Overcoming the World


The Readings for 7th Monday after Easter

I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

JESUS SAYS HE HAS OVERCOME the world. Yet, this is before his Crucifixion, before the Agony in the Garden – just before the High Priestly prayer. How has he already overcome the world? What does this mean for us? John Chrysostom says these words were spoken for our comfort and out of love for us. So I think we see here a little Transfiguration as it were: which happened to tell the Disciples that Jesus went to his death not as someone taken by surprise, but voluntarily as God.

When I was younger I had the sigil “IX XC + NIKA” on my email signature file. A friend who was Greek (but her family had been protestant for at least four generations) said to me, “I hope you know that means ‘en totou'”. Jesus Christ Conquers all. In fact the Greek in John 16:33 uses a form of that verb, “Nika” with νενίκηκα nenikeka. Jesus says he has already conquered. But we know he’s about to go to a false arrest, a rigged trial, and a politically motivated murder. How has he conquered? How can we say he has done so in spite of all this?

Christians tend to hyper-focus on the crucifixion. They do this either by making it out to be more important or less than everything else. I had a friend say the Resurrection and Ascension were irrelevant to his salvation. A Catholic priest even agreed with him no matter what I said to the contrary. The Catechism says, though, it is the entire incarnation that is salvific. Everything about Jesus is salvation happening. Other folks try to coverup the scandal of the death of God on a cross. Look at the Ascension by Salvador Dali:

Notice anything missing? Those hands and feet look might solid, no? Where are the wounds?

Everything about Jesus is salvation happening. Or, really, none of it is.

It’s popular among those who want to inspire Antisemitism, and also with those who want to downplay this moment as a defeat, to say this was something of a nightmare for Jesus. Some go so far as to say the Apostles made up the stories that come after Good Friday out of sheer guilt for leaving Jesus alone at his arrest. No one goes to their death for a lie they made up out of guilt, though.

The disciples knew that Jesus had conquered. He told them so. They forgot for a day or two… but he reminded them.

The world is not the thing that can damage us as Children of God. Yes, it can hurt us. Yes, it can tempt us. Yes, it can even kill us.

But Jesus has conquered the world not by undoing it, not by overthrowing it, but by subverting it. As man he received the worst the world could throw at him: poverty, political oppression, religious persecution, social rejection, depression, torture, dejection, loneliness, and death. As God, though, he took all that in and turned them into pathways to God or, more correctly, one long pathway to God. As man he also took the best we had – familial love, friends, joy, study, teaching, humor, creativity, physical labor, and piety. He turned these, also, into one long pathway to God. As man, he took perfectly normal, everyday things like eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. He turned these into pathways to God.

This is how he has overcome the world: at one time it all just lead to death. Maybe a life well-lived, or well-partied, sure, but death.

Now – since God has done it – it all leads to life. God is at the root of everything if we can only see him: good, bad, normal, exceptional, God has overcome the world by going all the way down and coming back again. No matter how far we run, he’s gone further. That is the meaning of atonement. Or, to quote Corrie Ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still.” (It is often misquoted as “…God’s love is deeper” but it is himself that is there in the deepness.)

Jesus Christ Conquers.


Ecclesiology Final

The Assignment was to answer these two questions (in five pages or less): What is the Church? What is the Church’s mission?

IN HIS HOMILY ON 11 May 2023, Fr James Moore, OP, said, “Jesus did not leave us a book, he left us a Church!” The questions of what is the church and what is her mission are causing quite a lot of struggle: while I have a very (I think) coherent response to offer, I’m not quite sure if it’s a Catholic response or an Orthodox one that we might call “un-westerned”. Is this answer an example of “breathing with both lungs” or is it merely an Eastern Orthodox Ecclesiology with the Pope on top? If it’s the latter, is that OK? To open my struggle here’s a quote from an Orthodox priest:

The Church is not an institution although it has acquired institutional aspects… The Church is not a charitable organization although it performs charitable works. The church is not a place to have one’s needs met although it meets the most profound needs of humanity. The Church is not a building where sacraments are offered on demand. The Church is not an afterthought in the plan of salvation. 

Fr Maxym Lysack, Pastor of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church, Ottawa, Canada: Introduction to the Church in Orthodox Theology retrieved on 5/18/2023

It’s the both-and of Catholic theology expressed as Eastern Apophaticism. We can say what the Church is-not even while saying she is, kinda that anyway. “She’s not an institution, but she has acquired institutional aspects.” She is a mystery as we experience her. De Lubac’s Chapter III, The Two Aspects of the One Church, fleshes this out, highlighting the Church’s active and passive modes. The sanctifying and the sanctified, the Bride and Daughter of Christ. 

The Church is the “vine which God has planted” (Psalm 80:14-15) she is also the trellis on which the vine grows, the structure by which God guides the vine. De Lubac says, “No children without a mother; no people without leaders; no acquired sanctity without a sanctifying power… no communion of saints… without a communication of holy things… no realized community without a society in which and through which it is realized.” (Splendor of the Church my digital copy says that’s page 47…) He notes the (seeming) opposition between hierarchic and charismatic gifts, but they are both rooted in the church, arising from the same source. This language will later be found in Lumen Gentium ¶4: “The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits.” She is all that as well as the structure that holds it all together. De Lubac quotes the Venerable Bede, “Every day the Church brings forth the Church”.

The Catechism provides another point from which to begin unpacking the identity of the Church and there, also, her Mission:

“‘The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures.’ To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church ‘is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.’” (CCC ¶763)

In ¶752 the Catechism points to the People of Israel as the source of the Church’s claim to be the People of God. The Church is not an entirely new thing but rather the continuation of God’s actions throughout history beginning at not only with Abraham, but back to the original domestic Church in the Garden of Eden. (“The gathering together of the People of God began at the moment when sin destroyed the communion of men with God, and that of men among themselves.” CCC ¶761)  The people of God cannot begin until there is a people of course. Adam and Eve are the right place to begin, yet our First Parents were reflecting something or Someone: the Holy Trinity. The Church is the sharing of the Divine Life which is from eternity so, following De Lubac, we must see the Church’s origins in the mystery of Eternity. At the same time, the Church is instituted by Jesus Christ (¶763 ff) so she is, in some way, also a thing in time. This time-and-eternity aspect, again not either/or, but rather both/and, paralleled by other both/and comparisons listed in the CCC, especially in ¶761, citing Sacrosanctum Concilium:

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.

To use the Eastern theological language, the Church is theosis or divinization in action in the world. She is the initiation, the goal, and the process by which the goal is approached. And, since God is infinitely beyond humanity, theosis is a journey, not an endpoint or destination. Even beyond this world, there is no place at which to stop and say, “There is no more journey left to take.” God’s love will always call us (that is the Church) “further up and further in” to use C.S. Lewis’ wonderful phrase. Yet the entire journey is the same. As Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven, for Jesus says, ‘I am the way’”. To enter willingly on the way (even, perhaps, unknowingly) is to enter, in some way, into the desired end. 

The Church is the sharing in the life of God by the people of God, served by their Bishop and other clergy, gathered around the Eucharist. In and through the Eucharist, the entire people, in their mutual love and worship are referred to God the Father in the self-offering of the Son, Jesus.  The Church, then, is the Reign of God breaking into this world. Her mission is to manifest the Reign of God in the world and to draw all people deeper into that reign – into union in God by Grace. (See CCC ¶768, “the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God” quoting Lumen Gentium 5; and ¶772, “in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: “to unite all things in him.”). 

If Christ is, as the late Pope Benedict XVI said (in Verbum Domini ¶93), Autobasileia, “the Kingdom in himself” then the final both/and is that it is he who is, himself, the Church and her mission. Christ has left us himself.  The Church is his body and he is her head, and also her heart: he is her beloved one whom her soul loves (Song of Songs, 3:4) and also her very soul himself.

For the Beauty

THE LAST Weekend was #SpringinSF at it’s finest: not too hot, yet warm and sunny with a slight breeze. It was warm enough not to require a jacket until nearly 9 and that just meant that nighttime was cool enough to sleep! Saturday I was out and about long enough to “get some color” on my wintery pallor. Out walking with a friend we did a bit over 20km as we nerded out about Bible and Ecclesiology.

Being thankful that God has blessed me to live here, to serve the poor, to stand by his Altar, to be his son. The scudding clouds in the sky today remind me of the wolfpacks that form the melody of the Kyrie in Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia. So here’s a playlistof the whole thing. Having been lucky enough to see this live at Mass at St John the Divine in NYC in the 80s, this music is the core of celebration for me. (My friend, T, says “Whew this is Spirit of V2 as heck.”)

Glory to God for all things.

Only Two Seasons

FROM THE OFFICE Of Readings for the 5th Saturday after Easter. I’m reminded of a comment made about my old Episcopal Parish. At St Gregory of Nyssa Church it seemed as if there were only two Church seasons: Easter and Easter is Comming. St Augustine appears to agree (emphasis added). Shabbat Shalom!

From a discourse on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Ps. 148, 1-2: CCL 40, 2165-2166)

The Easter Alleluia

Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now. So we praise God during our earthly life, and at the same time we make our petitions to him. Our praise is expressed with joy, our petitions with yearning. We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.

Because there are these two periods of time—the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy—we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.

Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our head. The Lord’s passion depicts for us our present life of trial—shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die. The Lord’s resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given to us in the future.

Now therefore, brethren, we urge you to praise God. That is what we are all telling each other when we say Alleluia. You say to your neighbor, “Praise the Lord!” and he says the same to you. We are all urging one another to praise the Lord, and all thereby doing what each of us urges the other to do. But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions.

We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go on our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God. But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God. You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God. If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other’s voices, so do God’s ears hear our thoughts.


THE PREVIOUS Post was written and posted. Totally forgotten was the point: the bridge used by the writer to open up the “the west” for the fruits of prayer arising in the east was the Liturgy. The Vatican Two “novus ordo” is exactly the Byzantine Divine liturgy, slightly tweaked for Westerners.

By way of History, the liturgy of East and West was in times past more parallel than it had become in the last 1,000 years. It was also a bit more out-of-doors and processional. The rites of Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople were all begun in one of several locations, with processions through the city streets, to another central location. There communion was celebrated, and then deacons carried the consecrated gifts out again to other places for the people who could not attend the rite itself.

There are elements of this still in the “Station churches” of Rome: the bishop of the city would call the people to gather at one church. Prayers were said, then the people would process, singing psalms, to another church where the rest of Mass was said. In Constantinople the final location was Hagia Sophia. In Jerusalem it was often (but not always) the Holy Sepulchre. Over time the processional rites were diminished in the west. In the east, as it became increasingly impossible to do such things out of doors (because of Muslims, mostly) the chanting of Psalms was moved indoors, and what we now think of as the Three Antiphons at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy were formalized. Apart from these Antiphons, the Divine Liturgy and the Novus Ordo are basically the same:

Divine Liturgy:
  1. Holy God (Penitential), Entrance blessing & hymnody
  2. Psalm Verse
  3. Lesson (Epistle)
  4. Alleluia
  5. Gospel
  6. Homily
  7. Prayers/Litanies
  8. Offertory
  9. Creed
  10. Sursum Corda
  11. Anaphora
  12. Our Father
  13. Communion
  14. Dismissal
  15. Final Blessing
Novus Ordo
  1. Hymnody, Blessing, Penitential rite, Gloria
  2. Lessons
  3. Psalms
  4. Alleluia
  5. Gospel
  6. Homily
  7. Creed
  8. Universal Prayer
  9. Offertory
  10. Sursum Corda
  11. Anaphora
  12. Our Father
  13. Communion
  14. Dismissal
  15. Final Blessing

Apart from the Creed and the East’s propensity to often do “little litanies” the two rites are structurally the same.

It should be noted that in the Novus Ordo, while there are two lessons + Gospel assigned, it’s generally understood that the goal of the reform was one of either lessons plus Gospel but with a wider selection. We see this in the weekday Mass with only one reading, Psalm, Alleluia, then Gospel. Personally, I’m OK with three – and I think it’s strange that the Byzantine Rite has so little of the Jewish Scriptures at all – except for Psalms of course. On a “normal” Sunday, depending on the local liturgical tradition, one can get upwards of 16 full Psalms in the course of the rites of Sunday!

This would be more evident if the Ad Orientem posture was restored fully in the west (as per the actual rubrics) and the often-ignored minor propers were chanted more often. This would add more Psalm verses.

So, seeing these two rites are the same, we get a better sense of what the Council Fathers intended by the phrase, “full, conscious, and active participation.” There was no implication of something new but rather of something very old. It’s something, in fact, that the Byzantines had been doing right along in their already-vernacular liturgies! These liturgies are often chanted by the entire congregation, sung in simple folk melodies that come from the “home countries”. The Novus Ordo wasn’t a revolution, but an ecumenical (meaning the whole Church) evolution – using “both lungs” as Pope St John Paul would later say.


As subdeacon at the Paschal liturgy with my friend, Fr Christopher.

IT’S BEEN AN INTERESTING Year serving in a Byzantine Catholic Parish. There’s been a whole lot of learning – and some sadness. In 20 years as an Orthodox Christian, I was never once inside the Holy Place for the liturgy. Singing in choir was enough and – on those rare occasions (I can remember 3 in 20 years) when I ventured beyond the iconostasis I felt the space inside vibrate – like an electrical charge. It was not that I wasn’t supposed to be there: I had no desire to be in there at all. In becoming Roman Catholic and wrestling with the whole question of vocation again, the return to Byzantine liturgy was… what? An irony? A grace? A mark of God’s humor? Yes. And more.

What has come to is a sense of prayer that was never there before. And it seems that it’s not private prayer, not something that’s going on in me in spite of the liturgy happening around me. Instead, it’s personal prayer that’s arising from and woven intrinsically into the action that’s making me a person. And from the Byzantine Liturgy this prayer has sprung out into the Latin liturgy, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary… focused on the Name of Jesus, the venerating the icon of God present in the Church and in those served.

So, in some way I was not before, I’m a Byzantine Christian. This is the spirituality that is home. It’s the filter through which other things come to the point that I don’t know the answer to questions like this: is St Thomas Aquinas so very Byzantine because he is or because I’m hearing it that way? When I hear Byzantine context in Hebrew mysticism is it there because it is or because I’m hearing it that way? Can’t tell. I can’t tell because Latins hear it all very Latin-y. Is Aquinas or Hebrew Latin? It’s heard that way…

Then in the hearing there is a revelation of the mode of the hearer. And so the hearer has become a learner: and what is revealed is joy.

To be clear: Byzantine Catholic – not Eastern Orthodox. And yet really that is semantics. Coming into the Catholic Church I discovered I had been there all along.

God is good.

In Downers, Hope

BY WAY Of method: selected verses from Psalm 88 (BCP ’79 translation – a personal fave) interspersed with the refrain from Psalm 136. Language was ironed out to be in the third person to match the refrain. Not all the verses of Ps 88 are used, just the ones that match my current #mood. The reader is referred to Romans 8:28. Cribbing on the Psalms is either poetry or meditation. This Psalm is used for Friday’s Night Prayer. Its final line is haunting but today felt like a good day to claim it as my own.

By day and night I cry to the LORD, my God, my Savior.
– For his love endures for ever.
Let my prayer enter into his presence;
– For his love endures for ever.
He will incline his ear to my lamentation.
– For his love endures for ever.
I am full of trouble; and my life is at the brink of the grave.
– For his love endures for ever.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
– For his love endures for ever.
I have become like one who has no strength;
– For his love endures for ever.
Lost among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,
– For his love endures for ever.
He has laid me in the depths of the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss.
– For his love endures for ever.
His anger weighs upon me heavily, and all his great waves overwhelm me.
– For his love endures for ever.
He has put my friends far from me;
– For his love endures for ever.
He has made me to be abhorred by them;
– For his love endures for ever.
I am in prison and cannot get free.
– For his love endures for ever.
My sight has failed me because of trouble;
– For his love endures for ever.
I have stretched out my hands to the LORD and called upon him daily
– For his love endures for ever.
I cry to the LORD for help; in the morning my prayer comes before him.
– For his love endures for ever.
Why has the LORD rejected me?
– For his love endures for ever.
Why have he hidden his face from me?
– For his love endures for ever.
Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the
point of death;
– For his love endures for ever.
I have borne his terrors with a troubled mind.
– For his love endures for ever.
His blazing anger has swept over me;
– For his love endures for ever.
His terrors have destroyed me;
– For his love endures for ever.
They surround me all day long like a flood;
– For his love endures for ever.
They encompass me on every side.
– For his love endures for ever.
My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me
– For his love endures for ever.
Darkness is my only companion.
– For his love endures for ever.

I Don’t Want To Think

AN EMERGING PATTERN seems to indicate that more-common sins are ways to cope or deal with situations: like alcohol is used to numb the brain, so are other things. If “I don’t want to think about this just now” there are distractions with which to numb the pain.

Those brain-numbing pain solutions are sins. Yes, addictions are less culpable than open revolt, but still, they are sins. It seems the sin is not in the action (although the action is sinful) but rather in the rejection of God.

For the actual thingnot-thought-about is not whatever was the trigger, but rather the deep, abiding love God has for his sons and daughters. We reject the possibility of thinking about – of resting in – this love. We don’t want to be reminded of it. We push it away. Resting in this love was what the trigger distracted us from. It’s what the on-going sin distracts us from.

So, for example, if you’ve had a bad day at work and you don’t want to come home to whatever that might mean, instead go to visit what we called a “package store” when I was growing up, and having acquired some products, you go sit on the lake and watch the stars come out as your forget your job and your spouse and kids… the unspoken thing you forgot – in the middle of the bad day – is God’s love. Meditating on that could have addressed the bad day at work and addressed (or avoided) everything else. All that followed was an unfolding of that first action of forgetfulness.

I posit that the initial forgetfulness is willful. We don’t want to fully live into being loved that much. It’s a threat to our self-indebtedness. That love demands a full and total response and sometimes, you want to hold back just a little, to forget to give everything so there’s a little something just in case it’s needed later.

Every sin – even the “little” ones that happen without thought or planning (“voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown” we say in the Byzantine rite) – is predicated on stepping out of that relationship, on holding that relationship at bay.

It’s safer if we don’t fall into that Love. It demands everything.

And having stepped out of the line of fire, even briefly, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re safe now, over here. That this is normal. This distance is a good thing. We push away our only hope and then wonder that we fall further.