A Community of Christians in Charity with the World


JMJ

The Readings for in Easter Week (B2)


Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos.
For neither was there any one needy among them.

They will know we are Christians by our love, y’all.  So where are there needy folks sitting in the pew next to you, or on the bus next to you, wait: I bet you drive to work. You don’t notice unless they ask for money at the exit ramp, I bet.


By a blessing of liturgics we get the same lesson from Acts as we had on Sunday. Even if you think the idea of “holding all things in common” is anachronistic, surely this idea of “no one needy among them” must be a good and moral end, right? Yet the poor you will always have with you will be quoted by some wag. The wags who quote the poor you will always have with you you will always have with you. And while he’s rattling off scripture he’s damning his own soul.


Our oddly American fascination with my stuff is a moral infection with multiple vectors.  We labor for money to buy stuff: this is not wrong. But the infection arises when the labor is not for its proper end (provision for the family, the church, and the needed, together with the expiation of sin [qv: Adam and Eve]) and, instead, made as a means to get even more stuff, as is done with Marketing and all the other tools of late-model capitalism. Our desires wake and the acquisition of stuff for the sake of stuff, to appear wealthy, to match our neighbors, etc) takes over. We need more stuff to “feel safe” to be “secure”. We hoard our money and our stuff.


We want to buy stuff at the best value. The end result is foreign labor making cheap stuff which is good value in the short term, but bad value in the long term. We are happy buying a $3 gadget at WalMart instead of a $10 gadget somewhere else, even though it won’t last, was made overseas by slave labor (or robots keeping even the slaves unemployed). The end results are social injustice and junk in landfills. The exception to this being electronics where we are happy to pay top dollar because it feels better and looks better. Ironically it was made by the same slave labor and the electronics companies are getting rich of your band consciousness. And poor workers are no better off working on things we pay $5k for than they are working on things we pay $5 for.


Do I want a new $10 off-market watch that tells time, or do I want a $400 apple watch made by the same folks for the same environmental damage? That’s an easy one: I work in tech so I know which one I’d pick!


We’ve made our money and we’ve bought our stuff, certainly it stops there? Sadly: no. For there is always more stuff to have. Children raised by parents who said “no” – because they were too poor to say “yes” – very often want to say “yes” to their own kids all the time. Curiously, anyone raised by parents who always said “yes” suffers from the same problem. Our homes fill with stuff as quickly as a hoarder’s shed or a meth addict’s mobile home. Meanwhile, the needy are sitting right next to us on the bus, in the pew, or in front of our office. 


Lending to people who can repay the loan and the favor is not charity.


Think it through: how much is it costing you to read these words? Electricity, internet, Google’s data sponge, the device you are using, with it’s own data sponges, the social cost (unless you’re really alone, there is an icon of God, a human being next to you whom you’re ignoring, even on the bus. All this is only the beginning.


There was no needy person among them.


How do we get there as a Church? While this may seem abstract for you know, just one of Huw’s political rants, I firmly believe this will be a crucial question for us in the near future. How do we get to a place where they know we are Christians by our Love, by our Love?

The image at the top of this post is of a housing Co-op that I used to live in, in Buffalo, New York. It’s not a religious org. But it is a model that – in experience and  actions – is rather like the communities discussed in the Book of Acts. What if singles in local parishes banded together to form housing co-ops on the same model?

These co-ops could acquire housing, build out and save, and, in time, take care of others. As singles marry, bringing other folks into the co-op, they stay in the community, raising their children as Catholics among other Catholics. These growing communities sharing all things in common,  could care for the elderly in the parish, the sick, the homeless. They could form the front lines in Catholic Social Outreach. 


Singles come in all ages, not just young adults, but also the divorced, the widowed, the single parents, the same-sex attracted trying to live (as all these singles) chastely. This is a healthy mix that would prevent these communities from becoming speed dating societies (as many young adult ministries do). These would require true Christian charity often missing from our world. These would call us to actively live our baptismal vows with our Sisters and Brothers to the end that we could even live in Love and Charity with our neighbors. They will know we are Christians by our Love.


Could we do it?

Mamma Don’t Allow no Kyriopascha ‘Round Here

JMJ

The Readings for the Annunciation

(Transferred)

Ecce ancilla Domini. 
Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.

Our Mother, the Holy Church of Rome, will not allow a feast or Solemnity to impinge on the period between Palm Sunday and the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Anything that needs to be celebrated in that time gets bumped to the first available weekday. Since the 25th of March was Palm Sunday this year, the Annunciation is celebrated today.

But I’m going to keep this short. Here’s a question for your meditation:

What kind of omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God leaves the entire fate of the human race and all of salvation history hanging on the response of a 13 year old poor child from the backwoods of the occupied Roman world?

Yeah, You Didn’t Build That

JMJ

The Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter (Domenica in Albis) (B2)

Nec quisquam eorum quae possidebat, aliquid suum esse dicebat, sed erant illis omnia communia. Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos: Dividebatur autem singulis prout cuique opus erat.
No one said that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them. For neither was there any one needy among them: distribution was made to every one, according as he had need. 

This is one of those idyllic scenes in the New Testament that gets either ignored or latched on to, with no context. It is usually ignored by a class of persons we shall, today, call conservative capitalists. They choose to ignore huge swatches of Catholic Social Teaching in favor of a cross between Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan, tempered with a piety circumscribed by denial of human causes of Climate Change, the Latin Mass, and protests at Abortion Clinics; giving lip service to social doctrines whilst shopping at Amazon.

This is latched on to by a class of persons we shall, today, call liberal capitalists. They choose to ignore huge swatches of Catholic Social Teaching in favor of a cross between Marx and Bernie Sanders, tempered with a piety circumscribed by devotion to the Democratic Party, Taize meditation, and pronouncing foreign names as if they were native speakers of those foreign languages; giving lip service to moral doctrines whilst shopping at Amazon.

But both classes of persons fail to note that here – and everywhere else in the Bible, Old and New, Greek and Hebrew, the primary teaching about stuff is it’s not yours, it’s God’s. The secondary teaching about stuff is When you have God’s stuff you’re supposed to act like God does, and just keep giving it away.

I remember a speech given by a former president, reminding folks that none of the jobs in this country could be performed, none of the wealth accumulated save for the work done on roads, electrical wires, water pipes, etc. Even the people who build roads, hang wires, and lay pipes rely on the work done by others. It truly takes a village to do literally anything at all. We don’t own our success. We don’t own anything, really, from a theological point of view. Although we can own stuff from the world’s point of view. We also own stuff from a moral and ethical point of view. If we didn’t own it we couldn’t give it away, morally or ethically. Yet, precisely because it is God’s Stuff we are supposed to act with it as God would act with it. Not as we might want to act, not as we might even will to act.

We are obligated by Catholic Social Teachings to build a just society – and that includes a just sharing of resources. It’s the sharing that’s hard. Not only for us: but for much of our political communities. Most of us are out for justice for me. When do I get my fair share? All I want is what I have coming to me. Sure, when I get that, I’ll be happy to fight for you as well. But me first.

Most Americans are, globally considered, not poor. Compared to the vast majority of persons in God’s image, all of us are swimming in squandered wealth and resources. Although often hindered by police injustice and political machinations, our poor have available to them vast resources undreamed of by the populations of many countries. Although our medical system is nearly barbaric as far a resource distribution goes, the content of our system is quiet amazing. The existence of our grocery stores, our corner bodegas, our veggie stands, and farmers’ markets just astounds anyone visiting our country.

We are surrounded by food and payday should mean “let me go buy everything I can and give it to the poor” and, instead, payday usually means I can have a few extra beers. Although I was moved by the Occupy protests of a few years ago, and continue to be inspired by young people who takes risks in caring for the poor, the truth is that most of us (including me) have more money invested in the electronics that keep us connected to the internet 24/7 than we give away to the poor. And most of us (including me) have arguments for why that is so: I made up six while I typed this sentence, one for each homeless person sleeping on the street I will pass on my way to 6:30 Mass tomorrow.

The early Church held all things in common and we know they also shared them not only with themselves, but with others outside of the Church community. They cared not only for themselves, but for others who came to them, for babies, the elderly, and the sick all abandoned on hillsides and in forests whom they brought in and nursed back to health. (One Catholic writer opined that this constant exposure to germs and illnesses made the Christians, overall, healthier than the pagans, and so, less likely to die when epidemics struck, etc.) The wealthy Christians opened their homes to their brothers and sisters. These house churches became the loci for communities that put down historical roots. Some are still major churches in Rome 2,000 years later. 

But we do like our stuff.
And we do like our myth of self-creation.
And we love the story of self-made wealth.
And in the end we love self more than other.
But we’re happy to put a $20 in the plate every now and then as we put motion-activated water sprouts in our Cathedral doorways to prevent the indigent from sleeping there.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday.





3

Sola Scriptura Anonymous

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in Easter Week (B2)

Tunc aperuit illis sensum ut intelligerent Scripturas
Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. 

The first three classes of my (original) RCIA group, meeting in Columbus, GA, were spent addressing the Church’s teaching on the Bible. Since we were in the Bible Belt, talking about how Catholics talk about the Bible is crucial. We don’t think the thing fell down from heaven, highlighted passages in red and yellow, ready to go. And nearly every discussion in that class, no matter what the question was, usually ended up with the asker saying something like “But the Bible says…” and Fr Brian would have to bring them gently back to “but the Church says…” sometimes over a couple of discussions.


So today’s passage from St Luke – wherein Jesus has to enlighten the Apostles so that they understand the scriptures – might be especially troublesome to such a one, or to anyone who thinks they can divine the sense of Scripture just by reading it. There are other such passages after the Resurrection, such as yesterday’s reading when Jesus was at Emmaus. St Paul and Jesus rarely say anything in the first person singular. It is to the whole Church, to All Y’all, that the Spirit is given.

I attend a weekly meeting of a bunch of Catholics.  I’m not there every week, but I try to be. In fact I will go tonight! I hope it’s there tonight, but I may not be. Some Thursdays around holidays it gets a little hard to schedule. But anyway, there’s a member of the group who talks about Bible as if he were a Fundamentalist. From time to time we have a heated discussion where I’m happy to cite from my religious journey, but he is only willing to say “go read the Bible, that’s not in there…” A couple of weeks ago he wanted to quote “Vatican 2” to me, but that at least, I was ready for! (Thanks, Fr Brian!)

You really might like to read the document,  Dei Verbum (18 November 1965). But I’ve got the important passage below. I’ve added emphasis.


8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.
The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).
9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.
10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on,  has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.


It is to this that I assented when I entered the Roman Catholic Church a year ago: I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. If this is not so, why would I bother? The idea that I can still make it up as I go along haunts me though. I’ve read the Bible. I know what that passage really means. I can do what I feel is right here. I’ve been doing things my way for so long (even in the Orthodox Church) that I want to do more of the same now. One Orthodox publisher asked me over pizza once why the Catholics didn’t buy his books. Well, because your stuff isn’t approved. But that didn’t dawn on him because most of the clergy he knew didn’t function that way. 


Closing with one more passage from Dei VerbumIt is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

One cannot stand without the others.

There needs to be a 12 Step Program for Sola Scripturas. 

Pray the Day Away

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in Easter Week (B2)

Argentum et aurum non est mihi : quod autem habeo, hoc tibi do .
Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, I give thee.

In a funny book from 1987 called Life: A Warning, by Stephanie Brush, a lacklustre sequel to her 1985 comedic tour de force, Men: An Owner’s Manual, the author pointed out that everyone knows airplanes can’t fly. In the back of every winged tube there is a meditation room filled with monks chanting. These invisible do-gooders are the ones who keep the planes in the air.  The pilots are all insane folks on Xanax made to believe they are flying the machines to keep the humble monks out of the spotlight. This is a humorous retelling of the Jewish story that there is a secret Minyan of Righteous Men whose prayers keep the world together.  Prayer, that is, when it is doing what it should be doing. (I’m not sure now: this could have been in the chapter on why not to fly in Life: A Warning or else in the chapter on why not to date a Pilot in Men: An Owner’s Manual. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Finding either book in the 50¢ bin at Goodwill would be a fun find.)

The online world is awash in prayer requests and promises of prayer. I belong to a men’s group online and we fast and pray each Friday for intentions brought up in the group, yet not a day goes by when at least one of my brothers doesn’t have a request: a job hunt, a family crisis, a relative who has fallen asleep in the Lord, or one who is about to. Facebook is like that, as well: friends and friends of friends asking for prayers or forwarding requests for prayer. 

What are we to do? We could live life daily just scrolling through Facebook. I know some folks do that anyway without prayer ever coming up.  Still, taking the requests as well intentioned, what are we to do?

There is one more thing even more common than online requests for prayer: that’s the actual need for prayer. Scroll through Facebook or your local newspaper, a national rag like US Today or just read the streams of news coming off of Google Plus, the New York Times, SF Gate, wherever.  The actual need for intercessory prayer is huge. We are surrounded by a culture devoid of the realization that it needs all of our prayers at every moment.

I’ve seen how many folks will walk up to a priest (or monk) in religious garb and just ask for prayer. The power of the robes it is (because I’m was no more a righteous monk than I am a righteous tech worker). People will stop you in WalMart or at a stop light. People need prayer, but that’s not what I’m talking about. 

Peter and John walk into the Temple. Stop me if you heard this one… and they meet a beggar asking for alms. Instead they pray him to wholeness. Yes, they work a miracle, but that’s the same thing: just a shorter time to resolution. What is it like to pray for the world unasked and unmarked? Again, I’m not talking about being asked to pray: but what did you do when you heard about (pick a shooting crisis) in the news feeds on that day? Did you stop and intercede for the shooter, the victims, the police, the families, and those at home watching terrified? I didn’t. I usually start getting angry at how fast the political commentaries show up – which makes me no different from the political commentators, or the protesters, all with each our own self-righteous anger. 

What did you do when the war broke out in fill in the blank under President fill in the blank? Was your first thought In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth… or was it to take sides for or against the war?

In the story from the Gospel, the walkers to Emmaus, St Luke and his buddy, St Cleopus, meet Jesus and don’t recognize him. They talk to Jesus about all that’s happened recently in Jerusalem. It’s especially funny when the boys are like ‘You have to be the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know these things that have happened recently.” And Jesus is all, Quae? What things? Jesus doesn’t need to hear the news, of course because he is the news. Rather he wants to illustrate the story with his wisdom. He has to open their eyes to the real meanings of everything in the scriptures. 

We need that same gift of wisdom to understand the real meaning of gun violence, sweeping the homeless off our streets, and the Spotify IPO. All of these have meanings and all of these need prayer.

What I have I give thee…

It is the responsibility of the Church to be the Body of Christ in the world, to be the divine master acting. Each of us have a duty, a religious obligation to pray through the world daily. To walk around praying the rosary, to offer a Hail Mary or a Jesus Prayer for everyone that crosses our virtual, real, or newsreel paths, to elevate a meeting at work with a silent Pater Noster or Gloria Patri. The homeless, begging on the street, should be prayed for at all times. But so should the woman fighting with her partner on the Subway, the person driving the broken shopping cart in  front of you at Ingles, Fortino’s, Key Foods, Publix, or King Super. Can you pray your way through the Newspaper, or the next election cycle, not worrying about who’s on whose side, but rather learning that all are God’s people, all need redemption and all need your prayers?

What would it be like to end the day with so many prayers said?

Wherein We Reference the Watergate Breakins

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in Easter Week (B2)

Quia vidi Dominum!
I have seen the Lord!

The above image is from the TV miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth (1977). It shows Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalen delivering these very words: Quia vidi Dominum! This holy woman (the Magdalen, not Bancroft) is called The Apostle to the Apostles. She’s the one who brings the good news to the boys hiding out at home. To their credit, they don’t think she’s only telling tales and, fear aside, they run along to see for themselves. History changed.

Persons of a certain age might trace the beginning of America’s decline to the Watergate Scandal in the election leading up to the second Nixon Administration. Others will trace it to different events, especially to the codification of Slavery in our foundational documents (my nomination). But Watergate was petty bad. 

One of the Baddest of the Bad in the Watergate breakin was Chuck Colson. (How bad? The Wiki says, Slate magazine writer David Plotz described Colson as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration.” Colson has written that he was “valuable to the President … because I was willing … to be ruthless in getting things done”. Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman described Colson as the president’s “hit man.”) Convicted and sentenced for his crimes, he spent time in prison where he built up a spiritual life from the foundation of a pre-prison religious experience. Coming out of prison he founded organizations that do prison ministry. This is a marked counterpoint to one of his co-conspirators: G. Gordon Liddy. This last celebrates the event as a watershed in his life, seemingly enjoying and living up to his image of Nefarious Arch Criminal.  Colson is rather like the Wise Thief on the cross next to Jesus: justly punished for his crimes, he says only, “Remember me in your kingdom…”

Challenged on the historical reality of the Resurrection of Jesus, Colson several times gave this famous reply:  

When I am challenged on the resurrection, my answer is always that the disciples and 500 others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus risen from the tomb. But then I’m asked, “How do you know they were telling the truth? Maybe they were perpetrating a hoax.” My answer to that comes from an unlikely source: Watergate.

Watergate involved a conspiracy perpetuated by the closest aides to the president of the United States—the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean, turned state’s evidence, that is, testified against Nixon, as he put it, “to save his own skin”—and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on—two weeks! The cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. Now, the fact is that all those around the president were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake.

But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stonings, execution. Every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead. Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did. Men will give their lives for something they believe to be true; they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.

The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity. Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally. But the apostles could not deny Jesus, because they had seen him face to face, and they knew he had risen from the dead.

Anyone with children (of any age) know this same experience. It’s hard to maintain a lie for very long at all. Heck I’ll go further, anyone who has been a child knows you can’t hide a lie for very long from adults who actually want to know the truth. 

Add to that what we know: torture and prison can make you confess to things that are, themselves, lies in order to get in good with your torturers. We have no such stories of these women and men even from powerful folks who would want such stories to be told.

I heard a talk once where the speaker suggested that the Resurrection Stories were caused by guilt. Everyone felt so guilty that they had abandoned Jesus and betrayed him that they made up these stories. Sitting around the table, passing bread and wine “in memory of” him, it was almost like he was alive with them again. Gosh, that’s pretty. 

Pretty illogical. 

Mary, too, and John – both of whom did not abandon Jesus – along with Mary Magdalen and a number of the other brave women should then, I think not have these guilty consciences, right? Should have spent the next 60 years calling BS on their menfolk. No such luck. Mary Magdalen is said even to have preached to Caesar.


St Paul says at one point, Si autem Christus non resurrexit, inanis est ergo praedicatio nostra. If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain.  Miserabiliores sumus omnibus hominibus. We are of all men, the most miserable

You see how much is risked on this story by the Early Church? 

Everything.

But more, these peasants, both men and women – many of whom had run away at the first sign of trouble – go from hiding in the dark to loud, public proclamation in a matter of days.  Then they literally drop everything and scatter to the four corners of the known world: from India to Africa, to the Black Sea, to the British Isles. No, really, what the heck happened here?

And fresh off the Experience of that first Holy Week and Easter, asking St Peter to explain, more than 3,000 residents of Jerusalem become Christians in one day.  They know something is going on. But what?

I do realize we are 2000 years removed. There seems a whole other layer of proof required now, but the initial groundwork cannot be dismissed by saying “they were all liars” or “they were all delusional.” Do you die for such things? All of you? I’ll let Colson wrap up here.

No, you can take it from an expert in cover-ups—I’ve lived through Watergate—that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord. Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful—despite prison, torture, and death. Jesus is Lord: That’s the thrilling message of Easter. It’s a historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence—and one you can bet your life upon.

Charles Colson, BreakPoint Online Commentaries (4-29-02)

Of course, the problem is if the Resurrection is true the other stuff (moral teachings, church, etc) might also be.