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: 
While a number of different settings on this device are possible, we have found that these settings listed in this help center article work best for our device and also your hi fi reciever. Other settings, while possible, are not supported although you're of course free to use them if you wish. 
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!

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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.

28 May 2019

Paul gets all up in the Pagan Air

No, no! That's the wrong Damon...

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The Readings for Wednesday in the 6th week of Easter (C1)

I see that in every respect you are very religious...

Paul's word for "religious" is δεισιδαιμονεστέρους deisidaimonesteros. This is the only place in the Greek scriptures where it is used. It means "fearful of the gods" or the "daimons" (which are not "Demons".) Nowadays we say "Religion is a fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a group of people. These set of beliefs concern the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, and involve devotional and ritual observances." And, "Religious, besides meaning "having to do with religion," can also mean "acting as if something is a religion." We think in terms of "organized" religion vrs "spirituality" where the latter means more along the lines of something a la carte: I get to make it up as I go along. I get to decide what and where to worship, in fact, I may not even worship, in the accepted sense of the term.

Paul, however, did not mean "religious" the same way we do. In fact, he meant "Spiritual" almost exactly as we mean it. deisidaimonésteros (from deidō, "to dread" and daimōn, "a deity") – properly, religious (superstitious) fear, driven by a confused concept of God – producing "sincere" but very misdirected religion. Indeed, this is the mark of heathenism. (word study.) One pagan might not care at all what Venus says, but Diana of the Ephesians would be all the rave. However, we don't want to offend Venus either, so we won't disrespect her.

More importantly, Paul's use of deisidaimonesteros fits nearly everyone in our modern, Western world, hung up in our culture of "offense" and "scientism": we are superstitious about both. We have created daimonic energies around everything from sex and identity to political movements and slogans. We are fearful of offending all the daimons - the powers of the air, as Paul says elsewhere, the powers and principalities that run things. Again, these are not "demons" in the Exorcist sense. These are entirely human things. You might think of these as Cultural Constructs properly understood as "when enough people think something is true, it is." 

We are surrounded by cultural constructs today: ideologies that function enough like traditional religion that they compete with or meld with traditional religion for the same cultural real estate. They get a victory either way. What is "MAGA" but a pseudo-religious mantra that either overrules all Christian morality or else invades and colonizes it?  Feminism can either drive out religion or become melded with it. We have Christian feminists and we have secular feminists who are "recovering Christians". We have racialist ideologies that manifest inside traditional religious communities: Byzantine, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic. Yet we also have racists who reject "traditional religion" which they say is destroying "racial identity". Economics become religions when people use "the invisible hand" or state power to overrule the God of Christianity and Judaism on the one hand or on the other to attack and destroy him. Scientism can be used to denude the spiritual content of progressive Christianity or to deny the importance of anything that sounds religious (or even philosophical) at all. We let the construct take the center stage and then try to dress it up in our various religions - instead of letting the religion dictate the direction and everything else better try and hold on. Or else we retreat from it.

Paul would know us today. These things - and many many others - all fill up the gaps in our culture created by the abandoning of the Areopagus by the Church. I know some say we've been forced out, but that's only because we've let it happen: we're afraid not only to speak the Gospel in public but also to model it. We don't want to be seen as Catholics qua Catholics. We have a fear, not of having to "speak up" on a controversial topic, but rather of being asked to explain ourselves. "Behold, how these Christians love one another!" said Tertullian. We'd rather not go to the park because people might talk about us. The Church has not been driven out of the public square, she has ceded it whole cloth. She's afraid of losing her tax status, or her safety nets, she is worried about what people might think of her, or what sins might get uncovered. Hiding in the corner is safer. The Church - compared to which not even the Gates of Hell are stronger - is worried about daimons.

Paul would challenge us to learn his language: to take the deisidaimonesteros of the culture and redirect it to God, as St Paul did when he invaded the Hill of Mars and took the field of Battle for Jesus. Preaching in public... here on of my favourite stories about John Wesley:
In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.” 
He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.” 
Afterward, 12 men received Christ. 
Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.” 
Would that we could be so eloquent with our lives and our actions. Would that our lives spoke the Gospel in places where we might gather such oysters.


27 May 2019

Authoritay

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The Readings for Tuesday in the 6th week of Easter (C1)

(Who proceeds from the Father...) I will send him to you.

I'm not going to defend the Filioque clause with this essay except by accident. I'm continually asked why I left Orthodoxy for Catholicism traveling from east to west, so I thought I should finally answer clearly online. I've done so in private conversations, but I'll try to lay it out here.

As has been documented in many places, I left the Episcopal Church because the threads of orthodox, traditional Christianity that I found there were entirely optional. That they were becoming fewer and further between was a sign that I needed to leave. Staying where I could pick and choose doctrine was a sign that I wasn't under Authority so much as I was in a religious shopping center. It's important to say that at the top of this essay.

When I left the Episcopal Church, I had it in my mind that Orthodoxy and Catholicism were the only places I could go but the Roman Church was, in 2002, going through the "Boston" sex scandal which was turning into a much wider issue. There were prochoice Nuns arguing for women's ordination, there were clown masses, and there were Catholic politicians who couldn't tell doctrine from dog poop.  Having been in the Episcopal Church where all of that had led directly (in less than 20 years) to the "Thing I was Leaving" I didn't want to do it again. Rome was not going to work for me. So I became Orthodox.

If you've followed my blog at all you know everything that happened there, from my crazy convert phase to my ultraliberal "indy" phase. You know I went to a monastery at the end, meeting there the Western Rite Orthodox community of Denver and the surrounding area as well as from other parts of the country. When you're in a monastery (I was only there for 6 months) you suddenly discover you're plugged into all the gossip in the church. You hear literally everything going on, even in the furthers corners of the ecclesiosphere.

At the monastery during a long talk with my brother, Nicholas, I wrestled with the idea of being a monastic who lived at 7500 feet above sea level, who never had to "serve" anyone unless they drove 3 hours out from Denver to ask for my help. Nicholas said to me, "You want to be a friar. Orthodoxy doesn't have friar." Discernment continues...

What I discovered between 2002 and 2016 was that everything I had run away from in Rome was also present in Orthodoxy: financial scandals (primates who rack up credit card debt, monasteries that get re-possessed, chancellors who steal money, parishes & missions that go into debt because they build for 500 when they have 4 families), political infighting (the OCA and ROCOR basically exist because two wealthy Russian families had a fight in the midwest in the 1920s, currently the Greeks and the Russians are out of communion with each other, and don't ask how many Bishops engage in simony), and sex scandals (from Bishops molesting women and diddling seminarians to having relationships with clergy, monastics raping each other). There are liturgical messes (between the modernizations of the GOA and the AOCANA, altar girls, and other shenanigans) and high-placed liberals (with all the same sexual and moral collapse that we have come to expect in the west, and politicians who flaunt their faith for votes even as they totally ignore the teachings of the same, and clergy who get all swept up in the awe of knowing senators or mayors). The a la carte nature of the Church is just the same as well: Orthodoxy in America, like the Roman Church, is filled with "conservatives" who get hung up on moral conformity, as long as they can keep their wallets and political choices out of the arena. Vote against gay marriage and abortion, but vote to keep the minimum wage down and taxes low, and whatever you do keep the aliens outside the borders. Libertarian Orthodox are as annoying as Libertarian Catholics. The Racist Orthodox are as evil as Racist Catholics. The hideaway from evangelism Catholics are just as tiresome as the hideaway from evangelism Orthodox.

In short, the main difference between the two bodies was one of size: the media doesn't care what the Orthodox churches do because they are tiny (at least in America). Not enough readers would care if there was a sex party at an Orthodox seminary. (Orthodox? What are they, Jewish?) For every one Orthodox parish I could reach I could find 20 or so Catholic Churches within spitting distance. I have to walk by three to get to St Dominic's on Sunday.

There's a huge mess right here, and an equally huge mess much further away, why waste all that gas?

Rome had the one advantage of insisting that both Orthodoxy and Catholicism are equally the Church, whilst Orthodoxy says she alone is that thing - although the way the Russians treat Catholic Clergy (and Laity) coming into Orthodoxy says rather a bit more.

Both lungs of the Church for all that they are filled with signs of age and too much smoking are also filled with life, pure air, and the circulating Blood of Christ. If I were in Russia, I'd still be Orthodox. Alexy II has expensive watches, political alliances with Putin, imperialist eyeballs on the Ukraine, and no shortage of Russian Neo-Nazis beating folks up with crosses made of 2x4s. But Orthodoxy is the Church there. There are sinners everywhere. I don't want a pure church: I want the true one.

I'm here, in the West, where the Patriarch of Rome is in charge and all the same problems. I'll stick with him. Sure, he insists that John 15:26 needs to be linked up with John 16:7. I'm ok with that.

Overlap

JMJ

I noticed an overlap in the Greek words used in Sunday's EF and OF readings.

In the OF Gospel Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever loves me will keep my word..." (John 14:23) Which in Greek is: άν τις γαπ με, τὸν λόγον μου τηρήσει. In the EF Epistle, St James says (in one of my favorite passages), Be ye doers of the word... (James 1:22) In Greek, Γίνεσθε δὲ ποιηταὶ λόγου. Both fragments have something to say about what we do with the Logos of God, which is Jesus and also is Jesus' presence, or teaching, or communication.

The English says if we love Jesus we will "keep his word" but the poetry in the Greek is lost to us, since it says "guard my logos" or even "conserve my logos" as if the logos is implanted in us. But it is... We take on the Logos of God, we take on the Mind of Christ, we are members of Christ's body. But what then? James says we are to be doers of the word but, again we miss the poetry of the Greek, in this case no pun intended: the Greek word for "doer" is "poietai"... poet, artist, or craftsman.

We receive the imprint of our Divine Creator, Christ, the Logos, we guard it within ourselves and we spin it out again in our own acts of creation. We move through the world in the image and likeness of God, continually present and renewed by Grace in the Sacraments. In that image and likeness we participate in the reconciliation of the world to God in Christ. This is our on-going theosis, our salvation as we work it out in the world

25 May 2019

Neither fish nor fowl.

The Heavenly Banquet?

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The Readings for 6th Sunday of Easter (C1)

The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.

If you paid any attention to the passage from Revelation - which probably went uncommented at your Mass so, you had to listen to the readings - there was one sentence that I've never noticed before: "The sea was no more."  It's been there all along, really, but that sentence lept out at me with all its implications: there are no fish, dolphins, etc. in heaven. Now, I have known a long where there are no animals in heaven, but there are those who make a living on the sentimental image of being reunited with all our pets in the afterlife. If heaven is just more of the same, who cares?

But there are no whales in heaven.

Today's passage says there is no sun - which we all knew. But that means there's no wind. So... no birds either.

Look: it's a tough message for a Sunday, but animals don't have rational souls like humans do. They merit neither eternal life nor eternal damnation. I'm not here to argue it: I'm here to point out our emotional investment in a sentimental image of the afterlife. The shenanigans with "When we die we become angels" and "harps" and dogs running through the clouds to meet us... is because we're terrified of what "heaven" really is. It's nothing but God in and through all things in union with us and in union with each other. I don't have other words for it because I'm no mystic, but heaven is unadulterated communion.

I think that terrifies us more than just a little.

In the abstract, God knowing everything about me is conceivable. It's more than a little discomfiting (because I know what happens when the lights go out) but it's conceivable. We say God is omniscient, after all. But you, dear reader, will also know everything about me. And I will know everything about you. Multiply that by billions.

I think heaven makes us a wee bit squeamish, to be honest.

Today's Gospel doesn't help: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. If you've "received the Lord Jesus into your heart" then you've got the Father and the Holy Spirit in there as well. Jesus says if you love me you will keep... Ok the NABRE has it as "word" and others as "commandments" but in Greek, it's "Logos".  If you agape me (says Jesus) you will guard my logos.  That is, you will hold his very self. His self becomes yourself - as it does in communion. this, more and more, day by day, will make us ready.  God, the Holy Trinity, will come to make a dwelling in us. Communion: infinite, unshielded communion.

Sometimes after Mass, I need to run out and commit a mortal sin just to shut that open door in my heart. What would it be like in eternity with that?

So we picture animals in heaven, and a chance to go fishing. We imagine climbing mountains without danger and no longer needing to sit down and take a breather. This is much more comforting but, already asked: if heaven is just more of the same, why bother? Billy Graham once said that perfect happiness (in heaven) would require his beloved dog to be there... and I think Billy might have been worshipping a different God than the one I hope to find in heaven (and in Church, and in my heart).

We're not yet ready for all that love, not yet ready for eternity.

24 May 2019

It's only a little pinch.


Bl. Stanley Rother, God's Friend.

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The Readings for Saturday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

Once, a long, long time ago, it seems to me now, in a religious galaxy far, far away I sat in a class on Patristics as an Episcopal priest explained that no one today would go to their death over a pinch of incense. He thought we were, finally much saner now. I think of this event from time to time and wonder if he was right. Would anyone do it now? Did it make any sense, even then? Most Romans knew the Emperor wasn't divine. The priests and cults of the empire had needed to invent stories as Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero ruined one by one all the sacred traditions and offices of the Republic. The people watched one entire mythology end and a whole new one begin. What did they care? It's only a pinch and politically wise. The philosophers since Socrates had long spoken in monotheistic terms and, while it was still largely woven over by polytheistic animism, it was clear that the Divine Augustus (etc) was not this deity. So who cared?

In March of 1935, a farmer and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child, Stanley Rother. Raise in a Catholic home and a student of Catholic schools, he was an Oklahoma Farmer's son, through and through. He did chores, served at the altar, studied well enough in school, danced, and played sports with his friends. And after school was over he thought maybe to go into the priesthood. That was not an easy choice: he failed Latin and his grades were poor. He was asked to leave seminary. But his Bishop saw something in Mr Rother and found another seminary for him. Finally he was ordained to the Catholic Priesthood 55 years ago today on 25 May 1963.

Fr Stanley volunteered to go as a missionary to Guatemala. Pope St John XXIII had called for priests to go and Stanley took that call to his heart. The Bishop who ordained him sent him to Santiago Atitlan as a priest for the tribe named the Tzutuhil, decedents of the Maya. To serve his people this man who had failed to learn Latin became fluent in both Spanish and the Tzutuhil language. He could, after the Council, even celebrate Mass in the native language of the people! The team even gave the Tzutuhil a written language which they had not had until this time.

Meanwhile, in Imperial Rome, Jews were exempted from the pinch of incense by treaty. But Christians were not. They came from every corner of the empire, they were not an ethnicity or a people with a country. They cared deeply and refused to even pretend that the Emperor was divine and in doing so they rejected the politics and the religion of their neighbors. What my former teacher, the Episcopal priest, misunderstood was that the religion of one did not "shape" the politics, it was the politics. To reject the claim of the Emperor to be divine was to insist that humanity could not debase others, that the Roman emperor had no more right to worship than a Roman slave, and - in a world where the pater familias was divine ruler under his own roof, the Christians said, nope: men and women are equal before God and it is God that is ruler. They refused to participate in a system that denied that or to even pretend to participate. When the system said "Caesar is Lord!" the Christians said, "Jesus is Lord." Rome hated them for it.

The Gov't of Guatemala, along with many of the other Gov'ts in Central America, were under pressure to fight off the "Reds" who were trying to "infiltrate" these countries. Infiltrate here means teach, find food for the poor, keep farming tools in working order, bring in fresh, running water, etc. The pressure came from the United States. While in Europe, for much (but not all) of the 20th Century, the political persecution of the Church came from the Left, in the Americas it was from the Center and the Right. In every case from Mexico south, where a right-wing puppet or dictator was persecuting the Catholic Church, it was with American arms up the puppet's backside and American-trained fingers from the School of the Americas on the guns by which that oppression was accomplished.

Christians have, since Rome, been far too liberal for their worldly conservative friends: they welcome immigrants, they feed the poor, they walk among the sick without fear and treat them (we invented the Hospital when the Rich and Powerful of Rome were throwing their sick into gullies to die).  The Christians of Rome pulled together and ignored the world view of the secular traditionalists around them. They shared their food, they cared for the sick, from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs. They built real community around the Church. They refused to even pretend to play along with a system that said one mad idiot was god and everyone else was his slave - even when they daily, faithfully prayed for his salvation and peace. They would not offer incense to him but they willingly offered it for him.

Stanley kept this tradition alive in Santiago Atitlan and when the way to keep out the Reds involved keeping the powerless, poor, and illiterate Tzutuhil exactly powerless, poor, and illiterate, the good shepherd of his people said, "No!" They built real community around the Church. The people learned to farm together (with Stanley's farming skills from Oklahoma) and when the machines broke it was Stanley that helped them fix things.

People began to vanish - catechists, altar servers, Sunday school teachers, language teachers, farmers. When Stanley dared to stand up to the gun squads who were "Disappearing" his people, his fate was sealed - so we might say in the world. But Father's fate was sealed when, as a little baby, the faith of the Church was washed into his soul. To be a friend of God means to lay down one's life for one's friends...

And he did so: on 28 July 1981, three gunmen entered the Rectory that was Stanley's home and shot him. He was venerated as a Martyr from that day forward - first by his own people, the Tzutuhil, then by the Church in Oklahoma, and now - officially - by the entire world. He is known as Blessed Stanley Rother, Priest and Martyr. Although he is not yet a saint that will come in God's time.

The pinch of incense Stanley was asked for was to stand aside while a Gov't, following funds and support from a mad king in the Rome of the modern world, tried to deny the people of his parish their personhood, their divine icon of God. Stanley could have stayed in the States (he was home less than a week before his death) and he could have let the flock be scattered. Everyone would understand. Oklahoma, today, might be celebrating a priest's 56th ordination anniversary.

But Stanley did not offer this pinch of incense. He refused to even pretend to play along. The world - a world that pretended to be "Christian" at the time - hated him for it.

(This man is my patron saint.  I started this essay with nary a clue that today - the readings for Saturday, that is - was the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. I only knew that after my posts of the last two days about God's friendship meaning our death... I wanted to show what I was intending. This man is what I mean.)

May he pray for us. May it be so with us as well.


23 May 2019

Friendzoned by Jesus.

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Friday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

I call you friends...

This gets sentimentalized sometimes. Sometimes overly so. I remember when Jesus calling us (me) his friends used to cause me to wax poetical about Plato, David and Jonathan, and about someone important in my life. When I was at the Monastery, I tried to find some core in here that I could hold on to, to stay centered but that failed. The meat of this passage is not that God calls us friends... Because God calls Israel his beloved wife. Friends seems a bit reserved, to be honest. And later God will call the church his Bride as well. But here, we are all just friends.

So what's going on?

It's a couple of verses before. Greater love hath no man than this, as the KJV puts it, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And I have called you friends. So yes, that means that I will lay my life down for you... But he also expects us to lay our lives down for him and for each other.

We are are the friends of God, not in a Platonic sense, not in a creepy, pseudo-sexual, S.E. Hinton kind of way, not even in a David and Jonathan sense, but in the foxhole death on a grenade to save your buddies kind of way. In a today-is-a-good-day-to-die way.
In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others. - CS Lewis, The Four Loves 
Our friends were picked for us: we know the difference between friends and acquaintances, between coworkers (with whom we may all be close in one degree or another) and honest to goodness friends.

Jesus is such a friend: who has taken (literally) death for us who demands death from us for him and for each other. Jesus is not the bad boy your parents don't want you to hang out with: Jesus is the boy that says, "Let's all enlist. Someone's got to do something about this."

Jesus is that one friend whose opinion matters more than anyone in the whole world. When I am engaged in hypocrisy, it is the opinion of other Christians that most matters to me. And yet, "in the world" those folks might matter least. I didn't manipulate the universe to get these friends. These are not "the popular kids" in school. Jesus is always talking to the wrong sort of folks.
In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day's walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it. Ibid
Jesus calls us friends and then, a few years later, St Paul uses this divine, mutually-assured divinization as the model for a real Christian Marriage, too, and that marriage becomes the icon of the love of Christ for his Church. It is this Church, this circle not of cithara strumming band mates and worship leaders but rather of platoonmates, a Band of Brothers, who will screw each other's courage to the sticking place, cheer each other on in the games of the arena - gladiators, lions, crucifixions, bonfires, street lights... this great cloud of fellow witnesses (martyrs) cheers us on to death: COME ON!
Alone among unsympathetic companions, I hold certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put me back among my Friends and in half an hour - in ten minutes - these same views and standards become once more indisputable. The opinion of this little circle, while I am in it, outweighs that of a thousand outsiders: as Friendship strengthens, it will do this even when my Friends are far away. For we all wish to be judged by our peers, by the men "after our own heart." Only they really know our mind and only they judge it by standards we fully acknowledge. Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread.  
Jesus calls us friends. Don't make this out to be some kind of sexless eros or some pathetic high school ensemble movie: 

God's friends die.

22 May 2019

Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum!

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Thursday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

I have told you this so that... your joy might be complete.

Jesus said this just before he went out to die. You know this and I do too, but we often forget it. If you're not happy, some would say, you're doing it wrong. I am too blessed to be stressed. You gotta give up your spirit of heaviness... We forget that "Joy" here means to stay within the commands/love of God the Father by staying within the commands/love of God the Son. Which command was never "do what you love and the money will follow."  It was never "Follow your bliss". It was never, ever, a rose garden. It was ever was and always will the garden of Gethsemane where God sweat blood, or the fair garden of Calvary whereupon the only tree that ever bore life to the world, God died; or the garden just below the crest of the hill, where life conquered death by death died in death's despite and Jesus Christ won the victory for all time.

But no rose garden is or can be involved.

Take up your cross daily and follow me, he commanded. The other thing he commanded was to love as he loved us - by dying. Yup, we're good to go here for some serious Joy. Unless "joy" means something we don't think it means unless the "joy" we think we know is only somehow a pale and useless shadow of the real thing or even a mockery of it.

"Joy" is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The wiki has a rather wonderful entry on these, including this passage on Joy:

The joy referred to here is deeper than mere happiness; it is rooted in God and comes from Him. Since it comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly happiness, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time. 
According to Strong's Greek Lexicon, the Greek word listed in the verse is χαρά (G5479), meaning 'joy', 'gladness', or 'a source of joy'. The Greek χαρά (chara) occurs 59 times in 57 verses in the Greek concordance of the NASB. 
  • Original Word: χαρά, ᾶς, ἡ From χαίρω (G5463)
  • Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
  • Transliteration: chara
  • Phonetic Spelling: (khar-ah') 
Joy (Noun and Verb), Joyfulness, Joyfully, Joyous: 
"joy, delight" (akin to chairo, "to rejoice"), is found frequently in Matthew and Luke, and especially in John, once in Mark (Mar 4:16, RV, "joy," AV, "gladness"); it is absent from 1 Cor. (though the verb is used three times), but is frequent in 2 Cor., where the noun is used five times (for 2Cr 7:4, RV, see Note below), and the verb eight times, suggestive of the Apostle's relief in comparison with the circumstances of the 1st Epistle; in Col 1:11, AV, "joyfulness," RV, "joy." The word is sometimes used, by metonymy, of the occasion or cause of "joy," Luk 2:10 (lit., "I announce to you a great joy"); in 2Cr 1:15, in some mss., for charis, "benefit;" Phl 4:1, where the readers are called the Apostle's "joy;" so 1Th 2:19, 20; Hbr 12:2, of the object of Christ's "joy;" Jam 1:2, where it is connected with falling into trials; perhaps also in Mat 25:21, 23, where some regard it as signifying, concretely, the circumstances attending cooperation in the authority of the Lord. Note: In Hbr 12:11, "joyous" represents the phrase meta, "with," followed by chara, lit., "with joy." So in Hbr 10:34, "joyfully;" in 2Cr 7:4 the noun is used with the Middle Voice of huperperisseuo, "to abound more exceedingly," and translated "(I overflow) with joy," RV (AV, "I am exceeding joyful").

How does this Joy tie into love, death, and carrying crosses?

We know that the things of this world come from doing whatever we want. Everyone one of us knows that "whatever we want" soon devolves into one or two petty things done over and over... eating the same foods, going to the same sorts of movies, taking the same vacations, having the same arguments, engaging the same vices, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam, ad infinitum. Then we die.

Nearly everything we do in this world, apart from God, results from a fear of pain and quest for pleasure.

Yet Jesus promised real joy... and then silently suffered death in the 1st-century version of an electric chair set on stun.

How we do whine about our crosses even before we get nailed to them: unrequited love, broken homes, lost innocence, missed plans (my personal favorite of late), no one understands me, no one loves me...

me, me, me.

There is no joy in me: it's only in serving others, only in loving others, only in dousing our pride, in offering our hearts, broken and disordered, to the God who offers us his natural heart in exchange for ours made of stone.

Joy.

When we know we're whiners or when we know we don't understand... when we realize that maybe we're wrong...

We're on the path to Joy.





Nothing is strong. Very Strong.

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Wednesday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

Without me you can do nothing.

St Thomas Aquinas calls God the root of being, itself. God's being is the very beingness of everything. St John says that God is love. That means the very beingness of the entire Cosmos is rooted in Love. Or, as I tweeted earlier this month:
Ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. (St John) + Deus est ipsum esse per se subsistens. (Aquinas) = Love is all there is (Beatles)
Today, Jesus says "without me you can do nothing". That is literal truth. Nothing at all (of value) is done without Jesus by anyone at all. Even non-Christians can do nothing without Jesus. Jesus is the Logos, the word of God. Each thing has its own logos, its own "word". In that it has a being it is participating in God, in that it has a thingness, a function, a logos of its own that is its own participating in Christ. "At the heart of each thing is its inner principle or logos, implanted within it by the Creator Logos; and so through the logoi we enter into communion with the Logos," said Bishop Kalistos Ware back before he went off the rails. Your action to start the car, to type a blog post, to read a blog post, to whine in the comments is a participation in the Logos or it is of no value, no reality, at all. Even if you're not a Christian, even if you're not a theist.

The beingness of God the Father, from which every being generates, and the indwelling principle of the Logos, the very life of God communicated by his pneuma, his Spirit, makes all things an ongoing participation in the Trinity to the eyes that can see it; and yet this is no less true if you can't or won't see it.

Bishop John Zizioulas sums this up nicely: To be and to be in communion are the same thing.

There is no way to act that is not an active participation in God, even if you are trying to undermine Godly people in the world. And yet to the degree that you manage to close yourself off to God, to reject participation in God, it is entirely possible to achieve the opposite goal. There are only two choices: being and non-being. There is nothing you can do that is not God in Christ working in the world... Unless it's not. Then it is exactly the reverse. There is no way to express love that is not a participation in God - even if you reject the idea that God exists. You may have imperfect or disordered love, but God is love. You may deny the very being of those around you or in your womb, but God's being makes them. You may rip their life - or your own - out of the body, but that life is God's nonetheless. It's only you that are cut off.

Without Jesus you can do nothing. Uncle Screwtape knows this. CS Lewis gives him this amazing text in Letter XII which is even now describing Facebook on your phone, Game of Thrones on your TV, twitter on your computer at work, porn...
As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. 
You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. 
All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong”. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.
Porn makes you imagine sins... but you never get to do them. Facebook feels like gossip, even if no one reads your post. Humans are the only being with an ongoing choice, open and active until death, to decide for or against God. To bear fruit, much fruit, good fruit, you must be in Jesus.

Now, some pagans do an awful lot of good: that's all Jesus. Some Christians do an awful lot of evil. That's the non-being swallowing things up.

Without Jesus you can do nothing... and you'll get around to liking nothing, and soon... that's what you'll get. As Magenta says to Dr Frankenfurter,

"I ask for nothing! ...Master."
And he replies, "And you shall receive it. In abundance."