The Call Came From INSIDE THE HOUSE!

JMJ

Did you ever notice this one? 

“The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin”
Matthew 13:41

I read the Gospel for today and didn’t even notice it. Sitting at Mass tonight this verse lept up and punched me hard in the gut.

The Latin and the Greek both say “scandal” there, but the word σκάνδαλον, skadalon, means “bait in a trap” or “trigger of a trap”.  It’s sometimes rendered as a “Stumbling Block”, but the NABRE, with “cause others to sin” catches the meaning full on, I think.

It came to me that at the heart of sexual sin is the desire to lead others astray. They may not be… but it is desired. No one sins alone, and many sins are triggers for other folks, or else bait.  Politics, for example, or liturgics when doctoring up the readings to cover up uncomfortable parts.

The skandalon is inside the kingdom, not outside. They are children of the Evil One, but they are inside the kingdom.

The enemy is us.

We must remember to pray for our brother and sisters, our spiritual Fathers and Mothers, our leaders and fellow pew-sitters.

That we may be free of skandalon inside the Kingdom. And free from the interference of those who practice lawlessness outside the walls.

Domus Dei et Porta Coeli in Cor Civitatem

+JMJ+

There are some seriously beautiful Churches in this Catholic city. Some 25% of the population in the Bay is said to be Roman Catholic. That means there are more Catholics in this Bay Area than there are Episcopalians. Anywhere. Or Orthodox, for that matter. (How many of them go to Church is another thing entirely, as it is for the other groups.) That many folks means there are some Beautiful Churches here. There are some toasters as well, don’t get me wrong, as well as some of those cyborg things that use holograms and floating statuary. Still, this one seems the winner.



Built in the late 1920s, just before the Depression hit, just in time to support folks through that dark period, and refurbished and retrofitted in the 1980s, just in time to withstand the Loma Prieta quake, it’s a miracle of community in the heart of this city. Doubly so, for the initial funding was from the community and it thrived through the Depression; and then, again, in the 80s, when the Archdiocese wanted it closed, the OP said not just no, but, O Heck No. And the community made the rebuild, and the retrofit and the rebirth happen. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard that nearly 20% of the new Catholics in the Archdiocese come through this RCIA program. There are program events every night, there are multiple masses every day, the Daily Office is said here, weddings, funerals, baptisms, confessions, the food pantry, the homeless services, and open doors from 6AM to (at least) 9PM ever day. The friary hosts the Novitiate for the Dominican Province of the Holy Name. Speakers and clergy come from all over the world to talk about missions, spiritual topics, social justice, and to pray in what was once called, “The most beautiful Church in America”. It still is in my book.


More than a Parish Church, this is home to so many folks, including yours truly. While I’ve felt at home before in other places, and even not at home at all, something here clicked in a way that no other place has. The homeless in the pews, the hippies with their patchouli, the couples, the ethnic diversity, the Spanish Passion Play, the Christmas Messiah Concert, the Old Ladies with their Rosaries, the faithful in the fellowships, the dozens of small groups that spontaneously form to care for each other, the mobs of folks that show up for the daily masses (I’m used to seeing 7 or 9 for a weekday service, not 60 or 70… 30 or more is normal at 6:30 AM) all combine to tell me the Holy Spirit is doing something here, in the Heart of the City, that is making all heaven rejoice.



Numbers are not everything. Growth is not the measure of the Holy and I would rather a tiny, faithful remnant than a stadium full of pretenders. But we’re all sinners, and I can’t tell anyone’s pretending when I’m kneeling in the confessional or reaching out to receive the Body of Christ.


Deacon Jimmy asked in his Homily today how it was that each of us came to be there. I had heard of St Dominic’s parish, of all places, from my Orthodox Goddaughter and her husband, he a cradle Catholic from this Parish. When I left the Monastery, my heart firmly fixed on staying in the West, and having arrived back in SF, my question was “Where can I continue the monastic practice of going to Daily Mass easily from my residence and then get to work?” Easily means one bus, and that was the case for me: the 22 Fillmore brought me every day from Potrero Hill to Saint Dominic’s for 630 Mass and Morning Prayer. You’d almost think God set it up or something. My apartment now is also one bus away, although I have three buses to pick from now, and four buses coming back! That’s how I got there. But what kept me coming back was three moments: talking with Fr Michael about becoming Catholic (when he convinced me that plugging into the community was the important thing); Fr Augustine Hilander racing me out of Morning Prayer one morning to intercept me at the door and invite me to chant the office with the others in Choir; and Michael O’Smith letting me co-lead a small faith group when I had been in the church less than 3 months and wasn’t even officially Roman Catholic. These are all community-related if you can’t tell.

And now there is a new community in the Dominican Tertiaries, or the Third Order, OP, or the Dominican Laity. (Today at Mass I heard us called the “Order of Preachers, Laity”.)  I’m discerning my way yet, but that seems to be my best fit into this place.


I got there on the Second Sunday of Advent 2016. My friend, Tim, says three days later I moved in. How could I not move into my home? If you pay any attention to my social media you know I cannot stop taking pictures of this place. I’ve seen it in every light and shade, and in as many different sorts of weather as we have here, including smog from wildfires. 


I’ve watch stars overhead, seen an Iridium Flare from the front steps, hidden from the rain, and knelt as the evening sun blinded me to the elevated Host at Mass. But there is something else, something, pardon the wordplay, Catholic here. Mass is filled with Anglican Hymns. Our Solemn Mass (11:30s on Sunday) is an Anglo Catholic’s dream of vested choirs and smells and bells. Our low masses (6:30 and 8:00 AM and 5:30PM week-daily) are motions of high piety and prayer (rather than 15 minute Dine and Dashes) that lead folks to mini coffee-hours at the local bakeries or fellowship meals on the Fillmore. I run into people from this parish all over town. There are folks praying the Rosary and the Jesus Prayer here. There are Latin, English, and Spanish Masses. There’s a guitar mass and a Taize mass. There may be more… who knows what God will do here? But everything is here from my past. It’s as if God has prepared this place for an oddball on a journey home. 

And, so it is, that God willing, one of these will be mine soon:


A blessed Feast! 



Face to Face

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 17th week, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Loquebatur autem Dominus ad Moysen facie ad faciem, sicut solet loqui homo ad amicum suum.
The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to his friend.
The Hebrew word used for face in “face to face” is פָנִים panim a plural form. The word is first used in the Scriptures in Genesis 1:2 as the Spirit of God moves over the face of the waters. God and Moses speak in this hovering intimacy, face to face. It is an image that leaves one breathless. Does it not move you to desire the same? To exchange breath with the creator of all life, with the source of all breath! How can this be? How can one know God face to face?
There are hints later in the scriptures when God pours his Spirit out on the elders of Israel and Moses says he wishes it could be given to everyone in Israel. In the Prophets, Joel promises the Spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh.
In the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is given in Baptism and sealed in the holy oil at Confirmation or Chrismation.
And in the Holy Eucharist this same Spirit, invoked upon the bread and wine, is communicated to us in the Body and Blood of God the Son, for one member of the Trinity is not present without the others. And we receive all of the Trinity when we partake of the bread and the wine. 
Bishop Barron says that “adore” comes from the Latin meaning “mouth to mouth” or “face to face”.  The actual etymology is not quite so intimate as it means only “from the mouth”, coming from the Latin meaning “to speak”.  If there was such a thing as Proto Indo European, then: from PIE root *or- “to pronounce a ritual formula” (source also of Sanskrit aryanti “they praise,” Homeric Greek are, Attic ara “prayer,” Hittite ariya- “to ask the oracle,” aruwai- “to revere, worship”) source. There’s not another mouth involved, in the word, but the one mouth, the one face, must speak to another.
And so when we approach the Eucharist in Adoration – and it needn’t be “exposed” for the Mystery is no less present in the monstrance on a Latin altar, than in the Tabernacle, behind a veil or an Iconostasis, or at Communion in the Liturgy. Under glass, in brass, or at Mass, it’s all God. And we can all address him face to face, as one does to his friend.
The Spirit of God hovers, waits for you to turn to him and open to receive. Come.  Taste and see.

The Leaders they Deserve

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Martha
Monday in the 17th week, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Cui ille respondit : Ne indignetur dominus meus : tu enim nosti populum istum, quod pronus sit ad malum.
And he answered him: Let not my lord be offended: for thou knowest this people, that they are prone to evil.

The people of Israel have lived in slavery for several generations. They know only idolatry. They only know that some God many have never heard of is rescued them… and they are really quite afraid of this one. The other gods never did anything scary – at least not inside human memory. They know what the worship of fakes looks like. This is why God has given them leaders: to raise them up in the way of their ancestors, to worship the True God of all that is, even of the animal forms of gold and rocks the Egyptians worshipped.

So when the people want to worship, they want to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Moishe and Aharon are there to direct that natural human desire to worship away from the entirely unnatural worship of creation to the Creator Himself. The people want to worship something they can see… Aaron and Moses are there to direct that worship to someone they can know.

Aaron fails in his one job. He not only doesn’t direct the folks to right-worship, he participates in their false worship. In fact, he not only participates in it but he also facilitates it.

Then he passes the blame – not to the people… but to the fire and gold: “egressusque est hic vitulus”. This calf came out…

Who did this, asks the parent. “Notme” reply all the children in the room standing around the pile of garbage that was formerly something important.

Although the people have sinned and will be punished, Moses puts the blame directly on who is at fault: Moses asks Aaron, What did this people do to you that you would lead them into this sin?

I imagine this question will be asked a lot on Judgement Day of leaders who failed to lead, of teachers who failed to teach, of those who were called to speak and fell prey to that liberal canard falsely attributed to St Francis, “use words when necessary”. We “led with beauty” and were “winsome” but we never got around to meat. We dodged questions for fear of causing the weak to stumble, but we never got around to correcting the fallen, to answering them once they were strong.

This is a failure of courage. Until recently (this weekend, really) I thought the vice of cowardice was a failure resulting from some inner weakness. It seems to me, on deeper meditation, to be a species of the sin of pride: I would not anyone see me fail, so I shall simply juggle for a while and slowly back away. If I  sit here quietly no one will see me and, at the right moment, I can vanish. Certainly, introversion can seem like the vice of cowardice, but there is a difference in the heart on this, so don’t misread my statement. And the grace we are given to manifest a charism that we have will overcome – and use – our own weaknesses when they are needed.

Cowardice is a failure to use our charism: to rely on our own self to do something that we should let God do through us. To fail to keep someone in your charge away from a grave fall is for the shepherd to run away from his sheep when the wolf shows up.

A teacher was once asked if someone had to accept all the church’s doctrine to be Catholic. Rather than answer the question at all 45 mins were involved defining the difference between “doctrine”, “dogma”, and “tradition” so that, in the end, there was no time to spend answering the question in a way that would offend anyone.

What did the people ever do to you to deserve such a teacher?

I imagine all of us who have been called to be leaders will need to rely on Aaron’s excuse: “You know, these people are so evil, that I had to let them get away with their pet sins or else they would have gone away. It’s better to have them sin and stay than leave and sin anyway, right?”

“The reality is that we are in danger. This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. The shepherd cannot run away at the first sign of danger. Pray for us.” Thus said Blessed Stanley Rother 18 months before he was slain by a rightwing hit squad in Guatemala. It is true of us here too, but in other ways. We are in danger  – if we’re not, we’re doing it wrong. What have our flocks, our friends, our councils, our families ever done to us to deserve such leaders?

Who will be the Moses that will intercede for us on that day?

Undivided

JMJ

We are often told that we should not do so, yet we often think of communion as a series of discrete incidents through the course of our lives. We think of this time I take communion. We think of that particle on the spoon from the sacred chalice, or of that host and this sip of wine. We think of this Tabernacle or that Altar. Yet we are mistaken.

Christ is undivided. In communion Holy Communion it is not Christ who is coming to you but rather you who are coming to Christ. in the Holy Eucharist it is not you who are making Thanksgiving, but rather Christ who is making Thanksgiving to God the Father through you. In the most holy sacrament it is not his life given to you but your life given to him.

Christ is one eternal love, undivided in the most holy sacrament of the altar, on the throne of Glory in heaven, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, in the tomb, on the cross, in the resurrection, and harrowing the Gates of hell there is now only one moment in time. You come to that moment, that one moment in time is united, undivided in the hearts of Christ’s faithful people everywhere.

The Holy Trinity is being itself, ipsum esse subsistens, the action of, the will to, and the existence in one present instant. We cannot will our own existence, we do not sustain our being in a moment by moment continual action of our presence, but we pretend to. In that we do thus pretend, we cut our life from divine Zoe and turn it into mere breath, into soma and pneuma, lost in space and time and meaning. Communion is the action of restoration initiated by Christ, made present on the altar, and opened before us in the divine dance.

When you genuflect before the Tabernacle, when you bow before the presence as you pass, when you kneel in adoration and awe before the exposed monstrance, when you partake of the most sacred body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the salvation of your soul, the remission of sins, and life everlasting you finally come to yourself, to that one moment that is and forever shall be. With you and around him who receives you, stand all the hosts of heaven and all our beloved departed. They are with you now united forever and ever. Undivided, lost in eternity no more, we stand at the center of all, of you and of all existence, of all history, all time, the entire universe, the entire multiverse in that one point of eternal light.

You cannot come to communion but that you come to this terrifying, dreadful, death-defying love. There is no way to receive only a bit of eternity, only a tiny particle of forever. Infinity is never divided. The smallest piece of infinity is itself infinity. It receives you. You stand with all of us within the undivided. United in God.

Looking Trough a Cloud Darkly


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 16th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

In the night watch just before dawn the LORD cast through the column of the fiery cloud upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic.

If you read Gone with the Wind you get a very different image of Scarlet O’Hara than you do if you watch the movie. The movie skipped bits of the book – which was the best selling book in America at the time – for the sake of brevity. And, because some narrative was edited out, bits of the on-screen story had to be changed. Did you know Scarlet had a son by her first husband before he died early in the war? Anyway: these things did not change the meaning of the movie for the audience at the time because they had all read the book. Moviemakers could make assumptions based on the knowledge of their audience.

I had this reading at the Easter Vigil and I was confused by this verse. Here it is again… so time to look into these word choices.
…Cast upon the Egyptian Force a glance… it sounds like a “dirty look”, or a sort of curse. And what’s with the very off-putting turn of phrase, cast on them a glance that threw? There are no passive verbs in the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin versions of this verse, nor in any English translation.
The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin versions of this text, along with all the English ones based on them, have the Lord looking out and doing something.

The NABRE has the Lord looking out and then – through a really painful grammatical construction – has the Egyptians doing something in reaction to the look.

Are the translators trying to Save God’s Reputation? Well, probably not. Evidently, one bias in the modern Roman Catholic world is to eliminate “troubling” passages. In the ancient languages, this verse says God kills the Egyptians. That could, you know, raise questions. We’d end up discussing the book of Job.

Better to dodge that bullet by saying the Egyptians panic of their own free will which accidentally implies that they could see God looking at them.

Skipping passages that may raise questions is not limited to the Catholic Church. In the Orthodox Churches, where the daily offices of Matins and Vespers are often pared down to 30-45 mins of time (instead of the full celebration of same which could take – literally – hours) it’s up to the Choirmaster to pick which parts to skip. This results in some interesting choices depending on the biases involved. At a Monastery it’s the Father Superior who has that final say, and there, too, interesting choices are made.

The thing about liturgical editing of texts into a lectionary or an evening service is that it should assume literacy and familiarity on the part of the singers, readers, and congregation. All of us should know what was skipped for the sake of brevity or complexity. We should not be confused by the difference between the movie and the book

The real issue is that we do not know what we’re missing.

So when a Greek Parish compresses the entire 45 minute recitation (hour-plus if singing it properly) of the Matins Canon into 5-8 minutes, the Congregation begins to think that’s normal: it’s only the other, strange parishes that make up stuff to extend this. When the Liturgy of the Hours says here is the text for the Psalm, who notices any more when it skips a few verses? Do even the clergy who have to recite it know? When a church that uses the Common Lectionary has someone say, “That’s not in the Bible!” Is it because they never bothered to learn, or because someone hid it from them?

First Apostle of the Risen Christ


JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Mary Magdalen
Monday in the 16th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Si qua ergo in Christo nova creatura, vetera transierunt : ecce facta sunt omnia nova.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
When Franco Zeffirelli cast Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalen in his 1977 made-for-television epic, Jesus of Nazareth did he purposefully pick her in part because of her performance, ten years earlier, as the famous seductress, Mrs Robinson from The Graduate?
A blessed feast! This question is important – and only seemingly unrelated to the readings.
Although it drives modern Biblical Scholars batty and upsets more than a few non-Christian political agendas, the Church holds to a tradition that merges this woman (of whom the Evangelists say only that Jesus cast out from her 7 devils) with another woman who has no name in the Gospels who was a prostitute. Mary’s story becomes one of change, of freedom from the past. In picking Bancroft – who complained that Mrs Robinson overshadowed all her work – Zeffirelli seems to have knowingly picked a “woman with a past” as an icon of redemption even in the eyes of his TV viewers.
This is important for us, in this age of Twitter Shaming and the Right to be Forgotten.
An artist whose work I admire “broke” on to the internet earlier this year. He doesn’t draw well, to be honest, but he has this amazing grasp of our culture’s contents and can explain them dryly and with just enough humor to make us see them in a new way: interactions like birthday parties and feeding pets become eye-opening teaching moments as the reader sees things through different eyes. This artist was enjoying a rocket-fast rise to prominence when someone discovered a tweet from the distant past (2010?) where he made a rather weak comment that could be construed, if one squinted the right way, as pro-life. Instantly seen as being out of sync with the “modern” world and her morals, the cool kids of the internet began to trash him loudly and fiercely.
No one is politically pure enough on either the left or the right to survive this atmosphere, really. One must be constantly scrubbing one’s past to white-wash it, make sure it’s in sync with today’s version of you.
A Christian, however, cannot do this: Mary Magdalen’s life is powerful because of her backstory. She is called the “apostle to the apostles” by the same Church that names her a former prostitute. Both parts of her life are needed for the story to make sense. This person has risen to far different heights than you might have imagined if you knew her “back then”. Our modern culture wants to take away her “away back when”.
We live in a culture of “self-invention”. When I was a kid our culture idolized the egotism of the “self-made man” because we imagined that to be the height of success.  Frank Sinatra’s My Way is a benchmark of this culture. While egotistical, Frank was, at least, self-reflective. He had a few regrets, but too few to mention. Tellingly, while celebrating a life where he refused to confess any wrongs, he sang that a man is nothing if he only speaks the words of one who kneels. 
As we came into this century, however, we developed a culture personal instantaneity. I exist as I manifest myself to you now, without history, without backstory. I’ve been surprised at how few jobs any more require actually checking references. While some positions still require a background check, a person who was only a part-time contractor at one company can claim to have been a manager there and get hired as a manager at another. This is not a new problem: near the end of the last century, it became impossible to explain why a former employee was a former employee without risking a lawsuit. So when calling for a reference one knew that one was only going to hear good things – one had to read between the lines or ask very creative questions to trick the HR person on the end of the line to tell the truth: “Would you hire them again?” becomes

Yes or no: If they were to contact you to ask if you would welcome them to a new position would you be quick to think of any reason why you want to say “no” even if you were to ultimately say “yes”?

There was a past, there, somewhere. But not any more. We deny the history we have lived, we deny the story arc of our lives.

God has been working from before we were born, from even before we were conceived to bring the whole universal dance to just where it is now. You’re a part of that and your backstory as well. Your entire future dance is predicated on all that went before. To deny that is to deny the power of God. To deny that is to deny the Resurrection: Jesus had to live before he could die. He had to die to rise again.

I was born with the name William Earl Bailey. If you’re old enough to remember the song, Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey you may have some grasp of why I changed my name to something, to anything else. There are other reasons, but the first thing my Grandfather said was, “Tired of having people sing to him?” However, my past is just as close as my Facebook and many of my oldest friends as well as my family all still say, “Bill”.  My past is right as close as it’s always been. There’s no way to escape it.

Mary Magdalen’s past stays with her.

That seems to be exactly why God uses her to announce the Resurrection: that’s why she is the Apostle to the Apostles. God will use any willing servant to hand to do anything that God wants. Mary’s status as a Fallen Woman raised to Apostle is the earthly parallel to fallen Adam and Eve raised from the depths of Hell. Jesus is not only raising all the dead to life, but he harrows the deepest pits of our cultures to raise us all up.

At the court the day my name-change was granted, the only question the Judge asked was, “Are you changing this name to avoid any legal or financial claims from your past?” I left the courtroom with my past intact. He could have added, “religious, familial, social, and sexual” to the list I would have agreed just the same. I am a man with a past: sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and that’s just the religious part of my journey. I would be a bad choice for a priest, to be honest – a scandal waiting to happen. But God has something for me, for all of us with a past.

If we offer ourselves fully, God will use us in his Kingdom. God can’t use “Huw Richardson” without also using “Bill Bailey”. God will use the full offering not in spite of the past but because of the past. Like Zeffirelli using Mrs Robinson to flavor his Magdalen, God will use his servants to do things for which their entire past has prepared them for God was with us even before we knew it, even before we knew the “new us” we would become.

Today’s feast says there is grace before us – and there is grace behind us. It’s not that we were not sinning back then, but rather God’s grace will take any sacrifice made and transubstantiate it into Life. God will give each of us a Gospel to proclaim to the Church and to the World.

Christ is RISEN! Look at what he has done! Christ is RISEN!

One Thing

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Martha, Martha, sollicita es, et turbaris erga plurima, porro unum est necessarium. Maria optimam partem elegit, quae non auferetur ab ea.

Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her. 

It’s traditional to see Mary as contemplative and Martha as active. It’s very traditional to read both of these as needful in the Church, and it’s important to recognize the ministry of both. We probably all have “Mary” phases and “Martha” phases. In any healthy Christian relationship, there is a balance of this, a tradeoff of husband and wife, of friends, of siblings, of coworkers. Who is active today, who is contemplative? Will they trade places later today, tomorrow, or next week?

What spoke to me in both the Gospel and the first reading, is the primacy of contemplation. 

Abraham is sitting in the shade, in the quiet of a hot afternoon, then the Lord appears to him and then Abraham moves his household to action. Mary has chosen the better part. There is only one thing needful.

Properly ordered action arises from contemplation.

The Dominican Tradition is a contemplative one, but it adds action as well. We are to take the fruits of our contemplation and bear them out into the world as action.

There are many who would that the Church were more active: forgetting of course that she is the largest charity organization in the world, providing more support than any other agency (including governments) in more places (ok, everywhere). If this statement about the Church is expanded ecumenically, Christians far outgive literally everyone. Some want the Church to be more active: what they really mean is “be less contemplative”.

They fail to see that her charity does not arise from any sense of human duty, but rather from an active participation in the divine kenosis: the Church’s charity is the continual outpouring of Love that breathes between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, between the Trinity and the Church as Christ’s body in the Holy Spirit, only then from the Church to the World, again in the Holy Spirit. The Church’s charity is the action of God in the world and she only fails when her Charity is not rooted in the contemplation of the divine face. That is the one needful thing: to sit at the foot of Jesus and participate in perichoresis, in the outpouring of Love on the world.

She cannot be active only.

There are many service organizations in the Church, but properly ordered service must begin in the heart united in love to Jesus. And to Jesus that heart must return moment by moment, to participate in the dance. To fail to do so… is to leave on whinging like Martha about needing help, or to exhaustedly plop down at the end of the day and doze instead of a continual action of Eucharist.

Martha is not complete without Mary. Her frantic action cannot be complete without contemplation.

Is Mary complete without Martha? There are contemplatives in the Church whose entire calling is to radiate that divine love to the rest of us. Yes, Mary can be complete without Martha. Abraham could have spent the day in the quiet of the shade…

Can any of us, living in the world, be complete without both? No. Each are called to the foot of the Cross, to the open table of the Word, to the heavenly vision of the Liturgy, and from there to dance out into the world in love – and then to return again, moment by moment.

Service only arises from the heart. This is the one needful thing.

Ps 145 Blowback

JMJ

Nolite confidere in principibus, in filiis hominum, in quibus non est salus. Exibit spiritus ejus, et revertetur in terram suam; in illa die peribunt omnes cogitationes eorum.

Put not your trust in princes, in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish.
(It’s Ps 146 in the Protestant texts.)

I HAVE BEEN WORRYING ABOUT the presidential election cycle that is coming up. After the presidential chaos of the 1960s and 70s the election and re-election of Ronald Reagan proved to be a turning point in American politics unrelated to left or right. It was a stability moment. Reagan was the first president since Eisenhower to serve two full terms of office. Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson served out Kennedy’s term and was elected for one himself. Nixon was re-elected but his second term was destroyed by Scandal. Ford served out Nixon’s term and was not re-elected at all. Carter served one term. This constant change in officeholder paralleled with a period of political and economic chaos in the United States. I do not think they are unrelated. Although the president has (or had, rather) very little direct power, the effect of seeing the same face and hearing the same voice was one of “all is well, remain calm… and productive.” We lost that calming influence in the 60s and 70s having five different presidents and – I believe – we can see the results if we just crack open a history book or (for some of us) our memories.

Since the election of Ronald Reagan only one president, George Bush, Sr, has been limited to one term. This time of presidential stability is not unusual in American history as most presidents were allowed to serve out at least two terms. Even in this era of wild swings from left to right no matter how hated a sitting president is he tends to get reelected. Americans seem to like the stability that parallels with reelecting a president.

And so, unless things go wildly amiss, I expect Donald Trump will be re-elected. I know some people don’t want him to be, but does the left hate Trump any more than the right hated Obama? I suspect the president’s supporters will rally to his victory unless he manages to be too divisive and destroys the economic stability with social chaos. This may cause even some of his supporters to vote against him, or to vote for third-party candidates who are further to the right.

The backlash after his second term will be horrible. To be honest, even if it’s only one term I think the backlash will be bad. What backlash do I mean? The backlash that’s already happening.

I imagine a nation filled with New York State style abortion laws. I imagine a nation where it’s okay to kill grandma because she’s old. I imagine a nation where it’s okay to kill a newborn child because they have Down’s Syndrome. I imagine a nation where, like France, it’s okay to let starve someone to death because they were in a car accident. I imagine a nation where – as they tried to do in California this month – the seal of the confessional causes a priest to go to prison. I imagine a nation where, an angry new majority will do all of these things in the name of freedom, utility, and science. In the hope of preventing a Donald Trump style election in the future, as in The Hunger Games, the coastal cities will decide that the Fly Over States are worth suppressing in the name of national security.

To the extent that many Christians, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, have put their trust in Princes and have been willing to ignore the President’s racism, sexism, xenophobia, stupidity, crudity, vulgarity, lewd behavior, and general childishness, this backlash will fall on us. “Us” here means any Christian, not just Christians who supported Trump. Every church building, anywhere, will suddenly be a fly-over state. There will be a special backlash for Christians who looked at Trump’s feet, ankles, shins, calves, thighs, and hips of clay and his heart of stone and said, “Yes, but he’s going to appoint pro-life judges.”

Christians know that the end does not justify the means. Or at least we used to know that. We seem to have forgotten it, but only for this president. While many pro-life activists have been staunchly supportive of any pro-life action such as feeding the poor, ending the death penalty, rescuing the homeless, stopping war, and going to the borders to support immigrants, this is not been true of the “but he’s going to give us judges” class of people. This class of Christian has been as silently divisive as the president has verbally been.

And, we must be truthful: the president has taken pro-life steps only to further divide the nation. He, himself, is not pro-life. He, himself, only sees it as a wedge issue that will radicalize both his followers and his detractors. By putting a wedge issue into the country, he hopes to stay in power.

So, I think we’re about to be up the creek without a paddle. I’m not certain that it will happen in 2020, in fact, I don’t think it will. But come 2024 it’s going to be scary.

Actually He Did Say That

JMJ

The Readings for the 15th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Si tamen audieris vocem Domini Dei tui, et custodieris praecepta ejus et caeremonias, quae in hac lege conscripta sunt.
If thou hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and keep his precepts and ceremonies, which are written in this law.

If you follow social media at all occasionally a hashtag or meme will show up that is, shall we say, theologically annoying. It’s not only that it’s wrong or heretical, but usually, it’s so wrong or so very heretical as to indicate either a willful lack of knowledge on the part of those who originated it, or a downright hateful attack. Many things on social media can devolve into hateful attacks, so we needn’t get paranoid about it. This is partly the nature of the beast. It happens. On the other hand, hate also happens. This can be intentional so we must be careful to react with love.

This past week on social media there was such an event. I noticed it on Saturday but apparently it has been going on since Thursday or Friday. It was #ThingsJesusNeverSaid

When you put it like that nearly anything becomes a theological claim. We don’t think of it that way in our secular society but for Christians Jesus Is God. Making a claim about Jesus is making a theological claim. 

I’m not sure how this hashtag started but it quickly devolved into an odd combination of ahistorical, left-wing political thought and oddly heretical claims about the Divinity of Jesus. 

Jesus never said anything about Islam. (Islam came 600 years after Jesus.) Jesus never said anything about gay sex (actually he did when talking about adultery and lust – unless you want to be more literalist than even the worst Bible thumper). Jesus never said anything about gay marriage. Jesus never said anything about abortion. 

I’m not sure why these are interesting claims. They are not novel. Ever read any Jesus Seminar stuff? They seem to think Jesus never said anything. 


The hashtags seem to validate certain political points of view, and so they make people happy. Naturally, the other side had to respond and suddenly Jesus never said anything about gun control. Jesus never said anything about illegal immigrants. Jesus never said anything about… And again the whole point was to make certain political points of view seem pious.

People who claim to be Christians got involved. And they started throwing around the hashtag as well, validating their own political points of view and arguing with people who disagreed with their political points of view. So Jesus was a Libertarian, Jesus was a communist, Jesus was a pro-choice Democrat, Jesus wasn’t a communist, Jesus wasn’t a Libertarian, Jesus was a MAGA Republican, etc, etc, etc. 

What made this whole interesting, and what ties it into all of our readings today, was a subset of tweets and social postings around Jesus and the moral law of the Old Testament. 


For Christians, every action of God is a Trinitarian action. (The icons in this post show Jesus doing all the acts of Creation. Jesus is there from the beginning.)

Jesus, God the Son is the Word of God the Father. I don’t mean that Jesus is the Bible but rather when God speaks any word he says is Jesus. Any time you hear the voice of God speaking in the scriptures it’s Jesus. As a historical claim and a theological claim, this is rejected by any who are not Christians, but since Christians were playing this hashtag game we need to discuss it. The converse is also true: anyone who rejects this claim is not Christian.

In Deuteronomy, Moses refers to hearing the voice of God in the law. That voice, that Word of God, is the Logos, the Second person of the Trinity. Yes, it is the Father that is speaking, but the voice, the Word spoken, is the Logos. The breath, if you will, by which the Logos is heard and transmitted to you is the Holy Spirit. Every action of God is a Trinitarian Action. It cannot be otherwise. Even breaking it up as here into bite-sized bits is to nearly destroy the Trinitarian concept.

To put a very clear theological point on it: everything in the Law of the Torah was spoken by Jesus. A Christian cannot claim that Jesus did not say anything about XYZ in the Law without saying that part of the Bible was not spoken by God. 

So the basic claims of #ThingsJesusNeverSaid (Left, Right, Center) are both Arian and Marcionite at least and, sometimes, marching right on into Gnostic. Arius denied that Jesus was God. Marcion denied that the angry, judgy god of the Old Testament was the same as the fluffy, loving god of the New Testament. Gnostics deny that physical reality (like sex) is of any import to God at all and teach that it should be of no importance to us either. 

For Christians, this text of Moses is a very clear statement of the reality of the Sacramental World. It…

is not too mysterious and remote for you.It is not up in the sky, that you should say,‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for usand tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,‘Who will cross the sea to get it for usand tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’No, it is something very near to you,already in your mouths and in your hearts;

The NABRE says “it is something”, but the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin all say “The word is”… breath deep: Jesus. As near to you as the Spirit dwelling inside, as the Communion you’ve just consumed, as the person sitting next to you, as the Church into which you’re baptized. The word is very near.

Quoting what we think is a Hymn sung in the Church from the very earliest days (within 30-40 years of Jesus’ Ascension), St Paul boldly ups the Ante:

Quoniam in ipso condita sunt universa in caelis, et in terra, visibilia, et invisibilia, sive throni, sive dominationes, sive principatus, sive potestates: omnia per ipsum et in ipso creata sunt: et ipse est ante omnes, et omnia in ipso constant.

For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

All things are created by Jesus, for Jesus, through Jesus. The universe rises and is sustained in Jesus.

This claim certainly bothers folks. But to back away from it is to back away from historic Christianity. as I said this claim has been going since within 35 years of Jesus death. You can reject it by rejecting the entirety of the Christian faith. I know some people do that. They do it and they even claim to be Christians, but they’re telling lies about themselves and about Jesus.


It is from this all-inclusive claim the Christians follow the teachings of Jesus that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. For, if God is all self-giving, what the Greek calls kenosis, then we are to pour ourselves out in the same way, in the same kenotic way. Our neighbor is as our self. Not another self, but as our very self: human unity is a reflection of the Divine Unity. We all share the same nature even though we are individual persons. To love our neighbor is to love Jesus. Jesus was also a human person, sharing in our one human nature, the same nature you and I share the same nature our neighbor shares with us and with God in human flesh. This is why we are to follow the commands of Jesus for what it means to be humans. Regardless of what national laws, racism, or even possibly-valid economic concerns might say, we are to welcome the strangers and do everything possible to feed and clothe them. We cannot participate in a culture that would prevent us from doing so, be the stranger in the womb, on the street, or at the border.

This is the Christian’s unique anthropological claim. We are persons: but we are not singularities. We are not self-creating, we are all proceeding from the one act of Creation. We only have what we have received in that procession and we are commanded to pour it out fully, not to be emptied, but to participate in that procession, in that continual flow of the Divine Act.

That one act of Creation was, is, and can only ever be, Jesus.


To say #JesusNeverSaid is to project our post-modern, American, atomized, individualized, self-idolizing culture onto the only source of all unity, peace, justice, and hope. To use that to rationalize and justify your politics or sex life is just to prove you’ve never yet met Jesus. It’s time you did.

Jesus said, “Love.” 

That’s everything.