30 June 2019

Would the judge of all do that?


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 13th week Tempus per Annum (C1)
Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him?

This bizarre scene where Abraham bargains with God leaves us with a huge question: why would God want to be bargained with?

The stories about the city of Sodom are not pretty. As is recounted in Jewish tradition the Sodomites were inclined to hating homeless people, to killing people who dared to beg, and to stoning those who dared to help them. Sodom was not a good place to be unless you were very wealthy and well-connected. It was a lot like modern America.

God wonders to himself if he should tell Abraham what he is about to do. The reason God wanders this is because he's going to make Abraham a source of blessing for the Nations. That doesn't make sense unless this is a time of training for Abraham. God wants Abraham to learn something here. What is it?

From the text we're left to assume that the lesson is in fact intercession.  God wants Abraham to learn how to intercede for strangers. So he starts small and lets him intercede for Lot, his cousin, and his family. Instead of interceding Abraham bargains; but that's okay: this is a learning process.

God is teaching Abraham how to pray. Abraham steps up admirably. In time the Jewish sense of their purpose would include linking the Temple in Jerusalem and its sacrificial system to the safety of the entire world. Jerusalem becomes the navel of the world, the stone that prevents the flood waters from rising again. In time Israel will give birth to the Messiah, the savior of the world. The Seed of Abraham will become the intercessor for all of us.

We are Abraham's children. This is our job. We are to be a blessing to the Nations. The church fathers taught that the Church in the world is rather like yeast in bread. It only takes a pinch and the whole loaf rises. The Church's function in the world is rather like the soul is in the body: we are to be the light of the world, the flavoring that makes everything possible. When was the last time you prayed for strangers?


I thought of this as I heard prayers this weekend for all the folks in town and I thought why shouldn't we pray for their safety? We are to pray blessings on everyone, to all the nations.  Shouldn't we pray for their peace? We are to pray for our enemies. We are to pray blessings upon those who curse us. This is exactly what we should be doing. We should be bargaining with God, pardon the phrase, for everyone. This is what Jesus did as well: his entire life was an intersection for the world. When we fail at this we failed to be Christians.

29 June 2019

Monking Where You Are.


JMJ

The Readings for the 13th Sunday Tempus per Annum (C1)
You are my inheritance, O Lord.

Right now Catholic, American internet seems to be filled with one of three different types of politics. These might be described as Monarchist, Socialist, or Capitalist. There are subtypes as well: the Socialists might be split into various camps depending on Marx or Chavez or Trotsky. The monarchists might be split between absolute, Divine Right Monarchists and the Constitutional Monarchists. The capitalists are split between sort of vaguely agrarian communitarian and post-industrialist, libertarian camps. There are Alt Right and Alt Left just like in the secular world.

What each of these types has in common is that they claim the Church's authority for their political beliefs. Each one seems to say I have found the one right way to bring about Catholic Social change. They ignore the fact that the further right you go, the less you sound like a Catholic social ethicist. While the further left to go the less you sound like a Catholic moral theologian. You can't be any of these things be a Good Catholic

Today the psalmist offers us the answer.  You are my inheritance, Lord.

I believe and confess that as Catholics we are obligated to bring about a Catholic social order. The USCCB’s Catechism for Adults says:
Through participation in political life—either as voters or as holders of public office—they work for increasing conformity of public policy to the law of God as known by human reason and Divine Revelation. This they do especially by showing the coherence of Catholic teaching with the fundamental yearnings and dignity of the human person.
The catechism does not tell us which political system to use. In fact, it seems to imply that regardless of the political system we still have the same obligation. In fact, it seems to say that it is the performance of our obligation which is the proper focus, not the political system. The Catechism seems to presuppose that making Catholic moral choices will change the political system to be the right one. Focusing on the political system first is to put the cart before the horse. You are my inheritance, Lord.

Not just politics, but in other parts of our life, too:  we seem to put our Catholicism as the caboose on the train rather than the engine. We worry about our jobs too much. Or we stress over our apartment and our status as caregiver for our family. God says to worry about God. Everything else will take care of itself, or better he will take care of everything else. This comes home to me nearly every day recently. When I stress over something I've said, or something I've done. Will they find out I'm Catholic? Will there be social repercussions? God says he is my inheritance. Not my job, not my social welfare, not my health insurance, not even my parents. But God.

When I say it that way, you might ask why I don't return to the monastery. I don't think that's what God wants. I don't think that's my calling. As much as I love sitting in the quiet of a monastic Chapel I don't think that's my calling. I think my calling is here in the world. That doesn't mean I cannot live a monastic life. Or, as a friend rather unkindly implied the other day, pretend I'm monastic. I live alone, I have all day to pray, what else can I do? I feed my cat and read my breviary. You are my inheritance, Lord.

Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."


I spend a lot of time looking back: not like Mrs. Lot who turned around to have fond reminiscences of home. I turn around to look back out of fear. Who is following me? Who has managed to evade God long enough to sneak up behind me? The sphere, this lack of trust, shows a weakness on my part that can be exploited. My fear is my downfall. I forget who my inheritance is. I go after the world doing its own thing. I expect from a selfish world more care then I got from God on a moment-to-moment basis. How strange is that? You are my inheritance, Lord.

But someone with children, someone with a career, someone with an active life filled with things to do and places to go has the same experience. That's the whole point of Dominican tertiaries: we are Dominicans in the world. We're not pretend monastics, we're not pseudo-religious, we are Dominicans Where We Are. I am a Dominican whose primary ministry is in writing and customer service. How does my Dominican presents at my job create a Catholic culture? How do I contribute to the building of a Catholic Social and moral order in the world? How does my Dominican charism bring the Gospel’s preaching to everything that I do? This is Ministry this is the living of a Christian Life in the world. You are my inheritance, Lord.

If we had political activists in the Catholic Church who were focused solely on manifesting Catholic social structures imagine the revolution we would have! If we had social activists in the Catholic Church who were intent on creating a Catholic culture, imagine the revolution we would have! You are my inheritance, Lord.

If we had beauticians, bartenders, bus and taxi drivers, baseball players, librarians, grocers and bag boys, comediennes, architects, artists,  teachers, journalists, photographers, drummers, Piper's, soldiers, sailors, everything...  all of whom were committed to their Catholicism first to the building of the Catholic moral and social order first, and these other things second. If they all did their stuff as Catholics rather than finding a way to attach their Catholicism to their stuff, imagine the revolution we would have! You are my inheritance, Lord.


27 June 2019

Only Connect.


JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?

Would anyone go? The ROI is really wrong. Data sets say that one sheep is not part of the majority and irrelevant. Polling shows the other sheep don't like it. It's just a lump of cells. If you wait overnight it'll not be something to carry on your shoulders, it'll just be carrion. Stand here and chat a bit, it'll solve the problem.

We get so hung up on "social justice" that we forget the person. (A collection of Anecdotes is NOT DATA.)

God loves us collectively only because he loves us each individually.

We find ourselves increasingly pressed to get by with what we can get by with. They're just Mexicans, not Americans. They're just flyover states, no one cares. They're just uneducated, toothless Christians. They're just urban hipsters. They're just tech workers. They're just homeless druggies.

None of this is a political manifesto.

Christianity is not a political manifesto.

It's a command to love.

That person. Right There.

Every job I've ever had has brought me into contact with thousands upon thousands of people. What would it have been like if I could love each and every one of them for the moments they were with me? What would have changed?

Love is not directed to abstract lumps of cells mobbing endlessly around the globe. Love is between me and the next person I see.

What does that change?

The heart of God is beating in them. In me.

What does that change?

Science is not the answer. Love is.

26 June 2019

Now, Daddy! Now!

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 12th Week Tempus Per Annum:
Thus, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, his wife Sarai took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his concubine.


First, Abram didn't quite follow God's instructions to leave his family. He brought along his nephew, you know, just in case. Now Sarai notices that she hasn't yet had a child so she gives Abram her slave. This foundation story in the Old Testament is filled with people making up for what they feel God is lacking. God has to pick up the pieces and fulfill his part of the Covenant even when his human friends decide they want to do it their own way.

This is the same thing that Adam and Eve did: instead of waiting for wisdom to grow in them and with them, they took it. Eating the fruit on our own terms is never the right answer - but we all do it. When Adam and Eve did it they got kicked out of the garden. But God was really desperate to get this Abram dude to father Israel and to bless the world. So every time Abram makes mistakes God - not very politely - steps in and slaps him on the wrist. Then God picks up the pieces. Some of the best stories in the Old Testament come from the shattered pieces that God has to pick up.

Today's shattered pieces involve this Egyptian slave, Hagar, and her child. God has to pick them up. They are left alone in the desert. It's one of the funniest things in this passage: Sarai first says, “Here take my slave.” And then like a housewife in a 1950 sitcom, she changes her mind and says, “You did this to me.” “Women!” Says Abram, looking at the camera. “Am I right?” Then he shrugs his shoulders and does what his wife wants. So God has to go into the desert and find this woman and her child and rescue them.

I bet you're looking forward to next week when the shattered pieces will involve Lot, Mrs. Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah. I know I am.

Anyway, the entire story of Abram seems to be about someone who should be trusting God and yet fails to do so at every turn. Everything God promises God does. But Abram, rather like Varuca Salt, wants it now, Daddy, NOW! And so Abram’s story is not just about God's Divine Providence, it's also about God's Divine Providence responding to our continual f****** up, pardon my asterisks.

God's Providence happens anyway. For we still continue on like Abram.

No matter what we do, no matter which choices we make, God's Providence will always happen. We can imagine that we have a vocation to the ministry and find ourselves 55 years later blessed beyond compare even though we're not ordained. We can imagine that we should be doing great things at every turn and failing and find ourselves blessed beyond compare, even so. Because even when we're not faithful, God is always faithful.

This is the message of the entire Bible - which humanity has yet to learn. God is working his purposes out. We can help him or we can try to hinder him. We can do either of our most common tricks: “Yes I will help,” we say. But we do not. Or “No, I will not help” we say. But we try to anyway, under our own energy - instead of God’s. But even then God's Divine Providence will bless us beyond compare.

Jesus says, "Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Most of us, it must be said, will fail in either the listening to these words or in the doing of them. Still, God is faithful nonetheless. God is faithful to his word. He cannot not act on it because his speaking is his doing. God's word, Jesus, is a doing. The word of God, Jesus, says “light” and light is. God's word is action. God's action is reality. When God speaks his faithfulness performs the speaking. Even when we are not faithful God is.

This is not the Prosperity Gospel.

God's promises are hardly ever for mere material blessing. St Paul says God's purpose is to will the reconciliation of everyone. And so everything must be seen as working towards that end. If that requires poverty or death, war, earthquakes, famine, whatever... they will come to be.

Our faithfulness requires that we trust God even then. As we will be blessed beyond compare.

24 June 2019

Act of Resignation


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 12th week of Ordinary Time (C1)
Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them if they stayed together; their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. There were quarrels between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and those of Lot's.

We plan... contrary to God's command... and crap happens. See: if Abram had no heir, then his Nephew would inherit. So Lot is on the journey to watch after Uncle's stuff. God has told Abram he will be a great nation but Abram's just covering his bases, making sure the lot falls to him in a favorable way, you'll pardon the pun. Then Lot gets quite wealthy and begins to squabble with his uncle. They part ways, when we next see him in the story he's been captured. And, after that, comes the Sodom Story. Lot is not going to do well for tripping up God's plans.

Those who fail to plan plan to fail. Or so we're told, but God has other plans for us than the ones that we can make. Our human Free Will serves only one purpose: we can choose to follow God or not. Every question, every choice, every decision, every random act falls under this rubric. We can choose to follow God or not. We are entirely free. God will do what God wants to do anyway. Not to you, not against you. If you choose not to go along, if you choose not to do the mission he has for you, if you decide not to say the word he has you set up to say, he'll get somebody else. He is God, after all. But what will you miss if you fail to dance to the tune that God has set out for you?

We will never know. That has become a good that God had planned for the world that will not come into the world because you refused to give it birth. You aborted it. God can freely do what God will do but you can freely refuse to cooperate. There is only one choice: we can choose to follow God or not. I used the word aborted on purpose. God can bring new life into the world and we can refuse to cooperate with him. Who knows what great musicians, what wonderful doctors, what magnificent scientists, what world statespersons we're sacrificing on the altar of our choice? We will never know. But we can do so.

Likewise, when God has a plan laid out, steps to call, a fiddle to play and we decide not to dance; what do we miss? We come along for the ride but when we get wealthy, we go our own way.

I have been thinking lately of two prayers. This one is from St Ignatius:
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. 
And this one is called the Act of Resignation:
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.
These prayers have been in my thoughts because I sensed I might have cancer. I had a lump or two that I could not explain, and there was also a spot. I say these prayers every day, but they were words. Suddenly they had meaning. I kept looking at these prayers wondering if I could pray them any more and mean them. Only vaguely, was I able to pray them. Only vaguely. I haven't quite decided yet if I need to make confession about that.

It dawned on me as I struggled with them, that these prayers speak of nearly every aspect of our lives: not just death. So many times we think we know what we need and we demand it of God. When we don't get what we think we need we tell God we will go our own way and we'll get it ourself. That can be a new job, a new apartment, a new spouse, a new set of shoes, a new diet, a new political party, a different Parish, a better Pastor, a better boss, we go looking for anything that we want instead of struggling with what we have. This is, in a way, libertarianism done up in a personal lifestyle. I've come to realize that anyone who uses libertarian memes or thought processes, for any economics, politics, or personal choice is a functional atheist.

We think of libertarianism as being something along the lines of smaller government means fewer laws and so I can do what I want, and most people, left to do what they want, will do what is right. We're Christians, people. We know that's a lie. Most people, left to do what they want, will not do what is right. They will do what is good for them. Reagan's trickle-down economics voodoo economics as it was called or any supply-side dream is exactly that: a dream. We think of Taxation is theft because I should not have to give up my wealth. But it's not yours its Gods. Libertarianism is functional atheism. We're saying God step aside we know what to do here.

But this is not just an economic choice. This is any cultural choice. Libertarianism is what gives us our free divorce laws. Libertarianism is what gives us our business structures. Libertarianism is what gives us our bizarre approach to politics, regardless of which political party we say we belong to. We say we live in a country where anyone can grow up to have a political office. We’ve proven that several times in the last 60 years. I don't want to live in a country where anyone can hold political office. I want to live in a country where only qualified people get elected. People with good schooling, people with good education all the way through their life. People who understand other cultures and want to work for peace. Not anyone.

On the other hand, we rob our people of good education and of culture by the same libertarian shenanigans. The market will not tolerate it, we say. Let the market decide who can afford things. I’d rather a nation where car wash attendants know Shakespear and Sun Tzu, than a nation where people without knowledge of Shakespear and Sun Tzu are allowed to run the country because they are rich. This same choice applies all the way down the line. Any time we say “the market” and we speak of “religious choice” or “educational systems”, any time we appeal to finances to verify ethics, anytime we make a cryptic appeal to a “hidden hand” we are closing the door to structured, ethical choices and opening the door to their opposite. We are pretending God doesn’t get involved (which is the same as “doesn’t exist”) and we’re saying that God doesn’t use human hands and institutions (ie Gov’t) to regulate human evil.

So what about my cancer? Well, I didn't want to go to the doctor for quite some time. I was terrified of what I might hear. I was terrified of what would happen the day I went in and the doctor said yes this is cancer. Who would I tell take care of my cat? To whom would I give my stuff? I don't have answers for these and every time I tried to talk about it I would get shut down. I finally realized I had to trust God. Among the tools God has given me are medical professionals. So I finally realized I had to say those two prayers and then go talk to my doctor. So I said them vaguely. I took a deep breath. And I went to the doctor.

In the end, Lot loses everything. And Abram takes him under his wing. God has things for Abram to do, but God wants us to follow our cultural dictates and take care of our family too. Abram disobeyed God, but God still used him.

We have only one choice: to follow God or not. Submitting to God's will is the right choice. But it's never the only choice. We can find ourselves moving right along after Decades of having made our own choices. We can come back. The choice is either rules or no rules. Because if God Is Right the other things to one degree or another, to a greater degree or less, are off the mark. They might begin pretty close together, but drawn into eternity, eventually, those lines will diverge greatly.

When the Doctor told me I hadn’t cancer but rather some genetic issue called a “lipoma”, I was greatly relieved. When the Doctor told me that the spot was nothing to worry about and, by the way, for someone with such pale skin, you seem to be impervious to sun issues, I pretty much danced out of the office. These prayers are no longer just words. When God finally, really calls me from my family and friends to a new land flowing with milk and honey, will I be ready to go?



23 June 2019

Coming to a Dimble

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Saturday, yesterday, was the Feast of St Thomas More and St John Fisher, both Martyrs. Today is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Saturday at Matins we heard a letter of St Thomas, written before his martyrdom at the hands of Henry VIII and at Vespers we sang the hymn Adoro te devote, composed in crisp Latin verse by St Thomas Aquinas in honor of the Blessed Sacrament: in fact the entire office of Corpus Christi was composed by this second and earlier Thomas. There is a mystery here for him with eyes and heart to see.

The body of Christ was given for the church by Christ himself, offered on the cross and laid in the tomb. When he rose from the dead he gave us his flesh and his blood, saying that he would be with us always, even unto the end of time. We have still with us the body and blood of Christ in our tabernacles and on our altars daily to be adored and consumed. But this meal is a gift which consumes us. We are what we eat. We become the body of Christ. The Eucharist constitutes the church. She becomes what she consumes and the martyrs are the proof of this. As they die they, too, become Christ.

See this description from the Martyrdom of Polycarp:
When Polycarp had pronounced this amen, and so finished his prayer, those who were appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed forth in great fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and have been preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. 
As bread that is baked, in martyrdom we become wheat that is ground and crushed. Made to be flour we are kneeded, leavened, and brought into the body of Christ, the communion bread, the church.

And so, the martyrdom of St Thomas More: it, too, is a type of, a shadow of, and an echo of the Eucharist, joined to the Passion of Christ.
Either God shall keep King Henry in that gracious frame of mind to continue to do me no harm, or else, if it be his pleasure that for my other sins I suffer in this case as I shall not deserve, then God's grace shall give me the strength to bear it patiently, and perhaps even gladly.
  By the merits of Christ’s bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.
St Thomas quite literally went to his death fighting with the state over the definition of marriage: he insisted that the King could not be divorced and married again contrary to the laws of the faith and that therefore the King was not married, but living in an adulterous relationship. Saint Polycarp, too, went to his death fighting with the state. Both the government of Rome and the government of England claimed that they had the right to make religious decisions for their people. Rome held this state power to be so strong that they considered Christians to be atheists since we denied their conception of the divinity!

England decided that the Crown was the head of the Church instead of Peter, that is the Pope, whom Christ designated as head of the Church. To deny the English crown this position of authority was to become a traitor to the crown. Although Catholics insisted that they were faithful to the monarch and that they where ever the crown’s servants. They could not allow the monarch to claim this religious title. Henry and his followers and his heirs would hound the Faithful to their deaths, grinding them up between the millstones of prisons and the rack, of hurdles and hangings, until the bread of the Church’s Eucharist was as red as Christ’s very blood - and just as glorious and dear.

In C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength one of the characters, Dr Dimble, explains to his wife how things are always getting tighter and tighter...
“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble, “that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?” His wife waited as those wait who know by long experience the mental processes of the person who is talking to them.
“I mean this,” said Dimble in answer to the question she had not asked.
“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family—anything you like—at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.
Like in the poem about Heaven and Hell eating into merry Middle Earth from opposite sides . . . how does it go? Something about ‘eat every day’ . . . ‘till all is somethinged away.’ It can’t be eaten; that wouldn’t scan. My memory has failed dreadfully these last few years. Do you know the bit, Margery?”
“What you were saying reminded me more of the bit in the Bible about the winnowing fan. Separating the wheat and the chaff. Or like Browning’s line: ‘Life’s business being just the terrible choice.’”
“Exactly! Perhaps the whole time-process means just that and nothing else. But it’s not only in questions of moral choice. Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time. Evolution means species getting less and less like one another. Minds get more and more spiritual, matter more and more material. Even in literature, poetry and prose draw further and further apart.”
St Thomas More was brought to such a point, to a Dimble Horizon, if you will. Even the clergy of the Church were apostatizing around him just to keep their political positions in the English Court. Polycarp as well came to such a choice. The choice finally comes for each of the Martyrs and, I fear, it is coming for us as well: do I do what they want or do I become Christ’s body and blood here and now.

We are each the priest ordained at that moment by our choice. We take up the bread of our body and we either Transubstantiate it into Christ’s living presence on the altar of Truth or else we toss it away in exchange for stale saltines and weak tea. 

Gazing in awe upon our Eucharistic Lord into whom we are changed, even crossing the Dimble Horizon, let us proclaim the death of the Lord in our own lives. May we say, firmly, with St Thomas More, 
Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.
And may we say with St Thomas Aquinas, Nil nisi te, Domine. Nothing but you, Lord. 

19 June 2019

Go Ask Og and Sihon.

JMJ
There is, from time to time, a sense of God's love, perhaps even one that we can feel. At other times this feeling is gone and we may have a head- or even a heart-knowledge that the Love is still there, albeit sans feeling. Still, again, there may be times when we've done something or when we refused to live up to our best image of ourselves, or perhaps when we are aware that something has gone wrong with our moral compass. We find ourselves in a place further away from Eden than our normal haunts. 

Then we may feel like some real person facing our reality show President. You're fired, we wait to hear. Except when God says it, it's forever. And we are certain we deserve it.

Jesus says we are to Be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect. The example he gives is that it rains on the just and the unjust, although we know it rains more on the Just - for the unjust has stolen the just's umbrella. Yet it rains on all. There is food provided for all (even if we refuse to share it). There's space for all. No one wants to live there, but if the dense population of the island of Manhattan was enlarged to cover the entire states of Texas and Oklahoma, the population of the whole world would live there in no less comfort than in New York City. The whole planet could be left to the dogs - but no one wants to live in Texas - not even the Texans. That's why there's air conditioning: so they can pretend they live in San Francisco.

Be perfect. Be whole - as God is whole. God is not divided, God has only one action: love. It's not a reaction: there is no other possible motion from the Prime Mover than Love. But unbounded, eternal his merciful Love, will feel like pure torture to a masochist.

Psalm 135 (136 in the Hebrew numbering) is a testament to God's mercy. Every line is "because his mercy endures for ever". "Ki l'olam khasdo" or in Latin, quoniam in aeternum misericordia ejus.

But it might not sound like merciful love to us... for God drowns Pharaoh in the sea (because his mercy is everlasting) and slays kings (because his mercy is everlasting) and there's a couple named as dead, Og and Sihon (because God's mercy is everlasting). Yet everything God does is love: not for one people, not for one nation, not for one Church, but with the purpose of bringing the whole world to himself.

We can all come: it will all be through Jesus, through Israel, through our first parents for there is no other way. One is either dancing inward in the great spiral dance to Godwards or else one is dancing away. As God's only action can only ever be love, so our every reaction will either be lovewards or away from love. This is not only our steps to the music but our actions with the other dancers. We are either in love with all, or we are not. We must be head over heels in love (as is God) or we are failing to love.

We can feel it so strong that we have to weep and fall into sin just to protect our sense of reality, to hide from God in the garden. We must learn this love, must learn to live and move and have our being in this love. God will not be waving tiny, angry fingers at us on Judgment day. But if we have not learned how to love - learned from Love himself... will we be able to tell the difference? 

Be perfect as your Father is perfect.

Be love as your Father is love.

Love is all there is.






17 June 2019

Pimento Cheese!


JMJ

Pimento Cheese is a Southern thing, or so I thought. The Fanny Farmer Cookbook from 1952 is filled with interesting recipes like this from the "Boston Cooking School". Folks in the Fifties seem to worry about flavor though: a finely minced half clove of garlic is a common addition. Mayonnaise is a good addition to everything. So maybe this is just a 50s thing that is still done in the South. Anyway... I can't walk into Safeway and get this off the shelves like I can at Ingles or Publix. Even there it seems to be somewhat "house made". Basically this a "cheese salad" in the way you can add mayo to anything and get a "salad". In this case, it's a salad spread: it's amazing on saltines.

Some recipes call for cream cheese as well as cheddar. Some call for white and yellow cheddar. I don't quite understand these options, but they are out there. To start, I didn't have any sharp cheese. You need sharp for this: it's gotta stand up to everything else. I had mild cheddar, so I made do and I upped the cheesy umami by adding nutritional yeast. Good olives are important. Yes I know it says "pimento cheese" but everyone and their granny has their own recipe for this. This is mine.

You need a food processor for this. Mine is kinda tiny so I made it in two half-batches.  You can tinker with the ratios, and again, this is mine... you may like it cheesier or spicier. You can make it wetter by adding more mayo.

Fixins
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese cubed into 1/2" dice.
    Let this sit out about 2-4 hours (covered) to come to room temperature and get nice and soft.
  • 12 ounces pimento-stuffed green olives.
    NB: 12 ounces is the weight after draining off the brine.
    Reserve the brine.
  • 1/4-1/3 Cup Duke's Mayonnaise
    NB: This DOES NOT CALL FOR MIRACLE WHIP but you may use another brand of mayo if you must.
  • Sriracha to taste - I used about a tablespoon. Your mileage may vary.
  • Salt to taste
Fixin
  1. Place the drained olives in a food processor.
  2. Place the cheese in there. 
  3. Put the lid on and pulse until the olives and the cheese are shredded up nice but you want some texture. We're not going for smooth and creamy here.
  4. Place everything in a mixing bowl along with the mayo and sriracha.
  5. Blend with a spoon until everything is covered in the dressing.
  6. Taste and add salt as needed. At this point, I didn't think it was tangy enough (because I had no sharp cheese) so I add about 2 tbls of the olive brine and stirred it in.
  7. Place in a covered bowl and refrigerate for a couple of hours at least.
  8. This will be much better tomorrow.
Spread it on crackers.
Put in on burgers.
Make quesadillas with it.
Grilled Cheese sandwiches are very good with this.

16 June 2019

Arthur Dent and Titus Pullo


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 11th week of Ordinary Time (C1)
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil...
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

This thing about walking a mile is regarding Roman soldiers. The Roman soldiers were occupying Israel, and in the eyes of all, these greedy, violent, rowdy, armed Gentiles are a chaotic evil force present in God's holy land. A Roman soldier could, at any time, demand that you help him and force you to walk with him for a mile doing X, Y, and Z. Jesus says do it and then go two miles with him instead. Imagine that this must have sounded like. This man who talks to tax collectors is telling you to do this oppressive thing that the occupying Army can order for you to do. More than that he's telling you to go twice as far. To comply with injustice and then to give more.

Who is evil?  It's not about who "does" evil, either - regardless of what the NABRE says.
The Greek here actually says, "Do not resist the Evil One.
The Latin (non resistere malo) "Do not resist evil".

St John Chrysostom says this is an important difference:
Having therefore mentioned the ancient law, and recognized it all, He signifies again, that it is not our brother who hath done these deeds, but the evil one. For this cause he hath also subjoined, “But I say unto you, that ye resist not the evil one.” He did not say, “resist not your brother,” but “the evil one,” signifying that on his motion men dare so to act; and in this way relaxing and secretly removing most of our anger against the aggressor, by transferring the blame to another.
 When someone does something against us in the world, it is not them - as an actor - who is evil; rather the evil is something they are being tempted to do. The one tempting them to act in such a way is the Evil One.  It is against him that we have a fight.

When it comes to our brother or sister who is doing harm to us, however, the struggle is not against them but to liberate them from the clutches of Satan. They are trapped and we must free them. This is why Jesus tells us not to hit them back, but rather to let them hit us again; not only to let them steal our coat but also give them everything else we have; not to let them force us to do something we don't want but also to do things that they don't know they want yet out of the kindness of our heart. St John says to act in this way will let them see we love them. If they see that we love them we may have a chance to free them from the evil one who has his claws in them.

When you think about it nobody has a reason to attack Christians. In fact, the only person with a reason to attack Christians is Satan. That he gets other people to do it on his behalf and gets them to take the blame is a score for him. That he gets other people to do it on his behalf and gets us Christians to blame the other folks is a double score on his behalf for he gets them to sin and gets us to sin as well. Further, he has ruined our witness. Because let's be honest, if we're reacting against their hate we are judging them. And everybody knows that Jesus said judge not lest ye be judged. Reacting in violence - even legal violence - to violence is judgment.

When someone is sitting in the clutches of Satan and a Christian does something that pushes that person farther into those clutches... we have failed.  What Jesus gives us here is a way to subversively do what they want us to do and yet show them Jesus.

If any time someone asked us to do something we said okay and then we did it out of love for them and for Jesus, the world would be a very different place. Imagine no lawsuits about wedding cakes. Imagine no torturous spitting matches in front of abortion clinics. Imagine no Twitter wars. Imagine peaceful loving service leading to salvation.

Look, I understand that we have a legal right to do these things! But just because the law says it's okay does not mean it is salvific for us or for others. Jesus gives us these tools: let them hit you again. Do what they order you to do. Pray for them. Love them. Nowhere in this list does he save file a lawsuit against them. Nowhere in this list as does he say take them to court or take them to jail. Nowhere are we invited to fight them back.

We need to watch ourselves: we may be the last chance to be rescued from Satan these folks have.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams posits that it's possible to fly if you fall down and while you're falling you forget to finish the fall.
There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. ... Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.
So, as you're falling if you suddenly look to the side and say oh look some luggage you might miss the Earth and then begin to fly. That's what Jesus is telling us to do here. Distract someone so they don't do evil. Don't let them finish their fall. Give them love back instead and they may fly.

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.