God is in Control

The Propers for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Omnes Gentes, Plaudite Manibus

JMJ

THE TIMES ARE CERTAINLY STRANGE. Between the Plague, the Denial of the Plague, political doctors, riots by white people with guns complaining about their right to endanger others, protests by people of color complaining about their inability to live without being endangered by power structures white people have built, and corporate greed driving so many false messages in and through all of the above, we can perhaps be forgiven for wandering in confusion through our days. The Collect though, reminds us the God is in control.

O God, Whose providence in the ordering of all things never fails; we humbly beseech Thee to put away from us all harmful things, and to give us those which are profitable for us.

Deus, cujus providentia in sui dispositione non fallitur : te supplices exorámus ; ut noxia cuncta submoveas, et ómnia nobis profutura concedas. 

This collect reads like the Advent antiphon, O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly. O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia.

Since it is the wisdom of God to order all things, then how can anything be unjust? This is sort of the default how can anything be evil question isn’t it? If your God is so good why is there evil in the world? If your God is so good why are there poor people who are slain by tsunamis on Christmas Day? Christians have an answer for that question but no one likes the answer.

The Introit reminds us that God is the “great king over all the Earth.” Everyone is invited to praise him. Clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of joy. So, again, why is there Injustice in the world?

In the Epistle St Paul speaks to the Romans, reminding them that they used to be in their sins “because of the infirmity of the flesh”… offering their body to “uncleanness” ἀκαθαρσία akatharsia in the Greek. This means “impurity” or, more to the point, “unpurified”. Think of unrefined silver, with all the impurities still in it. This status of non-purification leads to something else: lawlessness ἀνομίᾳ anomia. But more important for our discussion, it’s ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν anomia eis ton anomian. Lawlessness unto lawlessness. Sin builds on sin, as was discussed earlier in this post citing 1865 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says elsewhere our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. Then, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” This ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν which arises from our impurity creates structures of sin in which our society runs amok.

Sins all lead to death, but St Paul does not leave us there. There is hope for us! In Christ we are now to yield our body to δικαιοσύνῃ εἰς ἁγιασμόν dikaiosune eis agiasmon: righteousness until sanctification. See the parallel: instead of “lawlessness unto lawlessness” we are now “righteous unto sanctification” and as the old bondage lead to structures of sin woven through the world, so our righteous living will lead to structures of sanctification – not just in our hearts but in all our lives through the world, to the proper end of mankind, τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον, telos zoen aionion, to life everlasting. Here St Paul uses ζωή, Zoe, which means not the life of “the breathing” but the everlasting life which is our participation (by Grace) in the very life of God. But this is only the final end: it’s our time now not to “yeild fruit” of those things which we are now ashamed. Rather we are to become “servants of God” with “fruit unto sanctification.”

As the whole pattern of individual sin wove together to form fractal patterns woven through all of society, so also our personal motion in theosis is intended to save the whole pattern of the world. “Acquire the Holy Spirit,” says St Seraphim of Sarov. “And thousands around you will be saved.” This is our job as Christians.

The Gradual and the Alleluia call us to praise God, but also they call us to come to him for enlightenment that our faces might not be ashamed. How is that tied in? When we see the Lord, then we know that we are the Servants of all. But we know this because he has given us Grace. We are no longer confound it, no longer ashamed of our servant status. We follow him who became a slave to save us. In this way no matter how we lower ourselves in the service of others, we can never be lower than he who now raises us to heaven.

St Matthew challenges us in the Gospel to bear fruit. Worse, Jesus threatens us: if we do not bear fruit we will be cut off and cast into the fire. This is not a kind or comforting passage. We should hear this as a threat, quite literally. When I look at my life do I see fruit that glorifies my Lord? Absolutely not. What is the will of Our Father in heaven? If we do this we will inherit eternal life. St Paul has told us that this is the fruit leading to sanctification. It’s not something that comes after our salvation, it’s the very process itself. The fruit leading to sanctification are the little steps we take to weave God’s kingdom into the world around us.

We know that our actions of righteousness, of justice do not benefit the individual: a rising tide raises all ships. As you become more Christlike, you participate (in emulating him) in the salvation of the world. God is ordering the world through you and you are participating in his ordering of it.

Matthew tells us that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will inherit the Kingdom. How many days do I spend simply going through the motions with Christianity, the daily actions of liturgy without ever once performing an action inside the kingdom of God? How often do I fail to weave the kingdom of God into reality around me? I can say Jesus is Lord without ever needing it to be true in my life or in the world around me. I can pray a rosary, walking down the street, shedding curses on those I step over as they sleep, homeless. This is not the kingdom, this will cause me to be cut off and cast into the fire. What is the will of God? The salvation of all where “salvation” means the wholeness – the all-around health – of all. If I am not weaving structures of holiness into the world around me, then I am building structures of sin instead.

Jesus reminds us of false prophets – that speak in the name of God but fail to proclaim God’s Gospel. They do not bear the right kind of fruit: instead, they are greedy, ravening wolves. They prey on the sheep – sexually abusing them, financially abusing them, theologically abusing them by denying the teachings of the faith, downplaying the sexual morality of the church, or making liturgy “fun”. They are popular, yes, but they damn us to hell. Equally false though, are those who deny the actions of Justice that result from the faith. Usury is wrong, racism is a sin, oppression of others – even those who disagree with us – is wrong.

The verse sung for the Offertory today may seem out of place in all this context. But the prophet Daniel reminds us that our actions, done in praise of God, are equal to thousands of burnt offerings pleasing to him. And as we serve God, there is no confusion. Indeed, as sin replicates more sin, the closer you come to God, the easier it becomes to continue to serve him. An old hymn says, “The longer I serve him the sweater he grows”. God’s grace moves through you to pull you more and more into his will for you, and the more it happens, the more you freely cooperate with him. There is no confusion in this, but enlightenment (as mentioned in the Gradual).

The Secret sums all this up, asking that our sacrifice will be both an honor to God and for our salvation. Remember, our sacrifice here in the Mass is not a new thing but rather a participation in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary 2000 years ago and here today. And yet, here today it is a discrete action: an individual action of our congregation and of our priest, here and now. It is a part of the building of the kingdom of God on this Earth in the same way that our individual acts of justice and righteousness are performing the same construction. The Mass, as well as our individual actions of economic justice, racial equality, and political liberation all work together to bring the Kingdom into the presence of the world.

The Communion verse asks God to deliver us, using the Hebrew, לְהוֹשִׁיעֵֽנִי, meaning to save (and using the root that also gives the name of Our Lord). Finally the Post-communion speak of deliverance and healing, bringing us into the ways of righteousness.

The whole motion of this Mass is one of repetition: we praise God (clap our hands) in order that we might do the works of righteousness in order that more acts of righteousness may come to pass in the world, in order that the world may come to praise God and the whole cycle repeats. This is the order of the world as we set aright (by God’s grace) those things that have destroyed righteousness and justice around us.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.