation to care for the poor, but run their apartment buildings or coops as if they were Robber Barons from the Gilded Age. Retiring empty nesters can't wait until the last child leaves so they can turn the extra bedroom into a garden shed or a guest slot instead of moving a poor person into it. Whilst people like me pride ourselves on living alone, but thus fritter away our income as if it were "my income" and not something God has given me to care for the poor. If this sentence confuses you, pooling income and lowering demands or expectations results in a superfluity of resources that can be shared with others.

Along with this odd, Protestant economy we have adopted the Protestant idea that you're not the boss of me. Catholics of previous eras knew that God had created a social hierarchy not because those higher up were closer to God, or better, or less sinful, but rather because any sense of trickle down required the idea that some be higher up. Ronald Reagan's Voodoo Economics failed to work because we have an American Idea that no one is better than anyone else. We have created a society that mirrors the Protestant idea of Church. We may all have different functions, but in the end, we all stand equally before God (or the state) as individuals. Just as no Protestant can get the full sense of this phrase, Regard not our sins but the faith of your Church... neither can any non-Catholic or Non-Orthodox imagine a place where there is no place as "my income" but rather "what God has given me to care for you..." (and the more Catholics and Orthodox that get infected with the aforementioned Original Sin, the fewer will even understand those phrases).

We take comfort in the idea that wealth per se is a sign of blessing, and that I can do whatever I want with God's blessings. We find encouragement in Mid-20th Century political ideas confused with moral statements and fail to see that even Marx had some Christian influence.

In the end, we have built a society where I can be blessed by God (or random datapoints I have manufactured) without any sense of obligation to you save only in the occasional penny tossed your way either by taxes or else by my choice for manual charity. The last thing we want is a reminder that we have an empty bed someone could sleep in, empty shoes someone could wear. In those cases we'd rather share our superfluity with a thrift store that can give us a tax receipt than with the beggar at our step. Thus turning even the tools of care into a benefit for ourselves and misusing the blessings God gave us.

Tante Corrie Knows

The Readings for Tuesday in the th Week of Easter (B2)
Sed nihil horum vereor : nec facio animam meam pretiosiorem quam me, dummodo consummem cursum meum, et ministerium verbi, quod accepi a Domino Jesu, testificari Evangelium gratiae Dei.
But I fear none of these things, neither do I count my life more precious than myself, so that I may consummate my course and the ministry of the word which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. 

Paul will say several things like this in his Epistles. I have only one thing to do... this is it and everything else is only so much dung. I don't know how to live like that. Because in the few times I've been laid off or come to the end of a housing arrangement, I've been terrified. Yes, I've made sudden changes and always survived, but only by grasping at enough straws until I mixed a metaphor and built a house out of them.

I've been reading Corrie Ten Boom's second book and wondering how it is that I could find myself a Tramp for the Lord, wandering the world trusting that my next step will be 100% safe so long as I am trusting God's plans and not my own. Of course, I'd have to give up planning to do that. Corrie's life - after the Nazi Concentration Camp - is filled with stories of landing in a strange city and meeting a random stranger who opens a whole new world of God's grace for the spinster Tante from Holland. I pray every day for this faith: not faith that "can move mountains" but rather can move me from my own fear and isolation. 

Corrie says that when one has gotten on a train, if the train goes through a long tunnel, one does not not jump off the train just because one is afraid of the dark. One trusts the engineer to keep things moving along. Can one walk into the world, by faith - not by sight - and just do whatever it is God has planed? It seems to me that a single man "of a certain age" who will not be getting married must have something to do, yet. But what will "finishing my course" look like? How can I best be that person?

14 May 2018

Once there was a Pentarchy.

The Readings for the Feast of St Matthias, Apostle
Monday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
    Et dederunt sortes eis, et cecidit sors super Mathiam, et annumeratus est cum undecim Apostolis.
    And they gave them lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. 

    I've worked for churches, off and on, for a lot of the last 35 years. Add to that non-profits and higher education, and I'd say that easily 60-75% of my job time has been in this world which is a veritable banana split of politics, ego, and turf wars. The 6 months I spent at the Benedictine monastery in Colorado are just the double fudge sauce on this sundae of doom. Today's reading from Acts calls to mind an odd experience in the middle of all that. 

    A non-traditional congregation was having its annual elections for their governing body (called the Parish Council or Vestry). There was an odd tradition in this community of only bringing one group of candidates forward, by a process of interviews, and then asking the community to vote yes on the slate. You might realize how non-democratic this is. Oddly they did not. It was a way to self-perpetuate whilst appearing to adhere to traditional forms of governance. It essentially ensured that people of the wrong sort would not get elected to office to challenge community norms. 

    My memory does not fully hold a clear vision of how this event happened, but at this council meeting there were two candidates for a job. One was the Approved Nominee. The other was one who was a newbie and an unknown quantity. The team, if memory serves, tried to convince one or the other to step down. But in the end it was coming to a vote. Agent Provocateur that I am, I moved that rather than vote we decide by lot. The official candidate was unimpressed with this suggestion although the newbie didn't care one way or the other. The community, by majority vote, accepted my motion. The lot fell to the newbie. The official candidate, having been promised the job, remained unimpressed.

    Although there were lots of energies and personalities involved, the sheer politics of the event sucked. Aristotle said man is a political animal, but  human nature is what we're here to rise above. So... how to deal with Politics in the Church? 

    To be clear, I'm not talking about Church involvement in secular political actions. I think most political choices can be viewed through a lens of morality and I'm thankful that this Pope (and, indeed, all the Popes) have taken steps to guide us towards moral choices in the secular realm. (Admittedly, some Popes did that by modeling bad behavior...) I'm talking about the intrusion of what St Paul calls "factions" in the Church: the taking of sides, I am for Paul, I am for Apollos, etc. This could be read to include the things that are bringing about the demise of the Protestant mainline, but I'm sticking with things like: Orthodox bishops withholding Ordinations until they get a few "donations", or Catholic bishops asking for priests to be a little more quiet around the diocese for being a bit too famous on the internets, or Catholic priests taking their entire congregations into schism and apostasy because the Bishop is too traditional; priests of any denomination being able to look the other way for wealthier parishioners. 

    All the usual things. I mention none of this for scandal: because it goes on all the time. I'm asking what to do about it. And I don't mean how to stop it.

    All this week leading up to Pentecost, I think this is a crucial question. How is the Church governed.The first apostles opted for drawing lots. If you've ever seen the Shoes of the Fisherman, you'll know that getting a new Pope involves an odd mix of politics and inspiration...

    So what do you do about it? Run around yelling, "This can't be the Church?" Toss in the towel and say, "Wow." I'm somewhere in the middle, to be honest, because I think God's funny and lets us run amok, and this is how He's decided to run the Church. This is a mark of divine providence, as far as I'm concerned: because most human institutions last about as long as a tube of toothpaste. 

    The Church, however, can side with soon-to-be-dead political movements, the wrong ethnic identities, financially risky property deals, bad choices in clergy, declining populations (if you think "the Nones" are bad, try the Black Plague), poorly chosen expansion polices, and even egregiously sinful Popes, and yet the Church is still here. Rome, Attila, the Ottomans, the English, the French, the Germans, the Nazis, the Soviets, and quite a few others have all tried to get rid of the Church. Yet, the Church is still here. I take quite a bit of comfort in that. All-too-human politics happening in an all-too-human Church seems the least of our worries.

    10 May 2018

    Filling All Things with Light

    The Readings for Solemnity of the Ascension (B2)
    Propter quod dicit : Ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem : dedit dona hominibus. Quod autem ascendit, quid est, nisi quia et descendit primum in inferiores partes terrae? Qui descendit, ipse est et qui ascendit super omnes caelos, ut impleret omnia.
    Wherefore he saith: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men. Now that he ascended, what is it, but because he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

    This is how the Byzantine rite praises Christ at Easter: 

    In the tomb with the body 
    and in Hades with the soul, 
    in Paradise with the thief and 
    on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, 
    were You, O boundless Christ 

    filling all things.

    Today's feast raises Christ again, from Earth to Heaven - and now with us as well. From this morning's Matins in the EF, a Sermon from Pope St Leo the Great:

    After the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein the Divine Power raised up in three days the true Temple of God which, in their impiety the Leaders of the peoples of Israel and Rome had destroyed (namely the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ), God was pleased to ordain, by His Most Sacred Will, and in His Providence for our instruction and the profit of our souls, a season of forty days which season, dearly beloved brethren, doth end on this day. During that season the bodily Presence of the Lord still lingered on earth, that the reality of the fact of His having risen again from the dead might be armed with all needful proofs. The death of Christ had troubled the hearts of many of His disciples their thoughts were sad when they remembered His agony upon the Cross, His giving up of the Ghost, and the laying in the grave of His lifeless Body, and a sort of hesitation had begun to weigh on them.
    Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been fearful at the finishing on the Cross, and doubtful of the trustworthiness of the rising again, were so strengthened by the clear demonstration of the fact, that, when they saw the Lord going up into the height of heaven, they sorrowed not, nay they were even filled with great joy And, in all verity, it was a great an unspeakable cause for joy to see the Manhood, in the presence of that the multitude of believers, exalted above all creatures even heavenly, rising above the ranks of the angelic armies and speeding Its glorious way where the most noble of the Archangels lie far behind, to rest no lower than that place where high above all principality and power, It taketh Its seat at the right hand of the Eternal Father, Sharer of His throne, and Partaker of His glory, and still of the very man's nature which the Son hath taken upon Him.
    Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us also rejoice with worthy joy, for the Ascension of Christ is exaltation for us, and whither the glory of the Head of the Church is passed in, thither is the hope of the body of the Church called on to follow. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy, and give God glad thanks. This day is not only the possession of Paradise made sure unto us, but in the Person of our Head we are actually begun to enter into the heavenly mansions above. Through the unspeakable goodness of Christ we have gained more than ever we lost by the envy of the devil. We, whom our venomous enemy thrust from our first happy home, we, being made of one body with the Son of God, have by Him been given a place at the right hand of the Father with Whom He liveth and reigneth, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

    - Emphasis added. This is how important Our Lord's Ascension is: it is the Crown of our Salvation. For now, not only are we saved from our sins and ransomed from death, but are we also welcomed to Heaven, raised higher than even the angels and united to the Godhead in the person of the Christ; who is of one substance with the Father and with us. 

    09 May 2018

    But I've Never Been to Me.


    The 13th 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 our hearts, that the place where Christ abides in us with the Father and the Spirit may become the place where we live with the Holy Trinity in friendship. 
    With this intention we turn a corner to a wider, mystical focus on salvation. Yes, all of the intentions have been directed towards salvation, but this one together with the next two (the final three of the series) are the the culmination of this journey, the capstone of the process.

    The garden of Eden story will, perhaps, be familiar to readers. Adam and Eve, our first parents, blessed to live in Paradise by their creator, elect to follow their own consciences and so come to sin. In the very act of sinning they find themselves banished from Eden and exiled into a world where they have to work, know pain, and forever lament that they cannot get back to the Garden. Byzantine hymnody puts these words into Adam's mouth:
    Adam sat opposite Paradise and, lamenting his nakedness, he wept: ‘Woe is me ! By evil deceit was I persuaded and robbed, and exiled far from glory. Woe is me ! Once naked in my simplicity, now I am in want. But, Paradise, no longer shall I enjoy your delight; no more shall I look upon the Lord my God and Maker, for I shall return to the earth whence I was taken. Merciful and compassionate Lord, I cry to you, ‘Have mercy on me who am fallen’.
    In the tradition of Christian allegory, the departure from Eden is echoed for each of us in our exile from our true self. As we cannot know, apart from Christ, neither truth, nor peace, nor justice, neither can we know our very being to the core. In our heart - after Baptism - lives God himself. It might seem especially odd, since to our Protestant friends we have to "invite Jesus into our hearts", but for the Catholic and Orthodox reading, it is our hearts into which we cannot come and - like the Garden - God is inside, alone, calling for us in the cool of the evening. All of life becomes a process of alignment with the guidance of this inner garden; until at last, in the peace of Christ, we find the way clear to enter again into Eden.
    Through eating Adam was cast out of Paradise. And so, as he sat in front of it, he wept, lamenting with a pitiful voice and saying, ‘Woe is me, what have I suffered, wretch that I am! I transgressed one commandment of the Master, and now I am deprived of every good thing. Most holy Paradise, planted because of me and shut because of Eve, pray to him who made you and fashioned me, that once more I be filled with your flowers.’

    This prayer of ours is that the place where Christ abides - together with the Father and the Spirit - may become the place where we dwell with the Holy Trinity in friendship. We beg to enter into our own hearts. What can this mean?

    I suffer from a pattern of anxiety attacks. I've never quite understood them. The oddest was when I got my first car. I still cannot understand how it is that folks leave a $15,000 thing alone in the parking lot at WalMart or on the street at night. I was never worried that it would get broken into as such, I just kept asking folks, "How do you do this not only every day, but all day, all the time?" And so it is that I have trouble leaving home, or leaving the office, or walking away from a meeting... etc. Is everything done? Is everything safe? Although I know not everyone deals with exactly this, I imagine (perhaps wrongly) that all of us have some portion of this pattern inside: our mind picks up an idea and will not let it go. Everything becomes a struggle to deal with anything other than that one thought. 

    Our mind functions this way - especially the vocal part, the babbling part of the brain. It's not only a huge distraction from work, or relationships, or whatever;  it pulls us out and away from the inner Eden. We have to hush that part of the mind, still it, bring it into alignment with the peace that comes from God. In fact, we can be so distracted, that - looking inward - we think even our heart has become a troubled sea. We forget the sea is never fully troubled at its depth. It is still and calm down there even when the storms are raging above. We have to guard our peace, and to bring our babble-brain into our hearts to be stilled.

    We cannot be ourselves, really, until we find our true self fully restored in God. We dance with a ghostly conception, a false self, which we try to "fix" or "heal" or "empower". We are tricked into not realizing this is a decoy, a golem constructed from wattle and ego. This decoy is not a devilish plot, don't get me wrong. We build this decoy, this idolon from the husks we find around. The demons only have to point us to it whispering words about rights and freedom. When we enter our hearts, finally, we can know the Trinity to be our only source, our salvation, and our ongoing sanctification. We can also begin to see in full light who we really are, what we really are. We can see and know this clearly, unobstructed by emotion, passion,  concerns, desires, and worries. God has especially said that those will take care of themselves so that we can fully rest in God's mercy, in God's love. The Eastern prayer here is, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. To the West we can turn and find, Jesus, I trust in you. 

    Let this drawing closer to God in our hearts be the action of Communion. That as Christ dwells within us we may be drawn closer to him with each participation of the Mass, which is heaven on earth, the Garden of Eden again in full flower. Let us enter there into our heart and find God calling us home. Let us know him that we may know, finally, his plan for us and who we are. In this intention, let us open up to God who by grace is given to us and can never be taken away, but we can ignore him. Let us not.

    04 May 2018

    So, about this wall...

    The Readings for Friday in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)
    Vos autem dixi amicos : quia omnia quaecumque audivi a Patre meo, nota feci vobis. 
    I have called you friends: because all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you. 

    One thing I often heard in dating relationships was that I have "bad boundaries". After many years in failed relationships I finally learned what these were in the course of two conversations divided by 5 years. In one, a friend was telling me about a certain "Creepy" sort of person who one might meet who wants to become close friends as a result of a sexual encounter. In another conversation, a different friend, was telling me he was never that sort of person. He always had "good boundaries". Both of these folks wondered why anyone wanted to be emotionally intimate just because sex had happened. I realized I was the person they were speaking about: the one that thinks sex must imply some sort of connection.

    In The Lost Language of Cranes the protagonist, Philip Benjamin, has a falling out with his romantic partner who tells him "you need me too much. Half way across this city in the middle of the day I can feel you needing me." Or words to that effect. I saw this once when it was on PBS in the early 90s, so I may not have the worlds right, but that scene stuck with me. Haunted me. In fact in my memory it's the only words I can remember from the movie. But exactly what's wrong with needing someone? Decades later when relationships were ending I'd still say I don't get it... what's wrong with needing someone? 

    I have called you friends because whatever I've learned from my father I've made known to you.

    As a hopeless romantic, I always had bad boundaries. And I have often wondered why that was (even before I had the terms down). Why did I "fall in love" or become emotionally attached? What if, however, these terms are intentionally in divine logic? What if what is generally seen as an enjoyable biological function is, in fact, a deeply spiritual and kenotic act of self-destruction? Would it not be natural for there to be no boundaries after it?

    Jesus shares literally all of himself with us: body, blood, soul, and divinity. He shares with us all that the Father has given him and names us as friends, using a Greek word (philos) that implies non-sexual relationships based on common experience. The implication that there is a huge amount of intimacy, of union, that comes long, long before physical intimacy happens. Letting sex come first (which does happen from time to time) and yet denying the rest of intimacy: that is the odd choice. As Robert Anton Wilson makes clear in the Illuminatus trilogy, as well as in Schrodinger's Cat: the Universe Next Door, sex is the ultimate breaking down of the boundaries, the end of the division, the unitive wholeness of humanity. Saying, at that point, "you need me too much" is like the river saying it shouldn't need water. Having opened that door, slamming it shut again is the real bad boundary. 

    At the end of this Gospel reading, Jesus says we should love one another, using a different Greek word now: agape. Unlike philia which is based on common experience, Agape is an act of will, and it is not something we can do alone: it is possible only by God's love through us. Our love tends to be about gratification and validation. God's love is about self-pouring out - into us, to overflowing and then out of us into others.

    The intimacy offered to us in friendship, or even in the sexual union, is only a foretaste of the intimacy made available to us in the act of Eucharistic Communion. Here the divine fire of heaven enters our spiritual and physical bodies to destroy all that is not of the same divine origin. Uniting us fully and finally to the source and summit of that fire. The act of communion is the sacramental union of your soul with the divine dance at the end of Dante's Paradiso XXXIII
    ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l vellesì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle. (Par. 33.143-45)
    but my desire and will were moved already—like a wheel revolving uniformly—bythe Love that moves the sun and the other stars.
    A final note. When Dante reaches the end of his vision and is granted the sight of the universe bound together in one volume, what entrances him is not plain Oneness but all that multiplicity somehow contained and unified. His heart is set on seeing and knowing that multiplicity, an otherness that is still stubbornly present in the poem’s penultimate word. God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars: “l’amor che move ’l sole e l’altre stelle”.
    Much has been written about the transcendent stelle with which the Commedia ends; let us give due weight as well to the adjective that modifies those stars, the poem’s penultimate word, altre. Dante believes in a transcendent One, but his One is indelibly characterized by the multiplicity, difference, and sheer otherness embodied in the “altre stelle”—an otherness by which he is still unrepentantly captivated in his poem’s last breath. (Source)
    We, dear sisters and brothers, are to be those altre stelle, the other stars moving in God's light. The act of theosis will burn down all the walls left. We move from friends to lovers of the Divine source of Love. Heaven is an infinite dance without boundaries.