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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Da Qin Luminous Religion (The Amazonian Sutras)

JMJ

Evangelizing another culture requires points of contact – not just person to person, but culture-to-culture. How do you reach out to an entirely new culture and share the good news of Jesus? Sure, sure, to the Jews the whole concept of “Messiah” was already there. The entire Hebrew Bible (in all of its linguistic diversity) was a preparation for Messiah. But when Paul got to the Greeks we had to look deeper: Logos – already in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures – came to the fore. What do you do when you get to a culture that doesn’t have the same Biblical antecedents?

Bishop Alopen reached China in the 6th Century. He and his entourage of missionaries brought with them Christian scriptures, icons, vestments. They were welcomed by the Imperial Court and instantly they began looking for points of contact even as they learned the language. The mission (mentioned in the stele posted at the top of this article) lasted until the 10th century. During that time the faith took on a remarkably Asian flavor as the missionaries learned to speak into the Buddhist and Taoist traditions that were there. In China the Church was called Da Qin Luminous Religion – “Da Qin” meaning from the Roman Empire. The teaching of the faith came in a remarkably Chinese flavor linking Jesus and the other paths.

What do you do when you don’t have the entirety of Hebrew culture and the rich, polyglot Jewish scriptures to provide the foundations of your work? Do you need to make people Jewish before you can make them Christian? The Church has answered this question with a profound and loud “no” since the Apostles were first asked this question. Over time, the Church has learned – as St Paul saw (following the Hebrew prophets) – that God has been preparing all peoples in their own experience of his revelation. Christ is not only the fulfillment of the Jewish Prophecies. If he is God in the flesh, the Taoists, the Buddhists, the Celts, the Hopi, the Aztecs, and even the Amazonians must all have points of contact for the Gospel.

They don’t need to be Jewish first. Nor do they need to be European. They don’t need to be urban, educated, or even “civilized ” as we understand it in the sense of colonizing people with our culture. What they need is Jesus.

More importantly: what we can learn, as Christians in the dying First World, is that the Gospel is both a levan in our politics, economics, culture wars, and colonialism – and is entirely liberated from and transcending them.

You can find Jesus without being a white, Anglo-American in suburbia. And the Jesus you meet will look more like you than you expect and more like you than the missionaries expect. And the Jesus you meet will enrich the entire Church in ways she did not expect. For the Holy Spirit was moving in your culture before we got there, preparing you, raising you up, opening your heart.

If only we could hear him as clearly as you do.

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The Amazon in Burning

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

Nemini quidquam debeatis, nisi ut invicem diligatis : qui enim diligit proximum, legem implevit. Dilectio proximi malum non operatur. Plenitudo ergo legis est dilectio.
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

JMJ

Have you heard about the Servant of God, Xu Guangqi? He is one of the Three Pillars of Chinese Catholicism. He was converted to Catholicism by the Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci. The latter, leading the Jesuit mission in China, made some interesting choices in regard to Chinese cultural practices (including the veneration of ancestors). These were first (1645) rejected and then (1656) accepted by the church. In 1939 the Holy See re-assessed the issue and Pope Pius XII issued a decree authorizing Chinese Catholics to observe the ancestral rites and participate in civic ceremonies Confucius-honoring. I’m not familiar with either the writings of Xu Guangqi, Matteo Ricci, or Confucious, but I’m in no position to argue with Pope Pius XII or his Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The wiki sums it up, saying, “Confucianism was also thus recognized as a philosophy and an integral part of Chinese culture rather than as a heathen religion in conflict with Catholicism.”

There’s another writer I know of…

During my neopagan days, from about 1982-1999, I became infatuated with the writings of Aleister Crowley. My teacher said she was convinced that anyone with an adult take on the pagan religion would find themselves in bed with “Uncle Al” as she called him. I was not attracted to his work for the sake of “power” or magic. (He would have called it “Magick”). In all the pagan writers published in the modern world, he is the only one with any philosophical depth, with any sense of real Truth being out there somewhere. His entire philosophy was wrapped around words that show up in St Paul over and over: Love and Law. He added a third word which St Thomas Aquinas will bring into the mix: Will. Aquinas says, “To Love is to Will the good of the other.” Paul says this is the fulfillment of the Law. “Love is the Law, Love under Will,” said Crowley.

I’m not at all convinced that I won’t meet him in heaven. He was so very hung up on Agape. He misunderstood it, often enough, but he just could not let it go, or maybe better – it would not let him go. Truth be told, I was reading one of his more esoteric works when a line about offering all to the divine caused me to turn back to Christ. (“Don’t hold back even a pinch of yourself”, he said. “Or your whole work is wasted.”) And so here I am, meditating on Bible and still able to hear about Crowley. In this month of the Holy Souls, I don’t think it untoward to pray for his repose.

So. The Amazon Synod.

Remember, before we go on: Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love is willing the good of the other. Is there any greater good to will for anyone than their salvation? Not really.

Did you ever hear of Pachamama? You may have missed the entire storm (if you’re lucky), but in short here’s what happened: in the time since Matteo Ricci when to China, it’s become possible to travel the world by airplane and so the missionaries in China, I mean the Amazon Basin, didn’t have to wait on letters and reports posted by sailing ship to get between themselves and the Home Office in Rome. Indeed, it became possible for the entire world to learn what was going on with the mission work in China, I mean the Amazon Basin. Instead of waiting 300 years or so, the Church was able to talk about it now.

Is there anything in their culture, like Confucious or Crowley, that might lead someone – digging deep enough – to come to Catholicism? I don’t know. Some priests did think so: and they brought these things to Rome. Sadly, they did it in front of the Media Circus called the internet.

This did not make the talking heads online happy at all. This really annoyed the Anti-Francis folks. This seriously pissed off the Catholic Right. They let loose on some Racist Rants about the people in the Amazon, about culture, about colonialism, about power in the Church, and – most importantly – about their own sense of the loss of that power. It was sad to watch really.

If you don’t understand the synodal process in the Church you might think that a bunch of bishops saying things in Rome means the teaching of the Church is thus. In reality: those bishops were, essentially, talking in front of the Pope as advisors. The Pope is the Decider Guy here – and what he says won’t come out until (if?) he writes an Exhortation. That document has the weight of the Church’s teaching authority behind it: it’s Magisterial as we say. Nothing else is, however. So we have to wait. We may not have to wait 300 years as the Chinese did, but if there is an “Amazonian Rites” controversy it will – sadly – be colored by race and colonialism. It will be the Church’s desire to protect and elevate her children to salvation pitted against the West’s desire to deforest the Amazon and grow hamburgers and soybeans.

If we do not love them, if we do not will their good, if we confuse our culture of solid housing and urban squalor, indoor plumbing and venereal disease, “free” elections and neoliberal wage slavery with “the good” that we are colonially forcing on them… we will fail as missionaries. Our love will die. And so will they.

We might not know their songs or their culture, but we can still destroy them.

Added Later: Look. The Holy Spirit is in charge here. God is in control. The Church has survived bad popes, silly popes, evil popes, and popes with kids in their house and politicians in their pockets. At one point the entire Church was Monothelite. Jansenists have tried to take it over. Arians have tried. (And the Aryans, too.) Gnostics have tried. Church still here. The Church “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail” is nonplussed by missionaries from the Amazon.

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Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff

JMJ

Avast! Here there be spoilers…

During the last two weeks or so I reread the Chronicles of Narnia. All seven are still as magnificent as they were when I first read them in the Spring of 1980, my Sophmore year in High School. What struck me most during this reading was the way themes weave all the way through the 7 books: of course there is the Christian allegory, but I was reminded that Narnia is flat, that it is a feudal world, that time flows differently. These are all themes that Lewis works with in other texts.

Lewis was fascinated by huge differences in our world view, our cosmology, as compared to the ancients. This fascination comes to a climax in his final and (for me) most profoundly jarring work, The Discarded Image (1964). I describe it as “jarring” because in reading it I realized for the first time that not only are our times and morals different from those of our ancestors but our entire world is different. Lewis, most assuredly not new age in any way, is realizing that our conception of the world makes reality; or at least profoundly affects it for us.

The ancients lived in a radically different cosmology than we do (even different from those of you who are very pious indeed). To our ancestors, even the pagan ones, the world was built for humanity. The place of this realm of existence in the grand scheme of things was central. The three tiers of reality – heavenly, earthly, and below – all interacted. The realms of reality were not all visible. Lewis goes further and points out that the world for these folks was not “flat” but surrounded by spiritual reality welling up and over us.

Through all of Narnia, as well as his brilliant Space Trilogy, you can watch Lewis wrestle with his sense of being trapped in a modern cosmology. Spiritual powers swoop in on earth from all directions – yet it is they that are showing what is straight up and down and we who are crooked. Morality is always the same, yet its teaching is different. The Incarnation is real, yet it manifests in different ways. The issue is not a flat-vrs-round world. The issue is a living vrs dead reality.

For us moderns, Lewis sees that in all our ways, unlike the ancients, we take a wholly secular world and try to work out how religion fits. We push back, we evangelize, we pass laws, ignore things, etc. We make our lives religious and then try to fix the world around us or else move through the world in a religious way. The ancients for millennia lived in a profoundly religious world. Religious practice was an expression of the reality in which they lived rather than a bandage they placed over reality or a badge of honor to be worn.

Lewis’ exploration of the movement of Time struck me hardest during this reading. If you’ve read any of the Narnia books you know that no matter how long someone from this world is in Narnia no time at all passes here. Likewise, if you’re here, you’ve no idea at all how much time is passing in Narnia. The 6th book in the series tells the story of the creation of Narnia and the 7th book tells the story of the Narnian Apocalypse. The entire millennia-long life of that world falls within the human lifespan of two children from book 6, Polly and Digory. Each time the children return to Narnia it is hundreds of years later or only a few moments. Time moves differently in each world Lewis wrote, if it moves at all: in the Wood Between the World, there seems to be no time at all, and in Aslan’s country it seems to move in all directions at once.

In The Last Battle, as the great Dies Irae falls on Narnia, the entire clan of World-Travelling Children, end up in the magical world to watch the climax of the story. The Last King of Narnia, Tirian, together with a retinue of supporting beasts and two children from our world, fights the Last Battle before a thatched stable in the woods. As each of the “good guys” is defeated he is tossed into the stable as an offering to a demon named Tash. However, once inside the stable, it is revealed that there is a whole other world, sunlit and beautiful. Inside are all the Friends of Narnia from this world, waiting to see what will happen.

It is here that time becomes confused for the reader, I think. Each world has its own time. Those inside the stable speak of “long times” passing between events, even though in the battle itself, in the “outside”, things were taking only a couple of hours. We (the readers) are standing within the stable now, in what seems to be Paradise. What is happening in the outside world? We have no idea. When Aslan comes a few moments later to open the stable door and begin the Last Judgement, the world is already deadly silent. There is no mark, outside of the battle that had gone before. How much time has passed? We don’t know. And as the Four Last Things progress, from the resurrection of the dead to the final freezing of Narnia and the closing and locking of the stable door how much time does it take? The narrator says,

This part of the adventure was the only one which seemed rather like a dream at the time and rather hard to remember properly afterwards. Especially, one couldn’t say how long it had taken. Sometimes it seemed to have lasted only a few minutes, but at others it felt as if it might have gone on for years.

Then this happens:

The Dragons and Giant Lizards now had Narnia to themselves. They went to and fro tearing up the trees by the roots and crunching them up as if they were sticks of rhubarb. Minute by minute the forests disappeared. The whole country became bare and you could see all sorts of things about its shape—all the little humps and hollows—which you had never noticed before. The grass died. Soon Tirian found that he was looking at a world of bare rock and earth. You could hardly believe that anything had ever lived there. The monsters themselves grew old and lay down and died. Their flesh shrivelled up and the bones appeared: soon they were only huge skeletons that lay here and there on the dead rock, looking as if they had died thousands of years ago. For a long time everything was still.

At last something white—long, level line of whiteness that gleamed in the light of the standing stars—came moving towards them from the eastern end of the world. A widespread noise broke the silence: first a murmur, then a rumble, then a roar. And now they could see what it was that was coming, and how fast it came. It was a foaming wall of water. The sea was rising. In that treeless world you could see it very well. You could see all the rivers getting wider and the lakes getting larger, and separate lakes joining into one, and valleys turning into new lakes, and hills turning into islands, and then those islands vanishing. And the high moors to their left and the higher mountains to their right crumbled and slipped down with a roar and a splash into the mounting water; and the water came swirling up to the very threshold of the Doorway (but never passed it) so that the foam splashed about Aslan’s forefeet. All now was level water from where they stood to where the water met the sky.

And out there it began to grow light. A streak of dreary and disastrous dawn spread along the horizon, and widened and grew brighter, till in the end they hardly noticed the light of the stars who stood behind them. At last the sun came up. When it did, the Lord Digory and the Lady Polly looked at one another and gave a little nod: those two, in a different world, had once seen a dying sun, and so they knew at once that this sun also was dying. It was three times—twenty times—as big as it ought to be, and very dark red. As its rays fell upon the great Time-giant, he turned red too: and in the reflection of that sun the whole waste of shoreless waters looked like blood.

Then the Moon came up, quite in her wrong position, very close to the sun, and she also looked red. And at the sight of her the sun began shooting out great flames, like whiskers or snakes of crimson fire, towards her. It is as if he were an octopus trying to draw her to himself in his tentacles. And perhaps he did draw her. At any rate she came to him, slowly at first, but then more and more quickly, till at last his long flames licked round her and the two ran together and became one huge ball like a burning coal. Great lumps of fire came dropping out of it into the sea and clouds of steam rose up.

So this happens. But How Long Does it Take? As the Children are standing outside of time it seems to them to happen “minute by minute”. But how long was that in Narnia? How did Narnia’s sun get to Heat Death? Are we be watching Narnia go through the normal, billion-year death of a universe? Did Lewis want us to see that?

The Creation Story in The Magicians Nephew could be much the same way. Lewis had accepted the story of man offered by evolution and in that light, the action of Aslan in Narnia, the calling of some beasts into “reason, memory, and skill” could be seen as the parallel of our own evolution from the lower primates. Are these two books, the Creation and Apocolypse, far more modern than they seem? Rather than childrens stories of a magical lion are they mythological tellings of a “normal” history? Is Lewis writing a perfectly modern story set in a magical, premodern cosmology? Is the allegory far deeper than we’ve come to expect?

A Log of Questions

So I found myself wondering what Lewis was offering us to meditate on in The Last Battle. Where does outside of time come into our Apocalypse? I realized that normally it doesn’t come in at all.

If God is outside of time… when John is caught up into heaven, does he have any idea of how much time is passing on earth? When there is silence in heaven for about a half an hour, what is that in Earthly Time? John seems to see things from before the Creation, and during his own life, and during the last days of Earth. What can be said to happen chronologically in heaven where there is no time?

Did Lewis open a meditation on our final judgment? How much time passes between an individual death and the Apocalypse? Is that a correct question for moving beyond time? Mightn’t your body experience discomposure and composting over the course of history whilst for God it’s but a blip between your death and the Last Judgement? Are we creating unnecessary complications when we project all of human history as a buffer between ourselves and the Heaven or Hell? How does our timestream interact with what goes on around the heavenly throne? Do all of the saints, dancing there, see all of our time as God does?

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the closest answer we have, for at Mass we stand not on earth. Gathered around the Altar we stand with the heavenly hosts before the Throne. There is only one eternal offering of Christ to the Father from the Cross through eternity and we are there at every Mass. But we don’t “do it again”, it is always only one happening now. The elevation of the Body of Christ in the hands of the priest is the one lifting up from the earth that will draw all men to Christ.

So, is it possible that we confuse things without need: that time is obliterated in death?

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Et Cetera, Et Cetera

The Readings for the Solemnity of All the Saints

Vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat, ex omnibus gentibus, et tribubus, et populis, et linguis : stantes ante thronum, et in conspectu Agni, amicti stolis albis, et palmae in manibus eorum :
I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.

JMJ

Google 144,000. Go on, I’ll wait. There’s so much out there! Some folks think that God’s only going to let 144,000 folks into heaven as if there was only that much room. Others think of it as a symbolic number indicating – again – the limited access of the few saved folks. Still others, in to which camp I used to fall, think of it as an exact number of Jews who will convert just before the 2nd Coming and try to evangelize the world. Hal Lindsey had me convinced of this. Don’t get me started on all that is wrong with the idea.

Yet if these 144,000 are evangelists – or a symbol of the function of Evangelists (which I think it is) then the important part is in the next set of verses: for the Evangelists bring in a “great multitude which no one could count”. That’s not a “limited heaven”: It’s infinity – and beyond!

Today’s feast is a mark of the Unity, the Catholicity of the Church: for we, the Evangelizing servants of God on the earth are united with the great multitude which no one can number, in heaven. This happens at every Mass as we gather around the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: You might not be able to see them with your physical eyes but we are all here, together, around the Altar! When you come forward to receive the Body of Christ, angels are kneeling in awe, your patron saints, and thousands of others whom you do not know – but who know you intimately – are standing with you, praying for you and cheering you on. When the priest says, “The Body of Christ!” and places the host on your tongue, all of heaven responds with a gloriously victorious

Amen! Benedictio, et claritas, et sapientia, et gratiarum actio, honor, et virtus, et fortitudo Deo nostro in saecula saeculorum! Amen! Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

The rafters thunder! The earth quakes! A mortal receives the bread of life, the chalice of slavation, infinity on our tongue.

On All Saints Day we celebrate what we rarely acknowledge: the vast majority of the Church is invisible but we are ever one in Christ. These are our most intimate friends for while they share in the knowledge of Christ they love us, pray for us, beckon us on; sometimes I think they get behind us and push. They have been in this same world, they know what it means to be poor, to have a job, to be afraid, and to be ill. They know about raising children, about being lone, about being hungry, about being persecuted. They know what it means to be all the thing humans can be – and still, they have pushed through to God. One step at a time, this great multitude which no man can number has gained the Victory offers by the Lamb.

And they long for us to join them. In the Office of Readings for today St Bernard of Clairvaux said:

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Let us not be indifferent! Let us not ignore them! Let us be thankful for their prayers, but let us emulate them as well: for they with us pray for all the souls of the departed. They, with us, pray for the Pope, the Bishops, and our clergy, the living 144,000 we have today. The saints, with us, pray for the peace of the world and the Church. And with us, they pray for the coming of the Great Day when all the Church shall finally be reunited as one in one place before the Throne.

Alla famiglia! A Blessed Feast!

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What really scares you?

The Readings for the 30th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Certus sum enim quia neque mors, neque vita, neque angeli, neque principatus, neque virtutes, neque instantia, neque futura, neque fortitudo, neque altitudo, neque profundum, neque creatura alia poterit nos separare a caritate Dei, quae est in Christo Jesu Domino nostro. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

JMJ

All right, yes. It is All Hallows’ Eve; in fact as I write it is after first vespers. But this reading at Mass this morning made me cry. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. I’ve been thinking about this all day. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. And yesterday’s reading said all things are working for our good. Follow st. Paul’s argument in this chapter:

The flesh is weak. We are born in the Flash and we are tempted by the flesh. Yet through adoption in Christ, we are children of God, Children of the spirit. And in this adoption in this Grace we are victorious. And so everything that was bad before now only leads us closer to God. Everything that was a threat before now is completely destroyed. Paul, of course, is not saying that we cannot be hurt by the sword but he is saying the sword cannot hurt anything important.

You may remember Orwell’s 1984. I don’t remember a lot of it, but Room 101 sticks with me. In Room 101 the state applied torture to the worst traitors. The torture was the thing the traitor most feared: “the worst thing in the world.” For the hero of the book, Winston Smith, the worst thing is rats. He is tortured (by fear – not by physical pain) into saying that his lover, Julia, should be fed to the rats instead of him. That’s all it takes: giving up of his love: making his own avoidance of pain to be of more importance than her experience of it. Once he had thrown Julia under the bus he didn’t need to be tortured anymore. He was let go.

I wrote yesterday, if I lose Jesus, literally nothing else matters. If I gain Jesus, literally nothing else matters. Paul, today, tells us as long as we walk forward through anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword, death, life, angels, principalities, the present, the future, powers, height, depth – forward always in faith – we will be victorious. Paul knows that the flesh will chicken out at any one of those things, or pride might make us “buck up” despite our fear. Paul wants us to know that the Love of God in Christ is the only thing that matters.

What scares you? I don’t mean, are you scared of heights or Stephen King movies. What really scares you? What conversations make you feel backed into a corner over your faith? What scares you the most about having to be a confessional Christian at some point? Losing your job? Losing your home? Losing your ability to support your family or yourself? Paul was writing to a people who could lose their life – and did – by the hundreds. And he was telling them that, yes, you could die. But that there was a more important victory gained by that death. I think he would say the same to us: yes, all that you fear is possible – and more. But so what, he would continue, you still have Christ!

Tomorrow’s feast of All Saints can be called the feast of all those who didn’t give a fig for things that scared them. I’m not saying they didn’t get scared, mind you, but they went forward anyway. Sometimes that can just be war or a social injustice. They picked up their cross and manfully strode forward even though they knew, in the end, on that cross they would be nailed down.

It’s All Hallows’ Eve: a night filled with scary things that shouldn’t scare Christians at all. But there are many things in this world to be afraid of. Still: not worth a fig compared to the glories yet to come. What have we to be afraid of that Jesus has not already conquered?

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Salvific Synergy of SIn

En to Pan

The Readings for the 30th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Domine, si pauci sunt, qui salvantur? 
Lord, will only a few people be saved?

JMJ

As with other questions, this one is transparently not what it seems and Jesus sees through it. Notice how Jesus instantly goes from “will only a few people…” to “you must…” Jesus knows that the question will only a few people be saved is really a coverup for, “How little do I have to do?” the man that’s not wondering if his notoriously sinful stepfather will actually get into heaven. The man thinks “If my notoriously sinful stepfather can get into heaven I don’t need to worry about it.” This often becomes the God-Win’s question: God’s going to let everyone in – including Hitler – so why bother? If Hiter can get into heaven then it’s ok. Or: if even Hitler can get into heaven, then this is all a load of fewmets striking windmills.

Domine, si pauci sunt, qui salvantur? We’re asking is there hope for me? If it’s only a few, there’s really nothing to be done, let us despair and fall into grave sin. Jesus puts it back on us: Contendite intrare per angustam portam : quia multi, dico vobis, quaerent intrare, et non poterunt. Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. This is the same lesson as “a camel passing through the eye of a needle”. It’s hard enough for this thing to happen – with all the things of this world, with all the pains, distractions, joys. I saw a four-box comic today in which a cat is looking at autumn leaves and comments, “Life is transitory… but so enchanting.” That’s all of us: we become enchanted by the things of this world. We struggle for a little while, but then we fall back into watching the world and being enmeshed by it.

Scimus autem quoniam diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This line from St Paul is the hinge, on which these two readings turn. For really, omnia (the Greek word is πᾶν pan) means “all”. All. ALL. All things. If you love God, then all things are working for your good: Paul’s Greek phrase is πάντα συνεργεῖ panta synergei. If you love God, then your past sins are not wiped out (as I heard in a sermon on Sunday from the Master of the Dominican Order). God doesn’t forget (God can’t forget), rather God repurposes. By the grace of God in the sacrament of confession – even your sins are turned into stepping stones towards heaven. All things. All means all. Even the things that you have to dredge up in a life confession, even the things from high school that make you blush.

There’s great comfort here in realizing that I am the only sinner I will ever know. No one but you knows what you’ve done (even if you tell me, I can’t look into the state of your soul when you were doing it). I am literally the only person I can look at and say, “I knew that was wrong. I knew why it was wrong. And I dismissed all that and did it anyway.” I don’t need to rewrite your sins – or even know them, they don’t exist.

Other things work for our good too – all things – that abusive parent, the job that objectified you and fired you for illegal reasons (but you can’t prove it), the sexual partner that ruined your teen years, the accident on the freeway that made you late for work, the wildfire that destroyed your house, the wind that sent you to Oz, the wardrobe that sent you to Narnia, the rocket that exploded in midair and made you afraid of flight. The job that opened your eyes to new careers, the teacher that changed your mind about world history, the baker that gave you free coffee, the priest that makes you laugh in confession. The cat, the computer, the laundry, the bus that breaks down in the middle of the Californian desert so you can’t get to a wedding on time… all things work for our good. There is only one good, though: entering through the narrow gate.

Passing through the narrow gate, I want only to hear one thing: Wow, you made it. The crown of heavenly witnesses may only gasp and let out a sigh of relief, but I pray to hear Wow, you made it.

If I lose Jesus, literally nothing else matters. If I gain Jesus, literally nothing else matters.

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