31 August 2018

Dolorous Mysteries: Quem enim diligit Dominus, castigat.


Friday is the day on which we traditionally meditate on the Dolorous or Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Although I've written elsewhere about these as a discussion of addiction - including sexual addiction - I have been struggling with these in light of the Troubles, as we might call them. They are on-going: the Late Unpleasantness might seem a tad dismissive since it's not late. Yet, if you know the history of the American South to realize that I'm referring in that phrase to a massively huge social disruption costing many souls and much sadness. The parallel is apt.Very apt. The Dolorous Mysteries lead us on the way to something... we know not what. Yes: they point towards hope, in a way; still, as a story arc, they are self contained. And they end in death.

Praying in the Garden
This is the Church now. Yes, there are those fools who are ignoring the possibilities, and there are those who are gleefully jumping up and down, but the Church is just now praying, "If this cup might pass... but still not my will, but Thine." We might pray that that might not be needed. We might beg God that it not come...

But we must submit to God's will in the end. If God wants a spotless bride, he will have one.

The Scourging
I'm of the opinion that, among his many mercies, God let the Soviet scourge fall upon the Church because she was corrupt. There are stories that back this up: if nothing, she was so wed to the Czarist structures that she even allowed the Czar to take away the Patriarchate... which was restored only under the Bolsheviks. So she let the Czar destroy the power of the Church... and then let the Soviets restore it - as if she had to have the state standing with her to do anything. The Church was corrupt. God used the state to purge her. From the book, Everyday Saints comes this story of a Monastery in a small town:
It was said that its monks were all idlers and drunkards. During the Civil War [in Russia] the Bolsheviks arrived in the town that was closest to the monastery. They gathered together its inhabitants in the market square, and then they dragged the monastery’s monks out in a convoy.
The commissar loudly yelled at the people as he pointed to those men in black:
“Citizens! Townsfolk! You know these drunkards, gluttons, and idlers better than I do! Now their power has come to an end. But so that you will understand more fully how these vagabonds have fooled the workers and peasants for centuries, we will throw their cross and their Scriptures into the dust before them. Now, before your very eyes, you will see how each of them will stamp upon these tools of deceit and enslavement of the people! And then we will let them go, and let the four winds scatter them!”
The crowd roared. And as the people cheered, up walked the monastery’s Abbot, a stout man with a meaty face and a nose all red from drinking. And he said as he turned to his fellow monks: “Well, my brothers, we have lived like pigs, but let us at least die like Christians!”
And not a single one of those monks budged. That very day all their heads were chopped off by the sabers of the Bolsheviks.
This sex scandal is a perfect storm for it sets the Church up for lawsuits in ways that laws about "hate speech" and "marriage initiatives" never could. Who wants to defend sexual predators? Not I - as much as I would argue for prayer, absolution, forgiveness, I would also ask for reparation and justice. The Church - which at one time had her own courts - gave all that up to the state. So... God can use the state for this.

And it might result in some of us becoming saints - as in the story above - in spite of ourselves.

The Crowning with Thorns
What does this mean, through, for the Body of Christ, the Church herself? What will become of those who did not rape and pillage, who did not cover up, who did not find themselves paying Bishops to run an hide, or advising aging clerics to make simoniac appointments? The mocking of our friends, the crowning with thorns,the spitting, the slapping, the cruel exposure of all of us to social weakness: this will be all our lot.

This will be more of the same: for the Church must be cleansed. Out will go the lukewarm. Out will go the folks who think this will pass and their personal compromises with the world will stay in place. Out will go those who think the sexual teachings of the Church (aside from predation) are outdated. For even as the church doubles down on her teachings, she will need to let go of those who would use this crisis as an excuse to actually change it all. And as this crisis has become a division between the Church and the world - for the purpose of the latter beating up the former - so it must also become a division between those who would allow such acts "between consenting adults" even in the clergy and those who would adhere to the Church's traditional teaching. This leads directly to:

The Carrying the Cross
This is not going to be easy. We have to be in this for the long haul. And what happened in Pennsylvania with the Grand Jury will probably have to happen in every diocese around the country before people say, OK, This is over. I would only adjure that someone needs to point out PA seems to have done somethings right since 2002, and so it will be in other places.

I would rather see the Church pick up her cross and walk than to have it laid upon her. Read up on the South African Truth and Reconciliation process. This would be the Church coming clean on her own. It's ok if there has to be justice done after... but if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive them. We can confess our sins before they ever come out. This will be carrying the cross rather than having it laid on our shoulders.

But this process has to go deeper than just public confession of our sins: we have to tear down the entire structure that made this possible. The failure to preach the Gospel for fear of losing one's Parochial Financial Powerhouses, one's artists, ones friends... this must stop. Everywhere a don't ask don't tell stands athwart some Church teaching - no matter what it is - has to be seen as a place where we are avoiding our cross. And while coming clean on our own may avoid civil asset forfeiture, this final cross of truth may, in fact, result in closure and loss as well.

The Crucifixion and Death
The words of Joseph Ratzinger (as he then was) have made the rounds recently. I first read them in La Stampa, although I'm sure they are in other places. He was writing in the 60s, but 60 years later they seem prophetic:
Today's Church could be faced with a similar situation, undermined, according to Ratzinger, by the temptation to reduce priests to “social workers” and it and all its work reduced to a mere political presence. “From today's crisis, will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal,” he affirmed.
“It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges.” It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”
The process outlined by Ratzinger was a “long” one “but when all the suffering is past, a great power will emerge from a more spiritual and simple Church,” at which point humans will realise that they live in a world of “indescribable solitude” and having lost sight of God “they will perceive the horror of their poverty.”
Then and only then, Ratzinger concluded, will they see “that small flock of faithful as something completely new: they will see it as a source of hope for themselves, the answer they had always secretly been searching for.
And the prophecy of Tolkien (may his Memory be a blessing), at the last council have also been making the rounds. It comes from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1981).
You speak of 'sagging faith', however. That is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). 'Scandal' at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act or state which must go on – so we pray for 'final perseverance'. The temptation to 'unbelief' (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. 
We are all - as the Memes have warned us - in danger of leaving Jesus because of Judas. That is exactly what Satan wants. Stay with the Church for she is Christ on Earth. She is the Visible inbreaking of the Kingdom of God - even as she has sinners in her midst who are doing just what humans have always done: trying to be a replica of God's kingdom on their own terms. The Church must struggle and even be purged, but we - ourselves - must stand with the Church, must bear the scourging, must wear the crown of thorns, must carry the cross. Dying because of the sins of others is what the Church, the Body of Christ, is born to do. These are not my sins, yes, but when one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one of us sins, we have all sinned. In the end, Christ will have a bride who is as pure and spotless as he is.

I pray that I will be part of that bride, that you will be part of that bride. Tolkien's answer, and mine for I know no other even though I am an "evil liver" and a "miserable sinner" as the Prayer Book sayeth: Go to Mass. Go to Mass. Go to Mass. A thousand times go to Mass.
The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a Mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people (it could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the 5000 – after which [Our] Lord propounding feeding that was to come.)
I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and a rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honor, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was his last charge to St. Peter; and since his words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – the ‘blasphemous fable of the Mass’ – and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St. Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve. I wonder what state the church would now be but for it.
Say a rosary. Say fifty. I find them best said walking. Pray for the Church that like her Groom whose body she is, she may die and rise again. Go to Mass and pure and spotless let her be.

29 August 2018

Da Mihi in Disco


I'm 54. That's a disco. So... Da Mihi in Disco, honey, better get there about half past eight...

Since my birthday is the liturgical commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist, that means, at least liturgically, I share a birthday with King Herod Antipas.  Antipas, short for "Antipater" means "instead of the Father", ie: junior. King Herod the Great had a son also named Herod who ruled in place of his father. Anyway... His day is my day too! I'm one year older than Herodias when she died. And four years younger than Antipas. I don't rule a kingdom nor have I married my late brother's wife. On the other hand, ignoring prophets and moral teachings, running around arrogantly complaining... yup. Got that down pat. Once in a while I taunt Jesus.

It's edifying to compare, once in a while, oneself the the bad guys.

Mashing up actor's roles is always fun to me. Although you may not know it, Capt. Von Trapp's second wife was not Maria...

I'm blessed.

I have an amazing parish, with brothers, sisters and fathers who love me, a good job, friends there who support me. I get to live in the best, dirtiest, most beautiful, most entitled, and expensive city in the country, but the weather pattern is perfect. It's not much, but it's home. And I don't think I've properly had a home before here. I get to read, teach, and write, and even sing form time to time. Daily office, Mass, and the Third Order Dominicans, and my favourite Courageous Apostolate. Like any good Protestant, I've got a couple of Churches I used to go to. LIke any good Orthodox I've got clergy that won't speak to me any more. Like any good Catholic I've got to sail my barque between the Schola of a TLM and the Guitarybdis of a Novus Ordo on Sundays.

My life has got a lot of loose ends that make no sense. And there's mess of a personal life that I can't seem to shape up into much of anything at all.

I've got a best friend. And a cat. Also I live by myself and I'm debt free in SF. Mike says that's counts as my first miracle.

What I know is my life is surrounded by love: from the time I get out of bed and manage to get to Mass, chatting with the folks at the coffee shop, talking to the folks on the phone, running into friends all over town, passing folks in the hall at work, listening to my brothers drink gin on my favourite podcast, serving guests in the parish hall, bumping in to high school and college friends on Facebook, welcoming new folks to my company, whatever: I see lots of love.

Now, I think I'll have some water, take out my teeth, and go to bed.

28 August 2018

A Different Rosary

Watching the Song of Bernadette or the Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima I was often moved by crowds reciting the Rosary. Their whispered earnestness and the passion was carried through the screen: the prayer of the church through the ages. Holy Mary, Mother of God... I know these mid-20th Century religious melodramas are poor by today's standards. But they pull at the heartstrings of one who loves our Lady.

When I became Catholic it was so wonderful to find myself as part of this prayer. Kneeling before God and adding my whisper to the thunder of the ages. So I would find myself overcome with tears kneeling with "the old ladies" on Saturday mornings or with the Novena Folks before the Evening Mass. And sometimes, bending my mind so, I could close my eyes and hear the continued prayers from the past blending with ours. So it has been for the last couple of years. I have also encountered quiet Rosaries said at 6AM and I've been awed by the joyful Rosaries of newlyweds praying in quite corners of the church in the evening.

A new thing happened recently, when the guys sat on old sofas pulled up in a circle near a grill in the parish parking lot. We began by polling intentions: my wife and my children; people we love or will come to love; the idea that finding one's vocation was learning to love the folks God have each of us to love; for each other and our struggles for purity; for work; for courage.  Then we began the Apostles' Creed and the rest of the Rosary. This bass pedaled sonorous rumble was a new prayer experience for me. The focused intensity of men joined in Christ to ask God for help, asking God's Mother - our Mother as well - for her prayers was entirely different than the whispered experience I knew.

At the Rosary's close, we sang the the Salve Regina. The surprise was in the singing of this hymn that normally wraps up the prayers. Suddenly all our voices united in singing the Latin text to the traditional plainchant setting. Where before there were bass pedals, now there was baritone warmth and glory. This prayer of brothers in arms, united in Spiritual Warfare, was the most exhilarating meditation! Far from navel gazing, as one might (wrongly) imagine a meditation to be, this was more like a shared pep-talk before the second half kickoff.

It seems these two Rosaries are important: both the whispered rumble and the rolling thunder. The Church survives on the former, but she needs the latter as well. I don't know what it might feel like to others gathered in groups, but I know that, as far as some visionaries go, men report experiencing the Rosary as a weapon, a sword. St Dominic has his friars imitate knights by wearing the Rosary hanging on their left hand side not in place of but rather as a sword. I felt that for the first time the other night.

Maria, auxiliam Christianorum, ora pro nobis!

27 August 2018

Not Sweetness and Light


The Readings for the Memorial of St Monica
Monday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Clauditis regnum caelorum ante homines! vos enim non intratis, nec introeuntes sinitis intrare.
You shut the Kingdom of Heaven to men! You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

It's important to hear these verses in a Jewish content. A scribe, a lawyer, was often one of the Sadducees. This tradition within Judaism was of a more literalist sort, invoking the scriptures in a fundamentalist way: "without" interpretation, has it were. The Pharisees, from the other side, were more inclined to circumvent some laws, to find ways to expand them. They were using scripture plus interpretation. These two might be seen as "conservatives" and "liberals" within the Judaism of that time, although there were other parties that were either more or less free with their understandings of the Torah. Some were so concerned about the state of affairs that they treated the whole temple as ritually impure. Others were so liberal that they never bothered to go to the temple at all. Jesus is yelling at both "revisionists" and "traditionalists" in his world. Conservatives and Liberals.

Sometimes it's tempting to project these verses on our religious opponents. Certainly the plethora of (not so) good-natured religious jokes about Southern Baptists and drinking is a class of this: 
Why do you have to take two Baptists with you when you go fishing? Because if you take just one, he'll drink all your beer.
What's the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist will tell you "howdy" when he sees you in the liquor store.
And often these verses get pointed as very large guns (because spoken by Christ, himself)  at Jews of many different ages. And that is never, even in a pretend way, good-natured. Christian Anti-Semitism is a problem of massive proportions. It cost lives and prevents the haters from getting into the Kingdom as well as the Hated which last see Domincal evangelism as only more of the same. 

It is tempting in today's crisis, to point these verses at the clergy who were having illegal sex with minors. They certainly have avoiding the Kingdom of Heaven while, at the same time, preventing others from entering: not just their victims, but many others who are scandalized or spurred to levels of anger that keep them away.

Still, I can only judge myself. I would like to point these verses as very big guns (because spoken by Christ, himself) at me.

I'm mindful of how much of my life was spend finding ways to bend the rules, to be comfortable, to be left alone, whilst having a religious experience of my own choosing. I think of how my own parents, following my lead, have become activists in their own denomination (UMC), withdrawing support from their parish when the preacher speaks in a way they think of as oppressive. In the times I was "church shopping", regardless of what denomination it was, I would only go to "friendly" places. And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don't want the Authorities to come down on them. I've even found them in Orthodoxy, and you can find them in Catholicism too.


When I hear about the current crisis I think of how easy it is, Revisionist or Traditionalist, for a Double Income and No Kids family to become a strong financial pillar in a local parish, to keep the pastor quiet about certain issues, to dance through a religious culture without ever setting off the landmines that might challenge one's place. At the same time, one is preventing not only oneself from hearing the Gospel, but also others.

And we have many examples, I think: not just from my own orbit, but in other ways. For I know that there are many couples married for a while without kids. There are many writers who find the social (including environmental) teachings of the church to be annoying in a capitalist culture. There are politicians who prattle on to keep their positions. There are clergy and lay teachers who like the size of the donations that come from these parties; or, who actually agree that disagreeing with the teachings of the church is "OK in this area now". And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don't want the Authorities to come down on them. But maybe the Authorities will change soon... Conservative or Liberal matters not. 

And this Crisis, which is a scandal, a stumbling block, an injury, a wound in the sides of the victims as well as in the side of the Church, is caused by this culture. Yes: it is the specific sins of specific people. But the complicity lies far wider than the action. The action of complicit consent is practically a prime tenant of 1st World religious practice - regardless of religion. 

When I hear conservatives or liberals complain... dissing the teachings of the church from either side, we are the folks Jesus is talking to today.

26 August 2018

As for me and my house...


The Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ego autem et domus mea serviemus Domino.
I myself and my house will serve the Lord.

On the one hand the lectionary for the Novus Ordo Missae gave us more Bible to chew on. On the other hand, curiously, it allows for it to be more watered down. The same is true in the Daily Office. There are more texts to read... but more options to skip parts we don't like. The Daily Office skips verses of the psalms that are "problematic",  and the Mass lectionary allows us the option of skipping whole passages. 
One such event is in today's Lections where, if so inclined, a parish can skip over all the troublesome bit about "being subject" and just get on with the "love" part. Mind you, the love part has no context without the "be subject" part. But that's never stopped anyone from editing out things that convict them of wrong-doing... or, as they say today, make one feel unsafe.

The two choices are both listed on the lectionary page for today.

I was assigned this reading as lector so I wrote an email asking which version I was to have ready. The response was be ready to do either but it was up the homilist. I wondered why the homilist picked the shorter one. Then it dawned on me that since he was not preaching on the Epistle, maybe he didn't want to leave it floating out there without comment. That may be the real reason to skip a passage: so that you don't have to talk about it when you'd rather highlight something else. That made good and charitable sense. 
But the effect is still the same: we don't do this passage any more. 

Subversion of the social order was Paul's special charism: he took things like the political and family structures and turned them to tools for working out our salvation in fear and trembling. God's providence had placed us where and when we are. So salvation was possible where we are, not needing to run away to another place. All we needed to do is...

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

A monastic in the Eastern Rites understands this from the get go: when a man is about to be tonsured, as the superior is raising the scissors to cut his hair, the scissors are dropped to the floor. The novice is told to pick them up. The rite begins again, except the scissors may be be dropped three (or maybe more) times. Each time the Novice is told to pick them up.

Obedience is where we give up self-will and begin to find salvation. 

Now men had a hard time in Pagan Rome for no free Pater Familias was under any social obligation to obey someone else on a regular basis. Paul puts the man under the obligation to love.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
Paul is here breaking apart the Roman Family, the traditional Roman marriage. Paul is subverting this order. He's making a Christian Sacramental Action out of a Roman Civic Contract. To a pagan man, a wife was his property. To a Christian man, she was his own flesh. To a pagan, there was a contractual obligation involved. A husband owned everyone in his household.  To a Christian man, his wife and his children were a chance to go to the death in Agape love.

Wives, however, have a built in social obligation to use for this purpose. This is why,

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
And a wife of a Christian man would take comfort in the fact that the husband must agape the wife. But even a Christian wife of a Pagan might take comfort in knowing that by obeying her husband, by sacrificing her self-will, she was becoming the best Christian possible using the tools she had to hand in God's providence.

Paul wanted his folks using the cultural tools and not risking trouble by breaking the local laws unless those laws also broke the law of God. A Roman Pater Familias might send his family starving into the streets, or expose unwanted babies and seniors on the hillside. A Christian certainly could not do so, nor could a Christian stop a pagan from doing so. But, once done, a Christian could open their homes in the name of Agape to those thus abandoned. A Christian could not divorce his pagan wife or her pagan husband. But a Christian should open their homes to those so divorced because of their faith.

Paul's subversion of the Roman Order was so important that, after trying it out in Rome, he sends Titus to literally take over Crete with this Novus Ordo Seclorum, hoping to change the entire Cretan society by changing the way the family functioned.

Today, when we might hear this passage incorrectly as "Sexist" and "Patriarchal" it is good to be reminded that it is revolutionary to Pagan Romans. 

How do we apply it in today's culture? Certainly not by recreating the Pater Familias and trying to rule the household with an iron fist. But if we - my household and I - or "your household and you" - choose the Lord what does that mean for us?

The clue is in verse 21. The Greek word describing how we are all to be one-to-another (of which the relationship of Husband and Wife is only an example) is ὑποτάσσω hypotasso from two Greek roots, "under" and "arrangement". Brothers and Sisters, but yourself under each the other's arrangement. Let others make choices for you.

This is the same word used in Luke 2:51 to describe Jesus' relationship (as God) with Joseph and Mary. 

And Paul doesn't say to do this - as the NABRE would have it - out of "reverence" for Christ. Paul's Greek says we are to do this out of fear of Christ. The person giving us so much Agape is to be viewed in phobos, in holy awe, in fear. 

This is why it is good for every Christian, lay, monastic, or cleric, to be under obedience to someone. For some of us -  after 50 years as unmarried wild cards in the world - this might be most important. But it must be someone who takes those reins in Agape. This passage tells us it's not enough just to go to Mass. Submission to another in Love is part of this process. We must stand with Joshua and say "As for me and my house".

No one is saved alone.

25 August 2018

As I say. Not as I do.


The Readings for Saturday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Omnia ergo quaecumque dixerint vobis, servate, et facite : secundum opera vero eorum nolite facere : dicunt enim, et non faciunt.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

Back when I was an Episcopalian teenager and pretty much everyone was convinced I was going to seminary, I used to find myself in conversations with people that, really, I wouldn't want to know now. But these were rich and powerful clergy, and they were initiating me NOT into a pattern of sexual abuse, but rather into a curious and double life of another sort. So, for example, one of the most conservative seminaries of the Episcopal Church ended every Sunday with a solemnly sung Vespers service followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The solemn repetition of the same content over and over had so bored several generations of seminarians that they did not call this by its traditional Victorian, Anglo-Catholic name of Evensong and Benediction, but rather, "Evenscreech and Cookie Worship." 

It's a joke only a religion nerd could get - especially one at a very conservative parish in Atlanta that had weekly the same practice. But it's also an irreverent blasphemy that should not be repeated by a pious teenager at all, let alone to a Sunday School teacher.

And when I had so profoundly scandalized the Sunday School teacher that she didn't want to talk to me any more, I thought, this is probably something to bring up in confession.

And I was told by the priest - who had gone to that very seminary - that such jokes were perfectly fine. But shouldn't be repeated in front of the laity.

See: everyone was making assumptions about my future. This was at a parish where sexuality was not a topic of conscience, but rather of strict adherence to tradition. But some jokes shouldn't be repeated in front of the laity...

So when I hear Jesus say those guys teach well enough, but don't do what they do, I realize this has been a problem for a long, long time.

When I hear of Catholic Clergy having sex - but not getting married - and calling that "celibacy" because they abstain from marriage, I'm perhaps too realistic for my own good but I wonder why it surprises folks to learn that people can be that duplicitous. Evidently some of this stuff never got repeated in front of the laity.

We have entire schools of thought (clerical ones and lay ones) set up to tell us why we can use condoms, or why it's ok to deviate from the sexual teachings of the church as laity "using their conscience".  We have a "pro choice" Senator who piously goes to Mass in SF. And a Catholic-school educated Governor. Why should it surprise us that some folks in Church-power would claim the same "primacy of conscience" to do whatever they might want as well? What purpose is served by imagining the clergy to be different?

To be fair, the Catholic teaching is not that the Conscience will always lead us right, but rather that a Conscience, properly formed by the Church into conformity with the Law of God will always lead us right. As Catholics, we must submit to the teaching of the Church even if our erring conscience would lead us elsewhere

As Catholics we believe the Church is sinless but she is filled with sinners.  This is one of the contradictions of the Church, one of the mysteries... Here we are where the folks who taught us "conscience should be your guide" then went off the rails dragging the rest of us with them. And we see it.  We see folks who claim to be Catholics and yet rape children. Or kill them in the womb. Or destroy their lives with economies of Greed. We see folks who claim to be Catholics and disagree with nearly everything taught.

If you've been following along this last week or so in the readings from Ezekiel you know that Israel went very wrong because his shepherds were very bad. Then God said, "I guess I'll have to do it myself!" and "I will be Israel's shepherd."  Today in Ezekiel, God shows up, walks into the temple, sits down, and says, "I'm here. I'm going to do this job now!"

Christ is enthroned on every altar of adoration even when he's ignored by the walkers on the street. Christ is lifted high at every mass even when the clergy don't believe what they're doing any more. Christ is glorified at every painful turn of a soul away from a sin embedded so deep that it's become a false identity. And you, my dearest sister, beloved brother, can heal the Church with sincerity of heart.  And love.

And since God is love.

There is hope.

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23 August 2018

The Subversive Wedding Feast


The Readings for Thursday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Simile factum est regnum caelorum homini regi, qui fecit nuptias filio suo.
Similar is the Kingdom of Heaven to a man who was king, who made a wedding for his Son.

In this story, the kingdom of God is like the image of a king making a wedding for his son. It implies all the planning and expenditure, all the love and care, all the generosity and all the personal investment. Think of how a mother and father bend over backwards to make the wedding of their daughter the most amazing thing ever. Or, as is often the case in social circles of SF, think of how the children, earning dozens of times more than their parents, might pay to have the entire family carted off to Costa Rica or some other place where they can share the joy of the man and woman getting married. It's a huge production, it requires more than just a couple and a justice of the peace - and that's true, even in today's secular world where for many a marriage is just another disposable commodity and a wedding, per se, just a fun thing to do. How much more so was this the case in the ancient world where a wedding meant an excuse for the entire community to celebrate, sometimes for days on end, and where one's wealth and position only mean that more people would be expected to come. There were the family, yes, and the invited guests, yes, but also, according to one's station, all the classes lower down in the pecking order. A king making a wedding for his son had to feed everyone from his nobles to the beggars on the street. 

So, this king... 

Is making this wedding. 

And the invited guests don't come. The thing is, they all had perfectly good excuses. "I have business to take care of." And they were all on the A-list so you know they were important. Cardinals, Bishops, and the like... (There is a faux patristic quote going around that no one really said about some part of hell being paved with the skulls of clergy... but the point is well made.)

The thing is: we all have better things to do, I think. It's not making light of the scandal to say, "This is not the only sin Christians have." And, as the priest said on Sunday, the real scandal is that the vast majority of American Catholics (and Orthodox, I'll add) don't even darken the door of a Church on the vast majority of Sundays. The further we are from the wedding feast, the more likely we are to be replaced.

I've been invited to partake in so many pious actions in the last week: acts of reparation, acts of prayer, a group rosary, fasting... God is putting a new heart into his people.

This is supposed to be normal Christian life. This is the wedding feast of the Lamb. Let's act like it. Not just now, but forever. Or we're going to end up with our city burned down. And, to be honest, we can be replaced.

So the invited guests don't come...and the other folks who - you'll remember - would have shown up for scraps and morsels anyway - are suddenly turned into the guests. The folks who were the also-ran are now the only show.

And the ones that didn't come - even though they were invited - get killed. And their city burned to the ground.

That will be us if we don't get to the feast on time.

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22 August 2018

The Final Mystery of the Rosary


The Readings for the Memorial of Queenship of Mary
Wednesday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Alleluia. Vivus est enim sermo Dei, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum cordis. 
Alleluia. The word of God is living and effective, able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.

It's tempting to take this reading about the bad shepherds and go someplace dark. It's tempting to take the bit about the generous landlord and the non-union workers and go someplace political.

Even the Alleluia verse about Jesus can be seen as a threat. It can almost sound like "He knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake."

Yet the very Logos of God - Jesus himself - is alive and present in this messed up place. There is hope. God says he will shepherd his people himself. It is the feast of the Queenship of Mary: and that's worth so much hope, so much joy...

I'm new here. The whole "convert" moment still has that new car smell for me. Mindful, of course, that my conversion came in spite of this scandal, which was on the front burner when I was leaving ECUSA. Having decided I was wrong then to let my pride keep me away, it was sort of an inoculation preventing such an event. And so I'm thankful that I can celebrate this feast with the titles lavished on her in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin:

Queen of Angels, 
Queen of Patriarchs, 
Queen of Prophets, 
Queen of Apostles, 
Queen of Martyrs, 
Queen of Confessors, 
Queen of Virgins, 
Queen of all Saints, 
Queen conceived without original sin, 
Queen assumed into heaven, 
Queen of the most holy rosary,
Queen of the family, 
Queen of peace.

And this Queen is also mother, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, as the Litany reminds us. And:

Mother of divine grace, 
Mother most pure, 
Mother most chaste, 
Mother inviolate, 
Mother undefiled, 
Mother most amiable, 
Mother most admirable, 
Mother of good counsel, 
Mother of our Creator, 
Mother of our Redeemer.

This lady is praying for us in heaven. And she's concerned about us. Not just abstractly, but as her children, the sisters and brothers of her only son. Is any mother concerned about her children only in the abstract? No. She remembers us each. And so the visionaries at Lourdes, at Fatima, at La Sallete, at Walsingham, at Penrhys, at Glastonbury, and at Knock all remind us. In our sadness, in her sadness for us, she comes to us as your own mother would come to you. Or, perhaps, as your own mother never did. And Francis (and other Saints) have taken God as their Father and this lady as their Mother.

She is the Joy of All Who Sorrow, the sign of God's triumph, even in darkness. She is the shower of the way, and the gate of heaven, the unploughed field that produced the heavenly manna, the ladder, and the lampstand.

She is the mother of all in the Church and of the Church herself, the bride of Christ as Mary is the Bride of the Holy Spirit. So on this feast I'm joyously letting her pray. For I know she does. And I shall let her reign, too. In my heart as she reigns in the highest heaven.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

21 August 2018

The Price of Admission


The Readings for the Memorial of Pope St Pius, X
Tuesday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Multi autem erunt primi novissimi, et novissimi primi.
Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first

This is one of those verses like the song of the Magnificat, that needs to leave us trembling more. We sing the Magnificat without so much as batting an eye:

He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

And, perhaps, if we fail to pay attention, we imagine we are the hungry, or the humble. Perhaps we think we are the Last.

As the kids now (rightly) say, Check your privilege.

Christians in this country whine because we can't get a Macy*Mart employee to say "Merry Christmas". Despite the fact that she's earning $7 an hour and has no benefits because she's part time and it's the Holidays so come 5 January she'll be unemployed. "Anti Christian bias," we'll say as we ask for a refund.

We may use our funds to purchase other products, never mindful of the near slave-like conditions that exist in those other countries. I'm no fan of the current administration, but their erection of tariff walls means that some of those slave will have to get laid off, and some of those production lines will have to move back to the states where, at least, the workers will get insurance, we hope. Free trade only benefits us, it's rarely ever been free for folks outside of the First World.

I used to self-identify as a member of a persecuted minority. But I've not been able to justify that since a book that came out in the early 90s pointed out that, as someone living in NYC (and later SF) I was at the upper end of the finances in that persecuted group. And, further, I was actively or passively involved in oppressing others in the same group by virtue of their race, class, or geographic location. What did I care about Egypt as long as I could get their cotton sheets for cheap? We formed our own corridors of power and ran whole industries by virtue of our fiscal strength. This was true in the Church and outside the Church.

Median household income in Kentucky: 46,659
Median household income in SF: $78,378
Median household income in Mexico: $11,700
Gaza: 9,288
Manila: $5,010 

The first will be last.

You might want to say that this has to do with sinners, and prostitutes being in the kingdom before Pharisees, and so on, but the whole passage is about rich versus poor.

I don't really know how this works, but there are no camels in America. So we might be missing the point. 

But I think for all of us it will be hard to get into the Kingdom.

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20 August 2018

Hashtag BernOp


The Readings for the Memorial of St Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Ait illi Jesus : Si vis perfectus esse, vade, vende quae habes, et da pauperibus, et habebis thesaurum in caelo : et veni, sequere me.
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

In the sixth century, St Benedict went to Rome and found corruption and vice. So he moved to the country and started a community of monks to be saved despite all the problems. Benedict, like every great reformer, but salvation, his and other's, first, before culture, or even before the institution of Church. His order grew, becoming not only the salvation of the Catholic Church, but also of the culture of Europe, storing up knowledge lest it be lost in the final collapse under invading barbarians. 600 years along, however, it was the order that needed saving.

The recent scandals in the church seem a perfect attack: dividing brother against brother and giving ammunition to those who would spread heresy and immorality. It adds fuel to the fires of those advocating both for a change in sexual morality and those who are advocating for a near Donatist purge of the church from all they deem evil and impure; even sometimes including the laity in a sort of "red scare" sort of mentality. At the same time, this is all playing into the hands of those on the outside who would weaken the Church not by virtue of laws or persecution, but rather by attrition, both of population and moral authority. This active inculcation of indifference is as deadly as a "culture war" without any of the blood or emotions.

We have to admit that a wealthy, comfortable, culturally ensconced church, not only embedded in the world, but down right in bed with it, is without moral authority any way. 

So here's St Bernard, the man who took the Order of St Benedict and spun it back to its roots because it (the Order) had grown fat, powerful, and lazy. This Spiritual Obesity had led to hardening of the arteries, and an advanced case of necrosis in several places. This was echoed in the Church as well: for when the monastic orders begin to fail the Church is unhealthy at her heart. Bernard put salvation first.

Yesterday, Fr Joseph Illo preached a homily I hope will end up online (update: here it is) calling out the darkness in the Church and noting that he would rather sell the parish and the school if it would mean the defeat of the corruption in the Church. Salvation first.

I'm a new Catholic. I'm not as familiar with the names of those involved as I would have been if this were Orthodoxy or the Episcopal Church, but I've lived through the same sort of thing in both of those Churches. And in both the Bishops stayed in denial. No one talked about the financial and sex scandals in ECUSA, ditto in Orthodoxy. Everyone is talking about it in Rome just now, so maybe it will mean something else. 

And yet, at the same time, as Christians, the world will still try to bully us into following the world's rules.

The Church is not the 100% Pure Virgin Bride, she is the Abominable Bride. But she is growing more and more pure as this moves. I take great comfort that the report in PA covers events that are nearly all before 2002. The Church can move forward. But at the same time, the Cardinal McCarrick affair is ongoing. Most churches in SF (even the most conservative ones, Orthodox and Catholic) have gay couples in them. In most cases not only the pastors but also prelates are aware. And this article by Fr Dwight was a painful eye opener, but I was already aware of this particular issue by virtue of friends who had dated clergy, and clergy who had counselled me to be sure to use condoms...

It's all the same culture: the laity have no place to call out the clergy (and vice versa) as long as we each have our own favourite sins. For every clergyman acting out, there's a couple with condoms, or a pro-choice Catholic politician taking communion from a knowing pastor. We're dying from the inside - but it's all of us together, not just from the top down. And I'm not above tying some of this (but not all) to grandstanded, irreverent liturgies partaking of the Heresy of Formlessness. 

So, there we are. That's the Church we have just now. The Abominable Bride. I'm too new: I don't know everyone's names, but I'm not angry, I'm just being realistic. We are Christians and we must save - and forgive - even those who are here with less than honorable intentions, even nefarious ones. We must love them. Fully. In the hopes that some of the weeds can become wheat again. Salvation first. At one time, with her own courts, the Church knew that salvation required honesty about sins and yet avoiding the secular power structures. St Thomas Becket died to preserve the Church's right to her own courts - even in the case of murder.

Sadly we're not there any more. And Paul's counsel not to bring one another before the secular courts (in front of non-believers) fall now on deaf ears. Yet Fr Illo reminded us that God can use even the secular courts as a scourge, as certainly as God used the Philistines, Nebuchadnezzar, and Darius. So we've set ourselves up for this one. Fr Illo is right: because a church devoid of riches, social position, and political power would be far less attractive to folks who are not here for anything else. And Pope Benedict XVI agrees:
From today’s crisis will emerge a church that has lost a great deal. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges. It will become small and will have to start pretty much over again. It will be a more spiritual church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.
We need a Bernard to loop us back to the very beginning. To pull us, again, towards Jesus' words in today's Gospel: sell all you have and come follow me. We need one fast, before God lets the world force us to do so.

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