Totally Radical Dude

ORadix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office

JMJ

There is a tendency to read the entire Gospel as Spiritual Content and to overlook the, if you will, political implications of the plain sense of Scripture. This tendency is so common that when we hear political readings of text we instantly think it can’t be so. As I mentioned in my first post, the response is often, “Don’t be so (insert political bias): Jesus came to save souls.” This is true regardless of any political bias you may have: if you lean left or right, your “political reading” of the scripture may be discounted by your opponents as “worldly” and unrelated to the “true, spiritual meaning”. Curiously the tendency is often reversed as well: there are those who say God is only political and there is no spiritual implication involved. This Jesus was a (insert political bias) and the theology is unimportant, added later, made up.

Today’s verse can be read in response to both of these false dichotomies of theology and politics.

The motto of this blog displayed on the banner is “Deo Optimo Maximo Et Christo Liberatori”. It is usually translated as “To the Most Excellent God and to Christ the Liberator”. It is an ancient motto, found in Rome and other places from the earliest times, but I first heard of it look up historic photos of the Episcopal parish I attended in college, St Luke in the Fields, Greenwich Village. Although the text was missing in the structure where I worshipped it was, before a fire that burned it all down, originally emblazoned around the altar.

The first part of that line, Deo Optimo Maximo, was once a title of the Roman God, Jupiter. It was seen as a fitting title of the One True God, the source of all being. In the early church, though, it was not God the Father but Jesus to whom the saints gave the qualities and titles of the pagan deities. And so, while we might want to read the motto as something about God the Father and then something about God the Son, that would be wrong. This motto says “To the (great God and Messiah) the Liberator”. Jesus is both the Great God (or “Maximum God”) and the Christ. He is the Liberator. Jesus is, as Rosie the Robot used to say on The Jetsons, “The Most Ut.”

Liberate us, or as the Antiphon says, deliver us – yes, from our sins, certainly – but what about the other sort of liberation? Why would kings stand silent before a religious teacher? Why did the Romans want to kill Jesus? You can, if you want, make it all about religion – and then fall back on blaming the Jews. Or, you can see what the Jews saw – and what they made the Romans see: Jesus was a theological threat to Jewry, yes, but he was a political threat to Pilate and the Romans. I don’t care if you’re an anarchist, a Marxist, or a Republican: Jesus clearly offered a political choice to the oppressed peoples of his backwater Roman colony.

Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says the world will hate them because they are not of this world using the Greek phrase ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου οὐκ ἐστέ ek tou kosmou ouk este (John 15:19). A few pages later, Jesus uses the same phrase, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, to describe his Kingdom (John 18:36). When Jesus says his disciples are “not of this world” we know it means we do not live according to this worldly system, we are counter-cultural. We still live in the world. There is neither Jew nor Greek – but we are still our ethnicities. They are no longer important. Our identity is not “American Catholics” but Catholics. We are in the world but not of it – so is the Kingdom. Yet so many times when we hear Jesus say the same words about his Kingdom we imagine him to mean “Well, my kingdom is in heaven, not here on earth…” and then we go on to say he has no political plans. We say this especially if we have our own plans… Our antiphon today seems to indicate quite the opposite.

As we have seen, these Advent Antiphons attribute their qualities to Jesus himself: Adonai, Wisdom, etc. These verses are not singing to God the Father at all. So it is Jesus whom the Gentiles seek, before whom kings are silent, and who is our banner (ensign) to wave. Jesus will come and deliver us. He is the liberator. Notice there is not much talk of spiritual content in this antiphon – it can be seen as nearly all political if we want.

Before readers get upset I want to be clear about something: Jesus is not taking sides here. There is no right humans and wrong humans here. There are right and wrong systems, however. When we are brought into the kingdom of God we are taken out of the world. Yet we are still in the world and must make political choices here. Some worldly systems may mirror certain aspects of the Kingdom, but none of them are the Kingdom. Democracy is nice and all but capitalism sucks. Socialism can destroy private property but it seems to promote better economic justice. Mob rule (democracy) can lead to some really horrid oppressions but monarchy isn’t always the right solution and dictatorships fail – even goodly minded ones. No human system, based in this world, is the right solution. And the only way the Kingdom will be the final solution of Heaven: it’s when everyone is a member of the Kingdom and that’s not happening in this world at all.

Christians have choices to make. This antiphon mirrors the virtue of Justice. Christians have to find ways to walk through the world embodying the Justice of the Kingdom in our actions and our relationships. We constantly, however, confuse God’s justice with simply this-worldly ideas of Justice. Refusing to apply Christian teaching and morality, many people act as if anyone who claims to be oppressed in our society deserves Christian liberation. It is unjust to oppress anyone however telling someone they cannot sin is not oppression. In God’s law all humans have the freedom to commit sin but they do not have the right to commit sin. It is not unjust to pass laws against sin. It is unjust to rob anyone, however, in the Kingdom, refusing to share one’s surplus is robbing the poor – and one never needs as much as one claims. The Fathers say if you have more than one pair of shoes and you never wear the others you’re robbing the poor of that pair of shoes. If you have clothes that you do not wear you are robbing the poor of those clothes. The only reason God gives you wealth is so that you can give it to others thereby being God-like. It is not unjust to find ways to redistribute wealth. This gets us to the root – the radix – of our problems: we are constantly trying to do something of this world when we should do everything not of this world. Even using the tools of this world, we must be not of this world at all in the use of them.

Holy wisdom teaches us prudence, the Holy Spirit gives us fortitude, and now we can begin to learn to live in Justice thanks to the Incarnation of God. Yet it is not a worldly Justice based on “rights” imagined by the state but it is an otherworldly Justice based in the kingdom of God.

Kadoshem

OAdonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the Law in Sinai: come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office

JMJ

IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES when the Four-Letter Name of God is written, it is not pronounced. The reader will say “Adonai” or, outside of the scriptures, he will say “Ha Shem” meaning, “the Name”. In time even “Ha Shem” became so sacred that if it is being used outside of a sacred context (such as as a concert in a secular hall) the word is obscured by a contraction pronounced as “Kado’shem” from”Kadosh Shem” meaning “Holy Name” (but in Hebrew it would be “Ha Shem Ha Kadosh” so this is an interesting construction, itself). In most English translations this tradition is continued. When the Four-Letter Name is used, the English will, most often, say “the LORD” rather than “the Lord”. My own favorite translation, the Jerusalem Bible, comes right out and says “Yahweh” but the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, urged Catholics to avoid that out of respect for the Jewish tradition so the current edition of the JB says “The Lord” instead. I prefer my old-school one from the 1960s. Other Bible translations such as The Complete Jewish Bible make it clear when Adonai is being used to replace The Name. The Name is also used in regular prayers – although it’s obscured by “Adonai” just as noted above. This prayer will be prayed tonight (Sunday 28 November) before lighting one candle for Hanukkah, for example:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vitzivanu lehadlik neir shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are you LORD, our God king of the universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy mitzvahs and hast commended us to light the lamps of Hanukkah.

That “adonai” there is hiding the Holy Name.

This tradition is known to the composers of Church Liturgy: calling Jesus here Adonai is naming him by the Sacred Name. This is underscored by the parallel, “qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti” and “in Sina legem dedisti”. It was not some random “Lord” who appeared in the Burning Bush to Moses or who gave the Law on Sinai. Moses was addressing the Burning Bush when he asked, “I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you’. But if they ask me what his name is what am I to tell them?” And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you’.” And God said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons od Israel: ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for all time; buy this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.” (Exodus 3:13-15, Jerusalem Bible) A footnote comments, “The formula ‘I Am who I Am’ becomes, in the third person, Yahweh, ‘He is'”. In the Greek Septuagint this is rendered as ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on, meaning I am the one who is. And so, on icons of Jesus, he bears the greek letters, ὁ ὤν (ho on) meaning “the one who is.”

In the previous post, citing Josef Pieper I noted that prudence was referring to “the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man”. Pieper goes on to say this ordered structure is “Being precedes Truth, Truth precedes the Good.” And so, here, Jesus is being cited at the root: the beingness of all creation. We know from the Gospel of John that all things were created through Jesus and by Jesus. Without Jesus was not anything made that has been made. All beingness is rooted in Jesus. Anything that participates in Being has this fire at its center. This fire is a participation in the eternal Trinity (albeit in a mortal, partial way). Pieper says, “Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.” The Thomists would tell us the Trinity lives in our own heart – even though we may not know how to enter there.

And so, as yesterday’s invocation brought us to prudence, Adonai, the fire of being that is the Logos, Jesus, brings us to Fortitude: which is to say the courage that arises from our own heart but not from ourself. It is the courage that comes from reliance on God. As indicated above, tonight is the first night of the Festival of Hanukkah. After lighting the candle for tonight (and so, each night), Sephardic Jews may, according to their custom, recite Psalm 30:

I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast drawn me up,
    and hast not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to thee for help,
    and thou hast healed me.
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By thy favor, O Lord,
    thou hadst established me as a strong mountain;
thou didst hide thy face,
    I was dismayed.

To thee, O Lord, I cried;
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise thee?
    Will it tell of thy faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be thou my helper!”

11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    thou hast loosed my sackcloth
    and girded me with gladness,
12 that my soul may praise thee and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.

This Psalm celebrates God as our deliverer. We can be courageous, not because we are each strong enough or good enough or, Gosh Darnit, because people like us, but rather because God stands with us. In my beingness, God stands with me. This is part of my inherent dignity as a Human, created in God’s image and likeness.

When I wonder at how things are falling apart (as I did in my first post) and then realize the dignity God has given me, I can find the courage, the fortitude to stand – but only in him. This is how we are called forward by Adonai. This is how he comes with an outstretched arm to deliver us.

Our Suave God

OSapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things; come and teach us the way of prudence.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office

JMJ

The Antiphon speaks of God disposing of all things sweetly or even suavely, to render the Latin in a more literal way. Fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia “strongly and suavely ordering all things.” Our God is the suavest. But how can that be? Evil is, right? I hoped to point out in my first post that something had touched my life that I think of as evil – the deaths of two close friends and my own brother over the course of 13 months. Even now, 40 years later, I wonder what it might be like to have had a brother for my whole life. While I have fallen out of touch with nearly everyone from that time in my life, I am not sure if it’s because of my sense of disconnection caused by that year of death. Certainly two families were thrown into chaos, as was our whole community. The murder of a young girl in her own home, in a quiet mountain village… it’s all too disturbing.

Way to be suave, God.

Such was my thought for a couple of years: I remember walking from work, a long walk around a golf course, yelling at God and asking him what he was doing. It was dark and chilly and there were homes along the walk – nice, well-lit homes with warm glows in them. Certainly nothing evil was happening there. Why are the wealthy untroubled by evil? That was my Freshman year in college. I took up smoking and some other things happened. You could smoke in your office in those days. My parents went on a trip and I spent two weeks in a panic, PTSD after the motorcycle accident. There were no cell phones in those days.

Anway… everything changed. Way to be suave. 40 years later those events still seem evil to me. But a young girl murdered in her own home is – certainly – real, actual evil? Right?

And so I languished before and eventually left behind the God that would let things like that happen. Of course, we are never told what could have been. I lost the idea that this was “the best of all possible worlds” early on, though. I learned during the rest of my college life and for much of the last 40 years, that God will really let anything happen. I can quite literally do anything I want. I am entirely free to do so. As was the man that murdered Michelle in her own bathtub, and as were the drunk boys riding motorcycles in the ran on a rural Pennsylvania two lane used as a trucking route. We are all free.

How does God work with that? The answer is in the crucifix that I carry around my neck but it is still a mystery. How can the most pure, the most just, the most innocent be condemned to death in the most horrible and public way, bringing pain to his family and friends and the horror of state oppression on all who watch? How does God work with that?

This antiphon is not about that though. This text is a prayer to Holy Wisdom to come and teach us prudence. What is prudence? It’s the beginning of our life, really: the life of being holy. Here’s the opening of Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues:

No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.

Our uneasiness and alienation would be only the greater if we were to take the proposition as seriously as it is meant. But we have grown accustomed to disregarding such hierarchic rankings among spiritual and ethical qualities. This is especially true for the “virtues.” We assume that they are allegories, and that there is really no need to assign them an order of rank. We tend to think that it does not matter at all which of the four cardinal virtues may have drawn first prize in the lottery arranged by “scholastic” theologians.

Yet the fact is that nothing less than the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man rests upon the pre-eminence of prudence over the other virtues…

So it’s sounding important that we get this prudence – the whole ordered structure depends on it! But how can that be if in the “ordering of all things” God lets things fall apart?

But prudence is a virtue, and God is all virtue, so all prudence must be in him – every action of God is prudent: it is the right action at the right time, the right place, at the right speed.

I cannot write these evils off with any other philosophy I’ve learned. In 40 years the one thing that helps the most is the idea that what we humans think of as evil is not always actually evil: we only call it evil because we don’t like whatever it is. No, I don’t like the murder of a young girl in her own home, no I don’t like the death of my friend and my brother, and no I don’t like all the things it did to my family, my town, myself… but in some mysterious way, God is always prudent and I can be too if I pray for it to be given to me by God’s holy wisdom.

The questions handed to Job by God are valid (Job 38, Revised Standard):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed[a] like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man;
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?

“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.

“Can you bind the chains of the Plei′ades,
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Maz′zaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the clouds,[b]
or given understanding to the mists?[c]
Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cleave fast together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?

Our Faith does not provide answers for why or how. Those are – in many, if not most – cases the most imprudent questions possible. Think of all of salvation history and, taking the Bible as literal for just a moment, explain why the crucifixion did not happen in the garden of Eden just after the fall? Why was all of salvation history, with its pains and slaveries, exiles, tortures, killings, conquests, etc, needed for the thing to happen? And yet it happened in exactly the right place and time. And yet the most innocent, the most just, the most pure had to die in the most horrible way.

It was prudent.

Our faith does not ask us to take comfort in our inability to know, even with divine wisdomcoming to us. Rather our faith asks us to know our place, to know God’s place, and to know they are not the same. To reach beyond those places is imprudent. It’s painful and humiliating, but in the end, our faith asks us to accept that it will be to our salvation.

There’s no answer other than God’s glory.

And that is pure joy.

Vero Cras

JMJ

Generally, during the period from 15 November until 20 December, I have posted meditations (every 5 days or so) on the Great O Antiphons, including the 8thg Antiphon tradition in the Sarum Rite (O Virgo). I have been lax in recent years because Western Advent does not begin on the 15th of November (as it does in the Byzantine Tradition). Nevertheless, I have found myself meditating on the O verses each year. In light of a recent post I made on Facebook, the Problem of Evil seems to be coming to my heart, paired with a comment I overheard in Diaconal Formation. We’ll get to this quote in a bit, but by way of introduction, here’s the text of the post from Facebook, which explains the Crucifix displayed in the header image above. This post seems to have triggered a lot of people. I don’t usually talk about this story, but it was very formative, both for my Faith Journey as well as my emotional journey in my family and my world. It is one sure time I can look at in my life and see a Touch of Evil.


In 1977 or 78 we moved into a house at the north end of town that had an odd attic with a door about 4′ high and a sloping ceiling. Only in the middle of the room could you stand up… This became my bedroom.

On move-in day, as my brother, Jimmy, and I were discussing who would get which bedroom, we saw something silver wedged on the floor under the molding. We both dived at the glint! It was this crucifix. He had no use for anything religious and, even though we were not Catholic, I kept it in my treasures as a kid does.

In 1981 or so, my friend, Brian, had no gift to give his sister, Michelle, for her birthday. That family was Catholic and he asked me if he could give the cross to her. So he added a chain of his own and it became her birthday present. She was murdered a year or so later, and Brian kept this on his dresser in his room… Which is where I found it in May of 1983 after he and Jimmy had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Brian’s mother let me keep it and so I still have it and wear it.

It’s been here for a while now, but it seems good to tell the story today. Pray for Jimmy, Brian, and Michelle.


Michelle’s murder (I left off a key word there on purpose) in her own home, let the reader understand, and then her brother’s death, together with my brother, only a year later surpasses all other things in my life as truly evil. As if someone wanted to put a punctuation on the event, the headline in our local paper, in the wee hours after the motorcycle accident, announced the conviction by jury of Michelle’s murderer in very large type. Our town, which had previously been one of those places where doors were never locked, where cars were left running while you dashed inside for errands, and where children would sleigh ride into streets firm in the knowledge that cars would stop suddenly changed that year. Evil had touched us.

And so, Advent, which always carries a hint of Apocalypse, comes to me today along with a quote: “Jesus came to save souls, not the politics…” and I only wish it was that easy.

While it is a commonplace to say the Jews were expecting a different Messiah (different from Jesus) it is also an oversimplification. There had developed in some traditions of Judaism an expectation of two Messiahs: a reigning King who would restore the empire and Jewish freedom from oppression called “Messiah ben David” and a suffering servant, who would be more of a spiritual savior, called “Messiah be Yosef”. The “plot twist” if you will, for the Jesus Story is that Jesus, the suffering servant, was the son of David. He had no plans for empire at all. “Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo. ” My kingdom is not of this world, he said to Pilate. Jews rejecting Jesus as the Messiah did so not only because he was different from what was expected, but because he was from the wrong tribe for what he was.

This did not stop the early Church – Jews and Gentiles – from making precisely political claims about this backwater itinerant preacher. “Jesus is Lord” is a rip-off from “Caesar is Lord”. The “Evangelion” is what the empire sends to a town to announce they’ve been conquered. “Good news! You have a new king…” Jesus is God, not Caesar. Literally, “There is no God, but God, and he’s this Jewish guy you tried to kill. By the way, Christ is Risen!” There’s a reason the Romans thought Christians were trouble and it’s not theology or soteriology – it’s politics and economics. Which exactly are theology and soteriology as everyone knew then. Even the Great O Antiphons themselves are political claims, as well as economic, theological, and soteriological ones.

So this Advent, as I post on my own erratic schedule to meditate on the Great O antiphons, I will think about Evil and Politics.

By way of introduction and comment on the Antiphons themselves, they are used in Vespers (Evening Prayer) in the last few days before Christmas. The Tradition ones are:
– O Wisdom (in Latin, Sapientia)
– O Adonai (Adonai)
– O Root of Jesse (Radix Iesse)
– O Key of David (Clavis David)
– O Sunrise or Dayspring (Oriens)
– O King (Rex)
– O Emmanuel (Emmanuel)

The Latin words form an acrostic in reverse: Ero Cras. It means “tomorrow I will be there.” This formulation is rather late, though, and limited to Rome. There were other “Great O’s” in other liturgical traditions such as “O Jerusalem”, “O Joseph”, and “O Queen of the World”. The tradition of the Sarum rite, which is now used in the Anglican Ordinariates, includes the verse “O Virgo” as well. This makes the acrostic Vero Cras, meaning Truly Tomorrow.

It may not be tomorrow, but I will post on all of the antiphons between now and Christmas Eve. Let us pray for each other as we make the journey this Advent.

Preparing for Prayer

JMJ

ON THE DOMINICAN Calendar today is the Feast of St Albert the Great, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. It is ranked as a Memorial in other places. Since it is a Feast it has its own readings from the propers of the Order. The following, On preparation for prayer from the treatise On the Manner of Praying, attributed to Saint Albert the Great – seems very edifying.


   We should prepare ourselves for prayer. This preparation is of two kinds: remote and immediate.

   Similarly remote preparation is of two kinds: interior and exterior. Interior preparation consists in three things. First, there is the purification of the conscience: If our hearts do not reprove us, we have this confidence in God: that God hears us whenever we ask for anything. Secondly, there is the humbling of the mind, for the Lord hears the cry of the humble and does not spurn their petition. Thirdly, there is the forgiveness of injuries: Whenever you stand to pray, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may in turn forgive you your trespasses.

   Exterior preparation likewise consists in three things. First, there is the fulfillment of the commandments of God, for as Saint Isidore said: “If we do what the Lord commands, we will without doubt obtain what we ask for.” Secondly, there is reconciliation with anyone we have offended: If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift before the altar and go; first he reconciled with your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift. Thirdly, there is the practice of fasting and almsgiving which supports prayer, for Isaiah says: Share your bread with the hungry and take the poor and homeless into your house, then when you call, the Lord will hear you.

   Immediate preparation is likewise of two kinds: again, interior and exterior. Interior preparation consists in three things. First, there is personal recollection: Whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in private. Entering into your room is that personal recollection of the heart and closing the door is the maintenance of a spirit of recollection. Personal recollection is accomplished by gathering within oneself the thoughts and emotions which have had free range.

   Secondly, we focus our attention upon the Lord. For we pray in truth when we do not think about other matters. Thus, the soul must first be purified and thoughts about temporal concerns must be set aside so that the pure eye of the heart may be directed truly and simply to the Lord. Let every carnal or worldly thought depart, lest the soul think of anything else than that alone for which it prays. The priest in proclaiming the preface prepares our hearts by saying: “Lift up your hearts,” to which we reply: “We lift them up to the  Lord.” Thus, the heart is closed to its adversary and opened to God alone, lest we have one thing in our hearts and another on our lips.

   How can you be heard by God, you ask, when you cannot hear yourself? You want the Lord to be mindful of you when you are not mindful of yourself!

   This is to offend the majesty of God by negligence in prayer. This is to watch with the eyes and sleep with the heart, while the Christian ought to be watching with the heart even while sleeping. Thirdly, there is the stirring up of devotion to God, which is brought about especially by meditating upon our miserable condition and upon the goodness and mercy of God. In meditating upon our miserable condition we learn what it is necessary to ask for, and in meditating upon the mercy of God we learn with what devotion we ought to ask.

Exterior preparation consists in three things, namely, place, appearance and gesture. With regard to place it is certain that one can pray while standing as well as sitting, or even while lying down. Nevertheless in public prayer we ought to observe the form established by the Church or by the majority of us. With regard to appearance keep in mind that a humble and abject demeanor is appropriate to prayer. With regard to gesture note that it includes genuflecting, lifting up one’s hands, striking the breast, raising or lowering the eyes and countenance, closing the lips or silencing the voice, the shedding of tears, the emitting of groans, sighing, etc.


The Blogpost of the Paper of the Book of the Prophet Haggai

JMJ

By way of introduction the paper below was presented to the class with a few added jokes – including the bad pun in the above header image. At about the half-way point in writing the paper, I had a realization about the content and had to do a rewrite. I presented this to the class honestly, noting my misreading in the context of the presentation. These observations are added after the content of the paper below.

Background

Haggai’s prophecy begins with a date – a very traceable date. To this writer, a calendar nerd, that’s a very pleasant thing: In the second year of King Darius (reigned from Sept 522 BC), on the first day of the sixth month. The footnotes in the Jersualem Bible (hereinafter JB) indicate that we are discussing August of 520 BC. In that year 1st Elul in the Hebrew calendar, so, by conversion 27 August on the Gregorian Calendar projected backward). (Haggai 1:1). The last prophecy is on 24 Kislev (17 December) of the same year  (Haggai 2:20) so the exact timeline is very clear.

Haggai is the 1st prophet to arise after the exile (notes, Great Adventure Bible p. 1242; JB p. 1257) and he also gets to actually see the result of his preaching (like Jonah in Nineveh). Haggai is traditionally regarded as a member of the Sanhedrin in Babylon. “In reference to the Men of the Great Assembly who directed the Jewish community in the Land of Israel in the early years of the Second Temple, the Talmud notes that “among them were several prophets” (Megillah 17b), an implicit reference to Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi.” ( retrieved on 5 Nov 2021) In addition to his status as a prophet he has three rabbinic decisions or “matters of the law (or halakhah)” linked with him (see here retrieved on 5 Nov 2021). 

Historical Situation

After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the people have returned to Jerusalem, Babylon had fallen to the Persians. Cyrus, the King, being “roused” by Yahweh lets the people go home. (Ezra Chapter 1:1 JB).  The prophet was born in exile in Babylon came to Jerusalem  Things seem to have started out ok – they have built their “paneled houses” (Haggai 1:4) and planted gardens, but something is wrong.  The people suffer harassment from the Samaritans who feigned support, but – joining in league with the Returnees – they became saboteurs on various projects and agents provocateur creating social havoc, turning the people against the plans of the leaders (Ezra 4:1-5). Finally they “reported” the project to various political rulers in order to get the whole thing stopped (Ezra 4:6-23). “Thus the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem was brought to a standstill; it remained interrupted until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:24)

The people are uneasy “Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm. The wage earner gets his wages only to put them in a purse riddled with holes. The abundance you expected proved to be little. When you brought the harvest in, my breath spoiled it… The sky has withheld the rain and the earth withheld its yield. I have called down drought on land and hills, on wheat, on new wine, on oil and on all the produce of the ground, on man and beast and all their labors.” (1:5b-6, 9, 10-11 JB) See also 2:16-17

Problems Addressed

The people are building their own houses but not the Temple. They are concerned with their own safety instead of trusting in God. “While my House lies in ruins you are busy with your own, each one of you.” (1:8b) The people are not doing this out of a sense of personal gain, but rather for fear: they want to get their lives in order lest something else should happen. There is also a sense of discouragement because of the actions of the Samaritans: social chaos and ineffective leadership lead to low morale which, in turn, gives rise to acedia. 

Audience

The people of Jerusalem, returning exiles, as well as “Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Haggai 1:1) and “Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo began to prophesy to the Jews of Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was with them.” (Ezra 5:1).

His message is two-fold. The primary one, noted in all resources I checked, is “build my temple!” but I think there’s something else going on here. As noted the issue is the low morale created by the neighbors, the leadership, and a lack of an overarching sense that God sent them home (as he promised). The oracles of Haggai are filled with proof that God is here: I am with you (1:13, 2:4) my spirit remains among you, do not be afraid (2:5) I will give peace (2:9) I intend to bless you (2:19).

The prophet has to say “go do XYZ… because God is with you and he will help you do it!” HE spends a lot more time saying “God is with you” than “go do XYZ”, even though XYZ (rebuilding the temple) is the important action that is needed. It’s not possible to do so without faith though, so – “Have faith, God is with you…” The prophet says this not only to the people but also their leaders: “But take courage now, Zerubbabel-it is Yahweh who speaks. Courage, High Priest Joshua son of Jehozadak! Courage, all you people of the country!-it is Yahweh who speaks. To work! I am with you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks-and my spirit remains among you. Do not be afraid! (Haggai 1:4-5).

Efficacy

Both greatly effective and not. And yet… “Now Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all the remnant of the people, paid attention to the voice of Yahweh their God and to the words of the prophet Haggai, Yahweh having sent him to them. And the people were filled with fear before Yahweh… And Yahweh roused the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and set to work on the Temple of Yahweh Sabaoth their God.” (Haggai 1:12,14). Haggai is one of the few Prophets who lived to see his dream fulfilled. (You Can Understand the Bible, P. Kreeft p 158). 

God begins to bless the people from the beginning of the rebuildling: Reflect carefully from today onward (from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day the foundation of the sanctuary of Yahweh was laid, think carefully) if grain is still short in the barn, and if vine and fig tree, pomegranate and olive, still bear no fruit. From today onward I intend to bless you.” (2:18-19)

At the same time, though, the predictions of the prophet regarding the King, himself, seem to be a bit off. ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kings of the nations. I will overthrow the chariots and their charioteers; horses and their riders will be brought down; they shall fall, each to the sword of his fellow. When the day comes-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks- I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks­ and make you like a signet ring. For I have chosen you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks.” (2:22-23) There is no restoration of the Kingdom here and no sign of all nations being overthrown. This prophecy, along with the promises 2:9 seem not yet to happen. The new glory of this Temple is going to surpass the old. In fact, the few elders who were alive in the before-times, remember the glory of the former Temple (built by Solomon) and weep. (Ezra 3:12) And yet…

Reading these prophecies as Messianic, and leading us to the New Kingdom of God, the whole thing makes sense in Jesus:  the new glory of the temple (“the temple of his body” John 2:21) far surpasses the glory of the old temple. And even the physical structure being built here is suddenly filled with God’s very presence as Christ enters it and teaches there. 

What does it mean that Zerubbabel will be a “signet ring”? This is a title for the Kings of Judah, indicating the closeness of the King to God and his plans. However in Jeremiah 22:24 we read of the last king, “even if Coniah son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, I would still wrench him off. I will deliver you to the hands of those determined to kill you…” The connection was broken. 

This man, the grandson of King Jeconiah of Judah, forms a connection between the pre-exilic kings and the line of “common folks” that runs through the people until we reach Joseph and Mary in the New Testament. If “signet ring” means “sign of the kingship” then this link between the common tradespeople of Galillee and the last Kings of Judah is that signet. The final prophecies of Haggai, though not fulfilled in the prophet’s lifetime, are fulfilled in Jesus. 

Additional resource used: The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Old Testament, Dianne Bergant, Robert J. Karris, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1992. The general introduction to post-exile prophets (pp 571-577), and the article on Haggai (pp 592-599), both by Mary Margaret Pazdan, O.P.


Observations

Reading the prophet’s text alone (and following many commentaries online and off) it seems the issue is that the returnees from Babylon got to Jerusalem and built their own houses – but ignored God’s house. God got angry and cursed them with bad crops (etc) and sent them a prophet to tell them to build the Temple first. Then everything got going in the right order. However in reading the context provided in Ezra, Chapters 1-6, I realized that the issue was not that the Jerusalemites were being selfish, but rather they were acting without faith: the neighbors were being schmucks and so the Hebrews were retreating into their homes. God sent them a prophet to say, “Get out there and claim this land – it’s yours, I gave it to you.” Once they started acting in faith, at that moment their fortunes changed. The main thrust of the prophet’s teaching is not “you lazy, selfish, impious people…” but rather “God is with you! Be not afraid!”

It seems that this teaching is applicable to all of us.

Our Accidents, Ourselves

JMJ

Know yourself is one of the maxims of Delphi, γνῶθι σεαυτόν gnothi seauton, which has come down to us by way of Socrates and others: Know Thyself. Finding seems to be the first step to knowing. So, “find yourself” (a la the 1960s) and then “come in and know me better,” says the Ghost of Christmas Present. The first question that arises is what is this myself that I should know? It’s not who am I but rather, what, exactly, is the I that I should be looking to know? One needs to identify the subject long before one can know the location, height, depth, and width of the subject. This is, in some ways, the reverse of standard detection work. In this one finds clues leading to the person who committed a crime. But for knowing yourself you need to find the person first – before the other things come into play.

Two stories highlight what we might describe as the fungibility of identity. As a child, I lived in the Deep South: rural Georgia within a couple of hours’ drive of the Florida border. In fifth grade, my family moved to upstate New York where my step-father’s family lived. Once there, the cultural status of two groups had changed for in upstate New York both Italians and Jews were considered white. They were not so in the Deep South in the 1960s. Although my childhood brain did not uses such words at the time, this was a realization of the cultural construction of whiteness and race. Of course, even in upstate New York, there were still racial “others” but Italians and Jews were on “our side.”

More recently, a friend tells me the story of a parish in his town which was traditionally an African American parish. When the founding pastor retired, the local Ordinary had no available clergy and so accepted the offer of help from a priest from South Africa. There was a discovery in those days that clergy from South Africa are not at all of the same mindset as African Americans! In America, we tend to focus on one thing – in this case, skin color – and draw from that an idea of the people involved. While my friend correctly made the point that race is part of a person’s identity, it is very much a cultural identity: it’s not based on the skin color alone.

As I hope these stories indicate, we seem to be doing this wrong. We do this, as well, with sexuality. As with race, we use the “sexual identity” of the person to categorize the entire being. In Catholic anthropology (our understanding of the human being) each person, each self, is a union of soul and body: a spiritual-physical hybrid that is a little lower than the angels who have no physical element, and a little higher than the animals who have no spiritual component. The self is exactly this hybrid. Coming to “know thyself” is coming to know this hybrid being. Americans often confuse mere aspects of the self (usually spiritual ones, but sometimes physical ones) with the entire self. So how are we to “know thyself”? Our culture wants to do this whole thing backward: we want to find clues to the person – in order to know the person at all. Especially in the first person, though, who is doing the searching at all? Who discovered my sexual or racial identity?

This question of who is me has haunted me since my mid-twenties, even in the midst of my own coming out process of “discovering my sexuality”. Coming out changed my relationship with my friends and family. It changed my relationship with the Episcopal church – which was then my faith community and also where I was employed. Most importantly, it changed my understanding of (my relationship with) myself. How can these things change so much and yet I am still me? Am I still me? In those days a friend said yes, that this had been me all along and now (at age 24) I was becoming more of myself. This was the understanding of “coming out” that was and still is described in the community. This is why someone might come out at the age of 70 and break up with their spouse and move out. They have finally found themself. Who were they before, though? Before coming out is one a shell of oneself? A shadow? A fairy changeling? Is one a fake person before coming out? A lie? Who was doing the searching for this “lost self”?

At issue is a question of ontology: what am I? Specifically in this essay, what does it mean to “be” gay? It stresses some out who feel that “gay people are forced into celibacy by the Church.” However, that presumes that “gay people” is an ontological category. To rephrase this question in the midst of my own journey: who was I before I came out? Who was I when I was “out”? And who am I now, trying to live in active conformity to the Church’s teaching on sexuality? If someone says, “I am gay” what makes them different from others? If one stops using that language, what is the difference?

For a long while I bought into the idea that in some way a personal identity is performative: one is what one does. This idea was once very common among sexual minorities. By this logic, anyone who has even once had sex with someone of the same sex “really is” gay – even if they reject that label. What becomes, then, of someone who, by choice, no longer engages in this activity? What is the identity of someone who no longer does gay things? In light of performative identity, they are still “secretly” gay. Once you’ve performed it in any way you’re tagged with it. There was a long time in the movement when those who engaged in gay sex – but did so secretly – were styled as “only homosexuals”. One had to be out to be “really gay”. Why do you flaunt your sexuality? Well, to be gay, of course: otherwise I’m only homosexual. One must be out, loud, and proud to be gay. Marching in parades or wearing pink triangle pins made one gay even though one may not have engaged in sex for a long while. This was a variation on the performative definition, only using a different performance and stage.

At some point in the last 40 years, the accepted idea of sexual identity drifted from being performative to emotive. One is gay simply because one feels a sexual attraction to members of the same sex. It matters not if one ever does it: one is still gay by virtue of the feelings. This is how one can be “secretly gay” even if they’ve ever done anything gay at all. They still have these emotions, these feelings.

The emotivist definition allows modern folks to project this issue back through time. Anyone can be imagined to have felt this way by reading clues in their life. Thus history is filled with people whom we imagine felt this and they were all secretly gay! In the Bible and Church history, then, we can project that same-sex couples were “really gay” even if they are never depicted as having sex. See those love poems? Gay. Further, we can see those historic places where same-sex action is depicted as also really gay. Greece, for example, and the Isle of Lesbos. Gay! Why? Because in all of these cases we read in our modern emotional understanding of the feelings. They can be imagined to feel like us, so they are like us. That’s so gay.

The emotivist definition now runs the show: I feel this, therefore I am this. I need only imagine that you, also, feel this, therefore you are also this. The process of “finding yourself” now becomes a process of simply being aware of these feelings and then acting on them. But this part is not what causes your “self” to change: it’s the feelings themselves. In 40 years this emotive idea has expanded to excuse a lot of things: thus it becomes possible to say (as I heard recently), “I don’t care if he was married to a woman, the fact that he gets excited about [a list of ‘gay culture things’] means he is gay.” These things were art, antiques, and good food, by the way.

This came home to me as someone angrily fought with me at the entrance to my parish church. How could I go in there where they oppress gays? I had to admit I’ve never believed myself to be oppressed by the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church and that I was trying to live the traditional teachings. “But you still feel this attraction?” And I said yes. And he said, “Gaslighting…” and stomped out. He assumed the idea that identity is emotive. It doesn’t matter what I do in his eyes. One is this simply because one feels it.

We have “emotivised” a lot of things, actually. We don’t limit it to sex and sexuality: in fact, we allow it in cases of race and even age. (Age is a number, you’re only as old as you feel…) Politics and language are almost entirely about feelings now. Painful moral choices are relegated to emotional readings. Things that make me feel bad are bad. Things that make me feel good are good. People who cause any sort of pain or discomfort are accused of making “microaggressions” and of “hate”.

None of this is to deny there are Christians who experience same-sex attraction, but what does it mean for a Christian to “be” gay now? As open relationships and polyamory become more common amongst those in same-sex relationships, those who identified as gay Christians experience a disconnect since they seek to replicate monogamy and a sort of 1950s-style family life. What is one “performing” when the definition of “the right way to do gay” has changed? If one doesn’t accept the current ideological line of the gay community, is one actually gay? To “be gay” now requires not only sexual choices but also an inclusion of “trans” and other items which in the past were not part of the deal. Can one in today’s world “feel gay” if one rejects gender ideology, abortion, divorce, and an overall culture of disposable people and relationships? Rejecting all these things often leaves one excluded from the “polite company” encompassed by the rainbow flag. So it seems that there may be a right way and a wrong way to be gay. If one is not doing gay right, is one performing it at all?

How is it, then, that we are who we are? How can God “make me this way” and yet tell me that to feel this is a sin? Feeling is the right word there – since mere feelings of this are the defining category. Notice how many times the Church’s teaching – and the reaction to it – gets attached only to the “being gay” by which they mean “feeling gay”. No one is able to answer the question about “what makes you different” without using either doing or feeling. Is it possible we’re wrong? Is “feeling this way” and “doing this” only a false consciousness? What if there is a better way to think about this – or at least a way to open up the conversation? Is it possible we’re going about this backward? In other words on the next page I’m going to argue that one is not “more” of oneself after coming out – but less.

Substance, Form, Matter & Accident

St Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, understood reality to be made up of substances. A philosophical substance is not the same thing as a scientific element. A substance is a specific unique thing in the order of creation. A star is a substance as is a kilt. A car is a substance as is a dog. Coffee is a substance as is water, heat, and a cup.

On that last example, let’s build out a further set of things: form and matter. As substance is a philosophical concept and not a scientific one so, also, are matter and form. Matter is the physical part of something’s isness. We never see matter without form though: the latter is the spiritual part, the conceptual part if you will, of something’s isness. When matter (which is generic) coheres with form (which is specific) we have a unique substance. If a cup of coffee can be imagined as a specific substance (instead of a combination of them) the liquid might be seen as the matter and the cup the form. This analogy breaks down really fast so don’t think about it too much, but do try, for a moment, to imagine a coffee hour at church with no cups.

Finally, a substance, comprised of matter and form, has qualities that, philosophically, are called accidents. A cup of coffee can be cold or hot, iced or a latte (or an iced latte). It can have lots of cream and sugar or be a medium roast. It can be good or bad. It can be stale, have a lid, a paper cup holder; be made out of ceramic, paper, or plastic. It can be Turkish or Thai, Italian or french roast, it can be instant, organic, or decaffeinated. This can go on ad infinitum. While I might quibble about caffeine and instant, each of these accidents can change or be missing even, while we still have a cup of coffee. The accidents can change but the substance remains because its form and matter still cohere.

Now, wrap these philosopical terms around a human person.

In Catholic anthropology each person is, properly, an individual substance: they have each their own form and matter, with their own accidents. The soul is the form of each person: it is created ex nihilo (out of nothing) at the moment of conception. Your physical matter is 50% Mommy’s DNA and 50% Daddy’s, but your form is 100% God’s and you are a divinely-directed substance with your own power and presence in God’s created order. There are also accidents to your person: your hair color, your race, your emotions, your tastes, your height, your eye color, your heart rate, etc. These things can come and go without your substance ever being changed. You are still you when you’re angry or happy. Snickers is wrong in that you’re still you when you’re hungry. You’re still you when you are dressed up or down. You are still you when you are eating or sleeping, when you are dirty or clean. You are you if you get wounded in an accident, have a limb decapitated, or when your hair gets grey and falls out. You’re still the same you when you take hormone shots. You are you even when your accidents change.

How then are we to live?

It stresses some out who feel that “gay people are forced into celibacy by the Church.” However, that presumes that “gay people” is an ontological category. As I hoped to show above, the definition has changed so many times there is no real “gay” to point at. When someone of my age group spoke of “queer theology” in the 80s we were not speaking of “LGBTQ++” theology as it is used now.

So, there’s the Big Bang which brings all of Universe, formless and void into being. Then there’s the Planck Epoch 10-43 seconds after the big bang, gravity happened. So a flash of light, then light pulling together. By 1 second… mass. Then by 20 mins… plasma. “After recombination and decoupling, the universe was transparent but the clouds of hydrogen only collapsed very slowly to form stars and galaxies, so there were no new sources of light.” (Wiki)
There was light…
Light divided from the darkness…
And the firmament divided…
The firmament populated with stars…

There was a big bang of matter and form, but then accidents happened. Gravity, substances, things happened after the Bang. It begins to feel to me as if that is true of humans as well. As I mentioned before, your physical matter is 50% Mommy’s DNA and 50% Daddy’s, but your form is 100% God’s and you are a divinely-directed substance with your own power and presence in God’s created order. Your accidents happen though. It seems like sexuality, per se, is a gift from God. However what happens, how it unfolds in each life, based on things around, psychology, etc., this all seems to be unrelated to the initial beginning.

You already see where I’m going with this, but one’s sexual expression is only an accident. Our culture treats it as if it is our form (soul) and we wrestle with it as if it has a moral weight on its own. Yet the concept of sexuality-as-being is entirely new.

A Christian is called to live chastely by which we mean “according to the teachings of the Church”. Thus, there is only one way that sexual activity is in keeping with God’s plan for our salvation even though there are many ways in which one may opt to express their sexuality. However expressing sexuality, as such, is not what sex is for. It’s an accident of the person, not the person. In different cultures, it has arisen and been expressed differently.

There were men and women who engaged in same-sex action in the past, yes. But they were simply human persons (each was their own substance) who were engaged in certain sexual actions: they were not labeled differently as persons. They were not conceived of as different categories of persons by virtue of what they did. In fact, in many cultures which approved (or at least did not disapprove) of such actions, everyone still got married and had children as a social obligation. Some also had lovers on the side. These lovers may have been of the same sex or opposite sex, as one might prefer. They were not “gay” as we think of it today. When we call these ancients “gay” or “lesbian” it is a projection back on their culture, a form of historic colonialism where we make the past out to be like our modern, capitalist America. The moral sense of these accidents (sex acts) differed from culture to culture, but at no point were people not human beings. At no point was their status as an ontological substance changed or challenged.

In our culture, we have elected to read from the accident (the emotions, the feelings, the action) to the whole person. We do this also with race. We see a person’s skin color and refuse to see any more. The person is there. We think of our accidents as “ourselves”. Yes, some accidents are more permanent than others, but they are still only accidents: St Paul says, in Christ, we are neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free. Our accidents do not define us – even if they clearly remain. One is still a person of a certain age and standing on society but in baptism one can be transubstantiated if you will: one is now being conformed to Christ (albeit rather slowly because of our sins).

Catholic Anthropology insists that we are body-and-soul eternally united into one being. The feelings, as such, even the actions of the body, are only accidents to this eternal spiritual/material hybrid being which is each of us.

So the construction of sexuality has changed and the content of the label changes repeatedly. We are drawing boundaries based only on desire. In tagging a difference between, on the one hand, our brothers and sisters in Christ who experience same-sex attraction and those, on the other hand, who do not share this experience, we’re placing a division where there is none. We’re treating a constantly-shifting cultural marker as if it were an ontological reality. In doing so we’re denying the reality of the substance of each person, using the accident of “their sexuality” as a sort of synecdoche for the entire person. Yet, since that accident is only culturally constructed, it’s not even an actual part of the person being indicated in the language.

What does it mean to be a “gay Christian”? This whole essay has been an attempt to indicate there is no logical answer to that question -there are only culturally constructed boundaries. These boundaries move so much that one cannot say “I am this…” since the words mean different things at different times. Thinking in this way, we are all directed towards chastity, and we can all also live within the Church’s teaching. It’s not that “gay people are forced…” it’s that there is no separate class of people: we are all called to the same thing. We have different paths to get there though, different crosses to carry. But we are carrying them to the same ends: the integration of the whole self into a process of salvation.

The Oneness of God

The readings for the 31st Sunday Tempus per Annum (Year B):
– Deuteronomy 6:2-6
– Hebrews 7:23-28
– Mark 12:28b-34

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְיְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְיְ אֶחָֽד

Hear Israel the Lord Our God, the Lord is One. (Please note that LORD indicates the divine name was used in the Hebrew text.)

JMJ

Reading the Gospel we are often used to hearing “the Scribes and Pharisees” as the Bad Guys challenging Jesus, trying to trip him up. But today we hear of one that he is “not far from the kingdom of God.” That may seem unusual if we miss the cultural clues here. There is a surprising conversation going on for those who have ears to hear: when the scribe asks what is the greatest commandment, he’s echoing a common story in the rabbinic literature which parses out the “party politics” of the time.

A man came to one of the great rabbis, Shammai (who was alive during Jesus’ time – he died in the year 30), and asked him to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai sent him away thinking him to be irreverent. The same man when to Rabbi Hillel (who died in the year 10) and asked the same question. The Rabbi said this would be easy, and standing on one foot he said, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah,
the rest is the commentary; go and learn it.” It was said of Hillel that he taught with gentleness and that his gentleness brought many others to faith in the God revealed to Israel.

The conversation in today’s Gospel seems a parallel with the scribe asking to hear it all in one go. And Jesus – gently, like Hillel – responds with the commandment of Love of God, love of neighbor. The scribe recognizes that Jesus is right. Scribes are often of the party of Sadducees, in this case, it seems the scribe was a Pharisee – like Hillel and Shammai, both, and St Paul later – and Jesus answer (and the scribe’s reply) and be read as a sort of Pharisee-like greeting and reply. To be this underscores that Christianity grows out of a particular branch of rabbinical Judaism rather than out of the Temple worship (which was run by the Sadducees).

As I was listening to this conversation (and Moses’ teaching in the first reading) I found myself thinking about another line in Zechariah 14:9:

וְהָיָ֧ה יְיְ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִהְיֶ֧ה יְיְ אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃

In that day the LORD shall be king over all the earth, and the LORD shall be one and his name one.

What does it mean that in that day the Lord shall be one and his name one?

Jesus breaks this open with his parallel of Love of God and Love of Neighbor: that somehow Love of Neighbor is Love of God. (As we do to the least of Jesus’ brothers we do to him.) This process of mediation, that makes God present in the act of loving our neighbor is made real in our works of charity, of love. Worship of God (faith) without works is dead.

By a coincidence of timing, the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time is also the 31st of October and the eve of All Saints Day. The homilist today used language that would be familiar to anyone who has read certain authors in the “spiritual but not religious” section of the bookstore, speaking of how the separation between the worlds (of the living and departed) might seem thinner at this time of the year. He missed, I think, that the separation is entirely removed at the Mass. I think his constant patter of improv on the text of the missal made that clear, too: the Mass for the homilist today was only a banquet, not a miracle. But it is there, in the elevation of the Consecrated Host and Chalice at the end of the anaphora that the Liturgy is done – before eating happens. One communion of one body achieved and offered at the hands of Jesus (the priest) to the Father. We are one body of Christ, the living souls and the departed ones together around the throne at that moment which is in all moments, all times, all worlds, one: Calvary ever-present in the hands of the one priest.

In that day the Lord shall be one and his name one.

Then swing over to 1 Corinthians 15:28, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him (Christ), then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”

The one revelation of God to Moses – the LORD is one – echoes through all of this in the action of Love: Love of God is love of neighbor. The Living and the departed are united in Christ. Christ is one with the Father, all things become one gesture of self-emptying generosity pouring out to all things.

In the synagogue liturgy after the Sh’ema is recited, the response, whispered in near silence in the heart is “Blessed be his glorious name…”

בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

The Glory of God’s name… the glory of God… we know this. Hear St Ireneaus saying, “The glory of God is man fully alive…” but the whole quote in the Catholic Catechism (¶294) weaves all of this together for us. “The glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God: if God’s revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word’s manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God.” Yes, here in Creation we can get a foretaste of God’s glory (as I write I’m watching the great display of Northern Lights on YouTube, live from Lapland) but that’s not it. Man is not fully alive – not fully the glory of God – until we participate in the vision of God. We can have a foretaste in the Mass, we can experience the oneness of it, but only on the Last Day, can we see the full glory of God – which will include us.

Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one. And we shall love.

Eros Envisioned Beatifically

JMJ

Several things presented themselves to your host this morning for contemplation and synthesis. They span several decades in terms of life experience, wrapping themselves around a playlist called “sacred heart”, wherein we avoid the sentimentality of many “Jesus is my boyfriend” praise and worship songs by going right for the eroticism of popular love songs. It was k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving” that triggered this line of thought. “Maybe,” she sings. “A great magnet pulls / All souls to what’s true.” St Thomas, the realization dawns, agrees: this “constant craving has always been.”

C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves is perhaps known to the reader. This seminal work explores four different Greek words used in the Bible, all of which can be translated as “love”. Lewis explores the meaning of each and their application to the Christian life. Briefly they are:

Eros or erotic desire
Storge, familial or affective love
Philia, friendship
Agape, divine, disinterested charity

It is this last which Lewis ranks highest. On a scale of one to ten Agape is at infinity and beyond. Lewis may have missed how the other loves can be divine or, more to the point, the part they play in our salvation.

In Catholic teaching all love, properly ordered, is divinely gifted to us to draw us to God. God is love, as St John says. The Catechism agrees – but it uses all the Latin words for love:

God is Love (Caritas)

218 In the course of its history, Israel was able to discover that God had only one reason to reveal himself to them, a single motive for choosing them from among all peoples as his special possession: his sheer gratuitous love (amorem). And thanks to the prophets Israel understood that it was again out of love (amorem) that God never stopped saving them and pardoning their unfaithfulness and sins.

219 God’s love (amor) for Israel is compared to a father’s love (amori) for his son. His love (amat) for his people is stronger than a (amor amore) mother’s for her children. God loves (amat) his people more than a bridegroom his beloved (dilectam); his love (amor) will be victorious over even the worst infidelities and will extend to his most precious gift: “God so loved (dilexit) the world that he gave his only Son.”

220 God’s love (Dilectio) is “everlasting”: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love (misericordia) shall not depart from you.” Through Jeremiah, God declares to his people, “I have loved (caritate) you with an everlasting love (dilexi); therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you (misericordia).”

221 But St. John goes even further when he affirms that “God is love” (caritas): God’s very being is love. (ipsum Dei Esse est amor). By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love (Spiritum amoris) in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love (Ipse aeterne est amoris commercium), Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.

Notice there how many times “Amor” or erotic love is used. Yes, Caritas (charity or agape) is mentioned as is “dilexi” which can be rendered “like” or “fondness for”. But it is “Amor” that becomes the very nature of God, the very being of God is Amor, and he is an “eternal exchange of Amor”. There’s something here about divine desire for us – about our desire for God

This quest goes way back. My former (Episcopal) Pastor, Donald Schell, pointed out in a class on the Church Fathers that St Ignatius of Antioch says in his Epistle to the Romans, “ο εμος ερως εσταυρωται,” “my eros has been crucified…” He is not speaking of his eros being “turned off” or killed. Who or what is his eros? Is he speaking of Jesus as his eros? Or is he speaking of his personal desire being made cruciform? “I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”

Properly ordered, our very desire is turned to God-ward. We yearn for God. We thirst for God.

When it is properly ordered, our eros draws us to God. Pope Benedict wrote in 2005, “eros is somehow rooted in man’s very nature; Adam is a seeker, who “abandons his mother and father” in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become “one flesh”. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love. This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.”

But more than our desire, it is also God’s desire for us. Yes, his disinterested love (Caritas) is showered on all of us, but in his desire for unity with us, he is supremely interested in each of us as persons. His love for me, for you, for each of us as a person is not disinterested at all. It is Amor.

Now, compare this desire to the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit – God’s gift

733 “God is Love” (caritas) and love (caritas) is his first gift, containing all others. “God’s love (caritas) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

734 Because we are dead or at least wounded through sin, the first effect of the gift of love (caritatis) is the forgiveness of our sins. The communion of the Holy Spirit in the Church restores to the baptized the divine likeness lost through sin.

735 He, then, gives us the “pledge” or “first fruits” of our inheritance: the very life of the Holy Trinity, which is to love (diligere) as “God [has] loved (dilexit) us.” This love (the “charity” of 1 Cor 13) “Hic amor (caritas de qua 1 Cor 13)” is the source of the new life in Christ, made possible because we have received “power” from the Holy Spirit.

736 By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear “the fruit of the Spirit: . . . love (caritas), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” “We live by the Spirit”; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we “walk by the Spirit.”

About 6 months after I first came to St Dominic’s the parish hosted a Called and Gifted workshop part of which is a sort of “theological MBTI” to determine what charisms one has. Those who know the writer’s history may be surprised to learn that the highest-scoring charism was celibacy (tied with writing and teaching). Then followed long conversations with my spiritual director and with the priest who gave the workshop (who later became my new director). What I took away from those meetings was that the evil one often uses our gifts to trip us up and that where there is the greatest gifts there can be the greatest fall. And then – “but what are you going to do about it now?”

What now?

When I was in the Eastern Orthodox Church (OCA) I found comfort in the following teaching document:

People with homosexual tendencies are to be helped to admit these feelings to themselves and to others who will not reject or harm them. They are to seek assistance in discovering the specific causes of their homosexual orientation, and to work toward overcoming its harmful effects in their lives.

Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life

As an aside, it was that counsel to “seek assistance” that led me to join Courage and – eventually – the Roman Catholic Church. It is to be noted, though, that it’s only described as feelings – and love is not a feeling. Love is an act of the will. So one can act-of-the-will (dare I say “choose”) to do something else.

All of these things struck me this morning listening to “Constant Craving”, to return to the top of this post. “A great magnet pulls / All souls to what’s true.” What is true, of course, is God. What is true is Love. But that love (caritas) is expressed to each of us personally as desire – our ascending desire for God and his descending desire for each of us personally. Benedict XVI follows the Church Fathers in using Jacob’s ladder as a typological sign of this. We might also see Dante’s final vision of all the saints in glory flying around God.

Now, what to desire? Dante points us in the right direction: all desire, all constant craving, is for the Good. It is impossible to love evil for evil’s sake – we only mistake something for Good. We love the Good… and sometimes we are led astray by lesser Goods. But even they can lead us to the Highest Good.

So it is that when we find ourselves pulled towards the Truth as if by a great magnet we might be redirected, but we will turn, eventually, towards the source of our greatest happiness, indeed the fulfillment of our greatest desire. Once we achieve that happiness – that fullest vision – we will not turn away. Thomas says “man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek” (2nd Part, Part 1, Q 3, Article 8, Answer.) We won’t back down from the greatest happiness… but on the way there we can be misled.

And so, this morning, it dawned gradually that being misled in Eros is only fixed by crucifixion, by cruciformity: to be crucified with Christ is to properly order one’s desires to God. Our desire – ascending to him – is, itself, an answer to God’s desire not for “us” in general, but in the first person: God’s desire for one’s own uniqueness, meness.

God loves in the first person.

Kingdom Walking

JMJ

IT’S A NEW GAME TO PLAY with the whole holy family: Kingdom Walking. Get outside, walk your neighborhood, and pray. Use a rosary or read a litany, say the Jesus Psalter or the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Get a prayer rope and say the Jesus Prayer. Take on the Rule of 150 Beads if you want to walk three times a day. Get out and offer it up for peace. Here are the rules:

  1. Pray for folks as you see them.
  2. Pray for peace and safety in the neighborhood.
  3. Remember when people see you they will see someone praying:
    • Share the sidewalk
    • Follow traffic rules
    • Be local
    • Share the Gospel.
  4. Don’t be surprise when homeless folks see you:
    • Carry cash
    • Give it away
    • Remember: Christ said, “As you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.”
    • Pray for them
  5. If you pass a hospital, fire house, police station (etc) pray for their safety.
  6. This is the infantry in spiritual warfare.
  7. See how many miles you can walk.