Truth is. Or nothing is.

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 12:1-4
  • Psalm 22:26-32 (Responsorial)
  • Matthew 8:17 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 5:21-43

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Quid turbamini, et ploratis? puella non est mortua, sed dormit.
What is this stir, this weeping? The child is not dead, she is asleep.
Mark 5:39b

When I was a kid, the movie “Phantasm” was one that totally wrecked my world in the way that would give you creepy dreams and destroy decent nights of sleep. It is a very good horror film – a classic of the genre. But it has a most interesting plot twist (Spoiler Alert) in that after finding all the ways a local mortician has been making the dead into Zombies and killing everyone to sell them into slavery, the main character wakes up to discover the whole thing has been a dream, crafted in his mourning, to deny the death of his parents. (Then the movie throws another twist and everyone screams… and the credits roll.)

This is one of those things about which the Eastern Church seems to get hyper pious: “Our brother has fallen asleep in the Lord.” It seems nearly like a “taboo”, one of those superstitions ingrained in the culture of Russia and/or Greece that has just carried over. But it is something else, something more important. Saying “The Child is not dead, she is asleep” (as elsewhere Jesus says, “Our friend, Lazarus, sleepeth.”) and this all means so much more.

St Bede the Venerable says “For to men she was dead, who were unable to raise her up; but to God she was asleep, in whose purpose both the soul was living, and the flesh was resting, to rise again. Whence it became a custom amongst Christians, that the dead, who, they doubt not, will rise again, should be said to sleep.”

That is our take right now: people are dead and gone. We don’t render them honors and obsequies in the way we used to because it is for us, the living, that we have funerals now. Even in some churches that should know better, we have “Celebrations of Life” and “Mass of the Resurrection”.

The Christian story is so much more hopeful than that. Even in life, we are in the midst of death – the real death of sin. And yet whosoever believes in Jesus shall never die the real death – the death of the soul. We will all sleep, though.

The vision we have of reality is distorted by our emotions, warped by our sins, and, not surprisingly, twisted by our words. I say this is not surprising because God made the whole world with his word and we are made in his image. How we speak and what we say is of profound importance. I do not mean that we “make our own reality”. But our heart does live in a reality created by our spiritual life – which last includes our words as well as our thoughts. So: if (in spite of our pious language) we speak as though someone were “Dead and gone” never more to be, just flat out dead – our heart grieves.

It needn’t be so. We can know the life in which we stand. This is the Word of God speaking. We are in death. But Life, himself, says “this is sleep.” Of another thing (speaking of the Eucharist) St Thomas has written:

Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.
 – Aquinas

Translated thus:

I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.
 – Pusey
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
 – Hopkins

I prefer Hopkins’ rendering even though Pusey’s sings better. I will stick with it, “Truth himself speaks truth or there’s nothing true.” This line is, I think the foundation of so very much. At RCIA class last week what I heard over and over is “Why do we do it this way? Because he (Jesus) said to.” It may seem a bit simplistic. It may be, in fact, too little depth for many folks. But it is the truth. It is the only reason to do something.

In a world there there no truth at all it is refreshing to do something simply out of obedience, simply because of one’s choice to submit to divine authority. I’ve been watching a lot of my friends for the last 8 or 9 years being unable to submit to anything but their own feelings. Thus, people who support them in their feelings are “right” and people who don’t support them in their feelings are “haters”. This is true on all sides of the political spectrum. There are those who claim to be Christians, even, who are falling for this emotivist reading of right and wrong. They like some parts of the Bible, but not others. They like some of the things Jesus has to say, but other bits are clearly delusional.

There is only one reason to stand with the outcast: because Jesus forbade us the luxury of enemies. And either the Truth speaks the truth or nothing at all is true.

Thing is if I accept this truth claim, I’ve also got to accept the rest… no divorce, no adultery, no lust in my heart, and this is truly his body, this is truly his precious blood. If I pick the items from the menu that I wish to believe, then, well… I might as well just go out and yell with the others. But if not, well, then: the child is not dead, she is only asleep.

Dude, where’d ya get the fancy duds?

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 11:32-40
  • Psalm 31:20-24 (Responsorial)
  • Luke 7:16 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 5:1-20

In the Douay, the RSV, or in the NABRE.

When they reached Jesus, they found the possessed man sitting there, clothed and restored to his wits, and they were overcome with fear.
Mark 5:15

This story is found in all three synoptics (Matthew 8 and Luke 8 as well). It was important in all the communities of the Church that gave us the inspired texts of Jesus’ life. It tells the story of all of us, does it not?

Sin is the destruction of relationship. It starts with the loss of relationship with God, but in the end, abandoning all connection with others, the power of evil even destroys its own self. (For self can only exist in communion.) If our sins are lacks of charity, or lacks of chastity, lack of honesty or lack of courage, they all drive us away, eventually, from all communion, from all selfhood. It does not matter how it is set up: that’s how it works. Even when we think our sins are making it easier for us to “relate” to people (drugs, sex, alcohol, etc) when we misuse the gifts God has given us we are not building, but rather tearing down.

And none of us has only one, let’s be honest. One may be known as a great “Ladies’ Man” or whatever term is useful for your sex and sexual preferences, but one is probably thus a liar, and prone to act uncharitably, to objectify women, to manipulate them. One may thus be ungenerous and greedy, one may be mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually abusive, one may even be a glutton and slothful. And all of these growing out of one’s addiction to the hormonal rush that floods the brain at orgasm. One may be a thief and not the romantic bank-heist sort, but just the sort who plays on the internet at work: stealing time and money from one’s employer. How trustworthy is that person in other areas? How duplicitous? None of this comes with a judgement: if you know me, I try only to discuss my own sins.

So we are all legion. And we are all the man possessed by Legion. And we are tormented by different voices within us, by demands that have nothing to do with “the one thing needful”, and by desires that are not our own yet we are driven to fulfil. And if we come to him – even screaming and foaming at the mouth – Jesus will cast them out. I think of how many times I came to Jesus asking him to bless me in my sins, to find me a companion in my sin. One addict would love to live with another, right? But as there is no honor among thieves, so, too, other sins eventually are their own destruction.

And as in our story, the locals around us are just freaking terrified of what has happened – the swine (symbols of impurity in the Jewish world) run away, the swineherds (think teachers of heresy and impurity) run away, then the townspeople – all of whom, like all of us, have their own legions – beg Jesus to leave. Jesus is really good when he’s needed for your politics. He’s useful as a political punchline for both the left and the right yet please don’t force his morals on me. “Go and sin no more” is a difficult commandment. And healing some sinner somewhere near me means only that I look all the worse. Jesus go away. Not only do I not want your salvation – please don’t save any of my peeps.

But when they come to toss out the troublemaker, they find the guy sitting there clothed and in his right mind. That means that Jesus has put everything back in the right order which is: God first. Others. Loving God and serving others becomes my desire. When things are restored, then I am in communion with God and with others, that is, I’m finally clothed and in my right mind. I have put on the new man and have had a metanoia. But wait! There’s more!

So he embarked on the boat; and as he did so the man who had been possessed was eager to go with him, but Jesus would not give him leave; Go home to thy friends, he said, and tell them all that the Lord has done for thee, and what great mercy he shewed thee.
Mark 5:18-19

We have a job to do: we cannot sit at Jesus feet forever. We cannot go with him when he leaves. I may spend 1 hour (or 16-20 hours) in church every week, but that’s nothing if I’m not preaching the Gospel – spreading the kingdom. I’m not serving God if all I’m doing is feeling safe from the world. I have to go and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. I have to be doing the Love of God, preaching the advance of his kingdom.

The Unveiling

Today’s Readings:

  • Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
  • Psalm 146:6-10 
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

The Lord, who protects the stranger, who defends orphan and widow, who overturns the counsel of the wicked!
Psalm 145:9 (146:9 in the MT) Knox

This Psalm is sung nearly every Sunday in the Slavic recensions of the Byzantine LIturgy. (On some Sundays it is replaced with the verses sung nearly every week in the Greek form.) Today it is the Responsorial in the Novos Ordo, and we are invited, in this Psalm – as in all the readings really – to consider what this might mean, that God protects the Stranger, defends the Orphan and Widow and overturns the counsel of the wicked.

Our Bible readings are overly full of descriptions of the good folks: humble, chaste, obedient, forgiving, loving. I remember a story of two (Orthodox) nuns visiting a parish. One of the members who was very opposed to traditional monastics in the “modern” world – a situation that many Orthodox and Roman Catholic readers will recognise – decided she did not like having these “moochers” in her parish hall and so she accused them – loudly – in front of others of stealing food. “See how they ‘fast’ by stealing our food!” One Nun stood there, quietly taking the yelling but not at all sure what was going on. The other Nun fell at the woman’s feet and begged forgiveness of whatever had happened… this totally discombobulated the accuser, who ran from the room. In the eyes of the world, the accuser was defending the parish’s property. In the eyes of the world the nuns are the stupid ones.

Another story: of the president of his parish council, who walked into his church one night and found a woman praying: she was dressed traditionally, in a shawl. His own wife wouldn’t stoop to such chicanery. He walked up to the woman and yanked her shawl off, grabbing her hair as well. Her head jerked back with such force that the long hairpins holding up her bun actually punctured the skin of her neck! “Now maybe you will stop dressing like a Muslim.” He said. And his wife smiled as they walked away. This was in 2016. In a modern and liberal Orthodox parish in a large city the USA. And I know she prays for him. And we all should: but I can’t quite figure out how though, I add in all honesty and shame.

There are humans who are working to divide other humans one from the other. Yet there is only one source of such division: the Evil One. For Christ seeks the unity of all, with all, in all, and through all with the Holy Trinity. Today’s readings are all about how to get there, how to enter that Divinely-Sourced unity.

Our Bible readings are overly full of descriptions of the good, of the process of salvation. It takes humility, forgiveness, love. It takes charity, and it takes hospitality. It takes stupidity in the eyes of the world – yet wisdom in the ways of God. The poor, the foolish, the weak, no less than the rich, the intelligent, and the strong, need salvation. But knowing that you are poor – and depend on others for your bread – that you are foolish – and depend on others for guidance – that you are weak – and depend on others for protection – means that you are ready to rely on God much quicker than others who vainly imagine themselves to be “self-made”. It is hard to be humble when (in the eyes of the world) you’re perfect in every way.

Where are the descriptions of the wicked? What can be said of the strong nation who won’t care for its weakest, who won’t feed its poorest, who won’t welcome the stranger, the orphan, the widow – and all for very wise, worldly reasons? Even worse: what are we to say of the Christians who won’t do those things directly, even though they say it is – or perhaps especially if they say it isn’t – the place of the nation to do them? A nation of Christians would surely do such, but not only would they do such through the state, they would do so by their own hands. Surely?

And what of the nation that does exactly the reverse of all the commandments and in fact hinders their performance – again, all for very worldly-wise reasons? If they are hindering the work of Christians, whose work are they advancing?  Maybe we don’t really need descriptions of those things – for they are all around us.

While there are humans who are working to divide other humans one from the other, there is only one source of such division: the Evil One. Christ seeks the unity of all, with all, in all, and through all with the Holy Trinity. Yes, any can reject this unity… any can run away… but there is no other unity, there is no other peace. You can work for this unity and peace even unbeknownst to yourself, but to consciously (or unconsciously) work against it, to knowingly turn human against human, to deny the image of God present in any person for any reason is an act of desecration.

Simply: you are doing the work of demons.

No matter why you think you are doing so, that is what you are doing.

And it cannot work to your salvation in fact, quite the reverse.

Grab You Some Gumption!

Today’s Readings:

  • Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
  • Mark 4:35-41

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass Texts.

And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet? And they feared exceedingly: and they said one to another: Who is this (thinkest thou) that both wind and sea obey him?
Mark 4:40

Why are we fearful? Because these waves are higher than we are. Because the hellish winds are blowing. Because the Orange Man is scaring us. The Blue Bogie Lady is under the bed! The Evil Russians! The murderous Mohammedans! The gorgeous Gays! The pulchritudinous pink hat people… Damn, but we’re a scared lot of fools ain’t we?

Here’s a story about my step-grandmother who lives in a very good part of town, surrounded by people in large houses and huge lawns. The last times I slept in her house (before and right after my Grandfather’s death in 2002) I slept in the livingroom on the sofa and every time I came back in from smoking, as I did then, she asked me to make sure the door was locked. Because, she insisted, even in the daylight someone might come up and try the handle of the door and, were it unlocked, there is no telling what sort of havoc they might wreak. She insisted that she had heard the nob turn, softly and stealthily, from time to time, as someone unseen in the dark…

Fear. “Deilos” is the greek word here. It’s not the same as the the second use of fear in this verse where the word is “Phobos”. One means timidity – Strong’s Greek says it means “lacking moral gumption”. Give me that… Gumption. Awesome! Phobos, too, has a bad meaning, though has a good meaning as well: it’s “fear of the Lord” which the Apostles show in the latter half of the verse. They stop being timid in the face of some rain and they grow some brass gumption; and then they show fear of the Lord.

Faith is not a recitation of doctrine. You cannot get faith by reciting the creed. Faith is the Essence of things Hoped for the substance of things unseen. It is the very reality our doctrine describes. So: which part of the Church’s teaching don’t you accept when you get all twisted with fear? If you believe that God has your life in your hands, if you believe that God is watching out for every hair on your head, every bird on the limb, every beat of the heart of the universe then… why are you fearful?

Fear makes for mountains of suckiness: why did Christians help Hitler? Because they were afraid he would beat them up if they didn’t. So they helped him, and he stole their faith anyway and sent them to the camps. Why would it ever be otherwise?

Elsewhere the Bible says “perfect love casts out all fear” because the opposite of fear is not bravery, it is love. The opposite of love is not hate: it is fear. The barrier between these two – fear and love – is Courage, from the Latin “cor” meaning the heart. The opposite of courage is timidity, the lack of gumption. And I will suggest that – in the world where winds buffet the Barque of Peter, we must live our faith in love which will seem courageous in the eyes of the world – and even foolhardy.

Untimidly leaving our doors unlocked means we will let in terrorists for fear – phobos – of locking out Christ himself.

Leaving our wallets unlocked means we will give to drug addicts for fear of not giving to Christ himself.

Leaving our hearts unlocked means we might get hurt or taken advantage of for fear of not letting in Christ himself.

Listen: I know the boat is leaky. I know the winds are strong. I know the water splashes in from above even more than below. It feels to me too as if each successive wave will kill us. It seems as if even my own fellow passengers are helping the vessel to capsize.

Have you not faith yet? (Today’s song comes in two flavors…)

What would it take?

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 10:32-39
  • Psalm 37:3-40 (Responsorial)
  • Matthew 11:25 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 4:26-34

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised… But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.
Hebrews 10:35-36, 39

What will you stand? What is the last thing you are willing to give up before you give up?

Your political freedom curtailed?
Your economic freedom curtailed?
The loss of your “healthcare” rights?
The loss of your job?
The loss of your house?
The loss of your friends?
The loss of your internet access?
The loss of your credit cards?
The loss of your phone?
The loss of your stuff?
Will you sneak out to Mass if it’s illegal?
Would you go to another parish if your parish became infected with Americanism?
Would you take in a priest or a nun in hiding?
Would you carry incriminating evidence? A rosary, a Bible?
Would you allow it in your house?
Could you watch your friends die?
Could you watch your family die?
Could you watch your friends apostasize?
Could you watch your family apostasize?
Could you stand to be turned in by your spouse?
Your children?
Your boss?
Would you forgive them and pray for them anyway?
Could you go without food?
Could you go without water?
Could you hide in the humid darkness in still terror while men look for you?
Could you preach in prison?
Could you witness to the truth even when people around you claiming to be Christian are worshipping the emperor?
Are you sure?
Even when you can’t give up meat on Friday?
Or sit in Church longer than :55 on Sundays?
For real?

More Light!

Today’s readings:

  • Titus 1:1-5
  • Psalm 96:1-10 (Responsorial)
  • Psalm 119:105 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 4:21-25

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE

Alleluia: Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum, et lumen semitis meis.
A lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path.

n the Hebrew and the Greek versions of the OT, the word for “word” is not the one meaning “preaching” but rather it is logos and d’var, meaning more like “thought”. “The word of the Lord” is a statement about the metaphysical content rather than the literary content of the teaching. And, of course, Logos is also a title for the Second Person of the Trinity. I want to challenge us to move away from our overly-protestant yet secularized culture that focuses on text and meaning of the text and hear here a claim about Jesus, not the Bible:

A lamp to my feet is your Word.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about cycles. Caligula didn’t pay much attention to Christians – we were a small sect. Rather nutty, we were, and we were probably scandalized by his excess. But there were not enough of us for him to pay any attention. Nero, however, had a city full of us. And he was unimpressed. Later things got better. Then things got worse, every 75 years or so. Then things got really good for a generation. Then sucky. Then it got really hard because we always had to know which emperor was a good guy, and which was a heretic. And that continued for like nearly a 1000 years! As well as annoyances from the Vikings, Vandals, Visigoths, etc.

Then the Mohammedans were killing us. And the Tartars (same thing). And then there was the Reformation or, if you will, the Deformation. And there was quite a lot of killing. And, it must be noted that politics in Russia – where there was no reformation – continued the practice of “You have to know which emperor is a good guy and which is a heretic.” They are always behind the times. The English killed a lot of Christians. Oddly, claiming it was “in the name of Christ” by which they meant “Our monarch, Our money”.

Then the French started to kill us. And then the Communists. And the Klan. And the Muslims again. And here we are. So: out of the last 2000 years, how long as the Church been unharried? Not a long time at all. And why are we so convinced it’s over?

Yesterday I was blessed to hear the news that it is the intent of Catholic Charities of SF as well as the City of SF to ignore anti-immigrant rules initiated by the Feds. Well, cool. I hope such intent lasts. But how about you, personally? How about me? The next stage is set to be the making of a Database of all Muslim Persons? A whole lot of people (including myself) said we would register as Muslim just to gum up the works. But will we? Even if there is prison involved?

What’s the right thing to do? Jesus, be the light for our feet!

I think we’re coming to dark times. You know that if you’ve been reading my posts. I think people who are actually Christians will come under fire from people who hate Christians, but also from people who say they are Christians but are rather, as the Apostle says, “Of the Synagogue of Satan”. At issue will be praying for the secular authorities – which we are commanded to do – but what if those authorities command us things contrary to the Law of God? Well, then: Christians will have trouble. But what if the alternatives offered are also contrary to the Law of God? Well, then, we’ll be up a creek.

We now live in yet another era when realpolitik trumps religious faith so often, we think “just doing a little evil for greater good is ok…” Paul says no, that’s not the case at all. Christ is the King – full stop. This is why, I think, in an era of Nero, Caligula, and other such awesome rulers, St Paul said things like today: “I’m a slave of God”. And (in the alternative first reading for today, from 1 Timothy) “So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord” Jesus says, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?”

Who is the heretic and who is the good guy? Jesus, light our way! We have to let our light shine so that they will more-easily see where our heads are for chopping…

Plenty of Room

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 10:1-10
  • Psalm 40:2-11 (Responsorial)
  • Matthew 11:25 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 3:31-35

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Then Jesus looked about at those who were sitting around him, and said, Here are my mother and my brethren! If anyone does the will of God, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Mark 3:34-35 (Knox)

When I was a freshman in college, in the Spring of 1983, I went on an Episcopal Regional Youth retreat (Region II was, then anyway, all of NY and NJ plus Haiti), led by the woman who would (later) be a prominent seminary professor and other things to other people. She’s a teacher through and through: engaging and engaged and loving in delivery. On her first night she spoke on this passage, a talk she called “Family in the New Creation” and it was (and still is) a bit of a shaker for me: a formative moment. It become a touchstone of my  understanding of self. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the source, it’s not very (o)rthodox. It’s certainly not (O)rthodox. Yet, in today’s Protestant world, it would seem trite, conservative even. It would also seem that way in today’s moral climate, I think.

I won’t trouble you with some of the more scandalous stuff, although you can fill in the gaps if you know me well enough. There are two points I still find important: one gets two thumbs up and one gets one thumb down and one thumb up. Since the latter is, in fact, the foundation of the whole thing I’ll do it first:

Her main point was in this passage Jesus is dissing his biological family for a different understanding of family – one that is now our only concern – this “Family of the New Creation.” She worked really hard at explaining this to us – the whole rest of the talk was bulletpoints about what the Old Creation Family looked like versus the New Creation Family. And: I agree about 50% with this claim. Jesus was making a claim about what family is to become in his Church. Yet he was not dissing his biological family to do it – at least not enough that we can say, “Ah ,forget about that old fashioned stuff.”

Jesus wasn’t destroying the old family: he was expanding it.

Which brings me to her second point (two thumbs up): Jesus and St Paul would not have understood our concept of the “Nuclear Family”. Then she added (verbatim): “Nuclear family. Nuclear arms. As far as I’m concerned they’re both just as deadly.”

According to Byzantine and Latin tradition, the Holy Family of Nazareth was what we would call, today, a Blended Family. Joseph was a widower, he had sons and daughters already – many of whom figure into the Gospel and Apostolic storylines. James, at least, was old enough at Jesus’ birth, to be thinking of marriage. Mary may have come into Joseph’s house with her elderly mother, Anna. This is the family Jesus knew from his earliest age. When Joseph died, James would have become head of the house, and Mary the Matriarch. It’s quite different from “Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis” aka Ward and June Cleaver.  It’s more like the way the Bunkers got in later years – when the kids lived next door, with the baby, or like the Waltons. The Jews were Tribal: even in Jesus’ day, the concept of an entire town of family (Bethlehem, or Nazareth) was not alien.

For us, today, with our Nuclear (or, Nukuler) families, our limited scope… even this tribal idea must seem exotic. But Jesus expanded it to include the entire Church. When we say “brother” and “sister” here, it’s not just warm fuzzies. It’s meant to be a truth. The Body of Christ is the Quantum Family. Yet it is hard for us today to find our communities in the Church: we have our kids’ school obligations, and our work functions. We have political things, perhaps, or neighborhood social drives. Thing is, at one time, all of these were Church. The Community was the Church: the Church was the Community.

When I dream of community it looks like, at least, Jesus’ family which he has opened up to include all of us. My family had five generations of sisters, brothers, spouses, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, cousins and so on, all in one small town in upstate New York. There’s a way to feel safe! Thing was: we were not the only family to be that way in that town. Nor are we now – but I’m not there (nor my parents). That’s what’s so strange about today’s world: we are all spaced out, all over the world. Many of the Orthodox and Catholic folks I know live nowhere near their families (who may or may not be in the same faith).

So how do we recover this sense of all-in? There are places that do this, there are Orthodox and Catholic urban communities forming in places (Alaska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Toronto), places where people come together either in common housing or, at least, common neighborhoods. How are we to make this present now? I fear it becomes harder and harder, and, at the same time, more and more important.

Today is the Feast of St Francis de Sales. St Francis has become important to me, in learning about daily meditation in the Roman Catholic tradition.  I’m no where near acquainted with him enough to say anything in depth about him: but practice make perfect. I will end this post with a motto of his – which is, I think, the source of any real community, so it is also a prayer:

Live Jesus!

Monsters under the Bed

Today’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 8:23-9:3
  • Psalms 27:1-14 (Responsorial)
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
  • Matthew 4:12-23

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

The Lord is my light and my deliverance; whom have I to fear? The Lord watches over my life; whom shall I hold in dread?
Psalm 27:1

On their awesome, live album, How the West was One, (Myrrh, 1977) the 2nd Chapter of Acts Annie Herring shares her story of being afraid, as a young child, of monsters under her bed at night. And she was terrified that if even one tiny bit of finger leaned off the bed, the monster would eat it. She was sure that when she grew up it would go away… thing is, fears don’t just go away. They come from outside of us. This story always struck me, because even in my 30s I was afraid of very stupid things – the dark, walking alone in a strange place, certain neighborhoods. I’ve learned there are really two ways to deal with these fears: one involves turning them over to Jesus – and then walking through the fears. The other involves surrounding yourself with friends – and then walking through the fears. I’ve learned the fears never go away until you walk through them. It’s best if the friends are Christian friends…

About 3 years ago? 4? Anway… I went on a coffee date. We stopped on the corner of Market and 5th because I had an errand to run: taking delivery of my first set of bifocals! While we were inside “Site for Sore Eyes” an event happened. The annual West Coast March for Life went down the street. They tend to be a quiet lot: a lot of praying, some singing. The louder noise comes from the sidelines. My companion turned to me and said, “There go the best candidates for genocide.” So, ending the date a bit early, I crossed someone off my list. And forgot about the annual West Coast Walk for Life.

But his words keep ringing in my ears: there go the best candidates for genocide. Why would any sane human say such things: and him a peaceful sort, and an artist, and, by chance, a Jewish person rather proud of his Jewishness. They know the meaning of genocide. How did pro-lifers become candidates for, let’s call it, die Endlösung?

Equally annoying now, today, is the assumption (found on left or right) that anyone who is pro-life must support the current president. That may be if, by pro-life, you mean only “pro-foetus”. Pro-life addresses so much more: peace, the death penalty, healthcare, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing those who seek shelter, just wages, just work, just social policies, support for adoption, support of proper education, support for immigrants and refugees. This is pro-life in the Catholic (which means “whole”) sense: celebrating and rescuing the divine dignity present in each human life. But Pro-lifers are not allowed to play in all those other Reindeer Games because we are also opposed to denying the blessings of life to the unborn.

I’m over 50 now, I’m allowed to have opinions on things and trust my friends to be adult about it. But there are still monsters under the bed. I’ve heard stories, recently, about how reactive San Franciscans had become, yet it’s not just San Franciscans, it’s pretty much everyone in America: left and right, they want to beat the crap out of people that disagree, or fire them, or run them out of town on the rails. Everyone is human. Everyone. Humans are primates – and all primates are territorial. Watching the left get really excited about a man getting sucker punched on the internet yesterday nearly made me go register for the GOP, but I know the right would get really excited about the same thing if the victim was, say, the president of Planned Parenthood. That’s where we are in this country: I’m 100% Correct and you’re worth beating up.

So this seemed like the year some nut might try to make a few martyrs.  And I wanted to be there by way of atonement and reparation, if nothing else. As it turns out all I did was keep a man carrying a banner from tripping in a small pothole. I did, however, walk the full length of the route with the Dominicans of the Western Province, and pray the rosary. That was awesome! Prayer is communion: in the quiet places on Market, the parts of the financial district where there are no people on the weekends, there was this gentle rumble, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” At the end of each decade, the refrain from the Lourdes Hymn was sung. “Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria!” And it felt like I’d known that song forever… which I have, really: that’s the Song of Bernadette.

Yet more importantly I wanted to walk: to not be afraid to have an unpopular opinion. I wanted to put into play something that I believe deeply, that humanness starts at conception and never ends. That all of life, from conception to natural death and beyond, is the synergistic dance of the soul and God, and it’s not our place to stop, to drop out of, or to take someone else out of that dance. I’m living, experiential proof that silence is consent – by the number of folks who just assume I agree with them and never asked. But then I never offered. I wanted to walk because, increasingly, it felt like not walking was denying my faith. How can the light shine in the Galilee of the Gentiles if we, who say we follow Jesus, keep hiding out?

It was fear that kept me from saying so: Fear that keeps me, even now, worried about consequences of posting things like this. I may have walked right by my office singing the Lourdes hymn (albeit on a weekend) but this is on the internet. My one time being internet famous in this century was enough for me. Fear, though (I can talk about pride later) is my big bugaboo. Annie says God will help me with my fear, but as I noted, you still have to walk through your fears to face them. So I did.

It should start with “He is my light”.

If the video doesn’t start in the right place (33:47), click here

Orange Friday

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 8:6-13
  • Psalm 85:8-14
  • Mark 3:13-19

In the Douay, the RSV, and the NABRE wth other Mass texts.

Alleluia: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

It seems correct today to comment on recent and forth-coming events in the National Life of the United States.  It seems, also, that the Alleluia verse today invites us to such conversation.

I, personally, have little to no doubt that the socio-political status of several groups in the USA is about to change. Some will go up, some will go down. What else I know is it has ever been such at times of national change. What I don’t know is the veracity of various predicted changes. Our incoming glorious leader has shown himself to be mercurial at the least, regarding those in favour and those out of favour. I think about the man as I once felt about my boss, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church: those around him are more troublesome than the man himself. And because he is loyal, he will believe no ill of his friends nor good of his enemies. Yet because he is selfish, ultimately we won’t be able to predict his friendships from day to day. Silos of power will be constructed, people of good faith will fall ill of power from day to day, and things will generally suck. Not because of the policies of the man but because of the personality of him.

So what’s a Christian to do?

St Paul would tell us, speaking from the experience of Caligula and Nero, that we must pray for our leaders, and that by name and in firm charity and peace.

And, mindful of our Alleluia, we must be ministers of God’s reconciliation.

That does not mean cooperation with the Government, nor does it mean peaceful coexistence with injustice. It does mean living out the Gospel 24/7/365. Our government and much of the world functions in a zero-sum, divide and rule sort of game. Our faith is all in: Love. Apart from the book of Revelation (and that only if some readings are correct) you will find no Christian text speaking evil of the Emperor. This is telling. The Christians of Rome seemed to treat the person in front of them as God’s icon for veneration, and the person not in front of them – including the Emperor – as next in line for veneration. It is this attitude that most becomes us as followers of the Man who gave his life for three murderers on Good Friday: as ransom (for Barabbas), as fellow victim of Roman political oppression (with the “wise thief”), and as fellow sacrifice for Roman justice (with the “evil thief”).

We are to stand where we are and, mindful of the road to Calvary and the missions of Paul, walk where we are led, serving all those who come before us as if they were Christ, himself, because they are.

This could mean washing the feet of homeless one day and serving a meal to rich people the next, praying with people who voted for and against what has come to pass, and trusting God that we get what we need to work out our salvation; mindful of one thing: no matter who your family, race, or religion were before, be they rich white power people, or poor people of color, Christian martyrs or Jewish Holocaust victims… It is you, now, who is working out your salvation, not them.


Do the right thing.

Pray again.


This is all that is asked of us, and all that we can do.

Do not forget: Faithful Christians can never afford to settle for merely earthly ideas of justice (which are most often just legalized revenge) – for we are all equally condemned and all equally saved. Our only choice is the living out of one or the other. No matter who stands before us, until he stands condemned before the Great Judge, it is your job to get him saved, to minister divine reconciliation to him and all with him. And to love him. Full stop.


Revealing the Truth

Today’s readings:

  • Hebrews 7:25-8:6
  • Psalm 40:7-17
  • 2 Timothy 1:10
  • Mark 3:7-12

In the Douay, the RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts.

And I told the story of thy just dealings before a great throng; be witness, Lord, that I do not seal my lips.
Psalm 39:10 (40:10 MT) Knox

Last Saturday the Men’s Club at St Dominic’s Catholic Church had the annual Spaghetti Feast. When I think of Catholicism in America, I – since I’m a white European sort of person – naturally think of Italians and Irish. (Of course at one time my own ancestral England was Catholic – another story another time.) And so it will not surprise you, I think, to think of such a meal in a Catholic Church basement. There was a live band playing the theme from Godfather! And a lot of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. At one point Fr H got up and sang “That’s Amore“. You know it’s a Catholic Church when the Irish Priest is singing Italian songs at a Spaghetti dinner! It’s about the most Roman Catholic I’ve ever felt (and I’m not even one).

I have long been fascinated with two Eastern Religions: China’s Taoism and Japan’s Shintoism. Something about both of these feels, to me, very Orthodox, very Catholic. I cannot yet put my finger on it, but it’s there. On a computer I used to own (with Win 2K) the image above, of some Shinto Shrine, used to come up from time to time as the desktop Wallpaper. I can get lost in such images, imagining the the Mass or Divine Liturgy being served in such a place. There is, of course, something Not Christian there, too. But it seems more Paleolithic: Pre-Christian rather than Anti-Christian. The same is true of Taoism for me. I keep close at hand a copy of Cheng Man-Ching’s “My Words are Very Easy to Understand”, an interlinear Tao Te Ching with commentary. And the I Ching, as well, as a meditative text. Again: not as objective things, in and of themselves, but something true about them, something there that points…

Pointing to Jesus. Really.

What Knox calls the “Great Throng”, the NABRE says is the “Vast Assembly”. The RSV gets a bit more traditional and calls it the Great Congregation (language I’m used to). The Douay says it’s a Great Church.  The Vulgate could mean that, when it says Ecclesia Magna which does follow the Greek, ἐκκλησίᾳ μεγάλῃ Ekklesia Megale. And this last does mirror the Hebrew קָהָ֥ל רָֽב Qahal Rav. To be honest, I think the modern “assembly” and “throng” miss the point. This isn’t everyone: rather it’s a certain subset of everyone. Qahal, ἐκκλησίᾳ, Ecclesia, and in English, Church, all carry the sense of “called” or, better, called out. Called out of what? why, everything, everywhere. The Catholic Teaching is now and has always been as St Justin the Philosopher said in the 2nd Century:

But lest some should, without reason, and for the perversion of what we teach, maintain that we say that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago under Cyrenius, and subsequently, in the time of Pontius Pilate, taught what we say He taught; and should cry out against us as though all men who were born before Him were irresponsible — let us anticipate and solve the difficulty. We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably. But who, through the power of the Word, according to the will of God the Father and Lord of all, He was born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, an intelligent man will be able to comprehend from what has been already so largely said. 

Justin says I don’t want you to think that Christianity imagines that the rest of the world is going to hell in a handbasket: Just because Jesus was born 150 years ago doesn’t mean that all the world before (and much of it since) is lost.  Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers… That is to say that the Seeds of Christ are in all the world. …and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them… The word translated “Reasonably” several times in this passage is “according to the Logos” meaning, the word of God, those who live According to Jesus even without knowing it.

I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again: Since Jesus is The Truth, then All Truth is Jesus.  In each culture, around every human hearth, there is an “Old Testament” waiting to be fulfilled. The Gospel will find a way – it has nothing to do with Making Americans into Russians or Greeks. It has nothing to do with making the Japanese into Russians, or the Mayans into Greeks. It has nothing to do with making those of us of Western European Descent into Arabs or what have you.  But for a long time – in the East and the West – it has had to do with exactly that. The truth of the Gospel was not exported without a culture, without colonialism.  The Apostles ruled against such a thing in Acts – Gentiles do not have to become Jews first before they can become Christians; nor does Our Lady of Guadalupe need to be dressed up in Roman robes and blond hair.

In Jesus’ day, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem,  from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan,  and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him.

Now we have the whole world, the Great Church. The Gospel transcends race and culture as surely as God transcends time and space.  Our Job, as evangelists, is to declare the Gospel in the community of all people called out from the world. We won’t make them Latins, Jews, or Greeks: rather if we let the Gospel Light shine fully they will see it and become more fully Japanese, more holistically Chinese, more illuminated Mayans: Humans as they are supposed to be, fully able to be who they are in God’s image without losing their heritage in some great Mediterranean soup or American Melting Pot. (There’s nothing wrong with those last two save that we can’t equate the cultures with the Gospel.)

If we are to declare God’s word in the Great Congregation: how can we open up to the the languages and places of worship… the Unknown Gods that prefigure the Truth?