Excursus: Yoke


IN JESUS’ WORLD, righteousness is man’s answer to the Torah, acceptance of the whole of God’s will, the bearing of the ‘yoke of God’s kingdom,’ as one formulation had it.” (Jesus of Nazareth p 17) Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you” seemingly out of the blue. But it is part of a wider rabbinic conversation. Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth cites “yoke of the kingdom of heaven” without much context. Today’s 1st reading at Mass gives us another yoke reference: “Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)

The Jewish Virtual Library, citing the Jewish Encyclopedia, locates this Rabbinic conversation about “yoke” in the 1st and 2nd Centuries.

In rabbinic theology the yoke is a metaphor of great importance. It is the symbol of service and servitude, and in accordance with the principle that the Jew should be free from servitude to man in order to devote himself to the service of God, the “yoke of the kingdom of man” is contrasted with “the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.” The doctrine is fully enacted in the statement of Neḥunya b. ha-Kanah : “Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah, they remove from him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns, and whoever breaks off the yoke of the Torah, they place on him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns” (Avot 3:5). The “yoke of the Torah” here presumably refers to the duty of devoting oneself to study but “yoke” is used in a more specific and restricted sense. The proclamation of the unity of God by reading the *Shema is called “accepting upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven,” while the acceptance of the fulfillment of the Commandments as a whole, referred to in the second paragraph of the Shema. is called “accepting the yoke of the Commandments,” and it is this which determines the order of the paragraphs.

As B16 notes, Jesus is the kingdom in his person. Taking Jesus’ yoke is the same as taking the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. Rabbi Yeshua is here saying – again – that he is God, even in the calm urge to “take my yoke upon you”. No mere Rabbi would say this. The Yoke of the Torah or the Yoke of the Messiah – which would you pick? They are the same.

Jesus is not saying that Torah Rules are bad and his yoke is just love everyone. Jesus says that not one “jot or title” will pass away from the law. The moral code (no fornication, no adultery, no theft, no lies, no murder, no divorce) is still in effect. Indeed, the Apostles knew this: they did not say that the new converts could ignore the law. They said that coming to Jesus did not require the law BUT “Moses is still preached…” ie the new converts could learn the full moral code after the fact. It’s not “the law”. No one is saying that Gentiles should be circumcised or keep kosher. I’m amused that the NABRE advises Gentiles to avoid “unlawful marriage”. The Greek is πορνείας “porneias” which means sexual immorality of all types. Every other English translation gets it right.

This is the yoke of the Gospel. To say the creed is to take on this yoke. It is easy and light not because it has no rules, but because God’s Spirit lives in us and unites us to his grace.

Turn around and trust the good news.

Lord of the Sabbath


The assignment: Your essay will address two questions: Who is Jesus of Nazareth? What insights are gleaned from his words and deeds: his baptism, his temptations in the wilderness, his Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s Prayer, his “I AM” sayings, etc.? What can we understand about Christian discipleship in light of the person and mission of Jesus?

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST himself declared what he was, what he had been, how he was carrying out his Father’s will, what obligations he demanded of men.” (Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics, Office of Readings, Feast of Sts Philip & James, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol 3, p.1811). Where does Jesus tell us who he is? How can this help form Christians today?

Finding the answers requires listening to Jesus in his context. We will look briefly at our Lord’s teaching on keeping/breaking the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) walking with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to understand our Lord’s meaning more deeply, using Chapter Four of the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1 (hereinafter, JoN). This chapter is a dialogue with another author’s work, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (1993), by Rabbi Jacob Neusner. Benedict explores the Rabbi’s reactions as Jesus is questioned by Pharisees about his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. The Rabbi provides Jewish ears and a Jewish voice. 

In the understanding of Rabbinic Judaism, doing any sort of work on the Sabbath is a violation of the Torah. How the disciples keep Sabbath is important in all the Gospels. Pope Benedict notes on page 106 “Jesus’ statement that ‘the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’ (Mk 2:27) is cited as evidence, the idea being that it represents an anthropocentric view of reality, from which a ‘liberal’ interpretation of the commandments supposedly follows naturally. It was, in fact, the Sabbath disputes that became the basis for the image of the liberal Jesus.” The liberal Jesus tosses out (or ignores) the commandments. “Jesus’ liberal understanding of the Law makes for a less burdensome life than ‘Jewish legalism.’” (JoN p. 109)

Jesus replies that priests work in the Temple on the Sabbath without actually breaking the law, adding “[S]omething greater than the Temple is here.” (Matthew 12:6 – RSVCE).  He says, “The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (v. 8) This is not a case of the “liberal” Jesus freeing us from all Moses’ laws. Benedict finds, along with Neusner, there is a different focus here, a revelation of who Jesus is.

We are eavesdropping on a conversation between Jewish voices: Jesus was using Jewish words in Jewish ways and those words were being heard in Jewish ways as well. In this light, we should keep in mind something different about the Sabbath and observing it in the Jewish context. Jesus is not tossing out rules. Rabbi Neusner hears it this way:

God rested on the seventh day, as the creation account in Genesis tells us. Neusner rightly concludes that “on that day we . . . celebrate creation”. He then adds: “Not working on the Sabbath stands for more than nitpicking ritual. It is a way of imitating God”. The Sabbath is therefore not just a negative matter of not engaging in outward activities, but a positive matter of “resting”.

JoN, p 108

Further drawing out resting, Benedict reads the verses immediately preceding chapter 12. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30). The Pope pulls the reader back a bit to see the full context of the story. We don’t often read the picking grains story together with the preceding verses, but the wider angle on giving rest and then a conversation about resting on the sabbath shows us that these verses are all part of the same story. Pope Benedict lets us see in the wider context that Jesus is not just saying, “Hey, you don’t need to follow these sabbath rules anymore.” 

Neusner agrees that Jesus is shifting the point of focus from the Temple. “[T]he holy place has shifted, now being formed by the circle made up of the master and his disciples” (JoN p 108). The Rabbi comes to the conclusion that Christ is putting himself in the place of the Torah and then asks, “Is your master God?” (JoN p. 110). 

Hearing this as a Jewish conversation wrapped in the wider context provided by earlier verses, we can see that Jesus is claiming in his person to grant Sabbath rest. He is “Lord of the Sabbath”. That is to say he is claiming to be God and by following him his Disciple obeys the law of the Torah in a more direct way. By resting in Jesus we are “Sabbath Resting” not only on the 7th day, but always. 

For a disciple, following Jesus is not a matter of ignoring the moral code, but rather expanding the code, making it personal. When the covenant was written on Sinai, God’s living fire burned the stone (Exodus 31:18), destroying what was not needed and revealing the laws that have been for all time.  In the New Covenant, the law is written on our hearts. Now God’s living fire carves it out on our hearts: destroying in our lives what is not needed and revealing what has been the law for all time. Our hearts become living stones of God’s Temple (1 Peter 2:5).

Pope Benedict cited this meditation from Rabbi Neusner on pages 104-5: by Jewish tradition, there are 613 commandments given on Sinai which have been condensed, in various steps, down to the greatest commandments regarding God and neighbor. The Rabbi says Jesus taught all this faithfully. But, he notes, Jesus did add something: “Himself.” To the Rabbi’s eyes, Jesus has added himself to the story, replacing the Temple and the Torah. He is claiming to be God openly which his audience of 1st Century Jews – and Jews today – can hear. For the disciple today Jesus has unveiled himself as the central part of the entire Biblical story. 


I Make All Things New


EVERY YEAR, BY UNSPOKEN tradition, churches get specific phone calls at certain times. In the Catholic Church, two expected phone calls are, “What time is Midnight Mass?” and “What times are you giving out ashes?” In the Russian Orthodox Church, one expected phone call in Holy Week was, “What time is the Wise Thief?” The Wise Thief is a verse of hymnody sung three times during the Matins of Good Friday, which is to say on Thursday night of Holy Week. It’s very short yet is often sung to three very different musical settings (one right after the other) and stretched out. Anything sung three times in the Orthodox Church is given a theological highlight. The Wise Thief turns to Jesus and begs, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” He is given the answer, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” And then we sang:

The Wise Thief didst Thou make worthy of Paradise,
in a single moment, O Lord.
By the wood of Thy Cross illumine me as well, and save me.

We were discussing this at a Courage meeting a few weeks ago – and focusing on the process of repentance that brings us to where we are. It is possible to argue, in a very Pelagian way, about getting one’s life together and setting everything right. A lot can hinge on it, you know: we must get all the ducks in a row and finally turn to God. But the Wise Thief, by tradition, St Dismas, is a strong argument against that. Dismas was a dismal failure: he did nothing right except at the end.

Think about it: he was such a terrible robber that instead of just cutting off a hand and making him a beggar, he was crucified. Actually, he got caught, then he was crucified. He was a failure as an evil mastermind. But what brought him to such straights? Was he a drunkard? Was he in gambling debt? Was he simply trying to feed his family? Had he been caught stealing from a roman soldier or sleeping with the wrong woman? And what brought him there in the first place? Was he a Roman far from home? Was he poor and enslaved? Look, you don’t end up hanging on a cross by being good and sucking up to all the right people. Yet there he was.

And somehow, he was there next to God. And in a single moment, the entire life that had failed in so many ways became the path that God used to bring Dismas to himself. WIthout failure, without the sins, without the trial, without the cross, he would not be next to Jesus who – in a single moment of grace – made all things new. Jesus made that broken road of a sinful life to be the road that brought Dismas right before the Throne of God’s Glory, the Cross.

Jesus says, “Behold I make all things new.”

In the Cross, sin becomes the path to God, death becomes the path to life, and cursing becomes the path to blessedness. Our fallen world becomes the steps we climb to heaven.

Repentance is not turning around and running away: but rather a turning over to God so that he can make it all new. The sin of Adam which damned u all becomes in the incarnation, the Felix Culpa, the Happy Fault that opens the gateway to an even more glorious redemption. All things are new.

This was all rumbling in my mind when I read the following paragraph:

Gentiles also live in poverty, they also have to worry about demons and evil spirits, but the world around them is the one that they’re meant to be in. Oylem haze, [this world], is their world. Religious Christians might see themselves as pilgrims on earth, sojourners waiting to die and go live with Jesus, but there’s a big difference between a pilgrim and a refugee, even when both shlep along the same road. The Christian ideal is to be in this world, but not of it; the Jewish problem, the problem of the Jews in goles [exile], is being of this world but still not in it. We eat, sleep, go to the toilet, and die. We pay taxes and serve in the army and do business, but we’re shut out, excluded from all the usual sources of pleasure we’re on Turtle Island, and turtles are treyf [unkosher]. The chief sources of Jewish joy, shabbes and Torah, aren’t part of this world, either. Traditional Jewish culture has everything but oylem haze, which means “sensual pleasure” in Yiddish, the today for which hedonists live. Where the gentile world is an endless series of sequential “nows,” the Jewish world is nothing but “thens,” thens of the past and thens of the future: “then we were… then we’ll be… now we’re nothing.” Without the Temple, the world is nothing but another klipe, a confining husk that cannot be shaken off until the Messiah comes and redeems us.

Born to Kvetch, by Michael Wex (2005). p. 141-142

That last sentence, “Without the Temple, the world is nothing but another klipe, a confining husk…” struck me as a reality not only for Jews but also for everyone who lives without Messiah. “Gentiles also live in poverty, they also have to worry about demons and evil spirits, but the world around them is the one that they’re meant to be in.” This world is a confining husk that cannot be shaken off. Yet Christians are not in this world without the Messiah, nor without the Temple. Wex (and other Jewish writers) are fine with letting Jesus be the Gentile Messiah. He’s just not their Messiah. But there is only one. The Temple Wex is missing is the living Body of Messiah (John 2:21), that is the Church, and each of our bodies is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). This is also Jesus making all things new. We are not trapped in a husk. We are dancing in heaven, even now. This world is no longer one of Exile but (as the author noted) one of Pilgrimage. The issue is not one of civic or political power, but rather one of grace: in a single moment, Messiah rewrites the map. We are in the same world, we are dealing with the same issues, we have the same pains and the same lives. But being made new, the lives and pains come to a different end even walking the very same paths. “All the way to heaven is heaven,” as St Catherine of Siena says. “For Jesus said, ‘I am the way.'” He makes all things new: the Broken Road is Christ in our life if we but let him make it so.

This is what making all things new means. In a single moment, Jesus can take a broken sex addict and turn her into a saint (Mary of Egypt). In a single moment he can take thief and bring him to heaven. We all have the same story:

  1. I was a mess
  2. By God’s grace I was able to see that
  3. Then I tried for a long time to fix it
  4. By God’s grace I was brought to see only God can fix it
  5. So I said yes
  6. He’s fixing it
  7. In a single moment, I realized it was only by God’s grace that I was able to say yes or even to realize it
  8. God is making all things new

There is no other story: the only things that change are the particulars. The only thing that happens ever is Jesus makes all things new. He doesn’t undo them, he doesn’t remove them. He doesn’t fix them. In a single moment, he makes it so all roads lead to him. Later you realize, as my Mom says, “He never let go of your hand.”

What’s Love Got To Do With It (2)


ST THOMAS AQUINAS says that God is the one in whom essence and existence are the same. “Ipsum Esse Subsistens” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 4, a. 2) is the phrase in Latin. It’s part of a larger discussion where St Thomas is discussing the absolute simplicity of God: there is no part or “smaller portion” of God. God is infinity and there is no “smaller infinity”. God’s being and essence, God’s action, God’s will, it’s all one. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. I’m not a mystic that can elaborate on this, but it’s important to hold this one fact: God is totally, ultimately, unity. In God his “beingness”, if you’ll pardon the neologism, is his act of being. Being and Beingness are the same in God. This quality has the singularly euphonious name of “Aeseity“. Among the Eastern Church Fathers, St Gregory of Nyssa uses the term Αὐτουσία autousia which sometimes gets rendered as unchanging, but parses out into “self (auto) essence (usia)”. Since we’re using verbs here, I hope it’s not too far to render this as self-essencing and to want to say “Tom, meet Greg…”.

Because God is the act of being all things that “be” are somehow sustained by God in that being. We have no power to “be” in ourselves. Our beingness is sustained by God. Please note that that does not make us part of God. As I noted above, God is simple, infinity, and unified. We are neither unified, simple, nor infinite. We are not God nor part of God. We do not participate in the Divinity of God. But our act of being is not from us: it requires God’s action at every moment. It’s not only that God willed for you to come into being in your mother’s womb. God is actively, continually, willing your ongoing being. As Christians, we believe your life is eternal and so – even in purgatory, hell, or heaven – your existence is sustained by God’s active will. You are because God is.

  • What is that being? We’ve already drawn all the lines over the course of three posts so let’s review:
  • God is love expressed as self-gift (kenosis).
  • That love, on the human scale, can be best expressed in the love between husband and wife. It is physical and spiritual self-gift.
  • God’s being (love) is the root cause of all the beingness in creation because all being is sustained by God’s active will.
  • That love is you. Your fullness of being is expressed in kenotic love.

You come into being as the image of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) whose jam is kenosis. God’s love. That’s the fire that draws you into being, holds you, propels you, and calls you forward deeper into God. When Abba Joseph says, “Become wholly fire” the fire he means is love. When Third Day sings about being a “Soul on Fire” the fire they mean is love. When you exist, when you eat a steak, when you dance with your spouse, when you give away yourself fully: the fire you feel is love.

You are the image and likeness of a God who is love. Your very beingness is this love. This has some implications.

Morality is about kenosis. We’re used to thinking about lists of rules. Did I break or keep a rule? Even very “progressive” morality is about rules: did you use the correct pronoun or recycle/compost bin? Did you break a rule when you voted? We are all very legalistic. But if the source of beingness is kenotic love then actions that thwart this self-gift are intrinsically disordered, they are contrary to the reality of our beingness – not just in the first person, but for all beings. When you take an action or attitude that moves away from self-gift, you cut off not only yourself from God’s love (being) but also all around you who would have received that life mediated through your properly-ordered actions.

Depending on our gifts we might each see this problem most clearly in different areas. But it applies to all areas we think of as morality, sin, ethics, and the common good.

On the “lighter side” of this is talking as giving. One common piece of feedback I have received in work evaluations as an adult is that I do not speak enough in meetings. I’ve had to struggle with this including discussing it with therapists and clergy. It seems it’s related to being one of the “smart kids” in school, coupled with having poor filters, or maybe being “on the spectrum” somewhat – although we did not use that language in the 1970s, nor have I any diagnosis to back that up. Anyway, in school, I always knew the answers. My reading comprehension was several grades above my peers (12 grade reading in 4th grade). The only thing I could not do (and still cannot do very well), was spell! I remember once asking a teacher how to spell the word “of” because I kept trying to write it with the v and I knew that was wrong. The result of this loquacity was that some kids always commented on it in a negative way. I got beat up and called names because of it. And so I learned just to shut up and lay low in class. I kept getting good grades on tests and things and so that was okay. I carried this into adulthood where I just did my job as well as I could and tried not to get beat up. As a result, I never had the opportunity to develop filters or social skills so when I spoke out about anything it was awkward and sometimes painful for others. Shutting up was generally better than not. Yet the feedback given to me by supervisors was always along the lines of asking me to share my knowledge with others. Holding in my knowledge was not helping others do their jobs to the best of their abilities nor allowing them to benefit from my experience. Working on this issue has been one of the more rewarding parts of deciding to grow up – helping me not only to see my value but also to learn not to be awkward in communication.

We do not get to decide what is self-gift. We are entirely dependent on God. Jesus says the Son can only do what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19). We rest, like the beloved disciple at the Last Supper, against the bosom of the Son. Our gaze is thus toward the Father. Jesus calls us friends (John 15:15). As CS Lewis notes in The Four Loves, “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” With the Son as our Friend, we gaze, side by side, toward the Father. We, too, can only do what we see the Father doing. It is not possible to call “self-gift” what the Father refuses to accept.

By way of something a bit more weighty, our choices in the area of sex are often failures in kenosis even though we try to convince ourselves otherwise. The use of sex as a method of self-gratification is such an example: any removal of sex from its divine telos is disordered to selfishness. We’re not giving our full self, others do not benefit fully. As I noted in my earlier post: letting someone else go to hell is not loving them. All sexual sins involve the loss of (at least) two souls. When we cut ourselves off from self-gift we do the same for those around us. When, in our pride, we imagine we’ve come up with a new definition of “self-gift” we’re making ourselves out to be wiser than God, we pretend – in error – that we are “self-essencing” (Αὐτουσία) and thus we cut ourselves off from the stream of beingness that is God. We no longer mediate life to others.

Self-gift is what we are born to do. This is what God does (even when we turn away) and we are called to do the same thing. As U2 says, “give yourself away, and you give, and you give, and you give”. It’s not important if the other person is “deserving” or even thankful. When Jesus calls us to be perfect (in Matthew 5) he drives this point home:

You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Love your neighbor — and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Then you will become children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun shine on good and bad people alike, and he sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that! And if you are friendly only to your friends, are you doing anything out of the ordinary? Even the Goyim do that! Therefore, be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:45-48 (CJB)

Engaging in this kenotic love makes us like God, makes the Divine Fire in us shine forth. It is evangelistic in that it brings others to see God. “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). This is what makes us fully human. Anything less is to miss the mark and fall short of the kingdom of God.

Repent, then, and believe the Gospel! That is, give yourself away: pour out yourself as fully as God does because the divine fire within you is infinite. Your self-ness comes from God and the more you pour out the more you will have to give away. To believe – to act in trust on what God says – is to say, “not my will but Thine be done” and then just keep giving. Mind you, I’m not good at this yet. But that’s what sainthood means: to keep going until this becomes all you do: burn with the fire of divine love until you become all fire. Many of us (most?) will not become all fire in this life and so will need to keep working on it by God’s grace.

We work through this life (and the next) with what St Gregory of Nyssa says is the one thing, truly worthwhile: becoming God’s friends. We come to see as God sees, to love as he loves, to pour out as he pours out. We come to share in his nature as Christ shares in ours.

What’s Love Got To Do With It? (1)


GOD IS LOVE. We know this. We don’t often follow it to a logical conclusion though: you did something I don’t like therefore I must remind you that God is love. We may never get around to exploring that the Love spoken of is always in the 1st person: it’s not something that we demand of others, it’s what we do that matters. How do we get from God is Love to knowing what to do with it? What is it, in the first person, that matters about this love? This seems somehow to be connected to the idea that we are created in God’s image and likeness. If we weave all this together can we better understand who God is, who we are, and who we are called to be?

There is an earlier essay on Eros which should be seen as a prelude to this post. That post details the four kinds of love used in the Greek language. Of these four types, we learn God is love in 1 John 4:8: God is “agape.” In our Christian tradition, we have come to understand agape as a sort of divine, all-embracing, “inclusive” love generally seen as unromantic, unpassionate, unerotic, and – ultimately -unemotional. St Thomas describes this agape as willing the good of the other. But, as noted in the earlier post, we may be too rigid in parsing out how the “Four Loves” relate to each other. These loves seem to be more interrelated than we usually treat them. The Latin of the Catechism, for example (see that essay) mixes up the loves of desire, disinterest, and charity. Pope Benedict (also cited in that essay) underscores God’s desire for us. The Biblical authors also did not parse out their loves into strict categories. The first time “agape” shows up in the Biblical World is to describe the love between the Bride and the Groom in the Song of Songs!

“The Sept. use ἀγάπη for אַהֲבָה, Song of Solomon 2:4, 5, 7; Song of Solomon 3:5, 10; Song of Solomon 5:8; Song of Solomon 7:6; Song of Solomon 8:4, 6, 7; (“It is noticeable that the word first makes its appearance as a current term in the Song of Solomon; — certainly no undesigned evidence respecting the idea which the Alexandrian LXX translators had of the love in this Song” (Zezschwitz, Profangraec. u. Biblical Sprachgeist, p. 63)); Jeremiah 2:2; Ecclesiastes 9:1, 6; (2 Samuel 13:15).

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Yes, there are generations of Biblical Scholars who try very hard to make us understand that Solomon and his Bride are not talking about Erotic Love. But, they are Blanche, they are! This erotic love is the reason St Paul says the love of husband and wife is like the mystery of Christ and the Church. The two become one flesh. There is a way in which Agape and Eros are the same thing. And there’s a way in which this tells us more about who God made us to be.

While God’s love is desirous and not at all disinterested, God’s love has one quality that we do not usually associate with human love – but the Church specifically attaches to Marital Love: self-emptying. The fancy theological term is kenosis. In the Bible, kenosis is found in Philippians 2:7. The translation takes various forms saying Jesus, as the Son of God, “emptied himself”, “made himself of no reputation”, “made himself nothing”, etc. This is how the Son of God expresses his love for us. This same action is how all Christian love is expressed (not just between a husband and wife): we give away ourselves. All Christians are called to Chastity as governed by our state in life. Chastity means maintaining the integrity of our person in self-mastery in order to be able to make a full and total gift of self as our vocation unfolds. If you wonder at this, drop into the Catechism at ¶2337 and read to ¶2350 on how chastity and self-gift are tied together. Chastity makes Kenosis possible in humans.

Why is this important? Because in this action – our self-emptying – we imitate the Son of God as he is imitating his Father. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” John 5:19. Jesus does only what he sees the Father doing. God is love – this means that God is this Kenotic Love in action. We move from the noun, “Agape” to the verb “Agapao“. Love – like God – is a verb. Again, the English-speaking writers of the dictionary seem to be coming to the verb with some (Victorian?) biases. A usage study of the word, though, is important: the sinful woman is said to “love much” and the Pharisees “love” to be honored. These are not simple preferences or choices but rather passions. I prefer cotton shirts over linen. I do not feel the same way about butter pecan ice cream, though.

As the Father empties himself into the Son, so the Son empties himself for us and we are to empty ourselves for others. “Others” here refers to all others for we are to love all and, again, that’s not intended to be a warm, squishy kind of love. It is “willing the good of the other”, certainly, but rather you should hear that to mean we are to be filled with a burning and passionate desire for the Good of the Other and there is only one Good: to be a Saint. You cannot say you love someone and be satisfied with them going to hell. If you’re even passively ok with them going to hell, or if you’re afraid they won’t like you, then you’re pretty much not passionate about loving them.

We’ve explored that Eros and Agape may be more of the same thing than expected and that they both bring us to kenosis or self-emptying. If a Self-emptying, Passionate Desire for the Good of the Other is the meaning of “Love” then what does this teach us about our God who is Love? To get to the answer to this question we must go deeper into what God actually is. Or, more to the point, How God Is and how that plays out. That’s for the next post.

Pascal Hours


FROM THE EASTERN RITE Tradition, these prayers are said during Bright Week. I like them for “waking up” and “Going to Bed” prayers all during the Easter Season. Even the forty-fold “Lord Have Mercy” seems celebratory.

+Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

+Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.(3x)

+Having beheld the resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only Sinless One. We worship your cross, O Christ, and your holy Resurrection we praise and glorify; for you are our God, and we know no other besides you, and we call upon your name. O come, all you faithful, let us worship Christ’s holy Resurrection, for behold, through the Cross joy has come to all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, we hymn His Resurrection; for, having endured crucifixion, He has destroyed death by death. (3x)

Before the dawn, the women came with Mary, and found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and heard from the angel: why do you seek He who lives in everlasting light here among the dead, as though He were a mortal? Behold the grave-clothes. Go quickly and proclaim to the world that the Lord is risen and has slain death. For He is the Son of God Who saves all.

Though you descended into the grave, O Immortal One, you destroyed the power of Hell. And you rose as victor, O Christ God, calling to the myrrh-bearing women: Rejoice! And giving peace unto your apostles: you grant resurrection to the fallen.

You were in the grave bodily, but in Hell with your soul as God: in Paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit. You fill all things, O Christ the Inexpressible.

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Your tomb is shown to be life-giving and more beautiful than Paradise, and truly more resplendent than any royal palace, O Christ, the source of our resurrection!

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O sanctified and divine tabernacle of the Most High, rejoice! For through you, O Theotokos, joy is given to those who cry: Blessed are you among women, O all-pure Lady.

Lord, have mercy (40x).

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+More honourable than the Cherubim, more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, True Theotokos, we magnify you.
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, for the sake of the prayers of your most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us. Amen.

[For Compline add this prayer:
Blessed are you, Master almighty, who have given light to the day by the light of the sun and made the night bright with rays of fire, who have granted us to pass through the length of the day and draw near to the beginnings of the night. Hearken to our entreaty and that of all your people, and forgive all of us our sins voluntary and involuntary and send down the multitude of your mercy and acts of compassion upon your inheritance. Wall us about with your holy Angels. Arm us with the weapons of your justice. Surround us with the rampart of your truth. Guard us with your power. Deliver us from every calamity and every assault of the adversary. Grant us that the present evening with the coming night may be perfect, holy, peaceful, sinless, without stumbling, and dreamless and likewise all the days of our life; at the prayers of the holy Mother of God and of all the Saints who have been well pleasing to you since time began. Amen. ]

+Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.(3x)

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+May Christ our true God, Who rose from the dead, trampling down death by death bestowing life on those in the tombs, through the intercessions of His most Pure Mother, and of all the saints have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of All.

To the Garden


MY BELOVED has gone to the garden
singing hymns sadness
in darkness weeping
and he falls
and he cries out
and I run from him
Bleeding sweat
Another kisses him
Taking him away

My beloved has gone to the garden
Seeing him hanging
between the trees
and he gasps
and he cries out
and I dare not go to him
strange fruit
Another pierces him
and goes away

My beloved has gone to the garden
A stranger with him
sings prayers
And he wraps him
and he kisses him
and I would go to him
if I could
Laying there
the darkness
Comes in light

7LW: Unneeded Substitution


Today you will be with me in Paradise.

TODAY WAS A BIT of a rough one for me: it began at 4AM with the news that my mom was in the hospital (but somewhat ok as compared to last night). Getting to work I was alerted to the news that one of seven speakers I had arranged for Good Friday might not be there for their own family emergency and a parent in the hospital. So with two hours to go I locked myself in my office with a double espresso and composed a backup essay which, thankfully, I didn’t need to deliver. It follows:

In her writings, Saint Catherine of Siena teaches, “All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus says I am the way.”

Jesus says to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The thief is on a cross… Jesus is on a cross. What can this mean in Paradise? Today.

My road to the fullness of the Catholic Faith is broken. I made choices early in my life to prioritize certain aspects of my experience over my religious faith and, as a result, my faith started to fall apart.

For a long time I doubted things like the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth, the sacraments, the Bible, the Church, but – at the same time – I struggled knowing I was making moral choices contrary to the historic teachings of the faith.

At the point (sometime in college) where I realized the only part of the Nicene Creed I could say was the first word – “I” – I left my Episcopal Congregation. Then I journeyed outside of the church denying the faith entirely.

After about ten years something was still missing from my “spiritual but not religious” life.

I returned to a liberal Mainline congregation – where I could still live by my choices. But something was still off and so I went first to Eastern Orthodoxy, finally to the Catholic Church. I walked into this building and this community five years ago.

Leaving liberal, progressive Christianity for the traditional faith, I knew I was making new choices that were contrary to my earlier life. There could be no compromise if my faith was to take priority. Something had to change: I would have to let go of those earlier choices.

This new struggle began, seeking healing from the wounds caused by those earlier choices. Wounds leave scars, tearing muscles, and making one week in certain areas. Moral choices, as Saint Paul says, can sear the conscience so that it becomes nearly impossible to make the right choice again in the future without God’s grace.

When Saint Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ” he means that this life, the choices we’ve made, the choices I’ve made become the cross upon which we nail ourselves; hanging there like the thief begging Christ to remember me in his kingdom.

When walking away from former choices toward Christ becomes our whole way of life he says “today you will be with me in Paradise”.

The former choices, these ways of life that were contrary to the faith, that were actually ways of death become the sacrifice made Thanksgiving.

Eventually, Jesus called me back. My Mom said, “No matter where you went, he never let go of your hand, did he?”

I discovered that she was right: all the time that I was walking – even when I was walking away in pride – I was actually walking towards Jesus.

My Sacrifice, once nailed to the cross, he takes and blesses.
All of the broken road turns it into my path to him.

Jesus is our Paradise hanging on the cross and when we hang on the cross with him we are in Paradise today.

All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus says I am the way.

7LW: שמע


Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

WITHIN THE JEWISH TRADITION the last prayer one says before dying is called the Shema (or Sh’ma) :

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ יי אֶחָֽד

Hear, Israel, the Lord our God: the Lord is one.

The recitation of this line of scripture, along with some other passages of scripture form the keystone in both the morning and evening prayer services of the Synagogue liturgy. Additionally, it is traditional to recite it just as one is going to bed and, as noted, as the last breath before death.

Before one says the Shema, one says a prayer called the Vidui. It’s a confession of sin and an acknowledgment that, before God, one is entirely without merit. It’s a prayer for mercy and grace in death. Although many of the modern versions include the verse “into thy hands…” it was not always so. In the 16th Century, the “Code of Jewish Law” (Shulchan Aruch) does not have this in the “official” Vidui. And, even in the modern versions that include that verse, it’s in the middle of the prayer – not at the end. And, again, the final thing said is the Shema.

All of that by way of saying that I find Our Lord’s choice of final words to be interesting in that it’s not the Shema. It’s something else.

As I mentioned in the last post in this series, we are meant to rest in the bosom of the Son as the Son rests in the Father. We are all called to this intimacy. The theological description of the Son resting in the Father and of the Holy Spirit proceeding is Perichoresis (from two Greek words meaning “around” and “to go, or come”) or Circumincession (from Latin). It’s often rendered as interpenetration. (Pardon me for ranting a bit: There is a modern etymology that incorrectly links the Greek root words with the word for dancing. This, however, is not valid and is more akin to the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding finding Greek roots for english words or other such bad scholarship such as is found in certain branches of religious studies. End of Rant.) ANYWAY… Perichoresis. When Jesus prays that Christians should be one even as he and the Father are one (John 17:22), this is part of what he means. When he prays that we should be in him (and him in us) as he is in the Father (John 17:23) it’s also talking about perchoresis or circumincession. We move together, we move through and with each other and – my ranting aside – it is rather like dancing when you think about it.

This is what he means when he hands over his Spirit to the Father – this unity, this circumincession. And that brings us back to the beginning.

In saying “Father into thy hands…” instead of merely reciting the Shema, he did it.

7LW: What’s Finished?


This essay is an edited version of last year’s post. I seem to be. on the same track this year.

It is finished.

Perelandra Is CS Lewis’ brilliant and engaging meditation on the Fall. It takes place on Venus in the 1940s where God is making a new race of persons and they are again being tempted to fall away from him. The action plays out through human mediation: God sends an earthman there to act for good since an earthly scientist is already going there in a spaceship, unwittingly to act as the agent of evil. I say “unwittingly” because the scientist believes in nothing: neither good nor evil. The good man sent, Dr Ransom, is a believer in Christianity but it’s not the Christian faith he’s sent to bring to Venus. Over the course of the novel, Ransom actually plays out more of the role of St Michael than of Christ, defending the Venusian Eve from the wickedness and snares of the devil (being mediated by the scientist). Thus, provided with a tempter and a defender, Eve, must undergo the trial and make her choices. No real spoilers here, but there are deep thoughts in the book about what humanity would have been like without The Fall or the need for redemption.

Man is created in God’s “image and likeness”. What does this mean? The Church Fathers have tossed the question back and forth, all the while acknowledging that we are fallen now so we cannot know for certain what it would have been like before. But there are some key signs: like our creator we have Free Will, meaning we can submit to God. Like our creator we, too, are creators. These hallmarks are damaged in the fall. There is a third, I think, and Lewis draws it out fully in Perelandra. As Children of one divine Father, we are meant to be in as intimate communication with him as God the Son is with his Father, offering back our love in the communion of the Holy Spirit and participating in the Divine life, even as we have our own, individual actions and lives here.

We are meant to rest in the bosom of the Son as the Son rests in the Father. We are all called to this intimacy. In the Fall our ability to do so is lost. We hear other communications, other voices – of our passions, from the world around us, from our fallen affections and sex drives, our desires, and temptations. Our communication skills are so damaged that many of us hear those other voices and assume they are god. Some hear those other voices and don’t think of them as divine but follow them anyway. Even the devout are torn: we cannot hear the will of God as easily as we can talk to a friend in Slack or Zoom.

We are lost. We don’t hear God (or we think we do when it’s only an “undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato”). Our creative skills turn inward to make golden idols, and our free will is damaged so that we usually pick the wrong things. Yet, God loves us. God dies for us.

It is finished.

This sometimes gets played up like it might mean the debt for our sins is paid by Jesus, or that our redemption is accomplished here – when it’s not: the resurrection and the ascension are both part of our salvation-in-process. Even the second coming is part of the working out of our salvation. Yes, the blood of Christ saves us, but not from some cosmic debt we cannot pay, so God paid himself by his own blood.

It is finished. What? Fr John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death offers an extended meditation on this question: What is finished? He follows the Patristic tradition as does CS Lewis’s work. The Greek word rendered as “finished” gives the clue: Τετέλεσται tetelestai, fulfilled – brought to its proper conclusion or use.

Adam and Eve were not yet adults in the Garden. All of human history was thrown off by, in essence, two teens letting their hormones get the best of them. Think Romeo & Juliet as not a romance but rather, “two teens disobey their parents, do what they shouldn’t do and a lot of people die”. The Garden is not about two adults making choices, it’s about two kids failing to grow up. And we have been only children ever since. You can’t pass on what you don’t have: all of world history has been written by adolescents unable to mature.

The Cross is God dragging us out of puberty into adulthood, bringing us to our Telos. We can freely decide to keep running around doing whatever we want but now we have the option to reconnect to God. To open our hearts to the same level of intimacy enjoyed by the Son with his Father, to have our creativity restored to its rightful use to glorify God, to have our passions put in right order, to have God as our Father, not just our creator. We have the option to grow up.

To be and to be in communion are the same thing: in Christ we have communion restored with each other and with God. We can run away, but we have, now, the option, to become fully human.

It is finished: we’ve been reconnected, rewired. We now have our freedom to respond. Time to grow up, to reach our telos which is only possible through the cross.