The Courthouse at Apophatics.

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom
Thursday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Si quis autem se existimat scire aliquid, nondum cognovit quemadmodum oporteat eum scire.
If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 

There is a strong tradition of negation in Christian theology: of things we cannot know. We travel down this path quietly, patiently, humbly. The first step is abandoning childish ideas of God – Santa Claus, Magic Maker, Karmic Thunder Clap. We have to mourn the passing of these false gods. And then we let others die as well, the divine Therapist, the Matchmaker, the Life Pattern Writer. We give up each of these false gods for the purpose of knowing God as he has revealed himself.

But there are Johnny Rebs of this process too: they want to jettison everything, even the things God has revealed about himself. They want to strike out on their own and they insist that nothing can be known.

Imagine if you introduced yourself to me and I insisted that, even so, I cannot know your name because I cannot trust my knowledge. Or maybe you’ve told me your name, and I insist that I’ve discovered your name is actually something else because I sat alone in silence looking off into space and heard a voice saying, “The reader’s name is Zaphod.” So when you said, “Hi, I’m Samantha!” My response was “I can’t grasp knowledge about you at all, but I’ve understood your name is actually Zaphod.” Perhaps you introduce me to members of your family who back up your ludicrous claim of being named “Samantha”.  And I point out to them that their life-long association with you does not undo the need for humility and submission to the Unknowable, whose name is actually Zaphod. 

There is a strong tradition of negation in Christian theology. In fact, to claim that I know anything at all about God is silly. God as the very Is of being, the act of essence, the totality of real, the negation of unreality, the loss of nothing… is all beyond my comprehension (even though I have good, poetical mystic words to use).  I have words, but I can’t know it.

But to say God can’t reveal things about himself, to say that God can’t interact with us in any way, shape, or form is to deny the Incarnation. Even the most apophatic of Byzantine mystics will tell us that God is in relationship with us, that in his energies, he is knowable. I might actually go further, but the Neo-apophatics, these folks would deny the very existence of God as “unknowable.”

This is the state of most liberal Christian theology today: this trying to call Samantha Zaphod. My experience in the Episcopal Church and among liberal Orthodox and Catholic folks is that this tradition of negation is used, most often, to make room for heresy. “My personal point of view is just another Christian point of view because God is unknowable.” You can’t tell me I’m wrong: God can’t be known. James Martin is no different from Katharine Jefferts Schori or, at least recently, in terms of sexuality, Kalistos Ware. Free for all… 

St Paul has a whole other point for this: we can know nothing therefor we should be as conservative and careful as possible. Paul is quite sure there is no such thing as “Zeus” or “Hecate” and that eating meat from their temples (which is free…) is a good way to get a good meal. But someone might see him being “free in Christ” and be scandalized. So he will give up meat. Forever.

But it doesn’t mean he will let Christ be worshiped alongside Zeus because, “hey, we can’t know, right?” Paul’s quite clear about God’s revelation to the Church. Faith is not the same as Knowledge. Faith, rather, is the submission of my experience to the Church’s corrective teaching. If I’ve experienced God in a field of dandelions, that is good. But if I insist, then, that God is a dandelion, or this field of dandelions, or that God lives in this field in a sacramental, focused way. The Church is going to step in and say “No” to that. Faith is accepting that the Church’s position is an important, corrective part in this equation. The Church is the control group in my religious exploration.

God says, in the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word there is to “know in the Biblical Sense” as they used to say. It’s the same word for the sexual intimacy between man and wife. But also between Eve and the Apple. With God – as with Good and Evil – the experience is the knowledge. We can know something in book learning. We can stalk someone on the internet and think we know them. But we won’t know them until we are face to face.

When I surrender, when I stop rebelling and return to the divine union of God and Man that is the Church, when I give up my slavery to my own reasoning, then I can actually know – by revelation – what cannot be known by searching. When I come before God not in Questing Mode, but rather in Adoration Mode – adore from the Latin, “Ad – Ora” or mouth-to-mouth/face-to-face – then I can know God and be known by him, as two lovers to each other.





Wei Wu Wei

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et qui utuntur hoc mundo, tamquam non utantur : praeterit enim figura hujus mundi. 
And they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 

The Greek in these verses is interesting and a lot of English translators (and St Jerome, as well) build it in parallels:


Those married as not married

Those weeping as not weeping
Etc

The same verb is used in the positive and negative form. It’s nearly like Lao Tzu’s “Do Not-Doing”. Cry not-Crying, Rejoice not-Rejoicing. Own not-Owning… So they get to Verse 31 and keep the parallel going: use not-using. Except that’s not in the Greek. Unlike the earlier verbs the writer doesn’t just say something and not-something but rather χρώμενοι xromenoi and καταχρώμενοι kataxromenoi where kata adds the meanings to over-use, to use fully, to use up. The Greek says “Use the Kosmos without using-up the Kosmos” or even use without abusing the Kosmos.

There is a difference between using the good things of this world and abusing them, between blessing God for a good vintage of wine and getting blotto. There are intended uses (the telos) of God’s blessings and then there is abuse of them. CS Lewis covers this in Perelandra. There are fruit so good, so refreshing that one is filling, but a second – when it’s not meal time, nor otherwise needed – would be sinful, an act of gluttony. Food is like that on earth. Sex is like that: for God gave it to us for a purpose and we’ve discovered myriad ways to over use or abuse it. Earlier in Chapter 6, Paul gave us a list of people who kataxromenoi everything to the point of becoming their overuse for Paul uses the verbs as nouns. He adds, “They will not inherit the kingdom of God”.


That’s what it means to kataxromenoi: to use up something so much as to become identified with the using of the thing. 

It is to be noted that “Kosmos” does not mean “the planet, the orbiting stars” etc. It can mean that, sure, but it means “the system”, or, literally, the arrangement. The ordered harmony of the stars but also the system of Empire, the way the world is governed. We’re not to do that: think of people who say “American then Catholic”, or who break it down even further and say “Kennedy Catholic” or some other political styling; anyone who hyphenates. When we let the worldly system define our faith, we’ve drifted into καταχρώμενοι and away from the faith that is described as “Catholic” that is, whole. 

The Catholic faith is her own Kosmos, or rather she is the breaking-in of a new Kosmos on this one. The form of this Kosmos is passing away… as the new one, the Kingdom of God, breaks in. We can use even the political system of this world as long as we don’t become hacks in it. We can enjoy the food as long as we don’t become gluttons, we can have sex adhering to the divine plan. We are to be the advanced, covert (yet somewhat overt) force of an invading army.  We are the spies with Joshua in the Promised Land. We are, as Lewis notes, in occupied territory. We can’t be going native. 

What if?

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et haec quidam fuistis : sed abluti estis, sed sanctificati estis, sed justificati estis in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et in Spiritu Dei nostri.
And such some of you were; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God. 

Yesterday Paul said that some in Corinth were celebratory about their sins when they should be mourning. That struck me hard because there are those Catholics who feel “enlightened” and they have “left behind” all the strange teachings of the church and come into the “real” world, the “modern” world. And reading Paul’s list… it seem remarkably like the way enlightened folks might behave today.

When they found out I had joined Courage two years before becoming (or wanting to become) Catholic, two friends asked me about attending meetings where “my identity” should be called into question. A year later, I’m not sure what to do with the knowledge that two such highly placed folks – one a Catholic missionary, and one a Catholic educator – would ask me why I wanted to adhere to the Church’s teaching on chastity. I mention this because it is how we got to where we are.

Such some of you were.

Aslan says we are not given to know what if but only what isI’ve been told that for those who did not have sex, this is easier. As I do not fit into this category I won’t know. I will tell you this is a hard struggle. Still, it seems no harder than those who deal with other sins: and Paul seems to know a list of very hard sins indeed. There are folks who seem to think that they can have their pet sins if they allow me to have mine.

A large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.

This is the life I have: God seems to think that, if I now cooperate with him, this is exactly the life I needed to have had in order to bring my soul fully to him. There is grace before and behind.

What is it for you? What is it that you think really is who you are, that is not… really, even the tiniest fraction of your real self? What is the one thing you see when you look in a mirror that is hiding – from you – how God sees you?

—-


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Reformat then Reboot

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et adducunt ei surdum, et mutum.
They brought to him one who was deaf and mute.

OK. We need to look at some Greek. The word rendered “deaf” here means deaf. Not “hard of hearing” or “Had to yell when you spoke” but unable to hear.

The Greek rendered “mute” (mutum in Latin) is usually translated as “a difficulty in speaking”.  It is only used this one time in the Bible: μογγιλάλος mogilalos. It comes from two Greek words meaning hardly talking, i.e. dumb (tongue-tied) although some decide to render it as “speaking with difficulty” instead of “hardly talking”.


This is important.

If one is deaf from birth, one has no words. One doesn’t know what they sound like. If one is only partially deaf, or not so from birth, one has words.

I think there’s a miracle here so amazing and it was hidden from all the generations of Christians until just in the 20th century. Only now do we kno w the claim Mark is making here.

Congenital deafness prevents the parts of the brain that do language from developing. But we’re only learning this, fully, now.

Do you see the miracle performed here? 

When Jesus says to the deaf mute, “Ephphatha!” He is not just “healing” him: Be open… to Jesus. Not just “open your ears and your mouth” but “OPEN!” He’s fixing him, reformatting his brain, giving him words, rewriting his entire history into language. The WORD is being imparted to his brain in the same way that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at the beginning. 

Mark links this with the Isaiah prophecy about the mute speaking which is one more reason to hear this not as “Speaking with difficulty” but “mute”.

This happens one other time in the Gospels: with the man born blind. Again: he has no way of connecting sight to words. The part of the brain that understands “that’s a tree” is not there. Healing his eye sight requires doing the whole brain reformat and reboot. 

This is how much our God love us. This is what is possible to the human that opens to God.


I’ve read a lot, recently, about same-sex attraction and sexual sin. A lot of folks seem to think men and women who are same-sex attracted cannot live chaste lives according to the church’s teaching. I’ve heard this even from folks I would count as friends.  They are saying to me that Jesus would never say “Ephphatha!” to me. They are saying I’m beyond the grace of God.

They seem to say that recent sexual scandals happened not because of a culture of permissive silence, not because of a continual moral compromise, not because of a growing worldliness, not because of a satanic attack on the church, but simply because these abusers were same-sex attracted. Some will allow it might have been some of the other things, but they were able to happen because of the last item and, really, we know how those people are.

I don’t know what to think except to pray that they are wrong. This Gospel story, the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and the teachings of Courage seem to indicate that it is more than possible to live (by God’s grace) within the teachings of the Church. It is desirable and possible for someone to do so. As Isaiah says, 

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Why should God be so small as to not lend himself to my struggles?

Why should I be so small as to assume he doesn’t want to help me?

—-

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Even this is for our good.

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Saturday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Omnia cooperantur in bonum.
All things work for the good.

This is one place where I feel woefully weak in my faith. For I need to have all my ducks in a row all the time. Yes, it’s true: I could up and move across the country tomorrow. But if I do it’s because I have all my ducks in a row and, “I got this.”  I know I usually make it look like “God, you gotta miracle? Cuz I need one…” but the reality is if I trusted God more, I might have actually stayed put and acted rather than running away.


In hindsight no one would be happy: but I might have stayed in Western North Carolina, when the Parish and the Monastery melted away… and become Roman Catholic just there. B16 had come on board, everything was looking rosy, Asheville was even doing parades with the Blessed Sacrament!  


But I’ll take my ducks and run away… you know though: God even uses that. I had a birthday phone call last week from a friend whose life was always in chaos because she just had one thing she could NOT get at work. After years she got it… and that gave her more responsibility, and that put her life in even more chaos. Thing is she was my housemate. We might have hung on a bit longer if she saw this work opportunity coming. But lo, when it got there, it was even worse than before. My departure – my fear of commitment – turned out to be something God used for my good: in this case, my sanity.


I’ve nearly never come clean about all the times I’ve run away. But mostly: it was because I couldn’t trust God to bring good out of where I was or else, I was too chicken to take the actions I knew I needed to take so running away was the only thing left. For example, when I became Orthodox I was living with this guy. I was trying to find a way to be Orthodox and hold on to this guy. I couldn’t… so I left. Moved to Asheville, because I couldn’t make the break up either. So, when I wrote “I was in hell” I was living with this Dude. And no small art of my hell was made up of not being willing to act and to trust God when I acted.


So I ran away. 


Which God used: bringing dozens of people into my life, bringing friends I’d never have had otherwise, reconnecting me with my parents (because of proximity), reconnecting me with some sense of adult responsibility: I came away from there with my first driver’s license and my first car. And I got there with my first sense of things I can’t do any more and be Orthodox or Catholic. It took a while to sink in, but the lesson was learned.


I’m not sure why this lesson shows up on the Nativity of the BVM, but maybe because her parents were barren for so long that they are a reminder: even when life isn’t going “right” it is still going God’s way.

My formation director in the Dominican Tertiaries encouraged me by saying that God used all the things I’d been through to bring me to holiness. I’ll chew on that. God uses all things for our Good – which means for our acquisition of virtue, our salvation, our union with him. As St Paul says, later in this chapter.

Certus sum enim quia neque mors, neque vita, neque angeli, neque principatus, neque virtutes, neque instantia, neque futura, neque fortitudo, neque altitudo, neque profundum, neque creatura alia poterit nos separare a caritate Dei, quae est in Christo Jesu Domino nostro.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Not one thing that can happen to us can part us from God. 

But this is where my faith is weakest, and I have more than trouble here: trusting that things are going not “as God planned” but rather “As God is saving me”. 

The New Wine Fallacy

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Vetus melius est.
Old is better.


Jesus’ saying about old and new wine skins gets abused a lot. It often gets turned into an excuse for percussion sets in Mass. I’ve heard it used in presenting new teachings on sex and sexuality. It gets spun into presentations about changing who gets ordained. It becomes a perfect argument for any new thing, any compromise with the world, any idea that’s never been tried before.  “We don’t do it that way because it’s wrong” is treated as code for “We don’t do it that way because we’ve never done it that way before”. And then out come the misuse of new wine skins. It’s really a category of Chronological Arrogance: we know better now.  It is argumentum ad novitatem


Jesus does say that new wine goes in new wine skins. Jesus does say that you don’t use new cloth to patch old clothes.


These are both true.


But Jesus does not say, “Therefore the New Wine is Better”. In fact, quite to the contrary, it is old cloth that is better for patching old clothes, and, right there in Verse 39, Vetus melius est.  Old is better. Or, really, “Melius” means “honey-like”. The Greek word used is χρηστός krestos meaning kindly and useful.  It is also a known pun on “Christos”:

“Xrestus (“useful, kindly”) was a common slave-name in the Graeco-Roman world. It “appears as a spelling variant for the unfamiliar Christus (Xristos). (In Greek the two words were pronounced alike.)” (F. F. Bruce, The Books of Acts, 368).

Everyone knows that Old Wine is better than New Wine… aka souring grape juice.

So, let Jesus words give you something to think about the next time you hear someone want to sing “Eagles Wings” at a Requiem…

Look: The Bible Project

+JMJ+

Can’t say enough good about these folks! Between the YouTube Channel, the growing community engagement they provide, the podcasts, and the solid Bible teaching, these folks are an apostolic force to reckon with. We’ve used them as a resource in the RCIA class and the Lay Dominicans use them as well.

They don’t use a lot of denominational markers, so I’m honestly not sure which Christian tradition(s) they call home. They do seem to come from a more reformed tradition, based on a couple of points which I’ll mention below, and I’m going to wager centrist-to-conservative, but from my Orthodox and Catholic journey I’ve not heard anything I can disagree with.

You may have seen one or more of their videos which are in that “talking while someone does a whiteboard” style.

Every one of their videos is at once a very good Reader’s Digest version of the contents of the books, as well as a very good teaching/commentary experience. They have other videos on different Biblical themes, what we would have called a “word study” back in the day. I’ve not watched these videos. I’m looking forward to that!

Their Bible Project podcast has been my latest experience and it was the depth of the podcast talking about God (which will be the theme of videos this fall) that moved me to write this post. Their current series explores the Bible text with an eye to the ancient cultures in which that text was written and in a way that may be surprising to the podcasters as well as many of their listeners, they come up with a very not-protestant World View. I’m not talking about the flat earth, here (they deal with that) but rather about a world filled with God’s power and God’s actions.

You don’t need to take my word for it. Give a listen. Watch any of their videos. Start here, which they do without ever using the words “Lectio Divina”:

I think they avoid words like “Lectio” because these words are not part of their tradition. There were two long, painful moments in the podcasts when I wanted yell out (in the first case) “Sacraments. The word you’re looking for is sacraments.” The second time was “Saints. Invocation of Saints”.  It is amazing that they come to these realizations going from Hebrew words and ancient cultural markers, but that’s what the Catholic and the Orthodox always say: “just taste and see, and you’ll be one of us…”

That Natural Man…

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Animalis autem homo non percipit ea quae sunt Spiritus Dei : stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere : quia spiritualiter examinatur.
The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 


The Latin is “Animalis” or animal. The RSV rendered it as “Unspiritual”. The Greek, however, is ψυχικός psychikos or “natural”.  It’s usually contrasted to πνευματικός pneumatikos which does mean “spiritual”… however we miss something here if we’re not careful.

In Christian athropology, there are two types of life: Soma and Zoe. The Soma life is something shared by all animals. The Zoe life is shared by all spiritual beings. Since the human being is a hybrid between spirit and flesh, between pneuma (spirit) and sarx (flesh), we have a choice: we can continue to live the Somatic life until we just consume ourself and die; or we can live Zoetic life forever.

Soma and Zoe are contrasted all through the New Testament. Sarx and Pneuma (Parts of the person) each have their own sort of wisdom, their own sort of teaching. Soma only comes from God in the sense that God gives all breath. But the Zoe is the very life of God. Humans can’t destroy the sarx (for we are created as sarx and pneuma together) but we are called to the action of self control: to submit the sarx to the pneuma, to control the flesh with the spirit. We are called to be Pneumatikos instead of Psychikos.

Have you ever gone to a Zoo and seen an Alpha male orangutan engage in sex acts in the monkey house? I make this point this way because orangutans seem to do this all that time… every time I’ve been in a monkey house (Bronx Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, San Diego Zoo) the orangutans have been sexually busy. And if they can’t get what they want, they’ll engage in autoeroticism. It’s so odd to see: because there’s no pr0n in the monkey world. They just do this thing. It’s 100% natural.

And so that makes it ok, right?

That’s the argument that we hear in the modern world. To this the Church says it’s possible to take a higher path than simply “natural”.

It’s fine to eat meat all the time or to go vegan, it’s find to eat dairy or sweets… but the Church says food is only there for one purpose: to help you serve God.  There are times when it would be spiritually better to not eat. The Church doesn’t stop with food or sex: the teachings are that sometimes perfectly natural things can be harmful to the spiritual growth of the human. 

As we are to act in a godly way, and God’s first action is self-giving, anything that counters that motion of self-sacrifice is harmful. This draws boundaries around certain actions in the world. And even some things that would be ok out of love and self-sacrifice are rendered evil by doing them out of selfishness and/or fear.  

The Zoetic life is one of charity, forgiveness, and constant connection to God. God is love and so those who follow him live in love. The Somatic life is one of self-reference: I can forgive if I feel like it. I can love it I want or feel you deserve it.

Truth be told, most of us flicker back and forth between these two modes. Even the most worldly of persons might be struck by divine beauty or perform an act of selfless giving. Even the most spiritual of persons might wake up grumpy. A friend reported meeting Pope (now Saint) John Paul II at a general audience. When the Holy Father entered the room, someone in the press of people trod on his foot. (This was before the assassination attempt, and before the extra security.) The Pope grimaced and “gave a look”. My friend said that from that moment he loved the Pope fully because he could see in that look a sign of hope for the rest of us. We dance along the Mason Dixon line between liberty and slavery always. It’s hard not to give in to the old ways that should be gone with a Spiritual Wind. But they can seem so refined, so worldly, so stately. So natural. 

And the world cannot understand why we would ever want to do anything else. Why not just stay in this place, in this natural state, in this warm, comforting sleep? Why trouble with waking up? The red clay under our nails is a sign that we are from the earth, yes. But we can rise on the Spiritual Wind far above our past, to our rightful place.


____
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Getting Out of the Inner Ring

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Pope St Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church
 Monday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et multi leprosi erant in Israel sub Elisaeo propheta : et nemo eorum mundatus est nisi Naaman Syrus.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Fr Dwight did an excellent article, drawing on the writings of CS Lewis, about the Inner Ring mentality that allowed for the recent scandals to root, evolve, and stay hidden. All it takes is one whispered secret. There are no passwords, no secret handshake, no admission nor expulsion; it is a secret society nonetgeless. Lewis’ point is that this happens everywhere: not just in Church. It seems to be part of humanity’s fallen nature. When Scarlett O’Hara first sees Rhett Butler at Twelve Oaks, she’s told “he isn’t received” meaning that no proper, polite family will welcome him into their home. But here he is, at Twelve Oaks. If the Wilkses have let him in to their home, suddenly, he is now, received. So it’s ok to be seen with him. That’s the way a real inner circle works: the very definition of “Not what you know, but who you know.”

We want to be in there, right? We want to be on the inside. Ask me how I feel about being “in the Dominican Family”.

I heard recently of a deceased priest who would navigate through the silent canon of the Latin Mass (in the days before the V2 council) saying “wordy wordy wordy” soto voce. I know an Orthodox priest who skates through the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom by only saying aloud the words of institution. The rest of the Anaphora takes maybe 1 minute or 2, glanced at briefly whilst the Choir sings the Sanctus and the “We praise you”. As this is the normal practice in many parish churches I visited during my 12 years of Orthodoxy, I can’t say it’s odd. Someone (or several someones) must have known about Fr Wordy’s practice, because the Silent Canon is silent… so… someone didn’t call the Archbishop.

The print above shows Christ rising from the Altar in a style that will be familiar to many Orthodox and Byzantine readers as “Christ the Bridegroom”. He is appearing on the altar during Mass offered by Pope St Gregory the Great in response to the latter’s prayers who asked that an unbeliever in the room might be shown the Truth of the Eucharistic Miracle. In this most common and universal of miracles, the very Body and Blood of Christ, living, eternal, human, and divine, is made present on the Altar in the forms of Bread and Wine. 

The Pope prayed for such a miracle because there was a deacon in the room who doubted. This most basic teaching of the Orthodox and Catholic faith was doubted by a member of the clergy in the 6th century. Further more, this image – and the story – was vastly popular throughout the Middle Ages in Europe even during the Spanish Evangelism of the New World. Persons who, as clergy, doubted the most basic teachings of the Church. And many laity acting as if it’s not quite a shock to find out… 


It’s St Gregory’s Feast today on the New Roman Calendar. St Pius X is celebrated today on the older Calendar. Either way, today is the feast of a Pope who taught the historic faith in times of trial. Both Popes faced clergy who were at odds with the teachings of the Church. Both Popes had wins and losses in that face-off. St Gregory dealt with lax clergy living lavishly in Rome. He created a monastery and put everyone under monastic obedience. St Pius dealt with modernists denying the faith and created the Antimodernist Oath.  And both Popes are makes as great reformers – notably in both cases, of the Daily Office. It is prayer that fixes the inner rings of the world, by opening them up to God.

The Bible readings underscore that sometimes God not only acts in spite of the “inner circle” but sometimes goes right outside the Church. The cited cases (of Elijah and Elisha) highlight how God’s prophetic actions required Gentiles, that is non-believers. When you find yourself facing non-believers inside the Church, you need Gentiles to back your reforms. You may need to even let in the Government Officials. 

St Paul knows the answer though: I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified… in weakness. That’s all we have. That’s all we need, really. When we celebrate Christ as the Man of Sorrows, bleeding on our altars whilst all of us kneel in awe instead of a divine potluck with hand holding, when this is the Gospel we preach – the whole package – even the parts that call us out, call us sinners, make us change our lives…

Then we can preach the Gospel, because we’re living it.

But we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s not happening: because it’s been not-happening right along.





—-

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Noblesse Oblige

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Sed quae stulta sunt mundi elegit Deus, ut confundat sapientes : et infirma mundi elegit Deus, ut confundat fortia.
God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.


You know, Nietzsche’s complaint about Christianity being a “slaves’ religion” is 100% correct. If one were to be so foolish as to deny this, we have today’s readings to support old FFred. We also have Benedict, Francis, Dominic, and all the others who taught poverty was central. Paul was a scholar of his day, but he was a tent maker. And although the Way attracted the rich and powerful, their income promptly went to supporting the poor. If you’ve not had a chance to see the movie, Paul the Apostle, you’ve missed Prisca and Aquila harboring an entire Christian community in their house. They knew that the wealth God had given them was given them exactly to care for the poor in the Church. God had given everything – including their wealth, station, and skills, expressly for the care and feeding of those poor brethren to whom he had not given such things; save only by the hands of Prisca and her husband. They did not bury their talents. They lavisged them on others and on the Gospel. This care for the poor, this care for the weakest, this care for the foolish is our Way.

It’s supposed to be our Way internally first, to a superfluity that flows out and begins to be our way in the wider world. People are supposed to say, “See how they love each other” even as we give away our extra food to anyone who needs it. To the Romans a weak, elderly person was a danger to the whole tribe and could be exposed on the hillside – as could a newborn baby that no one wanted. Christians rescued all these folks and nursed them back to health, or to a death with dignity in a community of love. In the end it was this care for the weak and the lost that made the Christian faith not only a threat to Roman culture, but, eventually, the victor over Roman culture when the latter had become so corrupt, so rotted from the inside, that it fell way like a chrysalis that was enclosing an entirely new form of life. 

From this moment we get our Western cultural values of charity and of community. Even when we don’t follow them, we pay lip service to the idea of them: as the current administration embodies. Everyone knows things are supposed to look like Mayberry. They just don’t agree on how to get there.

What we do know is there’s no biological or evolutionary reason to do this: there is no non-religious reason at all for caring for the sick, the weak or the poor. There’s no idea of “justice” that requires me to give up all my hard-earned cash to care for you. There is no human system of morality in which this makes sense. Socrates can give us Plato (or vice versa) and ideas about rhetoric disguised as essays on homoerotic love, but he can’t give us charity. Even our founders knew that these ideas don’t come from us – we are endowed with these by our creator (even as we might disagree about how best to relate to him).

And so it is in the eyes of the Church as of the founders, really: the state’s best function is out of the way of the Church so that she can do her job.

Lately our failures in this respect have underscored how our own values have fallen by the wayside. The state’s function of Justice seems needed. Care for the weak (children) and care for the other has failed as we have become power-hungry. Some have openly disparaged the poor and the stranger in the face of clear church teachings, others have misused children in ways that the Pagan Romans would have easily recognized. This has damaged our ability even to opine on these topics, let alone teach, or lead by example.

So we must, what? Bury our talent in the ground? No. Even more we must get out there and be the Gospel in action. Time to double down on the Truth. It may expose us to shame and to mockery, but that’s when our Lord was able best to show his love for us: by going through the same mockery and abuse. We have such a Lord and Savior who asks that we may be like him. Love othersoth hard that we accepts steal into our palms and side.


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