Now Judas thief & liar, devil, friend
Here come I carefully to you: for pot
& kettle are both black & we are not
That far I think each from the other’s end.
The Priceless One you sold for not a lot:
the price of one escapéd slave. Yet I
just any petty lust or care will buy
with love I owe to him; his love forgot.
Dear Judas, priests through you the Christ did buy
I understand & pity for I fear
That I your course can eas’ly find quite near:
Your steps for hunger’s slake I trod & die.
Lord Christ forbid that I my feet will wend
on damning ways that Satan to me sends.
When trapp’d in sins the night without a moon
is dark: no hope nor freedom found in lust
that fills this moment’s craving only. Trust
Alone in God can make his lovers swoon.
To Christ so now she comes. As come she must
for rest, to whom men come for passions’ fall.
So she whose empt’ing man can’t fill can call
to him whose emptying salvation thrust
to hell and every time of Terra’s ball.
His feet that soundéd first in Eden’s glen
she bathes in tears. She dries with hair & then
anointing them: her love repairs her fall.
Yet Judas fails to see this grace who soon
is damnt as dances she to Jesus’ tune.
Ye scribes & lawyers, hypocrites ye brood
of vipers: pharisees who twirl the law
to lure a proselyte into your maw
then spit out worse; within your precepts stewed!
The Torah’s words from out your crooked craw
draw obligations far too hard to bear.
Our God’s Revealéd words for making fair
you twist in ways that Moses never saw.
But turn ye now from that corrupted fare
& belly up to God’s reforming grace
Which calls the people of another race
to make both one in his redeeming care
The Jews & Gentiles both hath God pursu’d
Would at his table both by Christ include.
For quite some time in the Western Church no feast is allowed to coincide with Holy Week or Bright Week (as it is called in the East), so, from today until the Sunday after Easter any feast that shows up gets either ignored or moved. Thus the Liturgical Celebration of Annunciation is, this year, on 9 April.
But, today is 25 March, the Annunciation of Our Lord to Mary. It is also Palm Sunday. And so we are permitted an odd confluence of images in meditation. Of the Angel coming to Mary announcing Liberation from Sin on the one hand and, on the other, of the Crowds coming to Jesus announcing liberation from Rome; of Mary’s humble acceptance by her human fiat of God’s plan, and of the Crowd’s rejection of that plan when they realized Jesus wasn’t going to do anything political, in fact, he implicated them in the politics of oppression as well.
For humans don’t want to see political oppression as the result of human sin. It is a symptom, not the disease.
The Annunciation to Mary that God was going to act in this backwood country, in the life of this unwed teenager was a profoundly political act, sure. It is only accidentally so. But to cure the disease you have to start at the roots, if not below them. The human race needed to be restarted, a human mother, God acting, this could not be done in a place where Emperors walk. But kings must be brought low to worship Divinity. And all raised together. If you miss the glory of God acting, the politics are only a shell, an idol, an icon of only more sin.
Yet bread and circuses win the race in the short term. And crowds seeing no kingdom by Wednesday will walk away, or turn angry and what was a mob of cheers will be come a basket of deplorables, easily led by their own anger. They follow the idol of Rome, even when they hate it. They do God’s will even when they think they reject it.
Humble submission to God’s plan is required, but even the mob can be part of it.
So Angels hail full of Grace and Cry on the same day for human blindness. We hail our king (and his mother) only to betray them both in a short while. How often that happens every day, when morning prayers are done and we walk out into the world.
Hail full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. We were going to tak him a way, and we said we’re going to make him king, but we’re going to take him away to crucify him.
This is our secret plot.
But it is the divine plan from the beginning.
And you see us cheer
You know the jeers
Help us come to sing
All glory laud & honor children sing:
to thee hosanna, Lord, hosanna! Praise
we thee with them, our olive branches raise.
Thy train in triumph through the gate we bring
With garments strewn the road to glory lays:
what ails the crowd that soon they’ll turn away?
Here where we hear hosanna cried today
great hearts will fail as darkness on them preys.
O Lord prevent our hearts that make essay
of crowning Thee as Israel’s King & God
from dancing to temptation’s tunes that prod
like cattle us, thine image thus to slay.
Let us not join them as thy hands they sting
with nails & in our name they kill their king.
Tiz better to have lov’d & lost: so said
the Bard when speaking of the heart’s romance.
What would he say if God & man did dance
As friends til mortal man is stoppéd dead?
Then God can weeping fall in mourner’s trance
While sisters, neighbors, pharisees, & all
will wonder at his healing advent’s stall:
when but one touch restor’d the blind man’s glance.
But God has come prophetic’ly to fall
the gates of death. Our Lover’s voice will part
hell’s ramparts! Raising Laz’rus by God’s art:
The tyrant soon will rule an empty hall.
Here he whom four days dead in darkness tread
Rejoices now and rests in his own bed
I try to get through a little more every year. So, once again, I will try to make the Holy Week Sonnet Cycle complete.
The days of Holy Week have traditional associations in the Byzantine and Western Liturgical traditions. I’ve parsed the Sonnets out according to a hybrid to make the pattern: Saturday before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday in the East. Then Palm Sunday, Holy Monday lectionary in the East is about the Pharisees, then the Harlot who washes Jesus’ Feet on Tuesday. Spy Wednesday in the West is assigned to Judas, and the the Holy Triduum begins with an Interlude, and multiple sonnets for Thursday and Friday. I have finally gotten the sketches of a first Sonnet for Saturday. Three or four are needed! And also a bucket full for Sunday. And one for Thomas Sunday.
Who knows? I might get it done this year. Maybe.
The Readings for Tuesday in Passion Week (B2)
Why didst thou bring us out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness?
In the Fathers, Egypt is seen as a symbol of our human bondage to sin. The Passover is a glorious sign of liberation, a foreshadowing of Jesus work. The Red Sea is baptism (our initiation into Jesus work) and the Promised Land is the final consummation of that work in this life/in the next life. The Forty Years though (and, by extension the 40 Days of Lent) usually get assigned to catechesis. Yet, while all the other signs are in order, this one is not. Would it not make more sense to view the 40 years of Wandering in the Wilderness as a true mark of the Christian Life? Easter is Passover. The Baptism in the Red Sea. Pentecost is the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and the giving of the Spirit to the Church in Confirmation. The wandering comes after Passover, after Pentecost.
The newly Baptized is freed from sin and then left (not alone, but still left) to Wander in the World. For, about, 40 years…
If that description “clicks” at all for you, then the passage we have today will make sense.
How many times does one say to oneself over morning coffee alone (or over Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevensies, Lunch, Tea, Dinner, Supper, or grocery shopping, or maybe in the shower, or cleaning the litter box…) Why did I ever leave Egypt?
Even though the very Idea of Egypt, often, makes us nauseous when we are sane, in these moments of insanity, when it’s enough to remember the food was good, or mercy, but a swim in the Nile felt good on a hot evening. There are no Niles in this desert. There are Oases, sure, and miracles and daily manna from heaven, but we’ll spend all day on our feet in the hot sun and every day its manna bread and the morning and tiny birds at night. There were games in Egypt, and pastimes that could while away the hours on those Sunday afternoons while the Bottomless Mimosas wear off, the long dark Brunch Hangovers of the Soul. Let’s go!
This is why God’s serpents don’t seem to rough to me: but rather merciful. When I am sane, I know that a return to what was killing my soul and warping the reward pathways in my brain would be beyond foolish. But in my insanity, nearly nothing can distract me from committing spiritual suicide. My cat has taken to jumping on my lap and clawing my hands. A serpent seems merciful. (The Fathers say God allows death because it keeps us from continuing to sin…)
Monday afternoon on the 38R Geary Rapid bus, I hesitated to cross myself as we passed the Cathedral because someone might see and I yelled at myself because, What are you going to do, date someone on this bus? Egypt is so real.
The 40 Years are a perfect sign of the Christian journey from Pentecost to Death. Stay in the tribe, daily Manna from Heaven (Mass), be the Church in place, Keep a can of Whoopin’ Spray on hand for the Amalekites, rejoice when God stomps your enemies, mourn when your people fall, get wowed by the occasional miracle, put up with things happening, and stop complaining about wanting to go back to Egypt, diddle darn it all: Hush!
The Readings for the Solemnity of St Joseph
Following the advice of a wise Benedictine Prior to “preach the propers”, I’ll write about one today: even the non-scriptural propers such as the collects and prefaces are the condensed teachings of the Church and, so, inspired by God.
Joseph is entirely silent in the Scriptures. This is important: his words are implied in a few places, but never recorded. Jesus’ Father speaks a few times in the New Testament, but Joseph never once.
When Mary was too weak after giving birth to do much of anything, it was Joseph who held the Baby, looking into his face, kissed his forehead, and looked heavenword saying “What now?” And yet, when the Child Jesus first learned to speak it was Joseph that was called Abba. When Jesus came running home crying Abba, it was Joseph that helped. When Jesus was 13 and was Bar Mitzvahed, it was Joseph who stood by him. When Jesus learned to work with his hands it was Joseph who taught him. When Jesus learned all the things a Jewish man learns – into which mysteries a woman is not initiated – he, God in the Flesh, who taught these mysteries to men in the first place, learned them from Joseph. And when Joseph died it was Jesus who comforted his mother, and his half brother, James, at the loss of the only father that family had other than God.
So when we say a Child learns about God the Father from her Father, Joseph is the model.
And yet Joseph – who is named the Pillar of Families and Protector of Holy Church – is entirely silent. That silence is one not of speechlessness, but of contemplation. He is daily in the presence of God, and is a true model for an ascetic, contemplative man living in the world.
My birth father left when I was 1. I never knew him. Mom’s second husband was an ass who physically abused kids. Mom left him when he threw a candy dish at my head. Mom’s third husband, whom I call Dad, learned about being a father as we all do – by suddenly having kids. He’s done a good job. In my early years the father I knew was my grandfather who was, himself, a bit of a scoundrel and a rogue, although not abusive in any way.
So once, when leaving a confessional, as the priest called me back (You’re not in trouble… don’t worry…) it was with some trepidation that I followed his advice: just, go to Joseph he said. Fathers have not been a very good experience in my life.
What is true of Jesus is true of you if you are a member of his Body. Joseph is your Foster Father as well, as Mary is our Mother. Joseph is the head of the house, the breadwinner, the protector; all the things our Fathers were intended to be albeit with varying degrees of success. St Joseph is that for us as Members of Christ’s Body, the Church.
When I struggle with Vocation, Joseph is my model, for he was not of a priestly tribe or family. He was a laborer and yet he lived a priestly life in the service of the Church as it was then: the holy household of Nazareth. If ordained ministry is not for me, let me at least have this life of working for and providing for the Church, of daily seeing Jesus, of hearing the wise counsel of Mary, of living and dying in that service.
Increasingly I find in Joseph great comfort, blessing, and strength. My Daily Offering to the Holy Family, in part, says:
Chaste Heart of Joseph, I beg thy prayers. Like thee may I be chaste and stable. May my work be done with all due speed and diligence; ever be ordered only to the provision, safety, and advance of God’s Kingdom, the Church. Bless my skills and talents that, like thee, I may ever use them to God’s glory and not my own. By thy prayers, may my work be crowned with the virtues of fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Let me be neither greedy nor sloth; let not the noonday demon find me ready to make a mockery of God’s labor or my own. Fix me in chastity in action, word, and thought.
Pray for me, St Joseph, together with thy Most Immaculate Spouse, that I may work out my salvation in fear and trembling; that having thee as my father and Mary as my mother, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
As an ascetic, contemplative living in the world, and yet daily in the presence of God, Joseph is our model, our leader, even. The first fruit of this way of life in the world.
The Readings for Passion Sunday (B2)
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause I came unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.
The title of this post is the “Sacrament of Obedience”. In the Pagan Roman world, the “Sacramentum” is the Oath one makes giving oneself to the gods in military service. The oath made on sacer or sacred. This use of “sacramentum” is carried into Christian thinking around Baptism: which Tertullian said in De Corona was the only sacramentum a Christian should swear. Sacrament gets linked to the Greek “Mysterion” or “Mystery” in the “Mystery Religions”. Another title might be Mysterium Oboedientiae, as long as one isn’t thinking about a Detective Story!
At a few points in the Gospels either Jesus or the Narrator will say that Jesus “hour had not yet come”. Then, suddenly, here in verse 23, Jesus says, Venit hora, The Hour is Come ut clarificetur Filius hominis. And then, almost the very next thought, Nunc anima mea turbata est. Now my soul is troubled. Jesus can see ahead: this story takes place after Palm Sunday, it’s maybe Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week. Death is literally just beyond the next bend in the Space-Time continuum. Jesus admits this is causing some concern. “My soul is seriously churned up about this…” is more like the Greek and the Latin than “troubled”.
I have panic attacks when I’m not paying attention. The cycle runs something like a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. You know the young woman in the fuzzy white sweater will die… because that fuzzy white sweater needs blood on it. But when? When will she die? Around and around the house with the lights out, listening for a sound that maybe shouldn’t be there. And then not even a proper scream, just a bloody sweater. Except a panic attack can last days. You know what? Now is my soul troubled resonates with me. It helps me to know that Jesus can feel this, that God, himself, can feel this. I say, “When I’m not paying attention” because panic attacks seem to be triggered by the illusion that I’m in control. When I’m not paying attention, it’s easy to convince me that I should be in control. Panic follows shortly when I honestly admit I’m not – although, says the illusion, I should be.
Jesus’ solution, though, is rather different than mine. Jesus knows that nothing can come at him or to him which is not sent by God. Jesus trusts in that fully. He abandons his own will surrendering himself into the will of the Father. His soul is troubled, but he is at peace. Now, my solution is let the grinding rocks in my soul keep me up at night, passing from one mental space to the other and then back again, until none of this makes any sense. How much better is Jesus’ way! In this Jesus is modeling what should be the approach of all Christians. Yeah, this bothers me, but God be glorified in my life.
Paying attention here, is opening one’s eyes to God’s leading in the dance. One does not have to be in control. One need only to follow the next step in God’s lead. How to do that, though? How to dance and guard your inner peace?
In the Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales said that, “To be perfect in our vocation is nothing else than to fulfill the duties which our state of life obliges us to perform, and to accomplish them well, and only for the honor and love of God.” Each of us, in our state of life, have different duties. Notice he says duties, not choices that make us feel happy, or following our bliss, or our passions. He says, “perform your obligations.” At the same time, he does not give out new ones. Francis, a Bishop, is writing to Jane de Chantal, a widow who is seriously overworked! He lays no new obligation on her: only that she do what needs to be done in the course of her daily life, to do it in love for God and in prayer. This little way she follows until her death, “Asking nothing and refusing nothing”; only abandoning herself to God’s will more and more in the course of her life.
This, then, is our dance, following Christ as he is submitting to God’s will in his own sacrificial death. He is Lord of the Dance, showing us the way to do the same. This is the Sacrament, the Mystery of Obedience: the act of obedience that is, itself, making us sacred to God. It’s not easy. It can be troubling. But it is the way to heaven.
For support in this practice, I commend to your use, the Litany of Divine Providence. I’ve only just begun using this at night, before reading Night Prayer.