3 Rules that Always Apply

JMJ

This is the text of a presentation on ¶1789 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These are just notes, but the talk was good!

My paragraph comes in the section of the catechism dealing with the human conscience.

Very briefly – for the sake of this presentation – the conscience is that part of you which – in the moment of choice – tells you which choice is right and which choice is wrong.

This paragraph, 1789 is asking (or answering) When things are not so clearly black and white how can I make a choice? Prayer and consultation with wise friends are suggested and then this paragraph gives us three rules that apply in every case.

These are practices but you should follow always when asking questions of your conscience. But they are rules that apply to all parts of our Christian life and, for us as men who want to be teachers of the faith, they apply to our preaching.

The first rule is very solid.

One may never do evil so that good may result from it;

Catholic teaching is clear: the ends do not justify the means. It is never acceptable to do something evil in order that a good result might happen. This plays out differently than you might expect. While it is never possible to kill someone in order good things might happen (Grandpa is sick and suffering, let’s kill him to put him out of his misery). But then in her meditation on the idea of a Just War the Church has discerned that sometimes it may be that killing the enemy is not an evil thing, but a class of Good, that a greater Good may arise.

The second rule turns inward: the Golden Rule: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.

This is common teaching in many religions and philosophies around the world. In your heart of hearts, you know how you would want to be treated in a given situation and so, in a way, you know how to treat others in that same situation.

But then comes the third rule which turns outward. Choices of my conscience are never just about me.

The rule of charity. This goes all the way back to the prologue and ¶25: without charity everything else is useless. And ¶1827 The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”; Charity is the form of the virtues.

In this ¶1789 charity is manifested by one of my favorite sayings from Saint Paul: do not cause the weaker brother to stumble.

The choice of your conscience cannot cause another person to stumble. What does that mean? This is where this paragraph opens up in application to our Christian lives and to our teaching of the faith.

These rules, especially #3, are really the heart of how Christianity is intended to be lived.

Look in the Book of Acts for the times when the good news is being shared with folks who are not yet Christian. For the Gentiles, the Council of Jerusalem lays aside the onerous burdens of circumcision and keeping kosher. Saint Paul and the other evangelists are gentle with the heathens.

In addressing pagans in the marketplace of Athens St. Paul does not call them idolaters. Rather he compliments them for their various religious practices and says let me show you a better way. When Saint Philip is addressing the Ethiopian eunuch he offers to explain a confusing scripture that is being read. Over and over again, evangelism walks non-believers forward from where they are to where the gospel can be received.

Throughout the New Testament, the strong words addressing sins and failures are spoken to Christians, to those already schooled in the faith.

For the contrary point, think of a Street Preacher yelling at people walking by and accusing them of various sins. Which one of these two methods of preaching do you think would least cause someone to stumble?

I think of a fight I had with a co-worker back in the 90s. We were both liberal, mainline protestants – worshipping in the same parish. We were arguing over religion at work: we worked in a Christian bookstore. And she used a few words that pushed a few of my buttons and I hauled off and use a word to make a point that I regret to this day, which actually made her cry.

We made up, we’re friends still to this day. But that’s making the weaker sister stumble. the choices in our faith, in our preaching or teaching, should never hit someone else like a punch to the gut. that’s not acting in charity.

You’re making a choice in your conscience you can never let it hurt someone else that’s rule 1. Rule two shows you how best not to hurt others. You know inside.

Then rule 3 shows you the deeper meaning. This rule assumes everyone is being drawn forward to God. If you make a choice or say something that makes someone stumble in their forward motion, you’ve hindered their salvation.

This stumble, this hindering, becomes “the evil we do in order that good may come out of it.”

As my pastor, Fr Michael Hurley, says on his weekly YouTube this week, we should be “not shouting at error, but inviting it to come to the truth of the Gospel”.

I will leave you with one thought to explore applications: making people stumble seems to be our Prime political tool.

ENOUGH Already!

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

Missa Omnia quae fecisti nobis

JMJ

AS WE KEEP SAYING, GOD IS IN CONTROL, but you know what, sometimes that sucks. The 20th Sunday may remind us (if we’re honest) that it’s 2020. This may not be the worst of times, but this has not been the best of times either. Between the pandemic, panic, death, economics, politics (all at home & abroad), and the complications caused by merging or overlapping all of these factors over and over and over again, this year has highlighted our weakness as a people. I do not just me and one nation here. I mean we as a people. The whole world is one people as the Holy Father has reminded us in his recent encyclical. The Church Fathers go even further, declaring in the early centuries of the church that while there are many human persons there is only one human nature which we all share – us human Mortals together with the Divine Jesus Christ sharing in this one human nature. We Are All One. But we don’t act like it: and that is seen clearly now as we struggle for resources, including Health Care, as we point and accuse each other, as we fight over leadership, and as we wonder what God might be doing in this time. Please do not think that I am drawing boundaries between good countries and bad countries, or good politicians and bad politicians. Christian charity requires if I have an abundance I share it with you or with anyone who has not enough. I’ve seen no nation doing that. Even nations who are doing what one may imagine they should be doing (even in one’s lack of scientific knowledge) with their healthcare systems are not sharing those resources with others. Those nations point at others and say, “O look, how sad. That (lack of a) healthcare system is bad for those people.” They accuse as well.

So, we’re not being “fratelli tutti” at all. God is in control, though, right? Goodness but this sucks.

The Collect for today sounds out this problem. Turning to God and saying (in Latin) “Having been placated, grant, O Lord…” The prayer assumes that God’s anger is aroused and we need to beg for help. Does that not sound like 2020? Certainly it would be possible – even if one were not a religious person – to imagine that 2020 is some part of a divine plan of wrathful revenge. One may then all the more easily ask, “For what?”

Today’s Introit underscores the attitude: the first line of the whole Mass is sung in humility, “All that Thou hast done to us, O Lord.” You can almost hear the world, “You did this.” But which of us would dare say the rest? Who will turn the accusation into a confession? “Because we have sinned against Thee, and we have not obeyed Thy commandments: but give glory to Thy Name, and deal with us according to the multitude of Thy mercy.”

Having made such a confession, the rest of the Collect also makes sense: having been placated, O Lord, “grant to Thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins and also serve Thee with a quiet mind.” The Latin actually speaks in terms of security being secure in our peaceful mind to serve God. God is not placated by how much he punishes us: God is placated by our confession of our sin and by our coming back to walk in his law where we are blessed.

Think back to the story of Adam and Eve. To abbreviate the story horribly: God said, “If you do this thing you will die.” The Serpent said, “You will not die if you do this thing.” Adam and Eve looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said, “Okay. We will do this.” Then they did this. Then God said, “Now will have to die.”

In America we tend to imagine that last sentence spoken like this: “NOW YOU WILL HAVE TO DIE!!!!!!” There were flashes of lightning and possibly an earthquake has the last word was screamed from the depths of Eternity into the ears of Adam and Eve. But that’s not what happened at all. That sentence, typed all in uppercase letters, misses the point entirely. For God was standing in front of two creatures whom he had loved and created, in his heart, before eternity even began. If it were possible it was with tears in his eyes that he sighed. And nearly weeping for his love, said, “but Adam, my son…dearest daughter, Eve… now you will have to die…” And the Angels wept with God as Satan laughed hysterically.

God, understanding and allowing our choices, and always loving us anyway, knows that we choose some really stupid things sometimes. We are always fighting with God for control and this is what happens. Even the news last night of two unused satellites colliding in orbit and possibly triggering a rather apocalyptic nightmare called “Kessler Syndrome” is only more of our mistakes coming back to haunt us. That’s not “God’s Judgement” except in the sense that he built the laws of gravity, orbital science, entropy, and physics into his universe. We break or ignore them at our own risk (and in our pride).

And so, while it is possible to look at 2020 and accuse God as easily as we accuse each other, both the collect and the introit say right up front, “Yup. Our Fault. Goodness, but we’re stupid. Help us fix this.” The rest of the Propers for this Mass are clear instructions for how to fix this.

In the minor propers, the Offertory, the Secret, and the Postcommunion all beg for forgiveness and consolation in our repentance. Again, the things that are happening are not pinned on God, but rather we seemed to have walked right into them. However the Gradual and the Communion all speak of hope. No matter what is happening to us or around us, right now, here at Mass, we stand in heaven. The liberation of the world from Satan and from the impact or our own sins is here not just foreshadowed by the liturgy, but actually happening. Heaven is now here. Taste and see.

Finally, the Epistle gets us into the nitty gritty of what it means to live like God is in control. And it has nothing to do with a bed of roses. St Paul says to the Ephesians that troubles are a good thing. He calls them, “our glory” in Chapter 3, which we read on the 16th Sunday. Today, in Chapter 5, he says the days are evil – we know this. But he doesn’t tell us to sign petitions or to hold protest marches. He says, “Redeem the time”. There he uses the same Greek word that he uses elsewhere for what Christ has done for us. (Check out Galatians 3:13 where Christ has “redeemed us from the curse”.) Paul says to ἐξαγοραζόμενοι τὸν καιρόν Exagorazomenoi ton kairon. How? How do we rescue the very time from the curse of sin? Paul says, “I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list of ideas.”

Become understanding what is the will of God.
Be ye filled with the Holy Spirit,
speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual canticles,
singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord,
giving thanks always for all things,
in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father
being subject one to another in the fear of Christ.
(Yes, there are two do-nots here too: Don’t be stupid. Don’t be drunk.)

Giving thanks always for all things. That’s the key here! The Greek word is εὐχαριστοῦντες eucharistountes. He might as well say, “Make Eucharist out of everything!”

Thanksgiving is a theme in all of St Paul. See: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and Colossians 3:17 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The earliest followers of Jesus (who were Jews and their gentile friends) were so known for giving thanks that there are Jewish documents stipulating how one is to pray – and not by saying “We give you thanks, we give you thanks“! Christians are to give thanks (to make Eucharist) out of literally everything.

Even the bad stuff. We need to free the Mass from this idea that there shouldn’t be suffering. Quite the contrary, the normal Christian response to suffering should be, “I deserve much worse for my sins. God is merciful. Let us give thanks.”

The Gospel today confronts us with a suffering Father, worried for his son. He asks Jesus to come and heal his son. Contrast this to the Centurian who said no it’s enough if you say something. Jesus turns to this man and asks, “Why do you always want to see a sign? Just go: your son is fine.” remember that in response to the faith of the Centurion Jesus said, “I have not seen faith like this in all of Israel.” Come down, God. Remember, though, the three youths in the fiery furnace: they praised God instead. And the fire didn’t even touch them.

Do something. That usually is our prayer. “Fix this!” “Make is stop hurting!” What if it’s supposed to hurt? What if there’s no other way to get the infection out but by a painful procedure, like pulling a tooth out? The Secret asks God to “purge our hearts from their vices.” In the Psalms, King David asks God to “purge me with hyssop” (a laxative). Sin is in us, plugging things up. We need – by the continual act of thanksgiving – to get rid of constipation in our spiritual life. The Gradual pulls us to hope: the eyes of all hope in thee… we’re not hoping if we are complaining. How can you give thanks if you want to whine instead?

The important thing about complaining is that one must complain the loudest. My problems have to be worse than yours. I need people to pay attention to me not you. So even if my problem is actually smaller I must yell louder. I must drown out my brothers and sisters. I cannot let them be heard for fear that I will not get enough attention as I deserve. Paul flips that on its head. In Thanksgiving, he wants us to be “subject one to another in the fear of Christ” we are to yeild our place in line, to let another go before us, to serve each other.

That’s the real miracle: in crisis, we have a greater chance to serve our brethren and sistern. In love, we have more reason to give thanks.

Things suck. So what? God is merciful. Stop asking God to stop. Instead, thank him in all things.

The Danse Macabre (2020)

All hallows eve enchanted dark
A stroll I took in chill
To see the children on their lark
And thus a pipe to kill

The sunset orange watching pass
And night on coming strong
When deep from Mission hill and grass
I heard a haunted song

Then followed I this tunèd curse
Until i found the source
And deep beneath Dolores firs
I saw a morbid course

And dancing came the doomèd mob
In pairs of flesh and bone
A line was paced to plaintive sob
And cold as chiseled stone

Now though I thought in fright to flee
Before my feet would fly
Their rhythm’d steps came round me
That each might pass me by

And silent were the corpses all
But skeletons well said
Without the breath or fleshy pall
Upon their bony head

They spoke addressing me by name
Well done to find us here
And will you make our chorus fame
In gruesome verse appear?

I nodded silent as I typed
In thumbs upon my screen
unbidden verse my phone had striped
In pixeled eerie sheen

The first pair came in courtly swirl
And round me then to go
The bone man led a regal girl
Whose years made dancing slow

An empress grand she ruled the globe
A century bears her mark
Now unamused in weeds her robe
Death has a Victory stark

The second pair now came aside
In black and white a boy
The bones and he hob’d horses stride
With a candle as a toy

At altar knelt he near the south
And well he served the priest
But now for prayers he has no mouth
We take both great and least

The third pair came a man in suit
With marching hails the chief
and wearing chains of free world’s loot
The leader of their grief

We get them all said clacking jaw
In top hat or in none
No leader yet the world has saw
Who has this dance not done

And next there came in sleeves ore long
A song book in her hand
The lead soprano with her song
And shin bones for her band

Her voice ere piped on eagles wings
Her hands on guitar strummed
But deeply buried graved things
Like songs have her made dumb

Antifa dancèd by my side
With Patriot Prayers in tow
Their axes choppèd each their hide
An eternity of woe

One skeleton prancèd by their side
The two had but one soul
Eternally now they are mates
And in one space they troll

Up came an athlete with a bat
A beard and muscles slack
The dodger blue upon his hat
Was fading now to black

In leaving Brooklyn bone man said
The team betray’d their home
And round the world the cursèd dead
as traitors made to roam

A priest came next his back to me
His robes array’d for Mass
In Dance his face I n’er did see
Tho him did thrice me pass

His liturgy was drama trim
The showman ever play’d
And so in death his penance grim
His face away is staid

A cardinal with Capitol
Was turning on the ground
The skeletons would take their tole
As each his body found

A tech bro came: lyft, scooter, vape
And options like the dew
the ghosts of startups round him drape
and dreams are all askew

A data science preacher stood
behind his keyboard dark
with graphs and charts both mighty good
Predicting earnings dark

But prophets cannot profits tell
An ivory dancer said
And Mammon leaves one strait to, well…
It’s just enough he’s dead

An Abbot tall with croizer’d hand
was further down the queue
A skeleton did by him stand
as with all the others too

A Jesuit came down the pike
Accompanying his charge
No heresy he didn’t like
His tent was mighty large

A politician found her mark
and made a Arabesque
So firm her planks her promise, hark!
To voters now address’d

A crowd came next in mournful band
Full maskèd in the park
Unwilling now they hold death’s hand
Weeping in the dark

And then a greater crowd there came
Not was mask’d or led
but of their own will they came
to fall among the dead

Then Death herself the reaper grim
astride the path did stand
and all around her rais’d a hymn
this morbid bony band

We get them all We slay them all
And none can say us nay
We wake them all we take them all
as night ore-takes the day

And last alone some lonely bone
said to a novice sent
Tis I, I said and dropped this phone
and dancing off we went

Victory or Rosary?

JMJ

TODAY IS THE FEAST OF Our Lady of Victory or, no, it’s the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Or the commemoration of the miracle at the Victory of Lepanto, or something. It is the evolution of this Feast that has me thinking this morning. How we talk of military victories and spiritual victories and how we unfold that conversation. At the same time, I am thinking of a presentation I have to make on the second book of Maccabees to my chapter of Lay Dominicans. The question of the commemorations noted at Hanukkah also raised the same meditative points: moving from a military Victory to a spiritual celebration.

The Wiki (as of today) has a decent description of the history of the feast day celebrated on 7 October. Notice please that as the feast develops the Battle of Lepanto increasing the Falls by the wayside in terms of what is celebrated here:

Pius V instituted “Our Lady of Victory” as an annual feast to commemorate the victory at Lepanto, which he attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.



In 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title of the “Feast of Our Lady of Victory” to “Feast of the Holy Rosary”, to be celebrated on the first Sunday of October. Dominican friar Juan Lopez in his 1584 book on the rosary states that the feast of the rosary was offered “in memory and in perpetual gratitude of the miraculous victory that the Lord gave to his Christian people that day against the Turkish armada”.

In 1671 the observance of this festival was extended by Clement X to the whole of Spain, and somewhat later Clement XI, after the victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene in the Battle of Petrovaradin on 5 August 1716 (the feast of Our Lady of the Snows), commanded the feast of the Rosary to be celebrated by the universal Church.

Leo XIII raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class and added to the Litany of Loreto the invocation “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary”. On this feast, in every church in which the Rosary confraternity has been duly erected, a plenary indulgence toties quoties is granted upon certain conditions to all who visit therein the Rosary chapel or statue of Our Lady. This has been called the “Portiuncula” of the Rosary.

Pius X in 1913 changed the date to 7 October, as part of his effort to restore celebration of the liturgy of the Sundays. In 1960 under Pope John XXIII it is listed under the title “Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary”; and under the 1969 liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI “Our Lady of the Rosary” is mentioned as a mandatory memorial.

The Wikipedia Retrieved on 7 Oct 2020

The Liturgy of the Hours, in describing this feast, note that it was established in celebration of the victory at Lepanto, but goes on to say “the celebration of this day invites all to meditate upon the mysteries of Christ, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary who was so singularly associated with the Incarnation, passion, and glorious resurrection of the Son of God.” While the feast was instituted to mark Lepanto the celebration of the feast itself has nothing to do with a military victory but rather the meditations of the Rosary.

Although there are churches around the world dedicated to Our Lady of Victory that title is not included in the church’s litany for the Blessed Virgin Mary. The titles included in the litany is Queen of the Most Holy Rosary as well as Queen of Peace. So, without denying the military event at the route, the actual focus is completely shifted. We don’t have parades or great monuments erected to commemorate this military Victory. Instead, we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of the Rosary. The feast celebrates and asks for the intercession of Our Lady to which intercession are attributed a multitude of miracles, helps, salvations, and – yes – military victories.

As I mentioned I am working on a presentation on the book of 2nd Maccabees for our Dominican Laity. First Maccabees celebrates the military victories and the gradual political decline of the Hasmonean dynasty. The book of 2nd Maccabees, however, seems to focus more on the spiritual content of the same period of time. From this time arises the celebration of Hanukkah in the Jewish tradition. The reader may be familiar with the story of the miracle of the lights that burned for eight days. This story is not in any of the writings called Maccabees in the Catholic or Orthodox Bibles (in the latter there are four books of Maccabees, not just two). Although the Feast of Hanukkah was celebrated by the time the book of 2nd Maccabees was being composed, the Miracle of the Lights is not in it. Rabbi Hillel was already engaged in discussions about the burning of candles at Hanukkah, but there was no discussion of the great miracle itself.

The miracle of the lights came later as the focus of Hanukkah moved from the military victory to a spiritual victory. Already at the time of the composition of 1st and 2nd Maccabees, there seems to be a discussion between the two authors about what should be the focus. Should we commemorate a military victory, as an action of God using armed human strength? Or, on the other hand, should we commemorate the spiritual victory that gave rise to the liberation of the Israel from the Seleucids? Second Maccabees, with its discussion of the spiritual strengh of martyrdom and prayer, seems to settle on the second option. Yes, God gave us a military victory, but it was not because we were brave or strong so much as because we were willing to die for the faith of our fathers.

Today, 2,000 years after the fact, one rarely hears of the military victories of the Maccabee Clan. Although one could claim that all the discussion of “Great Miracles in those days at this time of year” is actually code for military victory, it is so far removed from military language and so covered up by the miracle of the oil burning for 8 days but that seems improbable. Although Israel, today, seems to celebrate military strength and wants to connect to a past long disconnected, for most of the Diaspora this is a time of quiet, familial joy around the Winter Solstice – perhaps competing for attention with the Christian holiday celebrated at the same time.

Likewise, the celebration of the Rosary no longer focuses on Lepanto except to note it as one of many miracles which Our Lady has given us in response to our prayers. Equally likewise the constant attempt to “reconnect and remember Lepanto” is really a cultural war issue, one that has more to do with defeating our enemies then praying for them, loving them, and winning them to Christ.

Lepanto
We just fought a war at Lepanto
And suddenly the game
Will never be the same again

Lepanto
We beat back the Turks at Lepanto
The victory we’ve found
Will let the west abound
again

Lepanto,
Say it loud and there’s sailors sailing
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying

Lepanto
I’ll never stop saying
Lepanto!

Hymn to Our Lady of Victory
With apologies to L. Bernstein

Prayers Before Work

JMJ

FROM THE OFFICE of Prime in the older breviary, these prayers asking for the intercession of the saints and God’s blessing on the day’s labors happen just before the Monks go out to their various chores. They make a good morning boundary between “work at home” and “home at home”. Pope St Pius X gave us the prayer to St Joseph the Workman which is added as a beginning.


O GLORIOUS ST JOSPEH, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my motto in life and in death. Amen.

Sancta María, et omnes Sancti intercédant pro nobis ad Dóminum, ut nos mereámur ab eo adjuvári et salvári, qui vivit et regnat in sæcula sæculórum.
R.  Amen.
May holy Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, and all the Holy, Righteous, and Elect of God, make intercession for us sinners to the same God our Lord : that we may be accounted worthy to obtain from him help and salvation.  Who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever.
R.  Amen.
And then is said thrice:
V.  Deus in adjutórium meum inténde.
R.  Dómine ad adjuvándum me festína.
V.  O God, make speed to save me.
R.  O Lord, make haste to help me.
And then is said by the whole Choir in unison:
Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper,  et in sæcula sæculórum.  Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.
V.  Kyrie, eléison.
R.  Christe, eléison.  Kyrie, eléison.
V.  Lord, have mercy upon us.
R.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord have mercy upon us.
Pater noster. 
secreto usque ad
V. Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem.
R.  Sed líbera nos a malo.
Our Father. 
Which words are said aloud, and the rest secretly to:
V.  And lead us not into temptation.
R.  But deliver us from evil.
V.  Réspice in servos tuos, Dómine, et in ópera tua, et dírige fílios eórum.
R.  Et sit splendor Dómini Dei nostri super nos, et ópera mánuum nostrárum dírige super nos, et opus mánuum nostrárum dírige.
V.  Look upon thy servants, and upon thy works, O Lord, and be thou a guide unto their children.
R.  And the glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us ; prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handy-work.
V.  Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.
R.  Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum.  Amen.
V.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
R.   As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be ; world without end.  Amen.
Orémus.             
Dirígere et sanctificáre, régere et gubernáre dignáre, Dómine Deus, Rex cæli et terræ, hódie corda et córpora nostra, sensus, sermónes et actus nostros in lege tua, et in opéribus mandatórum tuórum : ut hic, et in ætérnum, te auxiliánte, salvi et líberi esse mereámur, Salvátor mundi : Qui vivis et regnas in sæcula sæculórum.
R.  Amen.
Let us pray.             
Vouchsafe, we beseech thee, O Lord God, King of heaven and earth, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the way of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments : that through thy most mighty protection, O Saviour of the world, both here and for evermore, we may be preserved in body and in soul.  Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.
R.  Amen.

Heart and Soul, I Fell in Love

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

Missa Iustus es, Domine

JMJ

MIND, SOUL, & HEART, yes, and still Judaism and Christianity are also about the body. We forget the body, spiritualize the whole thing and walk by the wounded man on the way to Jericho. The Collect today could be read like that: “…avoid the defilements of the devil and with pure minds…” To do that, though, would be to rip the collect out of Christianity and make it something else.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the Law of the Lord. The Introit could be all about religion and rules, sure. The verse’s construction is strange though: “the way” might be read as meaning Jesus (I am the way), but that would be incorrect. A good reading might be, “The pure are blessed as they go about their life, and who are the pure? Those who walk in the ways of Torah – the Law of God.” Now, that causes us to ask “What are the ways of Torah?”

The Gradual today continues the meditation on God’s law, by focusing on God’s word: By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made and all the power of them by the Spirit of his mouth. The Church Fathers compared the Word and Spirit to the right and left hands of the Father: the whole of the Holy Trinity active in the world. Taken with the Introit, the image is of mankind being led to act in the ways of the Just God who made all by following his law.

St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians also calls us to walk. We are to walk worthy of the vocation in which we are called. The Greek word rendered as “vocation” there is κλῆσις klesis, meaning calling. It’s one of the root words for ecclesia or Church: the called community. So Paul is telling us to live up to being the Church, live up to the standards of being called by God. And what are these? In humility, mildness, and patience support one another in Charity. Above all things, Unity, peace, one body one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God. The unity we model as the Church is the unity of heaven.

But, again, what are we to do? Let us raise a cry to heaven, in the words of the Alleluia, and bring this to God. Lord, what are we to do to avoid the defilements of the devil? How are we to be blessed, walking in the law of the Lord?

There have been several ways to look at Torah, the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures. Much of Jewish spiritual practice can be seen as meditation and discernment of the ways to look at Torah and put the laws into practice. In the time before Jesus, the “conservative” voice crystallized around a Rabbi, Shammai, and – as today – often his students were more conservative than their teacher but the House of Shammai is often seen as the Strict Voice of rabbinic Judaism at this time. The “liberal” voice at this time was the House of Hillel, gathered around Rabbi Hillel. There’s no implication (as there would be today in religion or politics) of fighting against each other to “Win” or “Kick the other out”: the process of debate was seen as part of the discernment of how to apply the wisdom of God. Even though they disagreed, Hillel was president of the Sanhedrin when Shammai was vice president. (Catholics might compare this to the conversations & debates St Thomas records in his Summa.) Christians are tempted to say, “Yes, but now we have Jesus’ way to look at Torah” and then add, “so we can toss it out.” We’ll come back to that.

Here’s a story of Shammai and Hillel, quoted from the Orthodox Union:

A certain non-Jewish “wise-guy” came to scoff at the Torah, first to the home of Shammai, then to the home of Hillel. He said, “Teach me the Torah while I am standing on one foot.” Shammai, sensing his true intention, had him thrown out forthwith. (From this story, probably mostly, Shammai has received the bad “rep” of being a short-tempered, person who “did not suffer fools” lightly. However, this is certainly not the case, since it is Shammai himself who teaches “Receive everyone with a smiling face.”

When the individual came to the home of Hillel with the same request, Hillel responded. “No problem! The main idea of the Torah is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Everything else is commentary. Now, if you’re really interested, go and study the commentary.” So impressed with Hillel’s response, according to Jewish Tradition, was the visitor, that he took Hillel up on his instructions, began to study the Torah seriously, and became a Jew.

In Matthew 7:12 Jesus essentially cites Hillel. There, too, Jesus summed up the law, saying, “All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.”

Now that we know Jesus is on the side of Hillel, we can look at today’s Gospel in the proper light. Jesus says we must love God with our Mind, Heart, and Soul. But then he adds Neighbor. These are the two greatest commandments. In this summation of the Law, Jesus is actually taking a side in the Rabbinic debate I mentioned above. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew might be seen as a “tract” handed out to Jews of the Hillel school.

In the Gospel today Jesus expands the “Do unto others” as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” Love your neighbor as if he were your own, very self. And St Paul would agree – inviting the church to be of one mind, one heart, one faith, all under the one God. Our neighbor is our self. But as heart and soul belong to God, so too does our body. God doesn’t need our money or our time. But our neighbor does.

A dear friend works with the homeless here, in San Francisco. This gets her involved in civic politics, from time to time, especially around elections. We have many voter initiatives and propositions on the ballot at every election. One time, recently, there was a ballot initiative to help house homeless women with children. With the approval of our pastor she was collecting signatures at Coffee hour to support this. When she asked one prisoner for their signature the reply was, “I go to mass and I give my offerings I don’t need to support this crap.” My friend said she almost used a four-letter word. What the a gentleman expressed to my friend was not Catholicism. The gentleman’s religion loves God with his feet going to mass with his butt sitting in a pew and with his hands when he drops his offering in the plate. The rest of his body the rest of his heart and his mind is missing.

We made a vow to the awesome God in our baptism (as we are reminded in the Communion verse. We owe him all of everything we are. We love God with our entire being by meditating on God word (heart), turning our wills constantly over to him (mind), resting our hopes in him (soul), and finally in service to our neighbor (body). It cannot be but by a free gift of our entire self. Anything less is selfishness, greed. Anything less than turning over everything is loss. This is why the Postcommunion today asks God to subdue our vices: any vice is always a failure to turn over 100% of heart, soul, mind, or body to God. Any vice is always a failure to love our neighbor.

Let us turn in prayer, with Daniel in today’s Offertory, and beg God that “he show Thy face upon Thy sanctuary, and favourably look down upon this people” and, by our participation in the Body of Christ he may “free us both from past sins and future transgressions” to love him with our whole being in heart, soul, and body.

Open Letter: California Emerging

JMJ

To:
The Honorable Gavin Newsom,
Governor of the great state of California
Sacramento, CA

Honorable Sir,

BANNING GASOLINE VEHICLES is a great step in reducing California’s carbon emissions. However, it is not the first step we should be taking. While well-intentioned doing so would only be a pat on the back for the wealthy in our state who can afford non-gasoline vehicles while punishing those who are too poor to afford them. Largely the poor in this case are people of color, farmers, the underemployed, the unjustly underpaid, and persons in the service industries. If this is not to be a purely cosmetic gesture (which may well need to be fought out in the courts and so become a partisan gesture as well) it needs to be preceded by a few very important items:

  1. A statewide system of transportation must be created:
    1. This must include inter- as well as intra-city
    2. This must be affordable, subsidized if not free
    3. This will probably be busses at first but trains should grow up across the state
      1. Look at New Jersey’s Train/Bus System or the entire transportation system around NYC’s ecosystem and think of that as a state-wide goal
  2. You can use the meridian on all freeways and other divided highways as an already-leveled place to build train tracks.
  3. When you are building this system it must be sold in two ways:
    1. As a long-term project towards keeping our state employed and lowering our carbon footprint
    2. When you run your first bus line or train tracks into wealthy, white neighborhoods they will complain about noise and construction. What they are really worried about is poor people being able to get into their locales. YOU MUST CALL BULLSHIT on this when you hear it. This is racism and classism of the worst kind. It is not good. Not at all.
    3. Gonna say it again: you must run bus lines and train tracks into wealthy, white neighborhoods as well as poor areas: transportation makes for a free people.
  4. “Those kind of people ride trains.” WE MUST BE THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE.
    1. There is a perception that cars=freedoms and mass transit is for poor folks
    2. California needs education and public communication around why trains and busses are better for all of us
    3. It is the proper, California thing to do.
  5. Then you can ban cars in the right order.

I do realize you’ve already signed the order, but sir, there are so many steps to take before 2035. WE are California and we create culture here. WE can totally do this with an education campaign that goes beyond mere reaction to climate science into teaching us better ways to inculcate these realities in our daily life.

Respectfully yours,

D. Huw Richardson
San Francisco, California

Based Church

JMJ

ONE THING DRIVEN HOME BY COVID-19 is many of our social structures are not only outdated but also irrelevant, and dangerously fragile. Yes, certainly racism lives under the surface of many of our societal functions recent demonstrations have attempted to reveal that to the masses. But recent actions of the government have also revealed how fragile the postal system is, for instance, or the independence of the Judiciary. If nothing else, we have all come to learn that our government has, hitherto, been a matter of polite agreements rather than either social contract or constitutional law. When one man uses a position of the highest power to be impolite the whole thing goes off the rails. There is no corrective built into our system for a jackass. Given the prevalence of jackasses in humanity, this is a very fragile system.

The church herself is not a fragile system. Humans have been trying to wreck the church from the inside for the last two millennia. As someone has remarked, the fact that the church can survive two millennia of human beings, including her own share of jackasses, is a sure sign of divine favor. Yet the church in her present form has not always existed. Certain temporal structures and ecclesial constructs in the Church are relatively temporary and recent (as compared to 2,000 years). The longer a relatively-temporary construct stays around, the more fragile it becomes. What was a provisional mapping of power sketched out on a Papal cocktail napkin might not stand the test of time even though it meets the needs of a here and now. In may blow away with a fresh wind of the Spirit.

The parochial structure, as we know it today, is one such relatively-recent construct. It arose from a need born in the Reformation: when we suddenly needed to keep track of who is actually Catholic and who’s one of them. From the same need arose our record-keeping. We need to know who was baptized, confirmed, married, and buried Catholic. In the earliest days (as now) the “local church” was the Diocese, gathered around the Bishop. Presbyters and Deacons were delegated certain functions by the Bishop, to be performed as sort of in loco episcopus. The parish system can be imagined to have carved up each local church into manageable slices but, in days of the past, this was generally harmless. The Bishop knew his clergy, the clergy knew the people, and the people of a parish, generally, all knew each other (even though they might have no idea who their Bishop was other than as a name in the prayers, and the Pope was nearly mythical). So the parish became the “local church”.

The system worked really well even in urban cultures since most people were fairly stable. Community could form around a Parish Church. In larger cities in America, ethnic parishes grew up, encouraged by the Bishops, where historically Catholic cultures from other nations were imported and maintained in enclaves in the heart of our Protestant environments. This began falling apart with our modern urban culture of mobility and the decline in active participation in the Church. Church closures and mergers mean that hundreds and hundreds of families can belong to the same parish. There is no unifying ethnic culture or shared history. It’s possible to attend the same Mass week after week without knowing the people one worships with – even in the church with “assigned” pews. Additionally, if one’s job moves or if one moves for another reason, the next urban center will also have a Megaparish where, again, you won’t know anyone. I think this might damage one’s faith and praxis unless one has a core group of Catholic friends. Covid-19 has accelerated this falling apart.

The pandemic has shown us the fragility of the parish system: folks who were only on the fringe seem to have fallen away entirely. Folks who were regular attendees but uninvolved seem to have faded. Even the population of the re-opened Mass, initially quite robust, has slowly dwindled. This is only an acceleration of the same decline that was seen in the latter half of the 20th Century which had nothing to do with Vatican II (as some need to be told over and over) and everything to do with the cultural chaos in which we live. In fact, Covid-19 seems to be the apotheosis of what was started in the 50s: it has given us free rein to proclaim personal privilege over any social good and even to indicate when I feel I can Sacrifice for the Good of Others or not, this is my freedoms. One might feel empowered to stay home, but if one wants to go out and risk the lives of others, that’s my choice too.

Some have realized this – they talk about running off into the woods to set up the same, comforting structures in a hidden world where the Collapse of Society won’t bother them. However, Jesus actually wants us to proclaim the Gospel in the society and not to run away. We have souls to save (including our own) and isolation will not preach the gospel and may damn us. They will hate us – not because we endanger their lives by our brashness, but because of our docility and love. God said if he told us to say something – and we did not – his mercy would take care of the others, but we would have to pay for their blood. That’s not a fun thought.

So, if the structures are destabilized and at risk of collapsing because of their fragility if we still need to be the Church and preach the Gospel, what can be done? Its now time to take steps to replace the collapsing structure with a different one, one that may well last for another 500 years in support of the same Local Church (the Bishop in the Diocese). Yet we don’t need to build something new for one already exists, one that was developed by Catholics living in Catholic cultures where parochial structures had been weakened or even destroyed either by political or military violence.

Enter the Base Community.

This blog post has now gone on long enough. I’m going to quote in full the Wiki article on Base Community. I’ll be back later with another post.

A base community is a relatively autonomous Christian religious group that operates according to a particular model of community, worship, and study of the Bible. The concept of a base community is often associated with liberation theology. The 1968 Medellín, Colombia meeting of Latin American Council of Bishops played a major role in popularizing them.

Description
Present in both rural and urban areas, the base community, organized often illiterate peasants and proletarians into self-reliant worshiping communities through the tutelage of a priest or local lay member. Because established Christian parishes with active priests were often miles away and because high level church officials rarely visited even their own parishes these “base communities” were often the only direct exposure to the church for people in rural areas or those for whom a “local” church may be miles away. Thus, the base community was significant in changing popular interpretations of Roman Catholicism for multiple reasons.

Initially, their very structure encouraged discussion and solidarity within the community over submission to church authority and, as their very name suggests, made power seem to flow from the bottom or base upward. The influence of liberation theology meant that discussions within the church were oriented toward material conditions and issues of class interests. Through this process of consciousness raising, evangelizing turned into class consciousness.

Emphasis
Other Base Communities came into existence in the Eastern Bloc, but with a different theological emphasis. They did not subscribe to Liberation Theology, as they were being persecuted by Marxists themselves. One of the best-known groups was Hungarian priest György Bulányi’s “Bokor” (Bush) movement after World War II, which sought to save the teachings of the Christian Church and resist the increasing persecution by the Communist Party. The movement’s ideals were simple, namely to express Christian love in three ways: giving, service and non-violence. Bulányi was jailed for life by the Communist régime of Mátyás Rákosi, General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, in 1952, and was amnestied in 1960. However, he was not allowed to work as a priest. He continued to start small base communities illegally, and wrote illegal samizdat articles.

They are in some ways similar to Western cell groups (small groups), a notable component of many Pentecostal and some Protestant churches. Base Christian communities believe in helping people whose lives have been destroyed. Over 120,000 new churches have been set up to help the poor. The Base Christian communities follow the word of God and stand by the poor, helping the helpless. The Base Christian communities work to fulfill Christ’s purpose to proclaim good news to the poor, tell them of hope, and to remind all people that there is always someone loving them somewhere, and that they still have a chance in life.

A Base Christian community is a group of people who join together to study the Bible, and then act according to a social justice oriented form of Christianity especially popular among the third world and the poor.

The Problem (2018.11.13)
The Praxis (2016.12.31)
The Vision (2019.10.04)
The Plan (2016.09.20)
The Church (2020.09.21)

Go before me.

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

Missa Miserere Mihi, Domine

JMJ

DROPSY. IT’S PROBABLY NOT WHAT YOU THINK. I’ve heard folks preach about this as Epilepsy, but it’s actually edema – swelling. The word, dropsy, does not come from “dropping” but rather from the Greek word that is in the Bible today, ὑδρωπικὸς hydropikos, and the Latin hydropicus. Both carry the implication of water retention, although a medical term implies something rather severe. We usually associate this with either diabetes or congestive heart failure, but it can be caused by auto-immune issues, liver or kidney failure, and several other medical issues. It can be very severe (Don’t do an image search!) or mild. I’m opening with this Biblical/medical trivia because I’m always intrigued by the way the Gospels treat medical issues.

The collect today asks for God’s grace to “always precede and follow us, and make us continually intent on Good Works”. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer renders this as “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help” The Latin says praeveniat st sequatur. I like the BCP’s “prevent” because of its modern implication of “please stop me” but it really only means “go before”. That’s what I want to highlight: “go before”.

We can hear the Introit and the Offertory today as the cries of the poor at our door or in our midst. This is the cry of Christ who is literally before us in the poor all the time. They cry out to the Lord, not only in our locales but around the world. Truth be told, they would love to come to America and become wealthy like all of us. However, they (and we) are often unaware of the politics and economics that cause their oppression. Americans are often the ones that are seeking “after my soul to take it away” with our consumption and waste production. Recycling is really a scam that makes us feel good about our greed by implying that we return things to status quo ante but, in fact, we are making just more garbage to inflict on the world. The poor cry out to God against us all the time.

The Communion challenges us, though, “O Lord, I will be mindful of Thy justice alone”. Really? Or do you need more stuff? Will you swell up with pride like someone with dropsy of the soul? How can we escape? The answers are in the readings.

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St Paul begs God that his spiritual children in Ephesus (and us) might be strengthened in our inner being by the Holy Spirit, and that Christ might dwell in our hearts by Faith. Please see the whole Trinity here, the Father sends the Spirit to us that the Son may dwell in our hearts, just as the Father sent the Spirit to the Blessed Virgin that the Son might be conceived in her womb. It is God’s grace that strengthens us so that this might be possible. We experience this full communion with the Holy Trinity (for it’s impossible to get one at all without the other two), but to what end? Paul says, “To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” That charity, that love, really is charity – Divine love that manifests itself in care for others, in self-sacrifice, and in perpetual gift of self. It comes to me every morning in prayer, however, that this self gift is most often not some great earth-shaking act of charity, but rather using love to do whatever is right before me. Let your grace go before.

The Gospel story opens with behold, there was a certain man before Him that had dropsy. Before I had looked up with dropsy was I thought it was, as I indicated above, some kind of epilepsy or seizures. I was going for the literal meaning of dropping. I wondered why such a person would just be before him. In fact it was that question that caused me to look up what dropsy was: why would someone with seizures or some other medical condition just before him? Would someone in the house be a servant who also had seizures? Did some friends bring him and just leave him there? But as “dropsy” means “swelling”, it could actually be an older servant in the house who had swollen ankles, or a puffy knee, for example. This person may have been going about their business in the household until they were suddenly “before him”. Then Jesus did a good thing.

That’s how we are to engage our self-gift: with whomever is before us, with whatever is needed. The great Orthodox writer, Fr Alexander Schmemann, suggested that – as a spiritual path – someone should simply be handy with a rag around the parish, keeping things clean, doing the chore in front of them. If you want to see saintly work, let me take you to a Church supper where you can see an Archbishop cleaning the kitchen. I also know of a Cardinal that quietly cleaned bedpans in an AIDS hospice. “O Lord, we pray Thee that Thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually intent upon all good works.” We are called to do the action God’s grace puts right before us.

They will know we are Christians by our love. Then the Gentiles will praise God (as the Gradual says) and we will sing a new song to the Lord (Alleluia).

We get this grace from the sacraments. This is underscored by the Secret and the Postcommunion. But the purpose is not just to get to heaven by and by. Rather, to be the action of heaven here and now.

The Gift

JMJ

ONCE UPON A TIME, back in the days when you could go to see Santa Claus in the department store and he would give you presents that were not just sticky candy, two best friends, Jimmy and Billy, went to their local Belks before Christmas. They stood patiently in line and, when their turns came, each one went into a little house made to look as if it were made out of gingerbread and told the man inside what they wanted for Christmas. What they did not know was that the man inside was actually Saint Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra and Lycea, venerated all over the world as the patron of children, which is to say he was the real Santa Claus. I’m not sure what he was doing there, but the important thing to know is he was the real Santa Claus. As each boy was finished telling Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas he smiled and gave each an apple. It was the same apple he’d given to all the other children in line: it was gigantic! It smelled amazing! Being polite boys they knew better than to eat it outside where they could get their clothes messy, so each took his apple home.

When Jimmy got home with his apple, he knew immediately that he wanted to eat it and share it with his family. His parents were amazed at the delicious smell it gave off and they wanted to eat it as well. It was big enough to share, so Mom and Dad and Jimmy sat down to supper, and then, for dessert, sliced up the apple and chatted as they ate. Mom added some really superb cheddar cheese which she sliced up, and, to make the evening extra special – even though it was Advent – Dad brought out a bottle of tawny port. Jimmy tried this and, at least in little sips, it was ok. When the fruit was all gone, nothing left but the core and the seeds, Mom said that this was such good tasty, fruit maybe they should plant the seeds and see if they could grow some more. Everyone agreed.

So, Jimmy got himself a project for Christmas that year. He planted the seeds into little seedling pots and waited to see what would happen. In time there were four sprouts which he took outside in the Spring and planted in the backyard. They all did very well and they became young saplings, although it was several years before they bore fruit. Not being grown in Saint Nicholas’ own garden as the first apple was, these apples, though amazingly tasty, were ordinary-sized apples. They smelled much better than the ones you could get in a store, though. Mother canned some every year and baked some into pies. These were coveted gifts even after Jimmy went off to college and then Seminary. He was called James by this time, of course. When he became a priest, he would give these apples, grown in his parents’ own back yard, to folks year after year. In time, when his parents fell asleep in the Lord, Jimmy would take breaks from ministry to go rest in the house, praying for his parents, and offer Mass for their souls in the back yard under the shade of four apple trees he never knew came from the real Santa Claus.

The story of Billy’s apple is different, though. When he reached home, he knew immediately that he would share it with his family. He and his parents were amazed at the delicious smell that it gave off: it seemed to fill the house with a sense of Christmas. They sat it on the mantle thinking they would enjoy the smell for a bit and, in the light of the Christmas Tree, it suddenly seemed to reflect, filling the room with twinkles. They were surprised the next morning to discover it still smelled like Christmas in there! They couldn’t bring themselves to eat the apple, but when friends came over – as friends do in the holiday season (even though it is Advent) – everyone commented on the beautiful smell. Billy’s house seemed to be especially filled with the Christmas Spirit that year. And, when Epiphany came round and it was time to take down the decorations and move on with regular things, Billy and his parents realized this was something of a magical apple (although they didn’t know the giver was the real Santa Claus) and they placed it away gently in a small wooden box filled with excelsior, and they stored it safely.

When they took it out the following year it was still whole, fresh, and smelled like Christmas. Year after year the apple from Santa Claus continued to fill their house with hospitality and Christmas spirit. Invitations to their house at the Holidays were almost like being invited to a royal banquet. Billy’s family was known for their generous table and their love and care for their guests all year round, but never so much as at Christmas time. And didn’t the house literally smell like Christmas?

In time, when his parents fell asleep in the Lord, Billy inherited the house – and the apple. He was called William, by this time, of course. He and his wife and their children were known far and wide for their hospitality in this house that was filled with the smell of Christmas. They knew it was a magic apple, of course, and Billy knew it was given to him one day when his parents took him to Belks, but they never knew that man in the mall was Saint Nicholas, who always gives gifts anonymously.

And then goes away quietly to pray for us.