I wish we’d all been ready.

The Readings for the 1st Sunday of Advent

Induamini Dominum Jesum Christum, et carnis curam ne feceritis in desideriis.
Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.

JMJ

In case you’ve missed it, I’ve been on a diet. After trying several different sorts of diets, including caloric restriction and exercise, I remembered that in the 1990s I was able to lose weight on the then-called Atkins diet. Nowadays we call this Keto. Sometime in mid-August, I weighed 300lbs and now I weigh 40 pounds less. The other diets did not work for me but ketosis does. Everyone has a different metabolism and so different diets work for different people. This seems to be mine. It’s also quite tasty. It makes me happy.

However, after I’d lost 35lbs or so the last 5 pounds stayed. I couldn’t get below 260. I tried and tried. And I finally reached the assumption that I’d have to begin actually exercising (beyond the 5 miles or so a day I walk). I mentioned my frustration to a friend of mine over lunch one day. We were eating smoked ham and onions. He said that when he had plateaued in the past he would take himself out eat carbohydrates. Once he remembers eating 10 Donuts. This always reset his ketosis and sent him into a new decrease in weight. Yes, he said, you gained weight when you started eating carbs but over the week your net loss would make up for it.

He was right. I had spumoni ice cream (a particular vice of mine at this season) and three biscuit sandwiches. And the next time I weighed myself I was finally at 259… dieting is very odd.

Paul says, “Put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” In a way, ketosis is all about the desires of the flesh. It’s basically meat and leaves, and all the dairy fat you can find. My morning coffee has coconut oil, cocoa, and butter… it’s so good. Anyway, it’s all the unctuous foods, all the umami, all the salt, and the weight literally melts away. Until you need a day off. Fry up some pancakes, make some tuna melts, have some french fries, and sweet tea! Then start over. Everything is tasty. The spiritual life, though, has no such provision.

Please don’t think I’m implying that a diet is opposed to our salvation. “The Kingdom of Heaven is not food and drink.” Rather, we don’t get a break from our spiritual diet. We can’t decide: Today, I shall take a break from virtue. We cannot reset our barometer of sin. Nor can we decide that while we’re on vacation we can take a break from our struggle for purity. I mention these things because I have done them in the past. I also know they’re quite common. People on vacation behave rather differently than they do at home.

More importantly, we cannot decide that one or another virtue is not important. To successfully entered ketosis you have to avoid almost all carbohydrates. They should make up about 5% of your daily caloric intake. You cannot say I will avoid rice, potatoes, and bread. But, as they are fried, I shall eat a dozen donuts for my daily breakfast. Likewise, we cannot pick one or two doctrines from the church and avoid them. Sexual sin is sexual sin. The entire Creed must be believed. All of the sacraments are miracles on a daily basis. The entire catechism is magisterial. We cannot just pick and choose.

A la carte Catholicism is a provision for the flesh. St Augustine rather famously found himself praying, “Lord make me chaste but not yet.” Jesus says, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Make no provision for the flesh because in doing so, it might be too late.

In Romans, St Paul warns us against a whole list of fleshly provisions. The Douay translation uses the quaint word, “chambering” which is a verb describing things done in the bedchamber. The NABRE, however, had us say in Mass today, that we should avoid, “orgies and drunkenness, …promiscuity and lust, …rivalry and jealousy.” Note: Paul makes rivalry and jealousy equal to orgies and promiscuity; that is equally bad. While it would be fun to blog about sex (again) I think it’s important today to focus on the latter parts. We make a lot of provisions for the flesh in the area of rivalry and jealousy.

The Latin gets closer to the Greek, here. Non in contentione, et aemulatione… μὴ ἔριδι καὶ ζήλῳ me eridi kai zelo. Eridi means a contentious spirit, spoiling for a fight and zelo implies zealousness and jealousy, think of it as taking sides. So, basically, St Paul is telling us not to be trolls and not to get all hot under the collar in comment boxes. He’s destroying the internet here – and calling it a provision for the flesh.

But I’ll go further. Lumen Gentium, the Vatican 2 document on the Church, says “The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God.” Speaking of the Pope and the Bishops… we have a lot of rivalry and jealousy. I don’t think it’s spared by the Pope, though, nor the bishops.

Cardinals Sarah and Burke often get held up as default rivals to Pope Francis and, at times, even Pope Emeritus Benedict is held up as “the real Pope.” Each of these holy men swears obedience to Francis, however. The rivalry is imposed from the outside: The Marshal Vortex, as I’ve described it in the past, of Americans with political axes to grind who hold up rival flags and call the faithful to rally around them. They claim that the Pope cannot speak about certain topics and he should “stick to religion”, but Lumen Gentium says, “Even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion.”

Against these provisions for the flesh the same document teaches the universal call to holiness:

[A]ll Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world.

Lumen Gentium 41

Mindful that nothing is secular except sin (Robert Hugh Benson) we are called as Catholics, following the teachings of the Church in all areas, to follow our shepherds and to manifest God’s love – which will change everything in the world.

The problem is, we’re bad at doing so, causing scandal and ill-repute to fall not only on ourselves but on the Gospel itself. Enough cheat days! It gets later and later, and the Thief is nearly at hand.

Are you awake? Are you ready?

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Kerygmy way or the highway

Colorado, Hwy 50 (Photo by Author)

JMJ

At the beginning of this series of posts, I mention that many of the religions in the world overlap in a way that CS Lewis calls the Tao. In recent posts I tried to show what we all have a sense of this Tao, even if we don’t believe in God. I’ve also tried to show, by an extreme example, that no one actually means “there is no truth” even when they say it. My example was that (almost) everyone believes fascism is wrong. This means there is a universal truth, at least in the negative. And, by way of the positive, everyone claims to believe, “just be nice” even if there is no one to agree what “nice” is. This appeal to some sense of universal truth means something.

If there is no universal order, no sense of right and wrong then fascism is no better or worse than democracy. There is no reason to insist on saving lives, no reason at all to imagine that President Trump and President Obama are anything other than equally valid options on a spectrum between nothing and nowhere. There is no reason to imagine anything other than personal taste decides things from moment to moment. And so what if “a majority voted on this”? I say it’s codswallop and I will shoot the first person who dares ay me nay. That’s the meaning of “there is no right or wrong” and “there is no universal truth”. If the Tao does not exist then even the words on this page are meaningless.

But no one believes that: for most folks, in many situations, actually like to believe they are making “right” choices. While there’s a whole culture of people who imagine that even being told they are using the wrong grammar is oppressive, they still believe fascism is wrong, too. In fact, they wear pink hats and riot in churches to prove their point.

The next step is a bit harder. Dare you explore the Tao to see what all is there? This is truly the tough part. All these overlapping religions agree – each in their own terms, mind you – with what Christians call the Ten Commandments, the Seven Virtues, and the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, for most of human history, nearly everyone agreed on these points regardless of the religion or culture.

While each religious and philosophical system has its own theology or polytheology, all teach we are to honor the divine: even the so-called “nontheistic” paths. All religions have special days. All have taboo names, words, and foods. All teach honor for parents, fidelity to spouses, and a surprisingly-uniform sexual morality around the world. Almost all forbid murder but allow some prosecution of the necessary evil of war. All of them recognize the evil of consumption (covetousness) and greed.

Some points were not commonly held: abortion, for example, was ok in some religions: roman paganism let a father order the destruction of his child even after birth and the child would be left on a hillside to die in the chill. The same pater familias could order elderly out of his house and leave them on the same hillside. Marriage was nearly always a financial and religious issue. The idea of “romantic love” is a relatively recent invention. Romance has never played into any conception of social responsibility until the modern era. Same-sex activity was most often confined to either a recreational aside (assuming you had done your cultural duty of making babies) or else used as a military tool – a way to show your enemies who was boss. Human sacrifice and cannibalism were accepted in some cultures but forbidden in others. Magic formed the body of sexual ethics in some cultures, sometimes only among a certain class. Judaism and Christianity and later Islam would disagree with this strongly.

All religions agree on the moral goodness of charity – although they differ on how to work this out. Hospitality (to even the stranger and outsider) was a sacred obligation in almost every culture.

Modern and Post-modern humanity stands athwart nearly all of our ancestors in tossing this tradition aside: not piecemeal but in toto. We reject all conception of a religious tradition. Most, even those who claim to be religious including this author, tackle all of this on a point by point basis, opting to go a la carte along the moral spectrum. Where our ancestors would have seen total chaos we see freedom.

This is our culture, our mindset. We may not be entirely nihilistic but we are nearly always a la cart. Even the staunchly non-religious find they have not rejected religion whole-cloth, for they too like charity and “peace on earth” even when there’s no scientific reason for it.

The argument of this series may fail if the reader does not allow herself to see how point (A) that fascism is universally wrong implies a total pattern leading to point (B). Therefore, other things may be universally wrong as well. And, furthermore, (C) that somethings may be universally right. For us, the possibility of acknowledging a universal is new, unheard of. We happily accept illogic, weak arguments, and emotional appeals to fallacy. We generally like to consider each point: A is true, yet I do not like B, but C could be useful in the future.

So there are a couple of choices to make before proceeding.

I will acknowledge two things upfront: first, my own religion of Christianity says that following that “Tao” is not enough for happiness. There are some religions and philosophies that say the Tao is enough. I will also acknowledge that for some readers, no offer of “something else” will be enough to give up their current choices.

The first choice to make is over the right understanding of freedom. Is freedom properly understood as “I can do anything I want at any time I want”?

The American founders taught us that we had the right to “pursue happiness”. In fact, they say we have this right from God and it’s the duty of the state to protect that right. They are in agreement with ancient traditions here. All of the ancient cultures teach the purpose of such universal goods was “happiness” by which they did not mean a feeling but rather a mode of life. We tend to think of happiness as a feeling that comes and goes: we may even uproot our lives to move across a continent to “find ourselves”. We drop out of relationships when they become confining. We quit jobs when they are difficult. This process of continual change has not made us happy, it’s just made of wary of stability, fearful of boredom, and amazingly shallow as a people and wilfully childish as persons. We think to have the freedom of choosing from 18 different colors of Converse in the morning (or the latest iPhone) should make us happy. Most of our ancestors were amazingly happy without shoes (or iPhones). For the ancients, this a la cart culture would be chaos: not leading to happiness or human flourishing.

The Greek word that usually gets translated as “happiness” is eudaimonia, and like most translations from ancient languages, this can be misleading. The main trouble is that happiness (especially in modern America) is often conceived of as a subjective state of mind, as when one says one is happy when one is enjoying a cool beer on a hot day, or is out “having fun” with one’s friends. For Aristotle, however, happiness is a final end or goal that encompasses the totality of one’s life. It is not something that can be gained or lost in a few hours, like pleasurable sensations. It is more like the ultimate value of your life as lived up to this moment, measuring how well you have lived up to your full potential as a human being. For this reason, one cannot really make any pronouncements about whether one has lived a happy life until it is over, just as we would not say of a football game that it was a “great game” at halftime (indeed we know of many such games that turn out to be blowouts or duds). For the same reason we cannot say that children are happy, any more than we can say that an acorn is a tree, for the potential for a flourishing human life has not yet been realized. As Aristotle says, “for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1098a18)

Source Retrieved on 11/29/2019

We tend to imagine it’s only “what I want now” rather than “what is my ultimate goal”. The closest things we formulate to serve as an “ultimate goal” are all versions of the old bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys wins. And we have made toys of people, technology, sex lives, religious commitments, political actions, and of our selves. By freeing ourselves from religions we have discovered there are many other things that hinder our disordered understanding of freedom far more than religious structures: laws, political systems, institutional racism, sexism, the impinging of my neighbor. How do I choose between my freedom and yours? What if I desire to have sex with you and you do not share the same desire? At that point, consent begins to hinder my freedom and defend yours. How do we move to a place where I can be happy if I can’t do everything I want when I want?

For us, freedom means “no boundaries”. For the ancients, freedom means “pick your boundaries wisely without hindrance or opposition.” Every positive choice means that you are making a negative choice as well: I want this piece of cake, not that one. I want this job, not that one. I want to dedicate my self to this path, not that one. Traditional wisdom would say that by that act of self-limitation you are creating far more energy and the drive for success: ever try to boil water in a large pot with no lid? Water boils best in a closed pot because the energy is stored up. A river flows fastest when the banks are constrained. A wide river silts up, and can even be made to flow backward by other energies.

So, rather than failing over and over because we are trying to feel good rather than to be happy, our first step would be to realize that every action towards happiness is a limitation. We can reject that idea, but it means we never move: we stay in the large pot ad the water never boils; we stay in a slow river silting over and pushed about by the tides.

The next post will get us to the second choice we need to make before proceeding. But by reading forward, I will assume you’ve elected to be happy rather than to feel happy.

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Hot Takes

JMJ

This is a list of all the near-rants that I could have written, but I didn’t.

  • The Novus Ordo in Latin shows the continuity of V2 with everything else and this is why people don’t like it.
  • Catholic Trad is beautiful. Tradnuts, however, are a Roman Parallel to what we used to call in Orthodoxy “Uber-Frum” and seem a side symptom of Convertitis.
  • Even cradles catch it from hanging out with converts
  • Catholic Convertitis is (like in Orthodoxy) a bad hangover from American Protestantism
  • American Opposition to Pope Francis is Crypto Sede
  • Catholic Twitter is filled with Cryptotrads who don’t self-identify for fear of being looped in with Tradnuts.
  • Saying the Pope should not speak on matters of environment, economics, politics, military, or sexual issues (as if they were not properly issues of Christian teaching and morality) is a species of Manicheanism.
  • The Pope can talk about environmental, economic, political, military, and sexual issues and that makes them de facto and de jure matters of faith and morals. He could, theoretically, speak ex cathedra on any of them in an infallible manner
    • I tweeted this hot take.
  • All Catholics would have to accept them
  • Most Americans wouldn’t, and it would damn us all to hell
  • The Amazon Synod is valid
  • It’s NOT an attack on Celibacy
  • Only anyone who spends too much time listening to talking heads rather than reading theology will disagree
  • Talking heads should be shot for Crypto Sede
  • Orthodox Patriarchs are not the same as the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch is not the Orthodox Pope, and Orthodox Patriarchs play politics better than Catholic Bishops.
  • Liturgy in a tongue no one speaks is not, doesn’t have to be, but often is used as an excuse for Gnosticism.

There will be more of this, but this is the end of my ranting for now.

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God’s Mercy and Yours

JMJ

When a person is brought to enter the Dominican Family, he or she kneels or prostrates before the person who is to receive them – the local or regional superior – as well as before the rest of the community. The superior asks, What do you seek of God and his Church? The response is, God’s mercy and yours. This question and answer is the same for a new friar, a new sister, a new cloistered nun, or a new member of the Third Order. Each of us begs the same thing of God and his Church: God’s mercy and yours.

Mercy is such a vague quality: for it seems something out of the distant past rather than today. We might think of a nurse on a civil war battlefield on a “mission of mercy” bringing comfort to the wounded. We might think of a judge “going easy” on a convicted criminal. We might imagine a prisoner being whipped and begging for mercy, by which is meant “less pain”. What does it mean to ask for any of these things from God and his Church? Do we want to imagine God on a battlefield, or as a judge, or as the foreman of a prison camp? Sadly, all of these images may come up.

The Hebrew word is חֶסֶד chesed. In the Septuagint, it’s rendered as ελeος eleos and in Latin as misericordiae. Mercy. In Hebrew it signifies the compassion God has on his creation and it can mean that sort of brotherly camaraderie that we see among soldiers who have shared a battle or a war together. In the Latin it can mean those things about judges and masters with whips. But it’s the Greek that I want to highlight: the historic language of the Church. So much so that even in the Latin Mass, the Greek word for Mercy gets used: Κύριε ἐλέησον Kyrie eleison Lord have mercy. This very phrase is used hundreds of times in the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and the other services of the Eastern Church. It is eleison that gives the Church her idea of “Mercy”.

This word comes from the Greek root meaning “oil” as in “olive oil”.

In Greek and Roman culture, olive oil was used for lighting, for cooking, for cleansing, for medicine, and for various religious rites. An athlete would anoint his body with oil before engaging in sport. Then, applying more oil, he would scrape off the dirt and sweat. Going home, he would find his food prepared with a higher grade of the same oil, while his house was lit by lamps filled with a lower grade. A doctor might pour oil on his wounds to seal them against infection. A body servant might use the oil in a massage to soothe cramped muscles. His wife might wear a scented oil. His bread may be ground spelt in loaves made with olive oil. Asking for God’s mercy comes with all of these implications.

As Christians we do not only receive Mercy directly from God: we also receive his mercy through our brothers and sisters. So the Dominican asks for “God’s mercy and yours” meaning mercy from the whole of the church. This signifies how we are to be to each other: we are to be exactly like God, fully present in our love and in our compassion to our brothers and sisters. In this, we participate in each other’s salvation as we make present the love of God in our lives in service to others and in humility receiving other’s service ourselves.

Naturally, mercy comes through the sacraments, most obviously the Holy Eucharist and Confession. But mercy, the oil of God’s love, flows to us each (as individuals) through all the sacraments. Baptism and Eucharist to your soul, through Marriage to you and your spouse, through ordination to the ordained – yes. all of this is true. But also through those sacraments, through you personally to the entire Church. The Man and Woman united in marriage are a sacrament of Christ and his Church. The newly baptized and the newly confirmed are named, literally, “Little Christs” and are to serve that way. The ordained man is Another Christ, standing at the altar, in the confessional, or in the pulpit being Christ to the whole Church. These rites order us individually as channels of grace and mercy to the whole body of Christ.

Since Christ is the saviour not of the Church but of the World, we become channels of mercy, the presence of Christ, to every person we meet.

A Christian, properly ordered, is Christ in her place of work, is Christ in the line at the King Super, is Christ picking up his children at preschool, is Christ having her teeth cleaned, is Christ giving a parking citation, is Christ defending his home from destruction by bulldozers and soldiers, is Christ protecting her native land from strip farming. A Christian properly ordered, is Christ feeding the homeless, Christ defending the unborn, Christ voting, Christ holding office, Christ on the subway. A Christian, properly ordered, is God’s mercy, the oil of God’s love soothing the pains of the world.

God’s Mercy and Yours.

We ask a lot. Dare we offer ourselves in return?

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Yes! He! Can!

JMJ

As the Class Clown (1972), George Carlin asks a sarcastic question probably already old at that point, “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so heavy that he, himself, cannot lift it?” It was funny in the right context but some folks actually offer it as a serious question, intending by the illogic to prove the illogic of what they think of as real religion. The usual reply is to point out that the question is, itself, a meaningless contradiction in English therefore it can’t be meaningful in theological conversation. It ranks up there with “Can God make darkness light? Can God make death life?” Oddly we know the answers to those questions to be yes. So…

It came to me that not only can he make this thing, but he has already done so. He has made something he cannot move: the human heart. This came to me this morning reading this passage from the 1952 publication, My Way of Life: A Pocket Edition of St Thomas‘ classic, the Summa Theologica.by Walter Farrell, OP, and Martin J. Heally.

It would be more accurate to say that God contains us rather than that we have God within us, just as the soul more properly is said to contain the body than to exist in the body. A man can be put in prison, or an animal in a pen; but spiritual things like the soul of a man, the angels, or God are not contained by the strongest or most subtle of fences. We are, in a very true sense, wrapped around with God, penetrated by Divinity, held up every instant by divine power that saturates all of reality and exceeds it. God fills the world as summer sunlight floods a room, he is everywhere in the world as the soul is everywhere in the body; where he is not, nothing is.

Though his great power reaches to the least crevice of our lives, though every futile step of our wandering hearts is clear to his fatherly eyes, though every beat of our pulse proclaims his supporting presence, this is still not close enough for God. Has his knowledge and love of us put us in him rather than him in us, so through the gift of his grace, he is the guest of our minds and the lover enclosed by the arms of our love. He will, in his eagerness for the fullness of our happiness, be ours; in us by our act; known, desired and loved, and so given his sole free and hearty welcome in all the physical world that so depends on him.

God can woo and plead. God can command. God can make one option easier than another, but God cannot – will not – force the human heart. If he were to do so it would cease to be what he made it: his own image in mortal form, his own genius of creativity and choice. God has made something that cannot be moved saved by itself. God waits for us to comply with his grace which is freely given – but can be ignored and even refused outright.

This is the rock that is so big he himself cannot move it: and it is so because he made it so. His almighty power condescended to create the very refutation of his omnipotence. God is so all glorious that he conceived of a way to outdo himself.

And so, my dearest friends, you have a choice: not a once in a lifetime choice, but a daily, or better, moment by moment choice. Do you dance to the tune of all of life or do you seek rather to make your own tune?

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Closed on Sunday. You my ???

The Martyr St Eleazar the Scribe

Non enim aetati nostrae dignum est, inquit, fingere : ut multi adolescentium, arbitrantes Eleazarum nonaginta annorum transisse ad vitam alienigenarum.
At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion.

JMJ

The first readings at Mass each day this week are all from the books of 1 & 2 Maccabees. The full story told in those books (and in 3 & 4 Maccabees which are in the Orthodox Bible, but not the Catholic one) is heartbreaking and very painful to read through (we’ll get to that in a minute) however the passages in the daily lectionary are stirring, perhaps even to the point of political action!

The short version of the Maccabee story, highlighted by the Catholic lectionary and also by the popular story of Hanukah, is one of political oppression overthrown by faith. The kings who took over after the death of Alexander the Great divided up his empire and then fought over strategic bits here and there. In 174 BC, King Antiochus IV took the throne of the Seleucid Empire, stretching from Kabul to the Mediterranean. He eventually took the name “Epiphanes” meaning “God Manifest”. He came to the temple in Jerusalem and desecrated it, sacrificing pigs on the altar and ordering all the Jews to adopt the practices of Hellenic culture and idolatry. Some Jews said yes. Some Jews said no. Some fought back and some fought in favor of these new Gentile overlords. The lectionary would have us remember the stirring string of victories and the glorious example of religious martyrs dying rather than cave into Gentile customs. The story of Hanukah, as popularly shared, is one such victory, reclaiming the Temple and reconsecrating it after the Greeks and their pig blood. However, the story of Hanukah downplays the political victory, focusing on a rabbinic story of a miracle that’s not recorded in these texts. We’ll come to the True Story of the 4 Books of Maccabees in a few moments.

Recent news for Chick-Fil-A has not been very good. By all accounts, Popeye’s Fried Chicken has made a chicken sandwich that is better than CFA’s ever thought about being. I’ve not had it because I can’t get to a place selling it before it sells out. But everyone says it’s amazeballs. Even before Popeye’s though a worker leaked CFA’s “secret recipe”. I’ve made this recipe at home and at the monastery in Colorado and I’ve found it in restaurants in several cities. It’s the real thing: I know it because it 100% of the time tastes exactly like the Original. Then there’s the politics: as CFA has tried to go international, they have met with protests over the perceived political stance of the company. what served them well when they were a chain in the South has not been so useful in the North, the West, Canada, or Europe.

Something that has been interesting to me during this entire chicken-political discussion has been watching both left and right activists read Chick-fil-A exactly the same. Both left and right have assumed that Chick-fil-A’s political stance was honest and sincerely held by persons rather than a business proposition or a marketing choice. While the owner of a business has the right to make choices about how the business uses its money, a good businessman makes business decisions with business money. In America, on the left and on the right, we like to imagine that businesses are run by persons and human decisions rather than by businesses and managers. Thus, when a business makes an actual business decision there’s often disillusionment. CFA is no different. Instead of seeing a multinational fast-food chain, many people on the left and on the right wanted to see personal decisions made that they either agreed with or not. Both the left and the right wanted to imagine that CFA was some sort of Christian Business in the real, baptized, confessing sense, as if it sat in a pew on Sundays when it was closed. This despite the fact that like any business, there are P&L spreadsheets, stockholders, expense accounts, and taxes. While a human person may make donations to charity, a business makes tax choices: weighing the tax benefits of a charity with the positive or negative customer sentiment caused by the action. This is why most business owners I know make “progressive” charities their public choice, but quietly vote Republican. Progressive politics play well, but Republicans are pro-business.

Back to the Maccabees. Rabbi Eleazar is considered a saint and a martyr among the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, he is one of many Old Testament figures to hold a place on the Church Calendar. Most of them are prophets, but Eleazar is the only named Martyr. (There are 8 more with a feast but they do not have names: the seven brothers, students of Eleazar, and their mother.) In his homily on Tuesday, my pastor noted that the clear teaching of Eleazar’s story is there is literally no action we can take that does not affect someone else. Eleazar knew his actions would affect the young and so he refrained. Another priest, commenting on the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, noted that every sexual act involved two souls at the minimum with others coming along as needed. Eleazar reminds us that we never fall alone.

If Rabbi Eleazar were around today I think he might decide not to eat at Chick-fil-a. I think that would be the wrong answer because that would say that in the past Chick-fil-A had somehow been a Christian company. It would say that the left has been right all along and that “Christian Businesses” are a threat to them, somehow. It would also say that the only thing they need to do to get us to change is to apply economic pressures. If they apply them hard enough, in fact, we will begin to help them: by adding our economic weight to theirs. And now the left and the right agree again. CFA is neither fish nor fowl. They are not progressive enough yet for the left (who already is asking them to issue certain “statements”) but they are too progressive for many on the right, who are already protesting. Political Ploy is called divide and conquer. But that assumes that the Christian faithful are divided “us” against a business called Chick-fil-A, as if CFA were somehow Christian. That’s the myth that we are all fostering instead of realizing that it was a marketing choice that no longer works. Rabbi Eleazar would be wrong not because CFA is now unkosher, but because it has always been unkosher since a business is not a “Christian business”. CFA has always been making business decisions, not doctrinal ones.

The full story of the books of The Maccabees tell of a brief triumph followed by a series of political defeats. The defeats are caused by each of the Maccabee Brothers believing the political Promises of their enemies. As each successive wave of political failure overtakes the leaders of Israel, Rome gradually gains strength and moves in bit by bit until we are left with the Roman Empire running the show. What begins in 1 Maccabees ends in the Gospels as we watch the last king, Herod, being supplanted by the Roman governor, Pilate. It takes nearly 200 years, but all the Maccabees succeeded in doing was too weakened this part of the Seleucid Empire so that it would fall all the more easily to Rome.

We can easily understand why the readings this week of martyrdom and standing up for the true faith are so important to the Church. But we can lose sight of what the books of Maccabees are really about. What the Maccabees learn over and over is that it would have been safer to put their trust only in God rather than in politics and military might. Christians today would do well to heed this lesson as well. Psalm 146 says, “Put not your trust in princes or in any of the sons of men. For in the day his breath departs and he returns to the earth on that very day his plans perish.”

Eleazar was right: pretense leads to the fall of others. Our trust in politicians, in business leaders, in media superstars is nearly idolatry. The fall of each actually ruins our witness and our ability to be Christians in the world; just as each Maccabean failure resulted in a weaker Israel, leading finally to the Fall of Jerusalem in 73 AD. Each time we elevate a politician (with all of his faults) to super Christian stats, or each time we make a church out of businesses, we make it harder for real Christians and real Churches to do the hard work of the Gospel.

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Every Fire Burns Differently

By Hans Memling, Public Domain, Link

The Readings for the 33rd Sunday, Tempus per Annum (c1)

Et morte afficient ex vobis : et capillus de capite vestro non peribit.
They will put some of you to death…but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.

JMJ

Our readings today are from very apocalyptic texts. They struggle to share with us a vision of the future, and yet they also strive to remind us it is the present that we must always be concerned with.

Let’s start with the epistle to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul with his “If you don’t work you don’t eat.” This can be played politically if you like: poor people can’t eat because they can’t work. That would be contrary to literally everything else in the Bible – and would be projecting onto ancient cultures our capitalist values of exchanging work for money and money for necessities. Paul wasn’t talking about politics or economics. Rather Paul was talking about disorder in the Church community. People thought the world was about to end so they were giving up on their daily responsibilities. Paul was saying, “If you think the world’s about to end then you don’t need to eat do you?” He was directing his people away from some abstract future back to today. We don’t know when the world will end. We are not saved at some mystical, future endpoint. Today is the day of salvation, stop all this prepping for doomsday.

The prophet Malachi shares with us a rather gruesome vision of the last day ending in fire. We are used to this, I think: hellfire is a very common trope stretching from jokes about the stereotypical Street Preacher to the Left Behind books and movies. Yet there is also hope in this passage: for notice that the Day of the Lord is coming like fire but that general fire of terror will, for the righteous, come into focus as the rising of the Sun of Justice. The fire is still real fire it’s just a different sort of fire for the people who are expecting it, indeed living for it. We know this from other places in the church’s teachings where some of the fathers say eternity in hell and eternity at God’s Throne are the same thing. Scriptures say our God is a “consuming fire”. The righteous, however, want to be consumed in that fire. It is the unrighteous who do not wish to be consumed and will be burned. But it is the same fire. We will all be eternally roasting in the warming fires of God’s love. But someone want to be there.

The Gospel ends with a glorious promise from Jesus. As he was facing his own death he prophesied the death of (some of) his followers. Yet, mindful of his own Resurrection he said no part of you will be destroyed. We die yet we live.

Jesus’ communication of the Last Day cannot be comforting to everyone. He does not address this as prophecy to the unconverted but rather to the Believers. He predicts all kinds of violence against the Believers. He predicts hatred and destruction for the Believers. Yet like Malachi, Jesus invites Believers to see this with hope. No matter what they do to you, no matter how hard they persecute you, no matter how painfully they deal with you, no part of you will be destroyed.

This puts the lie to those who imagined something of a Rapture before the end of the world (like the Left Behind books). Those who believe in the Rapture think God is supposed to take the church out of the world before all this trouble begins. But Jesus says the church is going to go through all this trouble and, in real ways, will be the target of all this violence. We will die but we will not be destroyed. I think the words Jesus said about the temple could be said about the church today. No stone will be left on top of another stone when the world is finally done with us. But the church will not be destroyed for the church is not a building it is the people and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church.

The righteous have nothing to fear. This is not doom and gloom for those people of faith who dance with Jesus: but only for those people who do not share the same hope.

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Pray. Rest. And a Fig.

An airplane marshals a vortex. From the Wiki Source

The Readings for the 32nd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Est enim in illa spiritus intelligentiae, sanctus, unicus, multiplex, subtilis, disertus, mobilis, incoinquinatus, certus, suavis, amans bonum, acutus, quem nihil vetat, benefaciens, humanus, benignus, stabilis, certus, securus, omnem habens virtutem, omnia prospiciens. In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing.

JMJ

Wisdom, Sophia, the breath of God, is such a long long list of beautiful things. But at no point is it ever said that she makes you annoyed. The breath of God may convict you of your sin: but at no point does it depress you or lead you to despair. Sophia may prevent you from doing something but all things she does are for your salvation: always moving you closer to God. In fact, St Ignatius of Loyola uses words like “Anxiety” and “Sadness” to describe the other guy.

Then it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. Thus he seeks to prevent the soul from advancing.

St Ignatius Spiritual Exercises

How can we avoid the mad rush to “fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul” and stick with “loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil”?

Jesus warns us in the Gospel today, that “There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.” There will be those who will try to distract us, to lead us astray. He warns us not to run in pursuit of all these distractions. These distractions could lead us in to sin: “even the elect would be deceived”, Jesus says in Matthew. Our path of discernment today must be always towards Jesus. But we have to be careful.

As Catholics, we believe the Church is where Peter is. But, let’s be honest: Peter can be a bit wonky, from French prostitutes to political alliances with the English, from gluttony to simony, from insanity to sodomy, we’ve had a lot of fun with the 266 men who have sat as Vicar of Christ. But yet, the Church is not run by Peter: it’s the Holy Spirit. And as with all sacraments: the grace of the Divine presence is not affected by the sanctity of the minister. Peter can go off his rocker full tilt – he has, many times – and yet that’s where the Church is. So what are we, as Catholics, to do?

When I was a child (I can still remember it…) the Pope never left the Vatican. He showed up on TV nearly never. Pope St Paul VI did not haunt the TV News of my childhood until nearing the end of his life, when the newscasters on TV became The Nightly News and started looking for stories. Even then the actual words of the Pope were not everywhere. Pope St John Paul II was a media superstar but he, also, had a very controlled media presence that didn’t get too far afield.

However, with the election of Benedict XVI, things got out of hand not because he was wonky, mind you. It was this thing you’re looking at. Throughout the papacy of B16, his actions were discussed on the internet, parsed, sorted, diagrammed. When the Pope abdicated, the internet went hog-wild. There were speculations about why it happened and who would follow. There were anxious blog posts and there were Twitter storms. When the White Smoke wafted from the chimney in the Vatican, the scene was captured on far too many smartphones. Sky News called it a “global moment”. I and many of my coworkers were watching at the office, each at our own desk with a tiny window open, live streaming.

And then the madness truly began.

The present Pope has made things that might make a SadTrad and a GladMod. But the present Pope has also said things that would make a GladTrad and a MadMod. In this, he’s no different than any other Pope. Even leaning one way or the other, he’s no different from any other Pope. Track the Popes Pious, 9-12, and you’ll see what a hundred years can do. You know what the difference is? You’re looking at it right now. The difference is this very thing you’re letting eat up your day: the internet.

The internet and the talking heads therein would fill your day with the Things Francis Has Done that I Dislike or Things Francis Has Done that I Like. They present (as I am now) a fully subjective Hot Take and ask you to go along for the ride. The odd thing is, Trad or Mod, very few of them appeal to the Holy Spirit. And so, mindful of the story of Holy Wisdom, and mindful of St Ignatius’ warning, I want to give you my hot take:

The Holy Spirit is in charge! Let that be a peace to you, let that be joy. Let the faith of the Church fill you with happiness and love. I am tired of priests and lay folks who spend more time reading blogs and watching videos than praying and reading Vatican Documents. Peace! Preach the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit lead the faithful. If you let hope die, the other guy wins. Don’t let the fully marshaled vortexes of the Internet rob you of your faith: for they cannot unless you let them. Do not let them harass you with anxiety or afflict you with sadness. Do not let them. Bind them in the name of Jesus and they will go away.

Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. And a fig for those Catholics who dare say otherwise. A fig, I say.

Pray for the Pope. And rest in the Spirit.

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Like Hanukkah in November

The Readings for the 31st Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Parati sumus mori, magis quam patrias Dei leges praevaricari.
We are ready to die rather than to transgress the laws of God, received from our fathers.

JMJ

Here are sons of whom a Mother can be rightfully proud! The Story of the Seven Maccabee Brothers is a wee bit of a misnomer: they are 7 Brothers whose tale is told in the book of 2nd Machabees, as it is called in the Vulgate. Readings from 1st and 2nd Maccabees have also been coming up in the Daily Office. So it’s like Hanukkah coming early in a way. This story is one of particular meaning to me. The Greeks, having set up idols in the Temple are now going around Israel inviting the townspeople to worship idols and eat pork. These seven brothers, along with their mother and their teacher all refuse and are killed. It’s the last in a line of stories about the barbarism the Greeks committed against the Jews. The last line of Chapter 7 is “Enough has been said about the sacrificial meals and the excessive cruelties.”

Pardon a slide into Bible Geekery: these 1st and 2nd Maccabees are in the Catholic Canon, linking the historical period just before Jesus (c. 160 BC) with the Gospels. There are actually 4 books of Maccabees in the Orthodox Bible, but only 2 in the Roman Catholic Bible. The Wiki says that the Moravian Brethren rather liked 3rd Maccabees and 4th Maccabees was printed in some Romanian Catholic Bibles in the 18th Century. There’s an interesting discussion about why these books are not in the Jewish Canon here.

What do these martyrs (indeed, the entire story of the Maccabees) teach us as Christians?

In the first 3 centuries of the Christian Era, the Church endured serious persecution and at the same time, found ways to care for the poor, to house widows and orphans, to take exposed babies off the street and raise them in their own houses. The Church grew despite imprisonment, death threats, laws passed, and murderous rampages. Certain writers said that the church was growing because of the martyrdom. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” said Tertullian. The Church had inherited these books from the Jewish tradition and read them the same way: stirring stories inspiring her children to give up their lives rather than “transgress the laws of God, received from our fathers.”

For the early Church poverty was the norm. For this Church, powerlessness was also the norm. Although there were slaves and patricians all in the same Church communities they were all under a ban from the government. They were strange at least, ostracized often, hunted down sometimes and killed. The Church was not tax-exempt, the Church did not own huge swaths of property or giant buildings, and the Church was not given to splashy quasi-militarisic shows of liturgical triumphalism. This is not the case today, especially in America and Europe: the Church is largely white, middle class, and wealthy. When the Church thinks of people of color at all it tends to be in a rather colonial, paternalistic manner. This is even true of American Catholics for whom, in a real way, the Spanish, Latin American Church is our origin. We reject the poor on a regular basis: we hide from the differently-colored incursions in “our churches” even when those churches are dying. We take refuge in the fact that “this culture was ours at one time” and we think to reclaim it in the future.

For the early Christians the 7 Maccabee brothers were a sign that when the whole world was literally out to kill you still, God is in control. We think we’re being persecuted when we’re asked to yield cultural space to others. We confuse evangelism with expanding “Democracy” and Wal*Marts. We want to be in control and we will fight to keep that power. When so many American Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on economics, sex, and political morality, perhaps today these seven are not a useful sign. Their willing martyrdom seems meaningless to us.

Let us pray for a day when that meaning returns.

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Orate Pro Nobis

All Saints of the Dominican Order (a sample…)

JMJ

 O God, you have been pleased to enrich the Order of Preachers with a countless offspring of saints, and have gloriously crowned in them the heroic merits of every virtue; grant us so to tread in their steps, that as today we honor them with one solemnity on earth, we may at length be united with them at the unending festival in heaven. 

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