Some sheep go astray…

Can you get from this image to the topic?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Benedict, Abbot.
Wednesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Potius ite ad oves quae perierunt domus Israel. Euntes autem praedicate, dicentes : Quia appropinquavit regnum caelorum.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Bishop Barron often makes a painful point: for every one new convert that enters the Church, six leave. In the USA alone, the second largest religious group is ex-Catholics. The largest is Catholics, as well. In the San Francisco Bay area, 25% of the population is Catholic. Although that “organized religion” thing sets us apart, the reality is that we are so lost among the 75% that folks don’t see us. And often the folks not seeing us are ex-Catholics who would rather forget about us in the first place.

Go to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.

Although it’s tempting to want to evangelize among folks who are already Christian, I think Jesus’ first words of direction are important here. The lost sheep do certainly include the “separated brethren,” as they are called, but they’re not lost. They do not fit under the rubric of the “Nones” who have nothing to do with Organized Religion and the lapsed who just have not come back within the last 20 years. I’ve been amazed at the number of lapsed Catholics I know. Folks who used to go, but don’t anymore. I knew folks in High School and College that put my liberal protestant piety to shame, but now probably don’t have even a Bible in the house gathering dust.

I’m sure they have stories like mine: one day I woke up and didn’t believe it. It made no sense to me – at least not as much sense as sex and a job, a commuter card benefit, health insurance, and a few hobbies. I wasn’t cavalier enough to have only 1 hour on Sunday devoted to this private hobby so I dropped it altogether. Besides, there were other religions that were so much more fun in the first place: better food, better rituals, boutique cultural contexts, more interesting DIY functions. Everyone in every bar knew what a “christian” was: Episcopalianism was only slightly less exotic than a Rum and Coke. But no one knew what a Gnostic Pagan was. 

Others may have other reasons for leaving and more heartfelt and less egotistical than mine. But there is one story. 

How does one get back? You have to be invited. I had one afternoon of emotional sap: listening to an old LP I found in the bottom of my closet cleaning out my Sophomore year dorm room. It was of 70s Christian music, and it brought back “all the feels” as they say today. And I cried a lot. Also I left it in the dorm, along with the record player I had it on. That’s how important those feels. But then one day – some 15 years later – I was invited back. The person that invited me was named Ethan. And his invite took the oddest of forms: for he only suggest that maybe, when I moved to San Francisco in 1997, I might have something in common with a local Episcopal Church. And it took me the better part of a year or two to hear the invite in my memory and respond. That community was a perfect way to get me back inside… 21 years later I think it worked, although my path has more than a thousands hairpin turns. Look, you never know how God is going to act. My invite to the Catholic Church came in the most unlikely of ways – from the husband of my Orthodox Goddaughter, who mentioned St Dominic’s to me offhandedly. When the time came Nathan’s recommendation calmed my nerves a bit. And by “coincidence” he was at the service when I made my profession of the Catholic faith.

Our job is to go to the lost sheep. We may not be the folks who “win them back” but Ethan and Nathan both extended invites to me.
How do we go to the Lost Sheep? How can we say the Kingdom of God is at hand in a way that they can hear? St Benedict, whose feast is today, has been nearly maimed into a political slogan by the ranty right, but the Father of Western Monasticism knew that living the kingdom properly wins converts.

At Mass last night, Fr D reminded us that even Dorothy Day knew you don’t do it with “social action” that comes without dogma, but that might be a way in. Finding out that the Church’s pro-life action includes housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, free education for kids and adults, justice for refugees, social services for the poor, medical consultancies (everything from foot-care to drug-interaction advice), and rehab clinics… doing these actions – you can do them all at my parish – will draw others in. Jesus said “let your good deeds shine before men” that they may praise God. Our right action will lead to others coming in for right praise. Our Orthopaxis (which can only flow from our Orthodoxy) will lead to others’ Orthodoxy and, in turn, their Orthopraxis as well.

Go out and find the lost sheep… and tell them the Kingdom is here. Now.

And invite them in.

___

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Being a Local Guide

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam.The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

In my “work” as a Google Guide, answering questions about businesses on Google Maps, I’m asked the same sort of questions over and over about local shops, restaurants, bars, and events. One of my favourite questions is “Is this place easy to spot from a vehicle in normal traffic?” Since I walk a lot, I don’t usually think of that, and in this day of GPS and “catch a Lyft right to the street address” it’s not something that bothers me.  But I do think about it for gMaps.  In fact, on SF streets where the speed limit is 25 mph but most folks do 45 unless you know where you’re going, you’re going to end up somewhere else. It’s not an issue in my current house of worship (see the photo above). I usually tell the Lyft driver, “turn left and you’ll see the front door…” I would make a comment about “most” Catholic churches, but the 70s kinda ruined it. A bishop once said of my former Catholic parish (in Georgia), “Is this a Church or a Pizza Hut?”

I was asked on Sunday why I had become Russian Orthodox (the subtle difference between the OCA and ROCOR is a bit hard to convey) and I told the story of how, even though I lived within walking distance of an Antiochian Parish, they had no sign outside with a service schedule, they had no Yellow Pages ad (this was in the early 00s), they had no voicemail (churches used to put their service schedule on their voicemail), and they had no website. Father Victor, memory eternal, the dean of the OCA cathedral, had not only a website, but one that was often updated by either himself or by his eldest son who is now the dean of the Cathedral. Fr Victor was committed to evangelism as was his assistant, Fr David – and as is the new Dean, Fr Kyrill.  A neighbor of the Antiochian parish tells me they still don’t have service times posted. SInce he had never seen what we call the Orthoburka, he thought maybe they were Muslims.


Since a lot of us are on the road somewhere, having visible churches is important. But walk-in or drive-by traffic is not the best source for new folks. Getting most folks into church still requires an invite.

When I was younger, I would hear our Lord in today’s passage talking about “laborers” and think “ordained ministry”. That’s not a very Catholic idea at all. In fact, there are places the non-ordained can go and things we can do that are too difficult for clergy and, sometimes, even for the non-ordained members of religious orders. Sure: a friar looks cool, but he sure does stand out in a crowd!

A former boss, an Episcopal Priest, once shared this with me: Every member of the People of God (Greek, “Laos” which means “people” gives us the English “Laity” More on that in a minute)… every member of the People of God is called to be an Evangelist, an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. All of us Evangelists are called to the Eucharistic Table for strength, solace, and empowerment by God’s Spirit. Some of us, however, don’t do quite so good as Evangelists, so we give them other duties. We make them waiters around the table. Some don’t do so good, even so. We still have a function for them. We make them each a maître d’ and give them a staff of waiters. 

Now, the Eucharistic community of Evangelists (with our waiters and maître d’s) is often in trouble. So we’ll take a maître d’ every once in a while, maybe one that’s past his prime, and we’ll let him serve in a new function. We’ll dress him up in fancy robes and a big hat, and put him out in front of the community to draw fire, as sort of a decoy. This way, the whole community, of Evangelists, waiters, maître d’s and decoys can do the work of spreading God’s Kingdom, each in their own role and function.

It’s not quite what you might think of the ordained ministry, but it makes a point I’ve heard over and over in the Catholic Church: it’s our job, as the Laity, to do this work. The ordained ministry is there to support us in this work and call ups to deeper holiness (which is the internalized version of this work). We turn the whole structure on its head when we forget that the point of our hierarchy is service: the higher up you go, the more folks you have to serve. The Pope is called “The servant of the servants of God”.  

So when we pray for more laborers, we don’t mean more clergy (although we need more Priests in America, at least). What we mean is more folks in the Laos. I heard an Evangelical – whom I rather like – say that there should be no division between the “laity” and the “clergy” (fair). He then said “Laity” comes from the Greek word for “nobodies”.  In fact, quite the reverse: in the Greek Old Testament which Jesus would have used, “Laos” is used for Am Israel, the people of God, but not for the Gentiles (the Goyim). The People is an “us” term. It’s not a nobody, it’s a member of and worker for the Kingdom.

That’s us, the Evangelizing people of God.

Can someone see your Parish from the road in normal traffic? If not, why are you not standing in the traffic directing folks into your spacious parking lot? You are the best local guide going. But you gotta work it.
_____

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Math is hard.


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et sponsabo te mihi in sempiternum; et sponsabo te mihi in justitia, et judicio, et in misericordia, et in miserationibus. Et sponsabo te mihi in fide; et scies quia ego Dominus.
And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. 

Zaphod Beeblebrox, the former president of the galaxy, was once condemned to a form of torture so cruel that no species was known to survive it. The Total Perspective Vortex showed the condemned being their true place in the universe by showing the entire universe and they, themselves in it. As this was the universe created by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker trilogy, there was a humorous point, of course: but it was driven home. We’re nothing.

Dr Sagan tried to make this same point in a different way, using an image of earth taken from beyond the reaches of our solar system and sent back. It’s more complex than Zaphod’s experience, but the message is much the same…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Through an odd literary conceit, Beeblebrox was not destroyed in the torture. I think Adams was on to something far more Christian that the self-described Atheist would ever know.

These verses today from Hosea are part of the blessing recited daily by pious Jewish men as they wrap their arm with the Tefillin. Specifically the bit about betrothal is added as the finger on the left hand is wrapped three times, as if it were a wedding ring.

I found this image in the wild,
but memory tells me this is Daniel Sieradski

The Tefillin are a sign of the wedding between God and Israel, the covenant struck at Sinai. This marriage, in turn, is a prefiguring of the restored union between God and all mankind, lost in paradise but restored in the last days.

God has bound us to himself in love by becoming one of us, by entering into this world as it’s creator, living and dying in it as its subject, and rising from the tomb as the conqueror of death and the Lord of all.

Wrestling thus with this passage I began to wonder at two things: the gender bending in that it is only men who wear Tefillin according to tradition, and yet it is men who speak as being betrothed (as bride) to God. And, in what way might this be personalized? Could one speak of himself as personally the Bride, in the Church or in the New Israel? Certainly the Tefillin are done individually, a sign, a connection, a sacramental, if you will, of the covenant itself between God and his people. But can that be seen as “one’s personal relationship”?

As Zaphod is exposed to infinity he discovers that he is, in fact, the center of the universe. It takes a while (in the books) to figure out why, but when I first read that it made perfect sense, at least in a mathematical sense. What is the center of infinity? Some, today, would want to say infinity means we are nothing. This is a sort of tyranny of gigantic numbers. The large wins, the small is lost. But in God’s economy, it is the proud that is lost. The humble wins. And, as Dr Sagan noted, these infinities leave us humble.

In God’s creation, as close to infinity as we can imagine, and God himself, who is an infinity of Love, what is the center of infinity? The math is clear: the center is you. The identifiable center of the infinite ocean of Love flowing from the Eternal, Radiant Is… is you. In a circle whose circumference is infinite, the center is everywhere. Far from being destroyed by the perspective of infinity, we are blessed to realize that it is one, in the first person, who is betrothed to the Eternal One, blessed be he. And it is that love, the source and ground of all being, that makes my own being, all other being possible.

If you were the only person left, God would die for you. In love. Infinity is in your hands and your heart. And you are betrothed in Love.

A few twists and you’re good to go.

JMJ

The Readings for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Libenter igitur gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis, ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi.
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 

Paul reports having a “thorn in the flesh”, some secret skate key that Satan can crank on to send Paul coasting; a way that Satan knew he could get to Paul. And Paul kept praying that God would take it away. And God said, No.

What was this thorn? The KJV makes it sound kinda like a sickness of some sort. Think like maybe the Ague, or the Dropsy, or Lumbago: some kind of old-timey illness that we might cure nowadays with a shot, but back then was just annoying. The Greek, though, says it’s more like a “pointy thing in my flesh” using the Greek word for the actual body, sarx ,the physical thing itself rather than a complex metaphor. This is something that bothers or hurts his body. The Latin of St Jerome renders this as “stimulus carnis meae” an irritation or even a “stimulus” of my flesh, in my sarx, my physical self. Paul has something rather more like a case of scabies,  physical scabies with spiritual implications.

I have a fear, a deep seated fear that rises from this verse. But also from an obscure, fringey (and admittedly heretical) teaching in Russian Orthodoxy called the Toll Houses.  This is like the idea of Purgatory, but with no way out: after we die, as we journey to the heavenly throne, the demons will be allowed to tempt us with our sins and we must rely on God’s Grace. Yes, I know this sounds rather more like the Hungry Ghosts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead or some other Pagan parasite on Christian truth. But I have a fear that after death I will be just as distracted as I am now by certain temptations of the flesh. And even though these cannot be fulfilled by the dark ghostly powers, they can be spuriously proffered. And what it I give in? And I am so afraid, that even at the last, a tautly flexed curve or a husky growl will doom me. 

Look… here is my weakness. Yes, I have other sins, but here is where God’s grace must be my sufficiency. What was Paul’s? I do not know. But here is stimulus carnis meae. For some it may be power, or wealth, or some other form of pleasure. But for me, just now, this is it.

Sufficit tibi gratia mea. This whispered promise, this trumpeted grace, these softly spoken words of my divine lover are the anchor of my hope against that fear I described. There is my weakest point and even so, there is the grace the strongest.

And I don’t know who you are who are reading this… but we are all taught to fight, to struggle, to reform, to build up, yet I think right here (or right there, where it is for you) that is the place to keep calm and pray. It’s not right to say, “Ah, well, God’s gonna fix it” because what if he doesn’t? What if “fixing” is not the point? What if the whole point is to give God the glory for rescuing even someone as messed up as me? Yes, we are to fight, to struggle, to semper reformada oursleves more and more into conformity with the Cross of Christ. But here, where the base material is least supported, where the foundation stones are the weakest, where the ice is thinnest… God’s glory comes from us saying, “You better got this. Cuz I do NOT got this.”

St Paul says that pro me autem nihil gloriabor nisi in infirmitatibus meis. As for myself, I will glory in nothing but my infirmities.  I will glory in nothing, myself, but these very things that God’s got for me. I can do nothing else… the actual reality that I am standing here (or sitting here) on a Saturday night typing at all and not, right now, chirruping up some bloke in bar is not an act of self control, but rather an act of prayer.

That’s not some holier than thou condescension, as you have no idea at all how easy it is to turn that skate key, to stand me on top of some hill in San Francisco and just give a shove. 

It is for the grace to pray at that point, when the skate key starts turning, that I beg God for each day. The three times to pray for this are morning, noon, and night, for all the ways that key might be turned are subtle, covert, and gentle. One does not need more than a lyft ride and a chatty fellow passenger, or an extrovert rider on the bus. There are so many affectations that need repair, so many coded idioms that need to be overcome. And in the end, the issue is only this: one doesn’t fight alone. This is a tag team match. And I’m not the main partner.

God’s grace is sufficient and, to paraphrase an old movie, the power of Christ indwells me.

This is God’s glory, not my own. We can dance in the fiery furnace not because we’re skilled in fending off hot coals but rather because God makes the flames throw dew. There is nothing sweeter than the breeze on a summer’s evening when it is carrying God’s grace from the furnace heated seven times and even killing those who stoked the fire. But here there is healing, mercy, peace.

A Hymn to God the Father

BY JOHN DONNE

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, 
         Which was my sin, though it were done before? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run, 
         And do run still, though still I do deplore? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won 
         Others to sin, and made my sin their door? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun 
         A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun 
         My last thread, I shall perish on the shore; 
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son 
         Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore; 
                And, having done that, thou hast done; 
                        I fear no more. 



_____


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Temples of the Nation

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 13th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et dixit Amasias ad Amos : Qui vides, gradere : fuge in terram Juda, et comede ibi panem, et prophetabis ibi. Et in Bethel non adjicies ultra ut prophetes, quia sanctificatio regis est, et domus regni est. 
And Amazi’ah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 

It can be impossible to preach against the political order. Yet we need to hear it. We are Catholics first then whatever we are after that. We are Catholics who are sojourning in the US. It’s not that the current political order is worse than anything that came before (or will come after) but any political order will be missing the fullness of the Gospel. There’s always need to bring the secular order more and more in line with the Gospel. Even in those rare cases when the crown was supposed to be aligned with the Church, the need for constant correction was present. How much more so when the nation has no desire to be in sync, no self-orienting call to follow?

How do we deal in a nation that expects us to have public political opinions but not religious ones? Recently, at least, it seems as if we’ve been willing to have our only flags be our political opinions, even fighting with our brothers and sisters in Christ over politics rather than being one in Christ. Although we know that political opinions are religious ones, that there is no such thing as a “secular” topic, we are quite willing to judge our brothers and sisters over their politics devoid of religious content. We act as if the prime moral issue is voting for this candidate or that candidate. We don’t point out the theological issues, we don’t even use politics as a shorthand to make a religious comment. The politics are the issues – just as they are for our secular friends.

At Mass yesterday we opened with Faith of Our Fathers which is a perfect take on politics. It’s a song about our ancestors in England, when being Catholic meant death under the Martyr Maker, Queen Elizabeth I.

Faith of our fathers, living still
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word!
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If we, like them should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
will win all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God
Mankind shall then indeed be free.
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife,
And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

We are called to live the Christian Faith to our death – be that the red martyrdom of the sword, the white martyrdom of the vowed life, or the green martyrdom of the sacraments and self denial. By dying to self, and living to Christ, by loving our enemies and turning the other cheek, we will win the salvation of all. These are our prime endeavors – not voting for the right candidate (although that can be an important part of the deal). And we need to be willing to rebuke our leaders in the name of Christ – not in the name of political ends. It’s nice that Obama wanted something like universal healthcare, but no one challenged him in the name of Christ to make it a moral system, or to stop his other immoral actions. And most of us were just happy to get something.  It’s nice that Trump wants to appoint pro-life judges, but that doesn’t absolve him of the strident moral issues from other parts of the administration. Nor should it. 

So it’s impossible to preach against the political order. Even though they need to hear it. We should pray for each other – that we can become courageous. And then we should be willing to face exile and martyrdom for it. Otherwise we are only partisans and our churches temples of the nation instead of temples of God.  We make an idol out of political affiliation and we deign to weave into that idolatry our religious journey.

 We forget we are in the US but not of it. Catholics sojourning in the land of exile.

_____


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Typology for the Fourth

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 13th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et vota pinguium vestrorum non respiciam. 
Neither will I regard the vows of your fat beasts. 

Iconoclasm is the breaking of icons. In modern usage it tends to be a good thing: destroying “sacred cows” of the culture in order to progress in a field. But historically, iconoclasm was a retrogressive heresy, an attempt to go back in time to a mythical past for the sake of safety. People destroyed the sacred images in churches. And, since the Church teaches every human is an icon of God, every attack on the image was an attack on the divine archetype. So also today, although we forgot to our peril, attacking the icon of God is attacking God, himself.

Independence day. These are some awesome readings for a random Wednesday in July. I think they are very meaningful. Matthew is unusual in that his version gives us two demoniacs rather than one possessed person. We might see in the parable of the Gadarene Demoniacs a typology for our current situation.

There are two of them, as it were political parties or even candidates. Both parties are terrified of the Son of God and his followers, even though they need our votes. Between the failed social justice motions of one party and the failed moral actions of the other, all the demons have driven all the pigs mad. And the voters all at once charge into the water.

I do not labor under the impression or even the assumption of a “Christian Nation”. We once had a society with a Christian Veneer and that made many of us comfortable, but we have been wearing down that veneer for more than two centuries: and beneath it we were no more Christian than any other nation. We downgraded the Divine Icon of every African Slave in America to get our nation started, we trade off the Divine Icon of children born and unborn now to various political ends and selfish personal empowerment. We daily deny the divine icon of self and others in our consumption of porn, and we celebrate this denial in our horror movies, our news stories, our business choices, and our cheap plastic junk.

We are engaged in wars around the globe, the fruit of 6 presidential administrations. We revere as our honored dead the largest force of colonial oppression the world has ever known, dying for “Our Freedom” to continue in our iconoclasm. We have set up the world to destroy it. We siphon the wealth and resources of entire hemispheres into our yawning maw and crap out identically unique individualities based on the stuff we own instead of the icon within us. What we now call freedom we used to call license. We were once opposed to it. Now we demand it. We pass our political shell games off to others as “liberation” when what we really need is a new factory to produce more sprockets cheaply. The only thing that sets us apart from other powers engaged in the same actions today is July 4th is our holiday, not theirs. Still, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia are all on this train with us.

Calling out the truth from within, I do not put myself above this Leviathan for I help build it, I helped enforce it. My purchases feed it. For a long time I let it emotionally move me. The seeds were planted in 1776. It has taken 240 years to being the fruit to maturity. The pips were gleaned from the fruit our first parents dropped. The tempter was the same.

We get the fat beasts we deserve. We own the demons we curate.

_____

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Fashionably Faithless

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle

Noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis 
Do not be incredulous, but faithful. 

On the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle the Gospel reading recounts one chain of events in Thomas’ life when, in the stress of Holy Week, he doubted the news of the Resurrection. Jesus appeared later and put those doubts to rest. Today’s reading, though is only the beginning. Thomas left Jerusalem and traveled as far as India with the Gospel. He was martyred there and his blood watered the vine of the faith. The Churches of Kerala are still there, tracing their lineage all the way back to this Evangelist. I have the honor of knowing a Dominican Novice whose family traces their faith back to these same roots. The faith of the Apostles bearing fruit even in this age of sectarian violence and givings sons to the Church even in this faithless age.

This feast is also a day when it’s popular to talk about doubt in a gentle way, perhaps even a good way. Doubts can be a healthy way to deal with life and the crises that arise. Or so they say. Doubts get celebrated as an “adult” approach to confusing religious teachings. This is especially true in areas of sex but other areas come up: the social teachings of the Church, or liturgy, or issues around sacraments like marriage, ordination, etc. Horse hockey or better, Cow Cookies.

It matters not to these “good doubters” that these questions have been settled for 2000 years (or more). These folks want to ask the question over and over and yet don’t want the answers. In fact, they are asking – usually – with a not too covert goal of getting the Church to change her teaching on things. Especially in areas of sex. But pull out one thread and suddenly… the whole tapestry is falling down.

Jesus interaction with Thomas gives us a better direction. 

Do not be incredulous, but faithful. The Latin gets to the dual meanings of the Greek text which use the word “pistis” for trust or faith, and “apistis” or without-pistis for the other thing. The positive quality of faith, trust, is the thing itself. The other quality is a lacking of the positive virtue, not a new or different thing. Just as darkness is not a thing, but a lack of light, and just as cold is not a thing, but a lack of heat, doubt is not a thing in itself, it’s a lack of something that is otherwise needed.

Rather than a positive, alternative state, doubt is a vacancy waiting to be filled by grace. Be not incredulous, but rather faithful. Literally, do not be without-trust but trusting.

For a Christian, if asked to proclaim our faith, we rise and begin with either the Greek “Pisteo,” the Latin “Credo,” or the vernacular form “I believe” (etc).  This is the positive action, the “I do this” of the Christian faith. I don’t simply assent to a list of Doctrines, but rather I assert them. This is how reality is. In the words of Rich Mullins, “I did not make this, it is making me.” We also know that faith without works is dead – even as we know that works done without faith are not to our salvation. 

Thomas came with doubts and gave them up fully. He died for having faith.

This is how it should be with us: we can notice our doubts, we can even talk about them, but we should pray for more faith to fill the gaps. Pray that the holes of doubting will be filled with the whole faith. Faith is a gift from God, so we should be brave and ask for more. And when our gaps have all been minded, we are able to be sent out to  fill our roles in our various apostolates for we are all sent out as preachers of this Gospel. We are all intended to do as St Thomas did.





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Why Does God Allow Cilantro?

JMJ

The Readings for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Deus mortem non fecit. Nec laetatur in perditione vivorum. 
God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  

The man, Jairus, corners Jesus in a crowd and says, “Come, heal my daughter.” But even before he can get home, the news reaches him: the girl is dead. Why did God let that happen?

There’s no more powerful question, really, for trying to refute any person of faith. It’s a question that demands an answer.  Why did God allow Amazon to take over the retail market? Why does God allow WalMart to ruin downtowns all over the nation, or Tesco and Loblaws to do the same in the UK and Canada? Why does God allow Facebook? Why did God allow the second Nixon administration? Why does God allow fake news? Why does God allow my parents to get a divorce? There are many noxious things in the world, some taste like hairspray and people add them to soup. Why, God?

Now, certainly, this question usually gets asked regarding larger events… why did God allow the Tsunami on Christmas day 2004? Why does God allow war? Why does God allow the Trump administration to rip children like Elian Gonzalez away from their families? Why does God allow gun violence like like in Waco Texas in 1993? Why does God allow mass murder like American business allies committed in Mexico in the 1920s or throughout Latin America in the Reagan years?

We might as well ask why God allows your dad to wear over the calf socks and plaid shorts with a striped shirt.

Why does God allow anyone at all to die? The reading from Wisdom brings this home.

God “created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.” but… verse 16 (which is left out of our reading) says “ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his party.”

We do this to ourselves. The entire second chapter of Wisdom is a catalog of sentiments from our modern culture. These few lines alone are basically #LifeinSF

Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

This is basically a description of our culture’s MO from the get go:

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions… 

The text rejoins our reading at the end:

God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.

In short, God made the world good, but humanity grew tired of all that boring goodness and went looking for something else. And the Devil, all too happy to help, provided the options we’ve all come to know and love.

The answer to all our questions is the same: God’s will is to give us the freedom to choose to do his will, which is also the freedom to ignore his will. And most of us enjoy our freedom too much to let God intervene. Equally important questions: Why did God allow me to have all that sex? Why did God allow me to cheat on my taxes? Why did God allow me to sneak out of the office without my boss noticing? Why did God allow them to vote for Trump? Why did God allow them to vote for Obama? Why did God allow…

Because we’re free. God does not micromanage. Mutually assured destruction is an option we all have. God would call us home. But we have to listen… and have to respond.  He will not force us.

Why did God allow Jairus daughter to die? Because death is now a part of this world: woven in – by man – on the weft God gave us, the warp of death is from the craft basket of Satan. But it’s part of the deal now.

See, the thing is… the thing is… Jesus has taken that warp and weft, and sewn a new garment of life for us. Death is no longer the slamming shut of the final door, but rather the turning of the first key, the dawn of a new day. Jesus did this as God, by dying the death we all die. But he’s God, and it was remade. God can’t undo the patterns we’ve woven, but he can remake them, repurpose them, and even incorporate our tiny, miswoven patterns into a glorious story of his own design that is far more than we can imagine. Death is now only sleep. Life is eternity. Our lives cross over and touch so many things: we only see ourselves. We can be selfish and insist on seeing only in the first person. So life is nasty, brutish, and short. But God sees it all, the big picture, the whole megillah. There is no destructive poison in any of it… except cilantro.

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