30 June 2018

Why Does God Allow Cilantro?

The Readings for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Deus mortem non fecit. Nec laetatur in perditione vivorum. 
God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  

The man, Jairus, corners Jesus in a crowd and says, "Come, heal my daughter." But even before he can get home, the news reaches him: the girl is dead. Why did God let that happen?

There's no more powerful question, really, for trying to refute any person of faith. It's a question that demands an answer.  Why did God allow Amazon to take over the retail market? Why does God allow WalMart to ruin downtowns all over the nation, or Tesco and Loblaws to do the same in the UK and Canada? Why does God allow Facebook? Why did God allow the second Nixon administration? Why does God allow fake news? Why does God allow my parents to get a divorce? There are many noxious things in the world, some taste like hairspray and people add them to soup. Why, God?

Now, certainly, this question usually gets asked regarding larger events... why did God allow the Tsunami on Christmas day 2004? Why does God allow war? Why does God allow the Trump administration to rip children like Elian Gonzalez away from their families? Why does God allow gun violence like like in Waco Texas in 1993? Why does God allow mass murder like American business allies committed in Mexico in the 1920s or throughout Latin America in the Reagan years?

We might as well ask why God allows your dad to wear over the calf socks and plaid shorts with a striped shirt.

Why does God allow anyone at all to die? The reading from Wisdom brings this home.

God "created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth." but... verse 16 (which is left out of our reading) says "ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his party."

We do this to ourselves. The entire second chapter of Wisdom is a catalog of sentiments from our modern culture. These few lines alone are basically #LifeinSF
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.
This is basically a description of our culture's MO from the get go:
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions... 
The text rejoins our reading at the end:
God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.
In short, God made the world good, but humanity grew tired of all that boring goodness and went looking for something else. And the Devil, all too happy to help, provided the options we've all come to know and love.

The answer to all our questions is the same: God's will is to give us the freedom to choose to do his will, which is also the freedom to ignore his will. And most of us enjoy our freedom too much to let God intervene. Equally important questions: Why did God allow me to have all that sex? Why did God allow me to cheat on my taxes? Why did God allow me to sneak out of the office without my boss noticing? Why did God allow them to vote for Trump? Why did God allow them to vote for Obama? Why did God allow...

Because we're free. God does not micromanage. Mutually assured destruction is an option we all have. God would call us home. But we have to listen... and have to respond.  He will not force us.

Why did God allow Jairus daughter to die? Because death is now a part of this world: woven in - by man - on the weft God gave us, the warp of death is from the craft basket of Satan. But it's part of the deal now.

See, the thing is... the thing is... Jesus has taken that warp and weft, and sewn a new garment of life for us. Death is no longer the slamming shut of the final door, but rather the turning of the first key, the dawn of a new day. Jesus did this as God, by dying the death we all die. But he's God, and it was remade. God can't undo the patterns we've woven, but he can remake them, repurpose them, and even incorporate our tiny, miswoven patterns into a glorious story of his own design that is far more than we can imagine. Death is now only sleep. Life is eternity. Our lives cross over and touch so many things: we only see ourselves. We can be selfish and insist on seeing only in the first person. So life is nasty, brutish, and short. But God sees it all, the big picture, the whole megillah. There is no destructive poison in any of it... except cilantro.


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So many. So many...

The Readings for Saturday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
The First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church
Et omnes male habentes curavit : 
And all that were sick he healed

And all that were sick, he healed... that "all" there is the Greek word, πάντας pantas, meaning all. It drives some folks bonkers. They can rant their way through that. They want to argue for what is called double predestination: that God has doomed some men to Hell already. So when the Bible says Jesus died for "all" obviously he didn't die for all meaning, you know, all. He died for a handful of people like, you know, us. I've seen a marked argument from some that "all" only means some... As if God wants to not set the world aright so much as to keep it from lurching so sharply to one side. So, clearly, Jesus heals only ever other one, or maybe one out of every 3 that comes to the door. 

Or he heals all.

There are just a handful of healings recounted in the Gospels. We have two in our reading today, but the important part of this story is what happened that night when all that came by were healed (where all means all).  We can imagine that Jesus spent the better part of 3 years ignoring everyone, with the occasional "zap" to keep up the headlines. Or maybe God went around doing what God does: fixing things that we had broken.

The Fathers say that Jesus weeping at the grave of Lazarus was not weeping in the human sense, mourning for the loss of someone (because Jesus already knew he would raise him up) but rather the tears of God weeping over what human sin had done to the world and how well death reigned. 

It seems possible that there were many such heart-rending moments for the God-Man, seeing the depths to which people whom he loved dearly were driven. Imagine the pain of God at seeing his own mother's grief at the death of her husband; or seeing her grief over his own passion and death. And I can imagine the young Jesus sweeping though a crowd and healing everyone just because everything must be set right. And when he goes out in the morning to pray and regather his energies, it is because he is literally exhausted. Remember he once slept in a boat in the middle of storm.

This is the humility of God, coming at us as one of us and yet being God. Pouring out his all and his everything for us even when it means the total loss of strength, the total exhaustion of his flesh, the running ragged of this mortal coil. This is God saving us with every fiber of his being. Every ounce of his strength.

Yet we like to hold a little bit back. Instead of coming at God with all that we have, we need to keep this one place (or maybe two places) in our lives "in control" right? For me it's usually things around sex but for others it may be work or money. It comes up anytime one says, "Yea, I'm Orthodox, but..."  or  "My family is Catholic, but..." What ever comes after "but" is a place we're holding off from God. It's one place we're not giving our all. It's the ballot box, or the doctor's office. It's our relationship with our in-laws or our boss. It's, "Let me cheat on my taxes, it may be immoral, but I'll give more money to the Church."  It's like a Mafia Don willfully committing the same sins over and over again because he knows confession is easy. Or Politician saying she can get more votes by supporting a few non-Catholic things... and be in power to do overall Good, right?

The problem with our logic is that holding back doesn't save us. We need to imitate the God who gave up everything - and continues to give it all up. 

All here, means all.


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29 June 2018

Just the Two of Us, We Can Make It

The Readings for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul
Dominus autem mihi astitit, et confortavit me. 
The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.

In the movie Paul: Apostle of Christ, the character of Saint Paul experiences nightmares on a nightly basis. These are dreams of people he has tortured in his earlier life, people he has killed, and people who have reason to hate him. He sees them as a group staring at him angrily (so he thinks). He has flashbacks to when he killed them. He awakes in a cold sweat and and in terror. The first time this happens in the movie, we see Paul's eyes jerk open and he says, almost like a mantra, Your grace is sufficient.

Through the rest of the movie we pay no attention to these dreams because they're expected. But we learn at the end of the movie tht these dreams are true in a way. And all of these people are standing waiting for Paul to come to them. They run to embrace him and love him into the kingdom for he, Paul, was the way God used to bring them home.

Today is the Feast of St. Paul and St. Peter. I find myself wondering who might hate St Peter, who might have been in his dreams. What were his nightmares? But I don't have to look very far. This man denied Christ three times - at the darkest part of night. This man's rock-solid faith was torn up by a young woman tending a fire. And if the Evil One - who makes anything that is terrifying - is going to make nightmares for the Pope, I can imagine it would be about the time that he said no to Jesus, to the faith, to his very self. He would have to wake up knowing that God's grace is sufficient.

Paul and Peter would have been, at one point enemies (at least in Paul's mind). So it is no wonder that he avoided the Apostolic community for so long. Yet they were moved by grace even then, to know that God loves sinners and brings us home. Grace builds on nature and Paul's scholarship easily faces off against both Jewish and Gentile debaters. Peter's down home fisherman folksy style wins in a leadership role. And all of it with the Holy Spirit taking these two men, these two great sinners, further and further away from where they were.

God's grace is sufficient. It is a mantra

How many of us have similar theological nightmares? Knowing that we have come to the throne of the all merciful God, knowing that we are surrounded by an omniscient and omnipotent love... but...

There are very few temptations I've had that I didn't give into. Very few people I could have hurt that I didn't, very few people I could have led into sin that I didn't. Very few people I could have misled that I didn't. I've walked down dark roads leading others as a blind guide of the blind. And sometimes as a seeing guide. Certainly God can't forget that, nor is there a reason for me to be forgiven those sins. In my dreams and memories it is those moments, long confessed and absolved, that haunt me. It's not all that different from killing or betraying in that any sin is a loss of love, a betrayal, and ending of the life that God gives us.

There's not a week that goes by that I don't think I want or need to go back. There's not a confession I give that doesn't mention something from my past, something that haunts me that maybe I need to confess again, or at least admit I'm still attached to. These nightmares that leave me paralyzed, alone in the basement, sometimes: fearful that I can't even go outside lest I fall back again into my past. I fought the church actively, I rejected the church fully, I betrayed the church completely. But, as Mom said to me, "The Lord never lets go, does he?"

And at the head of the Church we find these two great sinners... that God has pulled from hell into heaven.

The church's catalogue of the Holy has a number of folks who just fell into God's hands from an early age... but it's filled to the brim with folks who needed rescuing, from basic sins, from garden variety apostasy, from heresy, from the pits of hell that we call human culture, from the dens of iniquity we call society. Some were harlots, some were pimps, some were slaves, some were sadists, some were filthy rich, some were kings or jesters. All have learned that God's grace is sufficient.

There's so much hope, so much joy, so much unbearable lightness of absolution in the grace that God gives us so freely, so powerfully, so gently.

I stop because it's too emotional from here. But these two great kings who were sinners stand either side of the river of the water of life, and we can pass them because we are noble like them in that we need the same grace, the same power, the same God to bring us forward into his royal city.

Come to the water. Come buy without money the food that is without price. Come... See... Taste.



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28 June 2018

Lord I've Done Some Yuge Things Here.

The Readings for Thursday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Memorial of St Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr
Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum caelorum. 
Not all who say to me, Lord! Lord! will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Don't let anyone tell you that all you need to do is "believe in Jesus" for Jesus himself says in this passage (and many others) that there's some doing that has to be done.  We have to do the will of Jesus' Father in Heaven. And we have to hear Jesus' words and do them. And the doing is not about miracles or other forms of wooji-wooji. Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo prophetavimus, et in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus, et in nomine tuo virtutes multas fecimus? Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? That's not doing the will of God. Speaking in tongues is not either.

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them.  Jesus has just finished telling us that bad trees give us bad fruit. And will get cut down and thrown into the fire. And here he seems to be saying that "Lord, Lord" is not the password into heaven.

Looking into the Old Testament reading today is, at first glance, no comfort. The siege of Jerusalem, the loss of the temple which was the Glory of Israel, the deportation of the King and his court, the loss of an entire religious and artistic culture, and the appointment of an alien king are all the sort of thing that happens when you don't follow God. And, to make this clear, the alien king changes his name to "Zedekiah" which means the Justice or Righteousness of Yahweh. Seen that way this is all just so much suck. And, in fact, the loss of the Temple on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, is mourned each year with a day of Fasting. (This year that begins at nightfall on the Gregorian date of 21 July.)

And yet.. and yet...

The author of the 2nd Book of Kings knows that this is happening because of the sins of the King and the people. The people are carried off - but not slaughtered. The people are in exile, but not forever. God will bring them back and, in the course of their exile, God will raise up prophets like Daniel and Jeremiah. There will be signs and wonders and even King Nebuchadnezzar who seems like a bad guy today will be shown to be a tool in God's hands. God is doing something with Israel, and, in the end, with all of us. This exile will end, ultimately, with Messiah. This is all a sign of Zedekiah, of God's Justice, which doesn't mean "God's snarky anger" but rather, "God's sorting out of all things back to their original intent." Babylon is a perfect sign of purgation.

So what does it mean to hear Jesus' words and to do them?

We are familiar with the command to love, and with the ten commandments. The precepts of the Church are well understood. But I think this reading today, especially with the Tag Line of Zedekiah, is about humility. We can come before Jesus on Judgment day bragging about all the things we did "in his name" or we can stand, as the king of Judah did, before his humiliation. We can take what is coming as a gift from God, and let God's purpose work itself out. That acceptance of God's Justice, of Zedekiah, is also throwing oneself, in humility, on God's mercy.

Not all who say to me Lord Lord... but yet all who say to me "Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy on me a sinner."

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27 June 2018

This needn't ever have happened.

The Readings for  in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Omnis arbor, quae non facit fructum bonum, excidetur, et in ignem mittetur. 
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

I'm having trouble finding it. It was this year's "It's Easter, let's run a story slamming the Bible" story. Ancient carvings had been discovered that "proved" ancient Israel was pagan, polytheistic, and not at all like your Preacher wants you to imagine. In fact, it was such a mess that we might as well say there were no Jews in that period. I can't find it, I think, because that part of the News Cycle has blown over. We've moved on. There will be other blasphemies.

Except anyone who reads the Bible can tell you that most of the history of the Israelites looks like this: 

God: Don't eat shrimp.
Random person: Let's try worshiping these trees, they say it's ok to eat shrimp.
Everyone: Shrimp sounds good.
God: Send a gentile army in to snap them out of their idolatry.
Israel: Grf. We're sorry! We've sinned! Forgive us!
God: Ok. Send the goyim back defeated.
Israel: They tried to kill us. We won. Now let's eat.
Random person: Shrimp?
The entire context of the story is ignored as anyone will tell you every holiday is, "They tried to kill us. We won. Now let's eat." They leave off the "we were schmucks, and God was opening a can of Righteous Whoopass" parts.

And so, today's passage from the Old Testament is one of my favourite stories of the kings of Judah, ever since I first heard it cited by Joseph Campbell in his Masks of God series. Our assigned reading abbreviates it and leaves off the good parts. But it catalogues quite a huge housecleaning. Grab a Bible and read through 2 Kings 2 and 3. As you read through it, notice how many things are actually in the Temple of Solomon, hanging out in the place built for worship of the Most High alone.

Then the king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, his assistant priests, and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the objects that had been made for Baal, Asherah, and the whole host of heaven. These he burned outside Jerusalem on the slopes of the Kidron; their ashes were carried to Bethel. He also put an end to the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the vicinity of Jerusalem, as well as those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, moon, and signs of the zodiac, and to the whole host of heaven. From the house of the LORD he also removed the Asherah to the Wadi Kidron, outside Jerusalem; he burned it and beat it to dust, in the Wadi Kidron, and scattered its dust over the graveyard of the people of the land. He tore down the apartments of the cult prostitutes in the house of the LORD, where the women wove garments for the Asherah. He brought in all the priests from the cities of Judah, and then defiled, from Geba to Beer-sheba, the high places where they had offered incense. He also tore down the high places of the gates, which were at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua, governor of the city, north of the city gate. The king also defiled Topheth in the Valley of Ben-hinnom, so that there would no longer be any immolation of sons or daughters by fire in honor of Molech. He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun; these were at the entrance of the house of the LORD, near the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the large building. The chariots of the sun he destroyed by fire. He also demolished the altars made by the kings of Judah on the roof (the roof terrace of Ahaz), and the altars made by Manasseh in the two courts of the LORD’s house. He pulverized them and threw the dust into the Wadi Kidron. The king defiled the high places east of Jerusalem, south of the Mount of the Destroyer, which Solomon, king of Israel, had built in honor of Astarte, the Sidonian horror, of Chemosh, the Moabite horror, and of Milcom, the Ammonites’ abomination. He broke to pieces the pillars, cut down the asherahs, and filled the places where they had been with human bones. Likewise the altar which was at Bethel, the high place built by Jeroboam, son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin—this same altar and high place he tore down and burned, grinding the high place to powder and burning the asherah...Josiah also removed all the temples on the high places in the cities of Samaria which the kings of Israel had built, provoking the LORD; he did the very same to them as he had done in Bethel. He slaughtered upon the altars all the priests of the high places that were there, and burned human bones upon them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
Indeed, trees that do no bear good fruit are cut down.

Yesterday I suggested that the "narrow gate" of righteousness and the "broad gate" to destruction are both in the same Church. I suggested a lot of ways it's possible to go down the dirt road to destruction just "doing church things" and forgetting about the Gospel. Today's reading backs me up.

Think of the Temple as the human soul and realize that we need to be on guard at all times. Solomon was led astray by love for his wives, each asking for her own temple, and him caving in just to keep peace in his house. How many times do we do that, find a way to keep the peace by not keeping the faith? How many idols are in your temple? Where is your sun chariot, or your asheras, your altars to the signs of the Zodiac or your version of "Astarte, the Sidonian horror, of Chemosh, the Moabite horror, and of Milcom, the Ammonites’ abomination"?

Israel wasn't paying attention. As we discover in the same passage there hasn't been a Passover observed at all in generations! Things just got out of hand. All that was needed was someone to mind the fort a little more tightly. Someone needed to go right to the police at the first sign of trouble. And if your orchard starts bearing bad fruit, it's time to chop some trees down just to keep the bad stuff from cross pollinating with the good stuff.


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26 June 2018

What color lipstick are you using?

The Readings for Tuesday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Intrate per angustam portam : quia lata porta, et spatiosa via est, quae ducit ad perditionem, et multi sunt qui intrant per eam. Quam angusta porta, et arcta via est, quae ducit ad vitam : et pauci sunt qui inveniunt eam! 
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn rather famously said :the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being" indicating that we each must make choices that are good or evil - and these, in turn build a community of those choices. In like manner, the "Broad Gate" and the "Narrow Gate" stand either side of every Church in which one can enter.

The broad gate clues us in with "Just because I'm here, I've made it..." and it allows us to look down our nose (or our communion spoon, as the case may be) at those who are not here with us. The broad gate assures us that there may be sinners somewhere in the world, but they are not here. Other communities have problems with abuse, sex, phyletism, racism, money scandals, but not us. The broad gate causes us to complain about liturgy constantly, to put ourselves over the Church in all the ways we can (I think Father would do so much better if he stopped offering the TLM it's so rigid. I think the Novus ordo is heretical.) The groad gate invites us to judge our brothers and sisters, often sitting in the pew, just before Liturgy. OMG look what she is wearing! I can't believe they let him be a reader. Gosh but that voice doesn't belong in our choir. The broad way invites us to go a la carte on the menu when the whole Wedding Banquet is prix fixe (and already paid for). I like the Church, but not that bit there... I'm Catholic, but...

Please understand I list these because I've done these.

The broad gate is opposed by the narrow gate, the latter has only one thing to say: Lord, have mercy on me.

In verse 6 when Jesus says don't give the holy things to the dogs, don't give your pearls to the pigs... he's talking about those of us who stand beyond the Broad Gate looking down on the pious who can't seem to find their way into all the peace and freedom we enjoy in our wide pathways and our brilliant super highways. We are the dogs, the swine who destroy the holy things. Sure, it would be easy to say, "Dogs are infidels who never make it into the Church and Swine are the schismatics who break away." But we are the dogs. We are the swine. If we assure ourselves of our safety by virtue of our presence in the church, or our lucky Pious Family Heritage then we need to go to the vet to have our beam like pride removed.


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24 June 2018

The Kenotic Wheel of the Year

The Readings for Solemnity of the Nativity of St John Baptist
Cum impleret autem Joannes cursum suum, dicebat : Quem me arbitramini esse, non sum ego, sed ecce venit post me, cujus non sum dignus calceamenta pedum solvere. 
As John was finishing his course, he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.'

There are many "bonfire nights" in the Irish and English cultural landscape moving through the year from Midsummer to Midwinter. The next ones for the North of Ireland are on the 12th of July for Loyalist communities and 8th of August for Nationalist communities. There is Guy Fawkes night. And Christmas bonfires as well. But last night was also one, the eve of St John's Day. These fires collectively mark the beginning of the "dark half of the year".  The pagans used to celebrate Midsummer with bonfires on the 21st. But they moved it over to the night of the 24th to mark the passing of time in sync with this Roman and Christian invention, the Fixed Calendar. And these fires teach us a lesson, for John's birth is celebrated as the light begins to decrease. This symbolizes his whole purpose: to pass away. John's purpose is to point to the real and eternal light... and just as his decreasing light passes away at the Midwinter, lo, the Christ is born. And real, eternal Light begins to grow. So the Church blesses the bonfires that mark a passing moment and show eternal truth.

This is us. This mission of St John to decrease is also our mission.  As we finish our course we point to Jesus. This passing through the dark half of the year is our Christian witness in this world of Darkness, punctuated by the fires of martyrdom and sacrificial love. Christians don't count terrestrial birthdays, properly, but heavenly ones. My Saints' days are way more important than my birthday and each one of those is actually the day the saint dies... is born into heaven. We must decrease until Christ is all in all.

St John's whole mission was to pass away after pointing to Jesus and naming him the Bridegroom of Israel, the Lamb of God, just as the Best Man is only there to witness the wedding and maybe to sign a document or two. Our whole mission is to point others to Jesus in exactly the same way. Our state in life may be different in that not all of us are monastics, not all of us are priests, but all of us are called to be Christians, that is, Little Christs. We are all to sacrifice ourselves in the continual outpouring of the Son to the Father, in the continual giving of the Father to the Son, in the continual pouring of the Holy Spirit on the World. We are both the vessels of reception and of consumption for what is poured in is poured out as well. We are filled with the wine of God's love only to be consumed by our neighbors.

We stand aside so that others may encounter Christ. It is fashionable to say "encounter Christ in us" but it might be better said, "instead of us" for as certainly as we are sinners, it is Christ's love that other's feel when we love. It is Christ's strength that others feel when  we act. It is Jesus' hands that intercede when we kneel in prayer for and rise in service of Neighbor. The Saints teach us to begin each encounter with another soul with a prayer that Christ will act... for we will certainly mess it up. Mindful of course, that any action is about the salvation of the human in front of us (which cannot but further our own salvation). We may think it's a business deal or a phone call to customer service, or only a bank teller. But we are there as preachers, as little John the Baptists. If that mission fails it matters not if we get the contract or rob the bank.

St John decreases, so do we: that Christ may increase to all and in all until he is all in all and we are one with the Trinity in blessed love. Last night the wheel of the year turned just one more notch towards eternity and all of creation rejoiced. The longest day means the beginning of darkness. And St John's Day means that Jesus is not far away.

Six months to Christmas and counting down... 


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23 June 2018

In the Biblical Sense...

The Readings for the Vigil of the Nativity of St John Baptist
Priusquam te formarem in utero, novi te 
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you  

I've been reading Brant Pitre's Jesus the Bridegroom which sets out, like many of Dr Pitre's works, to remind Catholics of the Jewish roots of our religion. As I've said from time to time, we are Jews, just different Rabbis. Anyway, just before I got to Mass tonight (it's late Saturday as I write) he was discussing the verb "Yada" which means "to know". But it means to know intimately, by experience. For example, it's in the Eden story as "the knowledge of Good and Evil" meaning that eating the fruit was not some Gnostic initiation, but rather the act of disobeying was the event of knowing in itself. It's also in the Eden story as "Adam knew his wife", the source and meaning of "to know in the Biblical sense".  It's the level of intimacy that requires doing to know.

Dr Pitre points out that God promises the People of Israel that they will know Him and He will know them at this level of intimacy.

When I got to Mass, this word, yada, was on the lips of the preacher, pointing out that God knows us, Yada, all that intimately. This is promised in this reading from Jeremiah: "before you were formed in the womb, I yada'ed you." It was, the homilist said, the job of the priest to serve as Matchmaker, as Yenta, for this divine intimacy. But, more importantly, it was for all of us to experience and to serve as catalysts of this relationship for others.

This is the level at which God seeks us out and yet without our consent will not go. This is the deep level at which we are all wooed yet we constantly seek to hide away like Adam in the Garden. There is no place we go that God is not willing to go with us to bring us back to Him.

Then we sang, during communion, this hymn, for what else is the Eucharist, but the eternal feast of God's Bridal Chamber, present to us here and now?
O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray
that all thy church might be for ever one,
grant us at every Eucharist to say
with longing heart and soul, 'Thy will be done':
O may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.
..  ..  ...
For all thy church, O Lord, we intercede;
make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace:
thus may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.
 ..  ..  ..
We pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the church which still that faith doth keep:
soon may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.
 ..  ..  ..
So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all thy church above,
one with thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with thy saints in one unbounded love:
more blessèd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.
The whole point of the Mass, the Church, the Priesthood, and of all the Baptized is to draw all the world back into this unity of Love and Person, of Knowing and Being, of Presence and Intimacy. We are wooing the world to God.


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21 June 2018

O Fellowship Divine

The Readings for  in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Beati sunt qui te viderunt, 
et in amicitia tua decorati sunt.
Elias quidem in turbine tectus est
Blessed is he who shall have seen you 
And who falls asleep in your friendship.
O Elijah, enveloped in the whirlwind!

I've been feeling out this huge transition since becoming Catholic. Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have devotions to saints, yes. But something feels different now, in the West. This is not a case of one does it right and the other wrong: but rather a difference in harmony on a common melody. This could also be my own experience in the East. I don't pretend to know it all, and staying in largely convert communities can affect one's journey. That said, allowing for difference of experience, it seems as if in the West there is more of a personal flavor to the cult of the saints. By this I mean only that one seems to have the personal experience of a friendship of certain saints and to relish it more than in the East.

Across the board, East and West, one can ask a saint to pray for an intention just as assuredly as one can ask one's spouse or folks on Twitter. But there is in the Roman Church a sense of "St So and So is my friend" in a way that I did not see in Orthodoxy. St So and So may also not be always around. Relationships with Saints seem to come and go. People have strong devotions for periods of time. And then they move on. Other devotions seem to last a good while. It's like the Saints are here to teach us something, as would a Godparent. One has a Patron of course, but something may happen to indicate things have evolved. One may learn to pray from one saint's writings, or to get through a tough patch by asking another saint for help. One may always find one saint coming to mind as the work day gets difficult, or as troubles heat up in a marriage. When these pass, another saint steps up.

The LXX text about the Friendship with Elijah actually uses the Greek "Agape" rather than "Phila". It uses a form of the verb to love that can be read either as "I love you, Elijah" or "Elijah, you love me". It's kind of neat that way. So the text says something more like "Blessed are they who share with you Agape." And that's important. The Saints are present to us because they are so advanced in their journey to Theosis, that God's love (agape) can allow them to be here with us. They are not omniscient or omnipresent. Thus, they are not always everywhere, but in God's timeless Agape it can seems like that to those of use trapped here in the realm of Space-Time. When I reach out to Blessed Stanley Rother, it's not because he's a magical unicorn that is always around, but rather because in God's love for me, he allows my relationship with Fr Rother to grow and continue in eternity.

This is the relationship we share in Christ with all who have gone before us - not just those official Saints, but even the Holy Souls in Purgatory who have died in Christ. The hymns "For all the Saints" and "The Church's One Foundation" make it poetically clear: the Church Militant enjoys full communion with her head on the Trinity's throne, and through him with the whole companies of the Church Expectant and the Church Triumphant. When we kneel before the elevated Holy Mysteries on the Altar, or in the monstrance, we are in the presence of all who do, will, or have enjoyed that Divine Presence on earth and continue to enjoy Him in His fullness  in Heaven.

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20 June 2018

Breaking up is Hard to Do.

The Readings for Wednesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Attendite ne justitiam vestram faciatis coram hominibus, ut videamini ab eis : alioquin mercedem non habebitis apud Patrem vestrum qui in caelis est. 
"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  

The RSV says "your piety". The KJV says "your alms". The Greek word is δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosuné. It means justice, justness, righteousness. The Latin wins, here, I think. "Justitiam Vestram" which the Douay renders as "your Justice". In the Septuagint, the Bible familiar to Jesus and his followers, δικαιοσύνη is used for the Hebrew "Tzedek", the concept in Jewish religion, for someone who adheres to all the miztvot, who practices "justice" not in any way merely en vogue or culturally acceptable, but as decreed by God to be Just. Piety, as in the RSV, is part of it. Almsgiving is as well, but it includes keeping the Sabbath, keeping Kosher, wearing the right clothes, saying the right blessings at the right times, committing neither to'evah, nor sexual impurity, neither unjustly treating one's family, slaves, nor laborers. It's a complex conception that has nearly nothing to do with our concepts of "justice" now, which tend to be subjective and emotivist.

Jesus tells us not to do God's Tzedek, or the feminine form is Tzedekah, in front of folks. I'm nearly sure he doesn't mean "don't let folks see you". Rather he does mean, "don't do it just so folks can see you." He says if you do it so folks see you, you've had your reward.

I don't do my charity so that folks see me, but I have to tell the federal government how much I give each year so that I get my tax refunds... I think that qualifies as "I've gotten my reward already."  Then we turn our charity over the trumpeters.

The internet's awesome for teaching. It's great for entertainment. (I've posted so many music videos while tying this!) It's brilliant for charity and support. But most of us confuse "likes" with "being liked". Most of us confuse profiles for physicality - and I say this as a long time denizen of dating apps.  We march through the gnostic world of bytes and virtual dreamscapes forgetting that every avatar has a person behind it and many a nubile 19 year old is really a 53 year old balding dude with a basement apartment. And then there are the times I may not be a doctor, but I play one on the internet. To this world we go with our political actions, our righteous anger, our self-righteous indignation, our hated, and our echo-chambers of auto-adulation. (I've worked in it for 25 years, I'm allowed to know where I am.)

We've created a culture of performative virtue; moraltainment, if you will. It's not real, they say, unless there are pics. The pics have to be posted on Instabook and Tweetagrams, discussed on Slackouts and posted on YouBlog. We get our rewards in likes and shares, in retweets and embeds. We call it social media, but there's never anyone else paying attention. So it's sorta social; demented and sad... but social. In other words, not only has the Devil got us bragging about our virtues, but he's tricked us into bragging to no one at all.

When all is said and done, we have an addiction to it as well: not in the sense of a substance-based addiction, but rather in the ways we confuse a "like" on a website with actually being liked. We think a share means someone loves us. We think a dating profile is meeting someone. I have 300 friends on Facebook (but I have trouble getting 6 to come over for cards). We get our sense of validation, our sense of excitement from this virtual world.

When the war with Korea and China comes, I hope they get the internet first: that way we may have a chance. Otherwise we'll be filming the incoming missiles on our smart phones or taking selfies with the blast shadows. Truly we will already have our reward.


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19 June 2018

Even Ahab Repents

The Readings for Tuesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Nonne vidisti humiliatum Achab coram me? quia igitur humiliatus est mei causa, non inducam malum in diebus ejus, sed in diebus filii sui inferam malum domui ejus. 
"Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the evil upon his house." 

We have been reading the Story of Ahab for the last few days.  All this stuff about Elijah, Jezebel, and now Elisha, is all during the reign of King Ahab who was the Anointed of God, ruling in the Northern Kingdom of Israel c. 871 to c. 852 years before Christ. He was not a good guy. In fact, in the 16th chapter of the First Book of King (MT) or 3rd Kings (LXX)  we learn he was the worst.

He was the worst not just because people thought so: but rather because he was evil and led his own people astray.

Here are some other things we know about Ahab:
- 7th King of Israel
- Son of Omri
- His existence is supported by archaeological evidence outside of the biblical record.
- He was not Jewish - rather he was an ardent Ba'alist until the final period of his life.

During his reign he actively tried to get people to apostatize by use of bullying, murder, fear, and lies. His wife used whispering campaigns to support her husband. His friends were often at risk of instantly becoming his enemies. 

He was the worst of the kings, but he was the Anointed of God. In that respect the people prayed for him. There were sacrifices on his behalf in the Temple. God sent him prophets to correct him (even though he ignored them). God tries and fails over and over - because we are free - to win this man back to the good path and away from idolatry. And, as the king goes so goes the country. So there are many many folks who follow Ba'al simply because it's popular. The People follow him as Lawful King, his brother King, in Judah, treats him with respect, but ignores his theological errors.

When every attempt at reform fails, God finally tells him off face to face. And that works. But he's still done so much damage that he must pay for it all. A King is responsible for all the sins of his people following him. He sort of dies in battle, disguised out of cowardice as a regular soldier. He gets shot by an "unaimed arrow" and his blood is licked up by the dogs (MT) or by pigs (LXX). 

In the end, God protected his people from the King and from the needful sins of Regicide. 

Jesus says, Resist not evil. Turn the other cheek. Pray for your enemies. Bless those who curse you. And St James asks us elsewhere who are we - each of us sinners - to judge another servant? Who are we to be worse than God in showing mercy, in showing love? We are to act like God, giving even our political opponents every chance to move forward to their theosis, even at our own expense.

How different is this from our current political environment where we are governed by anger and a prideful rage so out of proportion as to be comedic. Our rage is out of proportion because we have lost the cultural sense that we are all equally fallen. We are each and every one sinners and, so, damned. We are each and every one a potential saint, but only if we all help each other (all of us) to get there.

So when the rightful authority is Ba'alist, and destroying the icon of God all around us, we should never abandon our god-given duties to build up that icon. But at the same time we are obligated to our own equally God-give function to save the icon amid the Rightful Authorities. It's a tight line to walk. Our Spiritual Enemies are the demons. We may have political opponents, but they are not our enemies. They are only the dupes of the demons as are we often enough - and as we will be if we let them trick us into judging folks for their political sins.


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17 June 2018

As you go, sow.

The Readings for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Sic est regnum Dei, quemadmodum si homo jaciat sementem in terram, et dormiat, et exsurgat nocte et die, et semen germinet, et increscat dum nescit ille. Ultro enim terra fructificat, primum herbam, deinde spicam, deinde plenum frumentum in spica. 
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  

The kingdom God (that is The Church) is like this: scattering seed everywhere and what grows... grows.

What does it mean to scatter seed? To mention these things at every possible point: not in a pushy way, but just direct. When you ask a coworker, "What are you doing this weekend?" The answer is, "Going to a movie" or "Spending time with friends" or maybe "Going on a Date". Do you respond with, "Going to Mass"? And, again, just in a casual, this is what's happening sort of way. You asked, here's what I'm doing.

I've told this story before: when I went to the Monastery, coworkers at my old job were like "I didn't even know he was religious." I totally wondered what I had been doing wrong. The seed was not sown. There were no blades springing up. In the end there was no harvest. But when I crossed myself for grace at lunch time, suddenly other started to do so as well. When you plant seeds, you do so "courageously," "by faith and not by sight" as St Paul says. 

We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

Chorus All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

We cooperate in this action, but the process is God's. It takes our courage and our faith to participate. And our humility. We have to relinquish control and the drive for success. Our job is to sow the seed - a constant and repetitive function; a necessary one but not one with a lot of reward and glory.

How will you scatter seed on the job, on the bus, on the freeway? How will you scatter seed on social media and on those cold calls you have to make for he office? How will you scatter seed as you shop, or as you walk through the park?

16 June 2018

The yoke's on Elisha...

The Readings for Saturday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Cumque venisset Elias ad eum, misit pallium suum super illum qui statim relictis bobus cucurrit post Eliam.
 Eli'jah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him and [Elisha] left the oxen, and ran after Eli'jah. 

The call of Elisha is this strange thing, is it not? Elijah (who had been told a few verses earlier of this plan) simply walks up and tosses his poncho over a man ploughing with oxen and walks away. The man follows. It's a subtle sign. It works. But there's one more test: Elijah says "Go back. What have I done to you?" But Elisha knows and follows. Elijah is yoking Elisha with the call of God. This is the meaning of the action.

This comes after the previous scene where there's an Earthquake! and Fire! and a Wind Storm! and then a faint whispering sound. It's that last one that will make your hairs stand up: it was God. Drop a scarf on the guy... this you say is a call? 

How subtle are God's actions in our lives! 

The difference between the destruction of the Prophets of Ba'al and the call of the Prophet Elisha is astounding. God may decide to act, once in a while, in showy miracles. I tend to want showboat events: lightening flashes, or visions in dreams, handwriting on the wall, or audible conversations with Ghostly Presences, but God gives us a nudge, a whisper, a silent and persistent intention; a sense of something more. Those other things can often be distractions. I probably would have wanted to run out after the Earthquake or the Fire. I would have responded to the Big Show. God's got better things planned, though.

God wants better things for us, as well: don't swear, says Jesus, just say yes or no. A big show of words can be useful or it can be distracting, but it doesn't mean more. In fact, given the traditional spiritual counsel to silence, yes or no can be a lot of talking indeed.

A reminder from yesterday: it is the relationship that matters. Getting out, being social, joining in prayer with the community, fellowship with our sisters and brothers, and being the servant to each other. We strain ourselves to do big things, when all we need to do is love. We want to be the flash mob doing  a Mozart Mass in the mall when all we need is someone to lead the carol sing at the seniors' home. 

When God drops a mantle on you, are you tossing it off in a fit of fan dancing and showmanship, or do you say, let me kiss my folks goodbye? I love that Elisha kills his yoke of kine and feeds the neighbors. When God calls you away, he doesn't absolve you of your relationships. He improves them.


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15 June 2018

Is there someone else we can talk to?

The Readings for Friday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Audistis quia dictum est antiquis... Ego autem dico vobis...  
You have heard it said of old...  But I say to you... 

If you come to the New Testament looking for a relief from those pesky rules in the Old Testament, look no further than the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus, the God of all Love, makes his Father's rules even more strict. Not just don't do XYZ, but even don't imagine doing XYZ, or think about the things that could lead up to XYZ. And, as we learn later, don't do something that will draw or trip your sister or your brother into XYZ. Jesus is not much more lenient than the older stuff, in fact, he's worse.

If by worse you mean adding concern for motives to concern for actions.

A friend posted the other day that his priest told him he would do much better struggling against sin if he stopped thinking about rules he could or could not break and started thinking about relationships. Sin breaks relationships. Another friend, preaching last week, underscored that the Evil One's primary purpose is to isolate us, to break our relationships and to leave us feeling alone, isolated, and vulnerable. Sin is the easiest way to do that. Again, it's not breaking rules, per se, it's breaking relationships.

Jesus knows that actions may end relationships, but motives and intentions do so as well. We are stranded, alone in our heads. Thoughts and addictions that lead us to isolating behaviors are just as dangerous to our souls as are the actions themselves. 

George Carlin discusses this in Confession
'Cause that's what they taught us; it's what's in your mind that counts; your intentions, that's how we'll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had'ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. "Thou Shalt Not WANNA". If you woke up in the morning and said, "I'm going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!" Save your car fare; you did it, man! Absolutely!
Jesus is mindful that once you have the wrong motives, even the right actions get corrupted: being sexually attracted to someone is a bad reason to befriend a stranger on Facebook or to invite a coworker out to lunch. It's a bad thing to base a purely platonic friendship on as well. Greed is a bad reason to get married. I've known people to leave parties "together" because it was August in New York City and one of the two had air conditioning. Putting down a bad foundation ruins the whole structure. Jesus is pointing out the foundation comes way earlier than we had previously imagined.

No one is saved alone: it is our relationships that bring us to heaven. If we  wanna, we damage the relationships in our hearts, we have already sinned. 

Jesus calls us to loving relationship with himself and with each other. This is a relationship based not on use, not on utility, but rather on intrinsic worth. We have to will the good of each other. We have to wanna.


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14 June 2018

Lord, it's hard to be humble.

The Readings for  in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Si ergo offers munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te : relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare, et vade prius reconciliari fratri tuo : et tunc veniens offeres munus tuum. 
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

Jesus says not "if you hate someone" or "if you have a grudge" but rather "if your brother has anything against you." If Christians actually believed that, there would be no schism. Whomever forgives the most wins. "You can't leave me because I'm coming with you", said the Patriarch to the Pope (or the other way around), as they duked it out in an attempt to say "I'm wrong. You're right."  Each before the other.

This is our challenge - I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ to me.

How far do we take this humility? Jesus says to our brothers. Clearly it's not an act of humility to say to a worshiper of Ba'al, "I'm wrong..." Jesus was not saying to his Jewish brethren that the Israelites should have stayed in Egypt.

But how can we be humble before others, those outside the faith? In fact, that humility is to be a hallmark of our presence. 

Imagine if you have met someone, gone on a few dates, and are thinking about "getting serious". How many dates do you go on before you mention that you go to Mass every day? Can you say you are "in a relationship" with someone who doesn't know that about you? Can you even be friends?

In today's world many folks just say, "Let me be silent." While it feels humble, it is an action of pride. It  is not loving: preaching out loud is not what I mean here. You are in relationship with these folks. God has placed them in your life. Keeping silent about your life is denying the relationship. Fear is pride: God doesn't know what he's asking of me in the modern world. I will keep silent because I know what is best. Humility is about growing that relationship, about deepening the love you share with those around you. Denying your full presence to your friends, to your coworkers, to the people around you is a breakdown of love. Retreating in silence is building a wall that, in the end, will only hinder their salvation and so, yours.

Your brother holds you silence against you. Leave your gift at the altar and repair your relationship.

So, how to be humble, to live honestly as Christians. Love requires risk. Think of Jesus washing feet. Think of Jesus silent in the Blessed Sacrament. This is our challenge, our walk. 


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