11 June 2019

Abolish or Fulfill? Abolish or Fulfill?


JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 10th week of Ordinary Time (C1)
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

There are no answers in this blog post. Some of us will hear a sermon today that says this passage means the old law has passed away. Jesus says he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Oddly that sermon could come from traditionalists or revisionists. Jesus can't fulfill something if he abrogates it. We want to think of fulfill in the same way we think of a card reader or fortune teller. Fulfillment means someone made a prediction and Jesus did it. It's obvious, right? But that's not what it's intended here.

Fulfillment in these terms means the expansion of, the revelation of, the unveiling of the real meaning of something. There are very few prophecies in scripture where somebody says at such and such a time, such and such a thing will happen. Rather we see pictures drawn in the scriptures and then those pictures are flushed out as if they were done in simple pencil sketches and later are fulfilled in 3D video.

In a very famous prophecy Isaiah says that lady over there is going to have a baby and 800 years later it's fulfilled in the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus. The sketch was that woman having a baby. The Fifth Element was the Virgin giving birth to God.

This is called Typology.

Jesus says everything else was an Antetype: he is the type, the thing itself. In my person are all true meanings revealed. He says elsewhere, “I am the way the truth and the life.” He is it. This means also that if the Bible is a unified story that needs to Jesus, even the laws and rules in the Old Testament are there to show us the way to Messiah; again, the rules are a sketch, not a prediction. It's hard to link a forbidden shellfish salad with the coming of Jesus. Does the absence of bacon indicate anything?

How do we differentiate between various rules about food, liturgical instructions, property values, manumission, and sexual morals?

We are so used to thinking of the Torah as if it were a written totality of the Jewish law. We want to imagine 613 individual, discreet, rules and we want to be able to answer the question, Did you follow the rules? But is there any evidence that the code in the first five books of the Bible was the entirety of the law? Or is that a Christian assumption? is there a difference between saying one thing in the Bible and the gradual development of context within the Jewish tradition? Can you begin the rules in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and end up at don't eat Chinese food and cheeseburgers are forbidden? At which point does the development become untenable?

What if the Jewish law is less like our modern codebooks of rules and regulations and more like British common law? What if the documents of the Bible are only a basis, a recording of some conversations, and not the end-all and be-all of the rules? What if the text of the Torah is only a sketch of the Law? What if “the Law” involves taking these sketches and applying them to individual cases, looking for fulfillment?

I come not to abolish but to fulfill. Jesus is part of a rabbinic discussion of the law. That Jesus “fulfills the law in his person” is a legal claim, an elaboration of the Torah. The notion that Jesus doesn’t fulfill the Law is a legal claim as well. Jesus is stating his place in the legal discussion. You can accept or reject that claim but it has nothing to do with shrimp cocktails or the use of mixed fibers in your clothing.

10 June 2019

It only takes a pinch...


JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Barnabas, Apostle
Tuesday in the 10th week of Ordinary Time (C1)

You are the salt of the earth...

We are used to hearing this phrase, "salt of the earth" as it might refer to good, solid farmers, or blue-collar laborers, Midwestern voters, etc, salt of the earth types. But that's not how Jesus uses it here. He's speaking at a time when salt was literally currency in some parts of the world. To control the salt was a mark of cultural control. The Celts, for example, controlling Salzburg - "Salt City" - became quite wealthy selling salt to much of the world. You are the salt of the earth means "something everyone will want to take..."

Salt is one flavor that is most noticed by its absence. In fact, it might better be said that salt is less an option and more of a needed part of everything. It goes in coffee, ice cream, candy, meat, vegetables, tea... but when it's not that we say, "needs salt" very quickly. Jesus uses other images for us as well: yeast, which only takes a pinch to leaven a whole batch of dough, for example. In a few verses, he will compare us to a candle: you only need to light one, and the whole room is lit up propper. Chewing tobacco, too, "only takes a pinch between your cheek and gum..." (I think some readers will be old enough to get that reference.)

We notice too, that the tiny band of twelve men preaching the Gospel has given rise to the ideas of "health care", "liberty", "women owning property", "care for the weakest", "peace activism", "temperance". Later they will give us things like "democracy", "genetics", "the big bang theory", and "the scientific method". It only takes a pinch... Likewise, we notice when it's missing: when things like "turn the other cheek" go out the door and we enter a society of name calling and recrimination from the halls of Washington Power to the aisles of Wal*Mart.

The problem actually is that folks want the results without the work, the freedom without the responsibility. In the story of the Crucifixion, Jesus has a seamless garment which tradition says was woven by his Mother. One traditional reading of this symbol set is that Mary was sinless and she passed a sinless human nature to her Son. To the Roman soldiers, however, it's just a cool shirt and they want it. So they play dice to see who wins it. The goods and graces of the faith are really meaningless in the hands of those who would just want to wear them as cool clothes. A man in a clerical shirt may not be a priest if it's Halloween and even a priest tried to give St Catherine an unconsecrated host for communion. They want to take the consecrated ones for politics, or for art. (The ones who want to take it for desecration at least know the consecrated host is holy.) They want to take buildings for museums and vestments to feed "the poor". In the last case, they want to rob the poor of their existential hope in God and his Church by giving the state the power and funds to distribute charity.)

We are the salt of the world: our purpose is to flavor everything, to take out the bitterness, to make everything better. We don't need to be the most popular religion in the world. That we are and yet fail to make a continuing change, says more about us than about our faith. The world, however, thinks it says something about Jesus and his Gospel. So they want to take the Gospel from us and do it themselves. That makes it worse.

If we were doing what we were supposed to be doing, would we be in this situation?

A Lullaby

JMJ

The Readings for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church
Monday in the week after Pentecost (C1)
The 10th week of Ordinary Time
Behold your mother...
The Magnificat is sung every night at Vespers in the western liturgy. It is sung at Matins in the East. This can mean 9AM in a parish church, but properly sung, it is well before dawn in the monastic office so that the monks can sing the last three psalms as the sun rises. So it is a night song in the East as well as the West.

Whenever I read it alone, it's relatively quiet for me: just another part of the office. But when it is sung in community, there is always a sense of presence, of Mary herself hold her arms around us as we all sing together with her. This always feels comforting, overwhelmingly maternal, and intimately present.

Mary is our mother: for we are members of the Church which is the Body of Christ and she is Christ's mother. That is, therefore, a collective reality for all the members of the Church, but it is an individual reality as well. As it is proper to say, "Christ died for me, and he would have done so were I the only person in the world," it is also proper for you to say, "Mary is the mother of the Church and of me. She is my mother and her prayers for the Church are also said for me."

Mary has been praying for the Church since before the day of Pentecost. She was present when the Church was born into the world and she continues to act in concert with the Church the full Gospel of her Son is proclaimed.

This present feast is in its second year, although the steps leading up to this feast go all the way back to Augustine's reading of this passage, "behold your mother". Mary is the Mother of the Church and, equally, of the Dominican Order:

Another vision St. Dominic received was one night after he returned from his vigil in the Priory church, he walked into the friar’s dormitory and saw this beautiful woman passing through the centre of the dormitory sprinkling the beds and sleeping friars with holy water. St. Dominic fell to his knees and asked who she was. She replied, “I am she whom you invoke each night at the Salve Regina, when you sing, turn then most gracious advocate, I prostrate myself before my Son for the preservation of the order.” St. Dominic then turned and saw our Lord seated in majesty with all the orders around him, but not one of his friars, The Lord smiled and said, “I have given your Order to my Mother,” and immediately the Lord turned to the Blessed Virgin who opened her mantle to reveal to Dominic his sons and daughters hidden beneath the folds. (Source.)

Let us cry out to her as she intercedes on our behalf and let us sing with her the nightly song.

09 June 2019

Pancakes!


JMJ

Old cookbooks are a passion of mine - not antique ones, but rather old ones. Something written in 1640 will have lots of silly ingredients that may be of some interest to historians, but if the stuff can't be purchased at Safeway and prepared easily in a modern kitchen, it's not worth my while to learn about it. Cookbooks from the late 1800s on, however, as well as some modern adaptations of early American cookery, are way more my speed. A Victorian cake recipe might be fun! Learning how Lord and Lady Blunderbuss sauced their puddings is how to make the next surprise dessert at the Church Potluck. And Mr & Mrs. Prariedog may know a few things about root veggies that will spice up Lent.

At the Monastery, my pancakes were always greeted with raves: they were light and so very fluffy! They were crispy on the outside and creamy inside. They were perfect. I was told this often enough that I'm reasonably sure it was true. It was gratifying as the recipe was my late maternal grandfather's and was not made from a mix, but they never came out that way anywhere else. It was certainly some effect of cooking at 7,500 feet above sea level: something to do with air pressure and the way water evaporates at lower temperatures that high up. Returning home, the same recipe produces normal pancakes, but it's still Grandpa's and it takes me back to my childhood.

My grandfather was a hobo during the depression, riding the rails around the country. I'm sure his recipe reflects no small number of campfire breakfasts. It's foolproof but it's not fluffy at sea level. It's 1:1:1.  1 egg, 1 cup (butter)milk, 1 cup self-rising flour. To make more or less, you can go as low as 1/3 a cup to 1 egg. As high as 1.5 cups. It gets a little eggy at 1/3, and above 1.5 you want to go ahead and move on to 2 eggs. But use 1:1:1 and make the pancakes with a 1/4 measure of batter and you'll get amazingly predictable results.

I tinkered a bit this morning, combining my cookbooks with Grandpa's recipe. None of the recipes I've found use chemical leavening.  Maybe it was too expensive or else not always predictable? Most use sourdough and a few use yeast. This seems normal: the batter would be allowed to proof overnight, getting nice and bubbly. My late (paternal) grandfather would make buckwheat pancakes this way - with a sourdough batter that sat on the back porch all winter bubbling away. Several recipes use either sourdough or fresh yeast depending on which cookbook is read. In these cases, it should be assumed the normal form was sourdough, which was the norm for all yeast from the earliest times until rather recently.

Today we use "instant" batter that does away with any of these choices. Add water, fry. BORING.

Regardless of the leavening, all these early recipes have one thing going for them that no one does anymore. It was my tinkering this morning. All of these recipes take the batter - made with yokes only, in most cases - and gently fold them into a meringue made from the egg whites!

This morning, using 1:.5:.5 the egg was separated and, after combining the yoke with the other ingredients, I whisked the white of the one egg until it was very dry and very stiff. It was about 2/3 of a cup in volume. Then the rest of the batter was dumped into the center of the meringue and gently folded in.  From there I returned to my grandfather's recipe: heating a thin layer of oil in the pan until it was at "sizzle" and then dropping in the batter by 1/4 of a cup. It was stiffer than normal, it was spread out using the ladle. It took no longer to fry though - it cooked up nicely. When I flipped it over, the pancake was crisper than I expected but ok. The end result was very crispy outside and creamy inside. There were very nice air pockets. The overall experience was of a pancake made like a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Would recommend and will totally to again: also I can't wait to try with my winter buckwheats. These pancakes are not pictured as the shutter on my phone was not fast enough to catch them.

08 June 2019

Standing outside the fire.

The Apostles and St Paul, window at St Dominic's, SF. 
JMJ

The Readings for Pentecost Sunday:
The doors were locked where the disciples were for fear.

This is how I know this is all true: the disciples were locked in a room in fear and in just 30 years they would change the entire world. They said this man died. They said this man rose from the dead. They said they had seen him. They said they had eaten with him. They said he ascended into heaven. One who was even persecuting them had the same vision, and he joined up. He said the same things: This man was killed and is now alive. This man is God. In 30 years they would change the known world. And in less than a hundred and fifty years everything had changed. If they were making it up, if they were delusional, if they were delirious, one of them would have cracked. I know it is an argument from Silence but none of them cracked. Every last one of them died saying the same thing. Eleven of them were killed by various people for saying these things. None of them recanted.

My entire faith rests on the testimony of these 11 men plus one. And they were in a locked room. Hiding in fear.

What changed? What changed at Pentecost?

The image at the head of this post is a stained glass window from my Parish Church in San Francisco. The image shows the 11 Apostles and St Paul standing around looking confused. I think it's perfect. They look like characters from a Jeeves and Wooster novel. They look dazed and confused.  some of them have books because they wrote parts of the Bible. And some of them have symbols so that you can know who they are. But most of them are holding in their hands the methods by which they died. Saint Andrew has a cross. Saint Paul has a sword. Another has a club that looks terribly painful. They went from standing around confused too painful death and to preaching the gospel. What changed was the presence of God in their life. I don't mean some abstract “personal relationship with Jesus” here, but rather the indwelling power of God merging in synergistic union with their lives.

Grace builds on nature. The spirit of God reaches in and grabs ahold of you and set everything on fire. The scripture says our God is a consuming fire. What that means is that those parts of you that align with his purpose are set on fire to go out, to expand, to energize everything around you for the preaching of the truth; and those parts that are not aligned with him are burned up - because they were never you to begin with.

God's spirit reached in and grabbed a hold of these 11 men plus Saint Paul and changed not their purpose, not their modus operandi, but their courage. They were no longer locked in a room in fear: they were unlocked, set free, to be themselves as fully as they could be.

Saint Catherine of Siena says if you are the person whom God has intended you to be you will set the world on fire. That is because the person God intended you to be is not “following your bliss”  nor on “doing what you love and the money follows, but rather you are intended to be a person who is ravished by God. The person you were intended to be is deeply in love with God, simply enraptured in the creative power of God flowing through you and out into the world. No matter who you are, no matter what your job, no matter what your state in life, that is you. Being that person will make you the best Barista, the best bus driver, the best School Book Depository librarian, the best politician, not at those jobs though. Being that person will make you the best librarian for preaching the gospel. Being that person will make you the best nurse for saving souls. Being that person will make you the best customer service agent for Jesus that there ever was. I don't mean you'll get promoted. In fact, you may as like anyone else, fail from time to time.

Remember Jesus when he spoke to the 12 apostles said, “I will make you Fishers of Men.”  I will take your jobs and transform them into preaching the gospel. St Paul continued to make tents to pay his way as he preached the gospel. We in our lives don't have to stop being Librarians and Baristas just to preach the gospel. Rather we have to preach the gospel as Librarians and as Baristas and as DJs and as whatever we are. Pentecost means that some of us are called to ordained Ministry, but all of us are called to spreading the gospel. All of us are sent out from our locked rooms, from our fear, from our hiding to preach the gospel.

I said my faith rested on the testimony of these 12 men. That's true in that these are the foundation stones, but it's not true in that my faith rests on ongoing testimony from many others, including these 12 men, who have seen and heard and met the Risen Jesus. Again, this is not a wishy-washy personal relationship with Jesus moment. This is the indwelling presence of God working in synergistic flow with persons I have met. I have met Jesus in these people. I have met Jesus face to face. This presence cannot be denied nor can it be hidden. This presence can be jailed, but it can never be kept behind locked doors. My faith rests on nothing less than 2000 years of testimony of the Resurrection.

This is Pentecost. Today is Pentecost. The fire descends. Every day is Pentecost. The fire descends continually.

Come inside.


07 June 2019

Before Communion



JMJ

Other than the Domine Non Sum Dignus, the Roman Rite (OF/EF) has few pre-communion devotions in the liturgy itself - although the EF also has the Confiteor recited before Communion. If you haven't any others, the following, taken from Anglican and Eastern Orthodox traditions, are very useful to fill in this gap. There's usually time to get them done after the invitation and before communion. Your mileage may vary. The first two were used, as well, in the Orthodox Western Rite.
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. (From the Book of Common Prayer)
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.
May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.

05 June 2019

A Trick of the Tongue

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 7th Week of Easter:
Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead." When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees.

St Paul is a seed of dissension in the Sanhedrin rather than a source of unity. Jesus said of himself, "I came to bring a sword rather than peace... to kindle a fire on the Earth." It sounds as if St Paul is taking this role upon himself in this trial. See: when you preach the gospel, when you spread the kingdom, the entire purpose of your life is to do your mission. Other things must become tools for that purpose, means to that end. Paul speaks here not only the truth, but the truth in such exactly a way that it causes tension. Yes, he's on trial for the resurrection of the dead, but he's here about the Resurrection of Jesus, not the general resurrection. What we have here is pronoun trouble. This is one of my favorite scenes in all of the New Testament! 

With that trick of the tongue, that double entendre, a violent, sectarian argument breaks out and Paul is suddenly whisked away to safety, leaving the elders to argue amongst themselves in an argument that continues until this very day. It's funny: This playing of the Pharisees against the Saduccees is how the Gospel is spread. In the safety of his cell, Paul is given the mission for the rest of his life:
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”
In Rome as well, standing before Nero, Paul's entire modus operandi is not to score courtly or rhetorical points with Caesar, but rather to spread the Gospel. By the time Paul dies there are Christians in Nero’s own house. The seeds were planted for the final victory - but that looks nothing like what the world thinks of as “victory”.

St Paul played one half of the system against the other half. Why? To spread the Gospel. This was acceptable. St Paul then turns the Roman system on its head to spread the Gospel further. St Paul claims his Roman citizenship to keep himself from being killed so that he can preach the Gospel. In the end, St Paul takes advantage of his Roman citizenship to bring the Gospel to Rome. Glory to God for all things. 

Jesus told us to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. This is what he means. This world game, this world's rules, this world's entire system is set up like a three-card Monte table that only the Church can beat. Everybody else will lose if they try: everybody else will lose their souls. If the Church stands up and takes the system by the reins she can steer the whole thing to heaven. They won't like it. That's their problem. They mightn’t like the process too much, but they will love the ending. 

St Paul shows us what should be the Christian’s attitude towards politics - both secular politics and religious politics. When dealing with unbelievers or a secular State the outcome is irrelevant in terms of worldly victory. The entire purpose is to spread the Gospel. We can never lose sight of this end: Preach the Gospel to all gentiles. That's the only purpose of our life! We can have as much fun with the system as we care to have since the world's system there for our purposes and not for their vainly imagined purposes. In the Incarnation, God changed the rules of play without changing the field of play. The way to eternal life, to love, to peace, lies exactly in what the world, the flesh, and the devil thought of as the Path to Destruction. Now we die to live and we sacrifice to have.

The purpose of the secular state is to keep the peace. Why? For the spread of the Gospel. The purpose of the king, the president, the congress, the state house, the mayor, the city council, the Peoples' Soviet, the Duce is to keep order. Why? For the spread of the Gospel. The entire purpose of the secular law (in God's plan) is to spread the Gospel. It has nothing to do with rights and nothing to do with freedom. The content of the law is unimportant. It has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with anything that this world thinks of as important. The entire purpose of the secular order is to hold the world in peaceful stasis in order to leave the Church alone to do her work spreading the Kingdom of God.

(We must be careful in the system called “Democracy”: for what we think of as “the Christian vote” often comes at the price of “The Christian Soul”. The world system is not there to do our work for us. We cannot legislate (or elect) the Kingdom. I would honestly rather live under a dictatorship than to go even once more through the sort of electoral choices we’ve had since my childhood. It would probably be better for the Church’s mission, too. That's my own opinion, but I think the strength of the faith coming out of formerly Soviet Russia, compared to the faith in the "free" West will hold up my point. Even thus, some may call me "unChristian" because I'm being "Unamerican.")

There is a flipside to this. The men of the world play this game for pointless markers: political victories, secular power, money. The Church plays this game for the salvation of souls and must pay with the lives of her people. We are configured to die like Jesus did. It’s possible the only way to get your neighbors into heaven is to let them see you give your life in love for your spouse and children. It’s possible the only way to raise your children in the faith is to stay at home, cut the family income in half so that they can be properly raised in the faith. We have to give up on all the counters of the world’s success. When we do that, we win. This is the flip side of Tertullian’s recognition that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The world’s system is the plaything of the church: even when it thinks it’s doing us harm, by God’s grace we win. When science-ists lash out at Bishops on YouTube, people have to go listen to the Bishops’ videos. When Senator Kamala Harris said that the Knights of Columbus were a rabid fringe organization she sparked hundreds if not thousands of men - including your host - had to go look into the Knights.

This is how we have to make choices in the world. As long as we direct our lives to the End assigned to us by God, the other things will fall into place. As the Psalmist says “I have never seen the children of the just begging for bread.” Of course, you've often seen people begging and one must assume that some of them are Christians, right? However, the Psalmist means that God takes care of us. “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord,” says St. Paul elsewhere. And again, “Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.”  

The whole point of this is that where Jesus is we may also be... and we want, pray, and work to bring as many others with us to that point with us as we can.

Dear Prudence

JMJ

Today is the feast of St Boniface, the Apostle to Germany.  In the office of readings for this morning we find the following passage from the writings of the martyred bishop:
I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture. Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with our tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps.
What caught my eye was the use of the word "prudence" there.  That's actually a direct translation from Jerome's Vulgate Bible. This verse (Proverbs 3:5) is rendered this way:
Habe fiduciam in Domino ex toto corde tuo, et ne innitaris prudentiae tuae.
Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not upon thy own prudence. 

The Hebrew word Jerome is working with is בִּינָה binah and "prudence" is a valid, not terribly sui generis translation of binah, I was surprised to learn; the word is usually rendered "understanding" as in the KJV.. The LXX renders it as "Sophia" which was more directly "wisdom".  The NABRE has this as "your own intelligence" which is both wrong and right, given our current sense of what "mind" is.  

But it was that word as "prudence" that sparked my meditation.

Prudence as a virtue is the root of all other virtues. Every act becomes virtuous by the application of prudence. Love, without prudence, is either too-soft or else a cover for concupiscence. Anger with prudence can be justice. Without prudence, the same anger can be pride, violence, and abuse.  Prudence is the ground and center from which all other virtues arise. Grace builds on nature. If my own love, my own anger, my own desires, or drives can be repaired by proper use of the virtue of prudence, what then is "prudentiae tuae" or "your own prudence" that can lead me astray? What is, if you will, imprudent prudence? It's the possessive that gives the clue, I think: "my own."

The saint is saying that the awesome responsibility of leadership in the Church would have - should have - scared away any man who thought about it for a bit. Conceive of it: not only might one destroy one's own soul this way, but one may lead others astray and so condemn them as well. So the saint says, "I would have run away if I could find other examples of holy men doing so." Yet none were found. His own inner prompting would say "go back", but the Church - and through her, God - was saying to Boniface, "Go forward".

Boniface trusted in God to do so. I am reminded of an online clergy man who shared that he, as a youth, met his bishop for the first time. The Bishop said, "I understand you want to be a priest." The young man formed a correct (so he thought) humble reply of the sort one might think needed, "Well, I hope so, Bishop, if I might..." and the Bishop's reply was, "You hope so? You have to want this with all your heart! This is not an easy job and you have to want it..."

Our inner voices might make us shy away in false humility, or imprudent prudence might make us chicken. God wants us to run forward, to drive forward - even to fail - with all our heart, trusting in him to make all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.  

We are unworthy vessels: broken, mended, weakened. But in that state - that is the only state humans can be - God can and will use us if we but let him. It's important to be honest about our brokenness. God can't make tools from uppity clay. Yet God can and will use misfired clay,  poorly glazed clay, cracked clay, fragile clay, discarded clay to build the bricks of his Kingdom.

Trust him. Let him do his work with you and he will do far greater things than you can imagine - even if you are slain tomorrow.

03 June 2019

Are you a hacker?

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 7th Week of Easter:
What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God's grace.

Have you heard about "hypermiling"? These are folks who learn every possible trick to play with their car to get the most gas mileage possible. They go into neutral (or even turn off the car) when they go down a hill. They ride close behind large trucks on the highway so that they can take advantage of the lowered wind resistance. This was a huge thing in the early part of this century, but it requires a standard transmission and, even better, standard brakes and steering.  Every part of your car that is automated, they say, takes away control from you and prevents you from hacking it for better mileage.  For these folks, it is the mileage that is important rather than the travel. Longer trips are better for mileage, and the drive is important, sorta... but it's the mileage that is the thing. What's the data from the tank?

We are all aware that we are going to die. Each of us in varying degrees has this awareness. The degree is not one or presence vrs absence; rather some of us are able to say with more or less certainty, "I'm not going to die soon." Yet all of us know death is out there somewhere. We may be more or less fatalistic about it: I will die when it comes, so until then I shall do everything I can. I have no control over when I shall day. Or there are those who try to take control and live forever. Jack at Twitter seems to be one of these, "lifehacking" everything from how often he sleeps to how little he eats in an obsessive drive, seemingly, to keep living life more. What could be wrong with that? 

All of Silicon Valley Culture seems to be currently obsessed with this, to be honest. As a people, we're hung up on data (rather than persons or individuals) and we need to see the highest possible return on the data... we seem rather to not care that there are people involved. We want to approach everything with a "scientific" outlook, by which we mean we don't care about any subjective content, only quantifiable data that can be plotted (up and to the right, please). Jack's attempt to plot life using data and hacking the code is only the same drive on a different level. 

This is to be expected of a culture built largely by people who live in code. Trust me on this, we try even to hack religion. I'm quite used to us, even as I need to, daily, deprogram myself, to remind myself that my relationships with persons are not data-based. My conversation with you (even via the written word) is with someone created in the image and likeness of our Father, God.

What has either of these to do with St Paul?

St Paul's awareness of his mortality is living, active, and present. He knows from day to day that he lives only at God's pleasure. His desire is not to get every possible thing out of this life, but rather only to finish his course and to finish the ministry God has given to him. Those are the same thing: he's going to die before God is through with him. God's not going to "kill him" before he's done with his work. The work and the life are coterminous. The surest sign that God is not through with him is that he is still breathing. If he were to focus on his life, qua life, instead of on the ministry, it would be like Adam and Eve grabbing for knowledge on their own terms instead of waiting for God to bestow it.

This is our primary choice in the world. I was going to add "in the world today" but the reality is that it has been our choice since the garden. Do we do what  God asks or do we grab things on own terms? Do we hack? Do we try to "get the most" out of things instead of holding them and thanking God for them and letting them go? The signs are probably different for each of us, but recent indications that I have been hacking things have included how I edit these posts for fear that someone might read them for "hate speech" and mess up "my life". First off, it's not mine. Secondly, if I'm speaking Truth then it's not hate but I do have fear like that. I have fear, also, of bad medical news, so I don't go to the doctor when I don't want to know. Avoiding pain, avoiding fear: these are signs I'm trying to hack life.

Paul knows God wants him in Jerusalem - and Paul knows that his life is going to change drastically when he gets to Jerusalem. He replies only that he's going to Jerusalem - although he sets things in order, telling the elders what to do when he leaves. He wants only to finish the race before him. Jerusalem is not the end of the race - in fact Paul will take preaching the Gospel to new levels: reaching even to Nero and his household. Nero's not sane enough to hear truth, but his people are so over the insanity, that they are willing to hear about this new Kyrios who won't ruin their souls.

Paul brings to close the quest for "more life" by realizing that as long as he does what God wants he will live as long as God needs him to - not one minute more. We cannot hypermile all the way through this life, holding on to control to get the most out it. Jack's going to die just like the rest of us. So the question is not "How do I live more?" but rather "What would God have me do now?" If God has something new for me to do then it's up to him to keep me alive. If God wants me to do or act or say - then it's up to God to bring out of that "thought, word, or deed" whatever it is he needs. It's only up to me to do the thing, to say the word. To lifehack and to be fearful are both strange forms of practical atheism.  

With St Ignatius we say:
LORD Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish Thou hast given me. I surrender it all to be guided by Thy will. Thy grace and Thy love are wealth enough for me. Give me these Lord Jesus and I ask for nothing more. Amen.
Even when death comes, that is time only to meet God. We are so fearful of that prospect, that this other prayer seems pure insanity:
O Lord my God, I now, from this moment do I accept from Thy hands, with burning love and sincere contrition, with a calm and willing disposition, whatsoever death Thou shalt choose to send me, with its pains and griefs. Amen.
This is why St Paul says to take all things and make Eucharist (Thanksgiving) with them: as long as we're not grabbing for more, then each thing that comes our way is what God would have for us at that time. We turn it to heaven and ask that we may make of it the best use God would have us make for his plan.

02 June 2019

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.


JMJ

The Readings for Saint Charles Lwanga & Companions, Martyrs
Monday in the 7th Week of Easter:

It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.

The feast of these martyrs is well placed in June, for they were martyred for refusing to hold on to their honored places in the court of the king of Uganda, in exchange for accepting his sexual advances. Instead of simply removing them from court sending them away in shame, he was enraged and had them killed: like the seven Maccabee brothers in our reading today, they elected to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors. As he was being burnt at the stake, Lwanga said, "It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me." It reminds me of St Laurence saying "I'm done on this side, turn me over..."

Would that we had such courage today - we don't often have it. We are afraid for our jobs, or our place in the community. We worry about being "deplatformed" on social media or about losing our businesses, etc.  I do not deny that these are important things, but what would the martyrs have said in our places? 

My inner voice tells me they would have not cared to be homeless, but they would not have denied the faith to stay housed.  They would not welcome being ostracised from their communities, but they would not have traded the truth for popularity. 

I'm not better at knowing this than anyone I could presume to criticize. I only hope I get more courage before they light fires.

Image and Likeness

JMJ

Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension:
...so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one...I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.

When I was a kid - like age 3 or 4 - I lived with my grandparents. Grandma had a gold hand mirror that hung on the wall in the bathroom. I loved to play with this mirror: I would lay it on the floor (it was about 2 times the size of my head at that point so it seemed "yuge") and I would position myself so I could not see myself in the mirror. Then I would look through the looking glass at the living room around me. This could go on for quite a long time as I tried to imagine what it was like in there. The other room was a perfect reflection of the one I was in but it somehow seemed more real. Additionally, unlike the room I was in, this room was viewed through a sort of telescope whereby eyes could focus on one thing without having to look at the rest of the room - which was "off screen" at that point. By adjusting the location of my head and the distance to the mirror I could zoom in on one thing on the knickknack shelves, or look at one part of the ceiling. Viewed through the mirror on the floor the mirrors on the walls became doubly magic portals and I strained to see what was in them.

These two rooms, reflecting each the other... one real, one equally real but in another sense...

This is God and Humanity viewing each other. The analogy breaks down because our side of the looking glass, intended to be the perfect reflection, is filled with sin and corruption. Our reflection is imperfect, broken, disordered. And God gazes with sadness on what has happened. Again, both sides of the glass are real. Humanity is a reflection of God - but we are broken.

The incarnation is God entering our world. He becomes one of us, perfecting the reflection in his flesh. He can now gaze at the Father from human eyes and see infinity. We, becoming members of his body, can also see this. And we become the perfect reflection of God ourselves, maybe not now, maybe not in this lifetime, but we are all walking to heaven and Jesus is the way to heaven and the life we live to get there. Jesus is heaven itself. Even after we sin, we are struggling to return... and that is the path to heaven itself.

The goal of this struggle is to bring us to perfect unity in Christ, and through him, with God the Father. The saints are those folks who have done so while here on earth, whose lives have become the life of Christ lived in the world. They are living in heaven even while on earth and are helping the rest of us do so more and more.

Christ's ascension shatters the looking glass, uniting the reality and the reflection. Christ is one with us making us one with God. The reflection is restored to a superfluity of perfection by becoming fully realized.

This is the ongoing ascension of us.


31 May 2019

Now with 20% Less Mercy

John J McNeill - in need of a corrective.
JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 6th Week of Easter:
Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.

Took him aside and explained... we nearly never do that these days. We go looking for "constructive feedback" or at worst something called a "Sh*t Sandwich" which is bad stuff sandwiched between two bits of praise. We get offended not only when people tell us we're wrong but also when people imply that we are wrong, even when people hint there might be a right way (that's not the way we did it). 

Telling someone they're mistaken and bringing them to the truth of the fullness of the faith is 3 of the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, and 3 of the 17 Works of Mercy all together, about 20 percent of all mercy is showing someone their missteps. 

Of the Works of Mercy we have:
  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish the sinners.
  4. To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  5. To forgive offenses.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.
  8. To feed the hungry.
  9. To give water to the thirsty.
  10. To clothe the naked.
  11. To shelter the homeless.
  12. To visit the sick.
  13. To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  14. To bury the dead.
The second 7 are seen as "Corporal" in that they deal with the body, whilst the first batch are the "Spiritual" works of mercy. It does us no good to pit them against each other; to decide one is more important than the other. The body and the soul are, together, one being. The corporal may be seen as easier, or the spiritual as more important, but that's not the case. It's a matter of qualifications: I can dig graves, but I am terrible at bearing patiently with those who wrong me. I might not be the right person to lead a retreat on forgiveness. Praying for the dead, though, I'm good at. And, to be honest, 25 years in customer service has totally prepped me for finding a compassionate, gentle way to say, "You're so very wrong, Bucko." Such as: 
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It has also prepped me for pulling out all the stops and saying, "I know you're looking for a different answer here, but I have to tell you again, you're very wrong, Bucko."

As Bishop Barron has noted, while we're very willing to let someone tell us how best to play golf, or make a pumpkin muffin, we seem to be horribly unwilling to let someone tell us that in matters of religion. We go looking for agreement in the first person: You might say that, but I can't agree with what you're saying. It's not merciful to let that person off the hook. In fact, it's exactly the opposite of mercy. Letting someone give up their soul because you feel uncomfortable correcting them (or because they feel uncomfortable if you do so) is decidedly not merciful. Parents fail in this all the time.

But we also fail in other ways: Priscilla took Apollos aside. They didn't open up a series of Facebook Posts or a long tweetstorm. They did not engage in those wonderful, modern practices: a whisper campaign or character assassination. Elsewhere we are advised to talk to someone in error one on one, then, failing that, maybe two on one. If that fails, we might even try a larger intervention. If all else fails, then we can ignore them and allow them to go their own way.

We like to come on strong because it makes us feel good to do so: self-righteous may be too uncharitable, but there's something enjoyable about pitching corrective so fast and so furious that the party ducks and runs for cover. We did our best, right? but the wouldn't listen, eh?  So... next project.

This is not mercy either. It's mercy if we gain our brother back. Yet if we drive them away, we're both lost.

We are surrounded on all sides, both inside and outside of the church, with those who are perishing for lack of mercy. How do we do mercy in the way that Priscilla and Aquilla did? Can we gently offer correctives without losing the souls of those we're trying to save; without, as a friend of mine used to say, "Shattering the Crystal"?

To bestow mercy we must first be "under the mercy" ourselves. Are you? Am I? Do we submit - daily - to the Church's teaching even (especially) when we find it at odds with our life experience and desires? How's our prayer lives? Are we engaged in a living and regular (ongoing) conversation with God? Do we exercise ourselves daily in charity and humility? Can we say the truth in ways that do not sound like "look what I found" but rather reflect the Church's magisterium and God's love?

We need to know each our own strengths and weaknesses so that we don't overstep our own callings. Let me bury the dead. Someone else can take on apologetics or forgiving others. Right? None of us need to preach alone or at all for we're all in this together let's pool our resources and see what we can do. Let's be 100% merciful 100% of the time. 




30 May 2019

I must go see my cousin

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Visitation:
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

I'm going to pick this up where I left off last year.

So much of San Francisco is "casting the lowly further down and lifting up the rich".  San Francisco is rather like the nation at large: we have a wealthy nation that can't share. We can't share with our own poor, nor with the poor outside our lands. And none of us has enough.

So what's the Church to do? How can we lead by example? To be certain we don't always do that. Sometimes we're happy to talk about the unborn, but the unhoused (or the unnationed) escape our attention.

America lives in a zero-sum game. There have to be winners and losers. Christians have known this all along, Mary says there are lowly to be lifted up and rich to be cast down.  That's a sign that winning and losing is, somehow, part of the makeup of things.

Yet the Church decided in the earliest moments that while there was nothing wrong with having things, the only reason we have them is to share with the poor. Nowadays when we might wear three different outfits in one day, we find it appalling to imagine the spiritual benefits of only own two: one for formal, and one for work. When it's easy to graze all day on any food or beverage we might feel like, we cannot imagine the idea of going hungry so that others might eat.

The early Church shared all things not because it was better to share but because God had clearly provided for the needs of the entire community if the entire community came together. The rich shared not their excess, but their all with the poor - who likewise share their all with the rich. Everyone shares and then everyone has enough. This became the Christian ideal and the Monastic ideal as well as the lay ideal right up until the modern era. If you don't believe me: feudalism, at its best, was just a differently ordered version of this. The rich shared their land, the poor shared their labor. The rich didn't get paid for their land in the way we image "rent" today. They had their duties as did the poor.

It's for me to do with less if that lets you have enough.

The stories of the Christian past are filled with examples of charitable hospitality, shared with the poor and the needy with as much honor as would have been lavished on the rich. I watched a young man from church buy a meal for a homeless man in the Subway the other day and then hug him. The young man went and bought his own meal at the counter, and then gave that meal to the homeless man as well. It was the hug that got me though: the physical contact. I'm not just tossing away charity, I'm sharing something with someone I can hug, a real person - not a cardboard cutout of charity, but wealth lavished on a hand-painted and gold-bedecked icon of Christ.

I know I can't live in this city safely even on my own wages. Paycheck to paycheck I'm kept in my apartment for fear of being unhoused. But what if there were a way for 3 or 4 folks with my salary could live together, maybe renting an apartment with an extra bedroom, from whence some homeless person could also be housed...

Nahhhhhh.

Never happened.

29 May 2019

Movin on Up!

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Ascension Day

...the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh...

On the calendar of some ecclesial Jurisdictions, today is the Ascension. Others will commemorate it on the Sunday within the Octave. Catholicism, like Orthodoxy, has calendar issues as well. Although the Archdiocese of SF and our daily office observe this feast on Sunday, I'll do the mass readings here and now. That way we get the other readings for Sunday.

At every Mass, after the priest consecrates the host, making it the very Flesh of God, he genuflects and then elevates Our Lord for Adoration. From the priest, the sacred ministers, and the altar boys who serve on the altar with him, to the women and men in the congregation every eye elevates and adores. The whole body of the faithful is drawn upward to gaze at the Humble God, silent in his glory. A few moments later these actions are repeated as, after consecration, the priest elevates the chalice containing the Blood of God shed for us. Again, the whole assembly is drawn upwards, momentarily, to the contemplation of Love, Mercy, and Truth in the presence of the Divine Person.

This is the Mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord.

What we tend to think of is that a mass of individuals becomes what we call "humanity" or "the human race". A bunch of men becomes Mankind. The Church sees humanity rather like a mirror image of the Trinity: many persons, one nature. We are all one in a way we cannot fathom, just as our Creator is 3 persons in one divine nature. In that we are one each of our petty and personal sins drags all of us down. We are each and everyone diminished by any death that ends a life at any moment after it begins. Each loss of wisdom, each loss of experience, each loss of possibility destroys all of us, robs us of something precious. Each sin drags us all down and each righteous action, each life lived, each love transcending the fleshly lusts, each action of charity and grace moves us upward.
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
- John Donne
So the Ascension affecting one man, Jesus of Nazareth, affects us all - even those who reject its implications. In this, they have no choice in the matter for Jesus is a man as we all are and what affects us one so affects us all. One of the common nature that we share is Ascended. That one of us is also God is of the heaviest implication. For now mankind sits enthroned not next to God, but as God, at the right hand of the Father.

As we gaze upon the elevated host, the nature of man is forever altered in this altaring. What we offer is one of us and in him our very selves. The Church as his body offers herself to God. We are the body of Christ, that is the Body of Christ. I once asked a wise priest, "When I distribute the host and say, 'The body of Christ' am I saying something about the bread or the person to whom I give it?" The response was, "Yes." Bread is made flesh. Sarx: the human flesh, is made divine. 

Our Lord's Ascension is the first evidence that the "key has changed" after the Incarnation: the Eastern liturgical texts speak of how amazed the Angels are at seeing one of our race of men entering into the Heavens. The Psalm text, "Who is this king of glory?" is read as the angels asking each other "Look! Who is this? Who comes here? Who?"

It's a mortal man now immortal and a divine being now dead and alive again. The King of All the Ages, by gift of his Father, is one of us. And there is no "one of us" there is only "All of Us". As in Adam, all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Here are some Byzantine (Orthodox) liturgical texts for your meditation. Today or Sunday, a glorious feast!


Behold the Lamb of God goes up who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are they who are called... 
The choirs of Angels were astounded when they saw Christ, the mediator between God and mankind in the highest with his flesh, while with one voice they sang a hymn of victory. To God, who appeared on mount Sinai and gave the law to Moses, who saw God, and who was taken up in the flesh from the mount of Olives, let us all sing; for gloriously he has been glorified.

O Christ, Giver of life, lover of humankind, thou wentest up to the Father and exalted our race in thine ineffable compassion. The ranks of Angels, as they saw thy mortal nature going up, O Saviour, were astounded and without ceasing sang thy praise. 
The choirs of Angels were amazed, O Christ, as they saw thee being taken up with thy body, and they sang the praise of your holy Ascension. Human nature, which had fallen by corruption, thou didst raise, O Christ, and by thine ascension thou hast exalted and glorified us with thyself. 
Lift up the heavenly gates, for see, Christ the King and Lord, wearing his earthly body, is at hand, said the powers below to those above. When thou soughtest Adam, who had been led astray by the deceit of the serpent, O Christ, as thou hadst clothed thyself in him, thou ascendedst and took thy seat as equal sovereign on the Father’s right hand, while the Angels sang thy praise. 
As the Saviour had ascended to the Father with his flesh, the hosts of Angels were struck with amazement, and cried out: Glory, O Christ, to thine ascension! The angelic Powers cried out to those above: Lift up the gates for Christ, our King; whose praise we sing, together with the Father and the Spirit. 
Jesus the Giver of life, taking those he loved, ascended the mount of Olives and blessed them and, riding on a cloud, he came to the Father’s bosom, which he had never left. The whole world, visible and invisible, keeps the feast with gladness; Angels and humans leap for joy as they glorify without ceasing the Ascension of the One who by his goodness was united to us in the flesh. 
Thou didst fill the universe with gladness, merciful Lord, taking thy place in mortal flesh among the powers on high. The angelic powers, seeing thee thus lifted up, cried out: Lift up the gates for our King! 
Strange was thy Birth, strange thy Resurrection, strange and fearful thy divine Ascension from the mount, O Giver of life, of which Elias was an icon when he went up in a four-horse chariot, singing thy praise, O Lover of Mankind. 
The Angels came and cried out, O Christ, to thy Disciples: In the same way ye have seen Christ going up, he will come in the flesh as just Judge of all. 
Appearing in the flesh, thou didst join in one things that were formerly separated, O Lover of mankind; and as thy Disciples watched, O Merciful, thou wert taken up to the heavenly places. Why are the garments red of the One who was united to the solidity of flesh? said the holy Angels, as they saw Christ bearing the divine marks of his precious passion.