Under a Loving Gaze


THE ANGELIC WARFARE Confraternity has its members promise to say a certain set of prayers every day. In addition to invoking the aid of Jesus and St Thomas Aquinas (the Confraternity’s patron), the members also pray 15 Hail Mary’s for specific intentions. Recently the intentions have evolved into 15 little prayers but it is the intentions, themselves that have been the topic of my meditations. (I think that at an even earlier stage it was just 15 Hail Mary’s and a daily self examination, but I’m not sure.) I’ve been about this business for 4 years now: I was doing this before I became Catholic. This mostly-daily meditation continues to yield fruit.

Intentions 1-4 have recently been unfolding into a complex pattern for me. All of these seem to involve how we interact with the world. We pray for:

  1. Our cultural climate;
  2. Our relationships;
  3. Our modesty; and
  4. Our five senses.

It is possible to read these intercessions as dealing with people and things outside our control, as if we are asking God to fix these. In fact the recent prayer adaptations seem to strengthen this reading. I think that fails in that my salvation is never about how others act. In fact a lot of St Paul’s letters are about how my actions affect others. This comes up when we are thinking about modesty (if we do it right) but even that idea often gets spun into “what others do to me”. How often have talks about modesty been spun into “women shouldn’t wear tight dresses because it bothers the boys”? An entirely different reading arises if we think of all these in first person.

While much can be said about our cultural climate, pointing out our production of and addiction to adult content on the internet, our sexualization of just about everything, and our polymorphous perversity shrouded under a dysfunctional veil of Puritanism, the Church does not ask God to fix the world: rather God has put the Church in the world to evangelize. So a prayer that says “God, fix this!” would be out of keeping with the tradition. We might pray for the strength to resist it, but our purpose, as Christians, is to draw folks out of that system into the Kingdom of God. Since such evangelism is an act of Love, that is what should color not only our read of the first intention, but of all four. This is act of love directed outwards to others. The prayer for the culture is better seen, pace Bp Robert Barron, as begging God to show us openings, places where we can break in to help others escape.

As penance once, I was told to pray for pornographers. Let this idea grow. It can be about praying for those who struggle, but also about those who distribute, for those who produce it, those who are addicted, those who are trapped inside it, and those who feel there is no other way to get through life. I just do this so I can feel something has become a cri de coeur on the internet in these days of lock-down. Sometimes we may all go through life looking for something that makes us feel. This is our climate right now in which we are not only likely to use pixels on the screen as erotic feedback. We are just as likely to forget that all of our relationships (even on Zoom) actually involve persons created in God’s image.

So next we pray for our relationships, but for Christians this is not a matter of individual choice. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said God in the Garden. We are, in the image of God, created for communion. There is almost no such thing as an “individual”. Our whole personality, our experience of reality, our idea of self is mediated through others. When we try to define reality “internally” we end up in psychosis and disorder. Paul’s letters as well as the Gospels continue to expand this trinitarian anthropology. Each of us is to be kenotic, that is, self-emptying. We not only cannot define or create ourselves, we cannot change our nature, which is to pour out ourselves in the service of others. We can corrupt our nature, we can distort it, but we cannot undo it. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that it doesn’t matter who is in “good relationships” with us – we must put ourselves in the role of neighbor to everyone. Christians are to be the ones who go out in Love to the world.

Again this puts the lie to any attempt to read these intentions as “God, fix this!” That is a cry of defeat: I cannot live virtuously until God fixes things. In fact, the reverse is true: living virtuously is the beginning of God fixing things. When we begin by letting God fix our hearts, he will follow through by using us to help restore others. If my actions cause you to fall, then I have damaged our relationship. Equally, if I let you lead me into sin, I have again damaged our relationship. Always remember that a sexual sin costs two souls. When we pray for our relationships we don’t pray that God will take us away from those who could lead us into sin (although that may be needed sometimes) we pray rather that we may lead them to God. Yes, this may make them back away: but that’s the risk of the Gospel. I am not only responsible for my soul, I am responsible for yours as well.

In this light, now, we pray for our modesty. I have written elsewhere about how clothing and how important it is that we be mindful of our brothers and sisters in our clothing choice. Even that is an act of love. But there is another aspect: for people will dress immodestly, that is true. Others will just “be hot” in our estimation. We must have a modest gaze. We must have, as the ancients said, custody of our eyes – in fact of all our senses.

Do not begin by saying, “God fix this!” instead We Begin by presenting [y]our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [y]our reasonable service (Romans 12:1). St Paul’s “reasonable service” is λογικὴν λατρείαν logikeyn latreian logical worship or, better, “worship in logical way”. We are called to bring our bodies into order. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is a life-long struggle, but it begins with the modest gaze: to have not only custody of our eyes but of the thoughts that arise from what we see.

And to highlight this, the next intention is for all our senses. It is entirely possible for music or art, what literature or politics, movies and television – of course – but also for advertisements on the street, conversations on the internet, etc, all to arouse our passions. And not just sexual passion either! Things that inspire gluttony or self-indulgence it is possible to let ourselves go in so many ways but this is not our logical worship. This is not offering our bodies as a holy and living sacrifice. And Saint Paul even calls out the Corinthians for their drunkenness and their gluttony because by doing so the rich exclude the poor and they exclude them from communion with Christ. So it is today for us that our gluttony might injure others in their poverty. We deny the image of God in them.

Our history is full of the fiscal success of our country built on the backs of the poor. It is true that without indentured servitude, slavery, and wage inequity our country would never be as great as it is today. That we use our country’s success as a defense for our slavery is a sign of our own sin that we refuse to admit. No full stop. We would not be where we are today. But at what cost did we get here? The same is true of other sins. Lust, gluttony, envy, hate, fear, oppression, and death. These all arise from denying the love that we owe to our brothers and sisters.

All of these intersections can be gathered under the banner of a loving gaze. We must see the world through the eyes of God’s love. To do that we must be self-sacrificing: giving up the legal fictions of “rights” and “privilege” in the name of service to others. We must give up those functions of society and secular order that we invoke to “keep us safe”. Ad we must risk our lives to save the souls of others in love. Christians have no rights to demand, only to give up in love.

Again, this is not something we can do on our own: we can only do this with and for God’s help, and with and for each other. The other intercessions of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity arise from the matrix: it’s not about the first person – me – at all. My chastity and my purity do not arise from me, but from sacrifice for others, in love.

How to Love like God

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

Missa Deus in adjutorium meum intende


POPE BENEDICT XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (Vol 1) has an amazing commentary on today’s Gospel. I’m fully indebted to His Holiness for the roots of the ideas. If anything is amiss here, it is my fault, though.

Today’s Collect continues in a theme that has been repeatedly expressed in recent weeks. We can do nothing without God first giving us the gift to do it. Today the gift is worship itself. In the Novus Ordo Common Preface IV reminds us of this saying,

For, although you have no need of our praise,
yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,
since our praises add nothing to your greatness
but profit us for salvation
through Christ our Lord.

God has no need of our worship. And he gives us this gift for our very salvation. And we asked him to increase in us this gift and give us the strength to get there quicker by his grace. The Introit Cries out to God in the same words that are used to open every Daily Office: Incline unto my aid, O God: O Lord, make haste to help me or in the older translation, O God make speed to save me: O Lord make haste to help me. Come quickly and help us to come to you ever faster! What are we running towards?

The Epistle for this Mass takes us on a little detour: how dare we run? For the ancients, God was terrifying. Remember that our forefathers standing, at Mount Sinai, begged Moses to let them go away because this God, rumbling on top of the mountain, scared them. They even begged not to hear God’s voice for that was scary enough. How do we run? And we do not run away will you run to. We run to the God whom the scriptures describe as a consuming fire. Are we not afraid? Again St. Paul reminds us: Such confidence we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God. This is not our gift, or our power, we are no braver than our ancestors. Are you not terrified of the Eucharist? But God would have it so. God, in his grace, glorified the face of Moses so much that it was necessary for him to wear a veil. The people were even terrified of the light shining from Moses eyes. Paul asks, If the law was so terrifying does it not make sense for us to even be more in awe and even more glorified?

Suddenly, there is what seems to be a bifurcation in the propers: from here the Gospel seems to go in one direction while the other, the minor propers point in a different direction. The minor propers are about praise for God and about his generosity to us, while the Gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan. However, please come in one Mass and so must tell us one story. I believe the fulcrum is in the Communion verse. So let us take a look at the Gospel first and then sweep back to all the minor propers together.

The text, taken from St Luke’s gospel, is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The Lectionary actually gives us a tiny bit more of the context by sharing what came before, Pope Benedict gives even more context four this story. Two points are important: first, in 6 AD the Samaritans invaded Jerusalem and strew bones in the temple. Then, secondly, in the chapter immediately before this in St Luke “the Evangelist has recounted that on the way to Jerusalem Jesus sent Messengers ahead of him and the day entered a Samaritan village in order to procure him lodging. ‘But the people would not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.'” Then two of the Apostles asked Jesus if they should call down “fire from heaven” on the Samaritans. It is in this twin context that the Evangelist places the story of the Good Samaritan.

His Holiness goes on to remind us that the church fathers have traditionally viewed this as a parable about Jesus. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who reaches out to mankind, now fallen among thieves who have beat us in stripped us of our wealth the robe of Glory that we had before the fall of Adam and Eve. However Pope Benedict also recognizes that this is a story that Jesus is telling to another, as it were to us, about how to inherit eternal life. Remember the context I shared above: neither the 12 apostles themselves nor any of the listeners would have had any reason to suppose the Samaritan would be the good guy in this story. Yet he was, exactly, that. Although some commentators stir up many anti-Semitic waves about the Priest and the Levite going on their way, the Pope Emeritus does not. In fact he is quite generous in his making excuses for them. You fix the point of the story is in the Samaritan himself. The point is made even stronger by highlighting that the Priest and the Levite knew they were on a dangerous stretch of road (as would any sensible traveler) but the Samaritan went in to help anyway. So while this is a story about how God leaves heaven and comes to us – while we were yet sinners – this also becomes a directive for us to act courageously, without care for our own danger.

In the end, says His Holiness, the question of who is my neighbor is turned on its head. Anyone is my neighbor if I act like their neighbor to them. This is the core of the twofold Commandment to love God and to love your neighbor: the lawyer, to test Jesus, wants to know who is his neighbor. Jesus’ answer is, “Who is not?”

The wine and the oil that the Good Samaritan poured on the wounds of the man in the ditch are greatly symbolic. In the medical understanding of the time the wine was cleansing and the oil was soothing and also a protection against disease: much like we might think of a salve today. So: splash some wine in to wash out anything dangerous, then pour on oil to put a sort of seal on top, then tie a bandage on the wound to hold everything together. But the wine and the oil or two of three parts that show us where we get this courage to act bravely and so forgivingly in the face of danger – or before the face of our neighbor?

The Communion verse answers with the bread and the wine and the oil which are the sacraments of the church: The earth shall be filled with the fruit of Thy works, O Lord, that Thou mayest bring bread out of the earth, and that wine may cheer the heart of man: that he may make the face cheerful with oil; and that bread may strengthen man’s heart. From these simple elements of nature, which require not only God’s giving but our interaction to prepare, the Church has fashioned her sacraments of quickening: anointing, or chrismation/confirmation – the seal of the Holy Spirit, followed by the Eucharist.

From these we receive the forgiveness of our sins as the Secret and the Postcommunion reminds us, but also God is glorified. How? We finally answer in the gospel of Saint Matthew, in The Sermon on the Mount: that men may see your good deeds and glorify your Father, which is in heaven. So the Holy Mysteries are the strengthening of our souls to do good deeds: the works of mercy, such as our Lord described in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are called to be neighbors, not to some, not to our own, not to those who are near or like us: we are called to be neighbors to everyone.

The Gradual and the Alleluia then become a sort of call-and-response between the needy and those who are praising God. The late Keith Green (1953-1982) sang a song about the church being “Asleep in the Light”:

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“god bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weep,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the streets

Later in the song he will ask, “How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed?” Indeed. We’re not at liberty to ignore either the spiritual needs or the physical needs of those around us. The Gospel requires not only that we bring the bread and wine of the Eucharist to the lost, but also the food and justice that they need.

The Offertory reminds us that not only was Moses a great teacher of the things of God to the people but he was also a great intercessor before God on behalf of the people. Like Moses Jesus stands before us teaching and interceding. So the Church, the body of Christ, must be before the world. We cannot only proclaim the things of God we must also do the works of God: Love. How are we supposed to love? “It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being nothing is lacking for everything is given.” (St Bernard) We cannot love as much as God for he is infinite and we are finite. Yet by his grace, given in his bread, his wine, and his oil, we can love as God: with our whole being. As God did, we change our relationship with the other not by changing them but by changing our self. We go out to them in love.

(If you get a chance be sure to read Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth volume 1. The story of the Good Samaritan is discussed at length on pages 194 through 201.)



CATHOLIC TWITTER HAS BEEN going over (rehashing?) what seems to be an old argument this week:

To be honest, I don’t know. This argument is going on in a column on my Tweetdeck called “I’m learning” into which I throw everyone that’s arguing about politics so that I can learn more about a Catholic approach to politics. What I’m clear on so far is that the argument that we must vote for Trump is specious – if not heretical – since Church teaching clearly says otherwise:

What I am not clear on, however, is this idea that in order to support integralism I must be fascist. Actually, this all seems to be a problem with history. The church today seems to have a problem with history.

For example: while many missionaries of the last two centuries brought many souls to Christ they also participated in political oppression. The church seems to be incapable of recognizing this. St Junipero Serra defended indigenous people from the Spanish military and brought them to Christ, it is true. But he also kidnapped them to keep them “safe”. And his kidnapping was part of the Spanish Empire’s way of colonizing this part of the world. Missions helped clear the land so that the military could move in and distribute the uninhabited property to the wealthy Spaniards. Yes, St Junipero kept folks safe. But he, himself, was part of the machine that was making the environment unsafe for the indigenous persons. The Catholic Church has a problem admitting this.

Another example is Christopher Columbus, who likewise set up a system that enslaved indigenous people while talking piously about their salvation. I have no doubt that he in fact worked and even prayed for their salvation. But he also enslaved and oppressed them. He was part of the machine that did this. Again, the Catholic church has trouble admitting this.

The fact that both of these men are not only Catholics but celebrated American forebears, creates a conflict of history, hagiography, and political mythology that Modern Catholics refuse to untangle.

I think the same is true with Integralism. There is a history. That does not define our present however, nor our future.

At its root, Integralism is simply the idea that the state must be subject to the final end of man which is his salvation.

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that, rejecting the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holds that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end, the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

Anything the state says which is in conflict with man’s salvation is null and void. The best state would be the state which cooperates with the church to the final end of man. Some Integralists have argued in support of a fascist state. I recognize that and it would be a lie to say otherwise. Does that, however, mean that all Integralists must be fascist? I refuse to accept that premise. Any theorist that says this or that political or economic theory will help us forward Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is making an Integralist argument if he is saying this is for man’s salvation.

So I argue that a person who is claiming socialism is more in line with the church’s teaching than capitalism is essentially making an integralist argument.

Further a Catholic Integralist could argue that while the church should rule over the state in terms of political authority, the economy of that state should be Socialist, for example. I think we are limiting our political imagination when we accuse one side or the other would being the end-all and be-all of a certain political stripe. Does the DSA exhaust all possible options for Socialism? Does the “absolute Divine-Right monarchy” of a Catholic kingdom require a capitalist economy? I don’t think so. I wonder what a socialist monarchy would look like. In fact, since Pharaoh owned all of Egypt was not Egypt simply an unjust socialism?

Is not the demand to use Catholic Social Action to reform society a Catholic Integralist request? Is not the Catholic Worker Movement Integralist at heart?

Is there something I’m missing? I don’t know the answers that’s why this is is par of I’m learning. You’re welcome conversation in the comments below or on Twitter or on the blog’s Facebook page.

I am what I am

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

Missa Deus in loco


FOR TODAY’S MASS the Church has given us a reather powerful Collect, asking for what we dare not ask, begging forgiveness for what we dare not name. The recognition of our sinful failings manifested in our weakness is important. Sometimes we do know what we need but we dare not say it out loud. I don’t think this is like St. Augustine’s famous “make me chaste but not yet” prayer. We’re too afraid to even say these things out loud. This might be a prayer useful for everyday, in fact, but I think it ties in particularly well with today’s Gospel, the Healing of the Deaf Mute. He can neither ask nor, as we shall see later, even think what he needs. We are like him and we need Jesus.

The Introit calls us all to a “unity of mind” while reminding us that it is God that gives this unity. So right up front, it seems possible that this Unity is one of the things that we dare not ask for. We seem to enjoy being disagreeable, or rather to enjoy being in disagreement. Think of how many times politics have easily divided us as a Christian Community. Think of how many partisan conversations you may have heard at coffee hour or read on Twitter. Even as I write I know I am guilty of this as well. What would it be like to find myself at unity of heart and mind in one house with people with whom I have great political disagreements? Dare I ask for this? Can a person experiencing oppression seek a unity of mind with those, in the same Church, who are the oppressors? More importantly, can the oppressor seek a unity of mind with the person he is oppressing? The oppressed can seek unity through constant acts of love and forgiveness. The oppressors, on the other hand, can only seek unity by ceasing to oppress. Dare we ask for this?

In the Epistle St Paul clearly states his right of place as an Apostle who preaches the Gospel. It is this Gospel proclaimed that is our unity.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I Corinthians 15:3-8

As we used to say in the Mysterium Fidei, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the Gospel that we proclaim. When we proclaim it we are in line with Paul and the other apostles.

Paul says, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” That last line is of interest because it seems to include the holy name of God, I Am. In Greek he says, Χαριτι δε θεου ειμι ο ειμι chariti de Theou eimi ho eimi with the eimi ho eimi being I am what I am. In Exodus 3:14, though (LXX) the Greek is very different: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on using four words that could be rendered I I-am-being the Being. Paul settles for just I am what I am. It’s not the Divine Name, but it is a claim: God has made me as I am.

If you are of a certain age you may have heard St Paul’s claim echoed in another context on Broadway. In the early 80s, the musical La Cage aux Folles by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman included a key song called I am what I am sung by a character proclaiming his status on stage proudly. But it contained a crucial error in that it celebrated the character as self-made whereas St Paul identifies himself as God-made. The “back story” of each is not important, but the parallels are: both were doing what they thought was right. Paul is who is his not despite his history, but rather because he has turned his history over to God’s grace. He knows that God has to work with the self that St Paul brings to the party. God’s grace builds on St Paul’s self. To parallel last week’s Gospel, St Paul is the Publican who knows his history and says, “God will do something anyway. The Broadway character is a Pharisee singing out, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”

Grace builds on nature – if we bring our nature to the altar. So the Gradual and the Alleluia help us: Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent; depart not from me. Sing aloud to the God of Jacob! God is no far from us, but rather in him we can trust and we will be helped.

To this writer the Gospel in today’s Mass is one of the most important in our (EF) lectionary. The full content of this Gospel was not known – could not be known – until the 20th Century. A man deaf and dumb from birth – we know now – does not even have the brain cells or neural pathways needed for speech. We also know that the brain is thermoplastic, it looks set in its ways but given the right heat, it can be reformatted. Jesus’ cry of “Ephpheta” is like a nuclear blast changing all the circuits in this man’s brain. He goes from nothing to full grasp of the language in a moment. (The same sort of neural explosion happens again in a passage about a man born blind.)

When we turn our nature over to God’s grace what is there that he cannot do to us? He can turn an attacker into an Apostle. He can get a rich man into heaven. He can turn a prostitute into a preacher. He can turn death into life. What can he do in my heart if I but let him? What can he do not in spite of my nature, but through it? If enough people offer their hearts what can he do in a society or in a culture? If Salvation is preached to the world what will the kingdom of God look like? We will be like the voice in the Offertory saying, “O Lord, I have cried to Thee, and Thou hast healed me.”

Although the Secret is speaking of the bread and the wine, we can pray this over our whole lives: Look down in mercy upon our service, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that the gifts we offer may be acceptable unto Thee, and a support in our weakness. If we are looking for God now it is because of his action in our lives. Those prompts which we have reacted to and cooperated with have brought us to where we are. We offered these which have already been our support. These things which brought us here have already been your gift. We offer them and we hope you will build on them to do more in our lives.

In the Communion we see: Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first of all thy fruits: Substance here is everything. Honor the Lord with your offering of “I am what I am” and let God cry to you Ephpheta and thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine. You will feel supported in soul and body; that being saved in both, we may glory in the fullness of the heavenly remedy. (Postcommunion.)

Today’s Missa Deus in loco Does not mean “God is crazy”, but we certainly know that our world at this time is very crazy. God is “in the crazy” with us. Our religion is one of incarnation – not escape. God’s holy place is here, with us, in our hearts and in our lives as he opens us to more grace that we may be filled with abundance to give to all the world around us. What this may be, we dare not know – but God will do so if we let him even if we do not dare. God takes our “I am” and makes it his own, that we may proclaim his salvation to all those around us.

Mercy and Grace

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

Missa Cum clamarem ad Dominum


TODAY’S OPENING COLLECT is quite clear that God’s power is most evident in his Mercy. And then we ask for his mercy. What is God’s mercy?

A note in my missal says that originally this prayer asked for God’s grace it was changed at the Council of Trent to request his mercy. In fact, several changes in the Liturgy happened at the Council of Trent (q.v. The Mass of the Ages). One major change was moving the propers to different Sunday in the calendar from where they had previously been while keeping the readings assigned to the same place. This is noted in The Liturgical Year, by Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. His comment is that we must trust the church when she makes such changes – and that the connections clergy imagine between the various propers are not “really” there: but are only the product of meditation and can be wrong – or changed to another meaning. I can imagine that clergy the time of Trent were greatly confused, especially with the Protestant Reformation happening around them, to have these changes happen suddenly. A sermon that had always worked on thus-and-such a Sunday suddenly no longer had the same context. The same council also, for the first time, took all of the liturgical texts and compressed them into the Missal that we now have. Prior to that time, it took several books to celebrate the Mass. None of the texts were to be found in one place. So, what was “grace” in the old pile of texts became “mercy” in the one-volume New Mass from the Council. And everyone moved on.

This Tridentine change, however, is corrected in the Novus Ordo, where the collect is restored fully to the original form, asking God – who is most powerful in his Mercy – to pour his grace upon us.

Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas, gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde, ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.

Although this blog project is intended to provide commentary on the 1962 Missal, I would like today to play with this difference between grace and mercy as we meditate on the Publican and the Pharisee. I do not wish to contrast them too greatly: grace is not opposed to mercy. In the biblical Greek the word for mercy ἔλεος eleos comes from the same root as oil. The implication is of soothing, or comforting. We ask God to comfort us with his mercy. Grace, on the other hand, is the Greek word χάρις charis. It implies the active presence of God in our life in his energies, as the Byzantine say. I don’t think you can separate grace and mercy: certainly God’s grace acting in our life is comforting and certainly, his comfort is his presence. Still, we do tend to think of grace and mercy as different things. We wouldn’t have different words otherwise.

Where were these men before this moment? Our Lord does not say, but they both went up to the Temple to pray. We might imagine that the Pharisee went often, perhaps whenever he could. But did the publican go up all the time? To be honest, I can’t imagine to be so, but maybe.

But notice here that both men are rich. The Pharisee is a class of scholars and political leaders, (semi)respected elders in the community. The Publican is filthy rich and quite literally so, having acquired his ill-gotten booty by betrayal, grift, bullying, embezzlement, and politically-empowered thievery. Both have wealth – sometimes understood as a sign of God’s blessing – and show by their lives that they have no heavenly right to that. Both men would not have been liked by Jesus’ listeners, but they would have known the Pharisee was the “good guy” in God’s eyes and the Publican the “really bad guy”.

It is grace that makes the change possible. So it is grace that the Publican is working with as he stands before God and begs for mercy. Standing in the Temple, both men are literally standing in the fount of all graces, but one man is ignoring them while the other is responding to them.

As the Epistle says, all these graces are given by the same Spirit. We are not at peace until we humble ourselves (as the Publican does) in order to open ourselves to God. Begging God for his for his soothing Mercy is a way to open ourselves to Grace, as are the sacraments. The Secret asks that the Holy Mysteries might become a remedy for our sins, as oil (mercy) is a remedy for our souls.

The Alleluia begs God – having saved us – to keep us safe. We can still fall away in our pride. We should all be afraid of being a religious performer like the Pharisee. He speaks as if God does not know his heart, as if God were not listening, or even not there. “The fool says in his heart, there is no God“.

The Offertory bring our own souls before God – not the offerings as is often traditional. We are the holy and living sacrifice offered to God. Having been humbled, and filled with God’s presence in the sacrament, the quotation from David’s Psalm of Repentance in the Communion verse makes perfect sense: Psalm 50 (51) says that only after our our “sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart”. The Pharisee has nothing to be broken or contrite about: he’s done everything right. The publican knows he’s done nothing right at all. That’s why he’s the one made right.

The Postcommunion returns us to grace, asking that God never leave us needing his grace. Which is mighty merciful of him to do.

Day 151: Parthenos


But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
– St Paul, I Corinthians 7:32-33

THESE THREE ESSAYS BEGAN with a High School remembrance from my discernment process while in the Episcopal Church. I was only just beginning to “discover” sex at that point in my life. Like all things misused, it can get out of control. The next essay was the learnings from misuse. All of this started, though, from that coversation in Clerically Speaking which I mentioned on Day 149. It left me meditating on the connection – and then the disconnect – between Marriage and Celibacy. These two paths are available to the Christian. There is no vocation to “the single life” although one does not need to be “under vows” to be a “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven”, neither can one just be “chillin’ but not married.” At best, one must be either working on one’s self for marriage or working on one’s self for celibacy. It was Father Harrison and Father Anthony that made the connection for me. I have written in the past that “virginity can be lost, but chastity can be restored.” My two ghostly fathers said, no, in fact, living a fully celibate life and making a commitment to it is a restoration of virginity. And then I remembered the Greek word used to describe the Most Holy Theotokos, παρθένος parthenos. Not only is this a title of the Blessed Virgin, it is also a title for the goddess Athena. It is from this title that the temple in Athens, the Parthenon, gets its name.

It is this word, parthenos, that is used in the Septuagint to translate Isaiah’s troublesome word, almah. Does that mean virgin or just young woman? In the Septuagint, coming with all the cultural implications of Athena, the Greek at least intends to imply virgin. But virgin how? Occult commentaries on the Greek Pagan world have tended to suggest that parthenos implies self-contained, or all-in-one. The virgin, therefore, be they a man or woman, is not necessarily someone who has never had sex but rather someone who is living in (or having restored) their self-integrity. The Fathers of the Clerical Pod are talking about men and women who are, by choice, living as parthenos.

St Paul, quoted at the beginning of this article, says that it is the unmarried man who is concerned with the things of the Lord. Saint Paul uses the Greek word ἄγαμος agamos which literally means without-marriage, not someone who has never had sex. Traditionally that has been understood as before marriage, but it can also be descriptive of anyone who is living outside of the bonds of matrimony, either through widowhood or choice. The problem is that for some folks in this world, living outside of marriage is not chosen for their spiritual growth but rather for their spiritual dalliance. In a conversation a with a friend of mine over pizza on a recent “cheat day” from my diet: he noted that some single, ordained men are celibate while others are merely bachelors. They both obey the Church’s rules on sex, but something divides them. Later, using those exact words a Dominican priest posted the same distinction on Facebook. Fr Harrison and Fr Anthony also took this up in an earlier episode of their podcast.

In the Courage to be Chaste, Fr Benedict Groeschel, CFR, recognizes that there’s a type of person who just stopped having sex because they can’t anymore. Perhaps they’re too old, or unattractive to the people around them, or maybe they’re scared.  Whatever the reason they stop having sex. Father Benedict finds this very disturbing: he recognizes that they’re following the rules, they may even have chosen to follow the rules, but in the end, they’re only not-having sex. Christian chastity requires the full integration of the human person’s sexuality into the human person’s spiritual life – parthenos. Marriage is one way to express Chastity. Celibacy is equally a way to express this full integration of the human person’s sexuality into his spiritual life.

Recent events, especially the medical quarantine, have underscored that I can stay alone and follow the rules. However, alone is not the same thing as celibate. Being alone simply means alone: free to do whatever I want. I can come and go as I please, free. Cool. However, this is a bachelor’s life. I have been living as a bachelor for much of my adult life. I have my obligations, which I meet, do my work, go to church. Then I am free to be me; doing whatever. This is bachelorhood. Sometimes you read about The Eccentric Old Man as a stereotypical citizen of San Francisco. I was, honestly, well on my way to being that. I don’t want that life.

There is a way in which such a man is “chaste”, as Fr benedict notes, without relying on the graces of the virtue of chastity. It follows the law, but there is no Spirit. Following the rules, alone, is not a way to Salvation. 

Marriage is about a graced commitment to an exclusive love. Celibacy is about a graced expression of a diffuse, universal, love. Bachelorhood, if you will, is about neither. The Bachelor can love you or not. He can commit or walk away. Anyone can stumble on the path to virtue, but a bachelor might decide, tomorrow, you know, this isn’t working for me. It’s “discerning a vocation to the single life”. I can stay here, but maybe I can move on. Marriage is a commitment. Celibacy is as well. “The Single Life”, Bachelorhood, is shenanigans.

When I reached a decision to bring my sexuality into my spiritual life as an integral whole, to adhere to the Church’s revealed teaching on sexuality, I realized the way, not to simply follow the rules, but to give my entire self to God; so that God, through me, could give his love to other people. Celibacy, like marriage, is a vocation:  a way to live the Christian Life in the world through God’s grace manifesting his kingdom here by means of our human sexuality. Vocation, here, does not mean “magical calling” that God gave me one day like a voice from off-camera in a TV Sitcom. Vocation here means “my job.” It’s a choice, the choice is “follow the church’s teaching this way… or follow the church’s teaching the other way.”

Celibacy, then is a way to integrate the entire human life into the Gospel and escape (or undo) bachelorhood. The energies that were once used inappropriately or mistakenly are now offered up in this daily sacramental action. The charism doesn’t protect one from falling, nor does it provide a handrail to hold on to with white knuckles, but it means that there is a key with which to unlock a whole other realm of action. Using the key everything around one is still the same: it is the self who is different. One becomes Parthenos. Hospitality is not an accident nor is it an obligation: rather it’s a gift. Celibacy allows the Parthenos to make an hospitable gift of self and of all. It allows one to make a sacramental action with everything around and with everything that one is, everything that one hope to be in God’s grace.

Self-gift is the meaning of love. Bachelorhood means I can give to you if I choose to, if feel like it but I’m not obligated. You may give to me something, I might give something back to you. Celibacy says I’m free to give away everything without expecting return because unlocking that secret, hidden realm means that in God’s grace I never run out: it’s no longer me giving. The cure for the “ungood” state of bachelorhood (It is not good for the earthling to be alone, says God to themself) is a commitment to communion, to love. We are either working towards this or not. I’ve known people in their 50s to be graced with a marriage towards which they were working that long. But I’ve known people in their 20s working towards neither salvation because of a great fear of missing out. They are afraid to take the risk either way – hurting others on the path as they go.

Vowed celibacy is neither a guard nor a “magical” protection against sexual sin. That protection is only in and through God’s grace. We are powerless to do anything without Christ. Neither steadfast faithfulness in sacramental marriage nor continual celibacy are possible otherwise. Neither of these are simply following the rules – but rather participation in grace. To paraphrase the Tao Teh Ching, water flows downward because that’s its proper, natural course. “Leaning in” to the vocation of celibacy means that this becomes my proper, natural course, my supranatural course, which I can follow only if I let God’s grace lead me there.

In this world, the choice for a celibate life is like marriage but in fact higher than marriage. Celibacy points to the kingdom in which we are to be, like the Angels, neither married nor given in marriage. Celibacy is laying aside the tools of this life in this life and living, as the Eastern Church puts it, the life of the Angels here and now. Celibacy requires the exact same self-gift that marriage requires. However, celibacy does not have the benefit of the sexual union of one person with one other person: the tool of the conjugal union is no longer an option. Instead, celibacy requires agape, eros, and philia to be all turned God-ward for the salvation of others. All of the human race, under our Father God, become our storge. Celibacy demands of her adherents a continual gift of self not limited by the same strictures that enclose marital love within a monogamous union. Instead, this love is to be given to all with the same intensity of eros and agape that arise within a marriage. We are called to the same desire for union and the same sacrifice as the married couple, but we are free to be concerned about the things of the Lord – everyone.

Ideally, a married person learns love in the school of love – the Christian family – and then carries that grace to the world. They can do this because God’s grace flows through their family and outward. What they offer to others is replenished by God’s grace when they “go home at night”. Celibacy calls her children to rely only on God for the continual replenishment of the same internal resources without the comfort of someone to go home to at night. It is the DIY School of Love: throw yourself into service, learn to love the hard way – without being loved back. Marriage unlocks the Love of God to flow through one to one spouse in a continual act of self-emptying, and thence to one’s children. Celibacy unlocks this same Grace so that God’s love can flow, self-emptying through one to all. Meaning no scandal at all, as Agape is Eros, Marriage is God’s monogamous love, celibacy is God’s polyamorous love.

HOW WE MOVE FORWARD in our lives from this choice between monogamy and polyamory is the working out of our salvation. Our self-gift must be poured out as the Father is, as Christ is, as the Spirit is. Until we are the chalice of the Mass filled to overflowing with blessings for others, we are not yet fully begun on the way, although within time we are always beginners. Until we select the path for ἄγαμος (without-marriage) or γαμος (marriage), we are not yet on the path: we have to pick in order to know how to go. Only then can we know how we are to be ordered toward the Good we have chosen.

God’s plan for you is your salvation: however he waits for your choice.

Let us then begin in Love.

Day 150: Self Gift

Picking up from yesterday’s post


BUT COVET EARNESTLY THE BETTER GIFTS: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way (I Corinthians 12:31). With this promise of showing us a more excellent way, Saint Paul opens the passage in 1st Corinthians known as the Love Chapter. He goes on to explain all the ways that Love is:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

I Corinthians 13:4-8a

You’ve heard the whole thing if you’ve been to a Christian wedding in almost any denomination: it’s a pretty standard text for such an event. But the love that Saint Paul is talking about here is not the Greek word for familial love, storge, nor is it the Greek word for sexual love, eros, but rather it is the Greek word for divine love or charity, agape. This point, too, is very common at a Christian wedding after reading this text from Saint Paul. All the love (of all types) moving within a marriage is supposed to bring us to Agape. The human family of mother and father and children – extended over generations – is a school of love, a community in which we become graced embodiments of Agape, the human manifestations of the Divine love. It is something we’re all supposed to strive to achieve and it is exactly the struggle to achieve Agape that is the working out of our Salvation. Agape is the more excellent way. Anything that does not lead to Agape is not the right answer.

We can, in some ways, think of sex as the goal, or the end of relationships. It is what comes after getting to third base. So we imagine marriage as “the Church’s permission to have sex”, to hit home runs nightly (or more). Some popular publications and even doctors seem obsessed with how many times we have sex: often used as a metric for how our healthy our relationship is. We end up looking at marriage as making an “unrighteous sexual union” into a “righteous sexual union.” This is especially true for couples who have lived together before getting married. We speak of having “made a righteous wo/man out of him/her” by finally getting married. The licitness or illicitness of sex is not the purpose of marriage.

Sexual activity is a tool, as I mentioned yesterday. The sexual act within a marriage is only a means to an end: it is not an end, in and of itself, nor is it the only means to the ends it achieves. The purpose of sex is twofold: the procreative function (having children) and the unitive function (growing closer or “grokking” as Heinlein put it). Yet both of those ends can be achieved by other means. For example, adoption can bring children into a marriage, and men and women also speak of “spiritual” parenting, of mentoring, etc as non-sexual ways of bringing children into the world. Surviving terrible hardship – such as war – together can make a closer union, as can struggling through various things like marital infidelity or addiction. Sex is not even the best way in all cases: illness, power plays, unhealthy attachments can cause sex to be the worst possible choice.

We confuse Eros with sex all the time. This is why we go looking for someone who “is hot” to use for sexual purposes. Sometimes we get married to this hot person. This is called a trophy wife. This is why our culture does not understand how men and women in earlier days who experienced same-sex attraction still got married: marriage in those earlier days was not about sex nor “hotness”. It wasn’t even about romance until very late in time. Marriage was about familial duty. Yet there was always Eros. Eros is the love that craves union. It’s a desire, but it’s much more than sex. On one level it’s always a movement towards a physical action, but it echoes through our whole person. Our hearts are crying out and, as St Augustine said, “our hearts are restless” until they rest in God. A husband and wife can only grow together as they grow closer to God. It’s not based on “hotness”, but on shared holiness. If we focus on “righteous sex” as the telos or end of a relationship then it is logical to ask why all people can’t have sex. If we can form bonded, loving relationships then it seems we should all have a right to the highest good. Yet if salvation is the highest good, the purpose of children and of sex, of relationships themselves then sexual situations where salvation is not possible are logically (and theologically) excluded from this consideration. Yet that does not limit eros, only sexual activity.

If we focus on the purpose or telos of sex then it becomes obvious why some people are not to have sex – at least within Christian morality. Procreation and union are a higher good than and the reason for sex. If Thing 1 is the reason for Thing 2, then Thing 1 is of higher or greater good than Thing 2. This goes further, however: the purpose of children and of communion in a marriage is the salvation of the man and the woman involved in the union. It is not enough to get married and to have children and even to be faithful forever if you do so selfishly, unsacrificially, and begrudgingly. Marriage is about kenosis (self-emptying). This is a gift of self that mirrors Christ’s self-gift to us on the Cross. The telos or proper end of sex is children/union which has its own telos in the salvation of the parties involved who cannot be saved alone. A man and wife and their children are all saved together – in fact even that draws the circle too small: for a man and wife is properly a symbol of the Church and Christ. Each familial chain of salvation-in-relationship is a part of the world’s salvation. They are on the Cross.

It may seem strange to compare marriage to the Cross. Go, ask any married couple. If they are honest, they will confirm that the wedding was the beginning of a martyrdom. This is why in the Byzantine Catholic & Eastern Orthodox marriage rite the couple is crowned (as the martyrs are) and one of the hymns sung at that time is the hymn for the martyrs. Marriage is the cross on which the married couple is to die for each other and for their children all in the name of love. This is not at all about sex. The sexual activity within a marriage may happen only a handful of times, yet the erotic content – the content of desire for deeper communion – within the marriage is on-going. Only if you think of sex as the highest good do you imagine that Marital Eros is about sex rather than martyrdom.

Erotic content is present in a marriage with or without sex, and in that context, for the salvation of all involved, sexual action becomes kenosis, a self-emptying. I sacrifice my eros for my beloved. Agape craves this sacrifice and self-gift: these are two sides of the same coin. My desire for union (Eros) leads me to self-sacrifice (Agape). We do this growing together in response (only) to God’s erotic love for us – craving union with us.

St Ignatius of Antioch, writing an Epistle to the Romans early in the 2nd Century, commented ὁ ἐμὸς ἔρως ἐσταύρωται My eros is crucified. Charles Williams the poet/mystic/writer (an Inkling and mentor of Lewis, Tolkien, and Sayers) has this to say on St Ignatius:

Ignatius of Antioch in the early second century, had tossed it out on his way to martyrdom: ‘My Eros is crucified.’ Learned men have disputed on the exact meaning of the word: can it refer, with its intensity of allusion to physical passion, to Christ? or does it rather refer to his own physical nature? We, who have too much separated our own physical nature from Christ’s, cannot easily read an identity into the two meanings. But they unite, and others spring from them. ‘My love is crucified’; ‘My Love is crucified’: ‘My love for my Love is crucified’; ‘My Love in my love is crucified.’ The physical and the spiritual are no longer divided: he who is Theos is Anthropos, and all the images of anthropos are in him. The Eros that is crucified lives again and the Eros lives after a new style: this was the discovery of the operation of faith. The Eros of five hundred years of Greece and Rome was to live after a new style; unexpected as yet, the great Romantic vision approached. ‘My’ Eros is crucified; incredible as yet, the great doctrines of interchange, of the City, approached. ‘Another is in me’; ‘your life and death are in your neighbour’; ‘they in Me and I in them.’

Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church 

Then, following on Williams, consider what Pope Benedict XVI gives us as an image of God’s love for us – eros!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God’s love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as “Lord and God” when he put his hand into the wound of his side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God’s eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of his agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy which eases the heaviest of burdens. Jesus said: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12: 32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome his love and allow ourselves to be drawn to him.

Message of H.H. Pope Benedict XVI for Lent 2007

It is not enough that we allow ourselves to be desired by God and drawn into Union with him. For the closer we come to him the more like him we become. We desire to draw others into this Union as well. This, too, is erotic love. The Pope continues, Accepting his love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ “draws me to himself” in order to unite himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with his own love. I learn to love not with mere human eros but with the Divine Eros which is Agape.

Christian Eros, then, is not concerned with permission to have sex. All four of the loves – friendship, familial, erotic, and charitable – become ordered toward our salvation and the salvation of others. This their proper telos before the fall and to which they are restored in Christ. Christ is not the suppression of erotic love, but rather the liberation and salvation of it. Christ restores erotic love to its proper end among the other three loves. It is part of the constellation of love that God gives us to lead us home. It’s not the pagan “venereal religion” of the fallen world, but rather the proper telos of all of our body and soul (our entire person) in God’s service.

It is still possible to have sex without this proper erotic content and this proper end in mind. But, it should now be evident that such sex is not salvific and why it is not as well. Anything that cannot be brought to its proper telos is leading us away from salvation.

Yesterday and today are leading up to a discussion of celibacy and marriage. Yes, both are equally paths to salvation, but celibacy is a sign of the next world in which men and woman are “neither married nor given in marriage”. Celibacy is chosen for the kingdom. And a sign that all the things of this world – including sexual activity and marriage – all pass away but it is is our communion that will bring us to eternity.

See you tomorrow.

Day 149: Only A Tool


WHEN I WAS FIRST CONSIDERING the priesthood in the Episcopal Church (as a teenager) the most common response was around marriage. “Can they get married?” “But you’re able to get married, right?” “Well at least that kind of priest can still get married.” It did not take long before I realized that what they were talking about was not marriage but sex. So my snarky, teenaged self begin to reply, “Yes. And I can have sex too.” This sort of dialogue continued as I identified and began to explore my same-sex attraction. At that time the Episcopal Church was publicly divided on this issue, but the reality in private was rather more progressive: the most conservative of Episcopal Bishops were mostly “gay friendly” even if they pretended otherwise in public, sometimes even signing documents. So when this topic came up I always replied, “No worries”.

Almost all of these conversations were with other Christians. These conversations all made an assumption about the importance of sex, And how important having sex is to the life of the Christian person. The life of the human person – created in the image and likeness of God – is the field in which Christian teaching is sown. The right end of this seed is the Salvation of the human person, but what that salvation might be is often up for debate. Salvation is often understood as meaning a sort of get out of hell free card, an easy passport to heaven. But in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin the word for salvation always means health and wholeness. Salvation – being saved – means becoming whole, becoming a whole person as God intended each of us to be.

In our world today, outside of the church, much of, if not the entirety of this whole person is often understood as engaging in sexual activity. If you’re not having sex somehow you are not a whole person. This secular understanding of sex has crept into the church as well. We see it in the discussion around marriage and celibacy as well as around how same-sex attracted men and women are perceived in the church. These conversations not only assume that sexuality is a Divine gift but that sexual activity is also a Divine gift. In fact, these conversations often assume that sexuality and sexual activity are the same thing.

We see this assumption about sexuality in the idea (expressed both by “conservatives” and “liberals”) that not all people are called by God to celibacy. Some people just “don’t have that gift”. Then we ask everyone to abstain from sex outside of marriage – even those who will never get married. This leads to a logical contradiction: if God has not given one this other, special gift of celibacy then why cannot one use the “regular gift” of sexuality (by which is meant engaging in sexual activity). With this mindset, the question is usually phrased as how can sexual activity be included in any current situation.

My own questions arise since I have lived my life alone, not within the grace of a sacramental marriage. To me this seems to be where the charism of celibacy should come in as a needed salve, but it does not. That’s not what a charism is. At the same time, celibacy is certainly a denial or a sacrifice of what our culture imagines to be the highest good. Even if you limit sex to a monogamous, life-long union you still “get” to have sex. What about my needs? Please note that the minute you start asking about my needs you’re not asking about love. I recognize that. Please continue in this conversation with me anyway.

I was having this conversation with a friend the other day who wondered why (according to the Church’s morality) some people were allowed to have sex and others were not. I struggled to find an answer that was applicable to anyone other than myself. You can’t appeal to authority here: “Because God says so” even though that is true. Sometime later, (after a lifetime of struggling) it comes to me that we are asking the wrong question. The clue came listening to a podcast called Clerically Speaking. In Episode 101 Golf, Virginity, Gossip, Fr Harrison never got around to saying this but it dawned on me listening: sexual activity is not the highest good of a relationship, it’s not even the best thing or the second best thing about a relationship. The four loves, Philia (friendship), Eros (sexual desire), Storge (familial), and Agape (divine charity) are the highest goods and they lead one to the other. Sexual activity is not any one of those. Sex most clearly assumes eros but that’s not the same thing as saying “sex is eros” or even “eros is sex”.

This conversation needs to be framed in another way in order to see not only God’s holiness but also our rightful place and our own restoration to wholeness as his image. If we ask the right questions with openness to Christian teaching, we hear answers that can help us grow on that path, embodying all four of the loves in godly ways.

For Christians this working out of our salvation – our wholeness – is rooted in our communion with God. Further, since no one is saved alone our salvation is also rooted in our communion with other people. Salvation is not an individual action or process but rather a communal action, and action of a progressive unity of heart and mind with God and with each other as humans which therefore also includes Jesus (who is God). This also works in the other direction, as it were: we work out our unity with Christ (a human person) and through him, we work out our communion with God the Father in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. You simply cannot get to this latter point if you begin with a question about permission to engage in sexual activity. Since this union with God and each other is our ultimate purpose as human beings everything must be framed this way: does this situation, action, relationship lead to my salvation, to my wholeness, to my communion with God and others? In that very different light sexual activity is rightly judged as only a tool or function which may or may not lead to a deeper working out of our salvation. It is not the pinnacle of anything: but rather just another step on the way up – or down.

(This is the first post of a three-parter. Come back tomorrow.)

The Burning Bush


MOSES’ VISION OF THE BURNING BUSH is read as a typological prefigurement of the Incarnation. God enters the womb of the Most Holy Theotokos without damage or corruption just as the bush was burned yet was not consumed. This, along with reading through Pope Emeritus Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth, and today’s feast of the Transfiguration, all joined together into a meditation. It is not a complete meditation, it’s open for you to follow in many directions.

All of history can be read as a typological echo from the Burning Bush, or, more to the point, the Burning Bush is the earliest shockwave of this cosmic chain. Walk with me through this process. It’s rather like a tree of life actually. I mean that in the kabbalistic sense.

The Burning Bush pairs well with the Incarnation itself. As I mentioned Mary echoes this in that she is not harmed or corrupted by the Incarnation happening in her womb. But the Heavenly Fire does not stop with the bush in the story of Moses. The next time we see the Heavenly Fire is as the Pillar of Fire that defends the Israelites. Next, we see it on the face of Moses himself as he comes from the presence of God with the divinely-inscribed tablets. We finally see it as the Shekinah Glory hovering over the Mercy Seat in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

Likewise, the Heavenly Fire does not stop with the Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. We see it again at the Transfiguration and again at the Cross. We see it at Pentecost and we see it in the Eucharist.

As the fiery pillar was a manifestation of the presence of God for the purpose of defending the Israelites or directing them, so too the Transfiguration was for the express purpose of defending the Apostles from the shame of the Cross and directing them to the heavenly vision.

As the Heavenly Fire was seen on Moses face departing so too Jesus breathed his Spirit forth from the cross and the fire fled into all the world. As Moses at Pentecost handed down the divine fire to the Israelites so Jesus at Pentecost handed the divine fire of the Holy Spirit to our hearts in the Church. And as the Shekinah came to rest in the Temple hovering over The Mercy Seat, the Eucharist by the Holy Spirit has come to rest in our churches, hovering over the altar.

And so from Moses at the bush, to the people of Israel, through the Blessed Virgin, from the Cross, through the Holy Spirit to the Church, and to you comes the divine fire of transfiguration. The shockwaves do not stop there, though. As the bush was burned yet not consumed, as the tablets were inscribed, as the Temple was filled with the glory that cannot be contained in all of the Universe – and so also as the womb of the Most Holy was made more spacious than the heavens; as Jesus was Transfigured revealing the glory of God enrobed in human flesh, so you, if you will let it, can house the holy fire and let it shine through you. This is the Shockwave of the Eschaton echoing through history and you: God’s fire bursting in and through us. The everlasting flames of God’s all-consuming love stand ready to receive us if we will but let him have us.

Of idols and whips.

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

Missa Ecce Deus, adjuvat me


TODAY’S COLLECT BEGS GOD to help us in our asking: let us only ask for the things we should. Let us only ask of the things that please then. The rest of the minor propers, though, seem to want God to smite our enemies. It seems counterintuitive given that we’re supposed to pray for our enemies. However, if we realize that the only enemies we have are the minions of the evil one then these verses make sense. In low Masses in the Extraordinary Form, we are used to praying to Saint Michael, asking him to “cast into hell Satan and all his evil spirits that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” This is the same thing: these are our enemies mentioned in the Introit and in the Alleluia. Asking God for help like this is one of the things that please him.

The Epistle gives us a list of things to avoid. At first glance it may seem like a regular list of sins: do not covet, do not be gluttonous, do not commit fornication. Yet, in fact, the Apostle sees all of these as subcategories of the first item mentioned: do not be idolators. Paul gives us reasons that each one of these is a subcategory of idolatry. He goes on to say that we should not tempt God with our idolatry, and then we should not murmur or complain for we will be destroyed by the one who destroys: that is the Evil One. And he counsels us not to be prideful to say we are standing – that is to trust in our own success -for it is God who is faithful.

What are these idolatries? Eating, sex, acquisition of things. These are normal things they become idolatries when we view them or use them in disordered ways. Fathers of the Church are very clear: it is disordered to acquire and not share. The father’s counsel us at the extra shoes we have in our possession and do not wear belong to the poor. The food that we have in storage that goes bad was food that we stole from the hungry. The clothes that we haven’t worn belong to the naked on the street.

All of these belong to God and have only been lent to us. God, whose name is magnificent above the whole of creation, as were reminded in the Gradual owns everything and has given us these things exactly to share. When we hoard, cling, or misuse, they become idols. The demons drive us to this distraction, but God will protect us from our enemies. (Alleluia)

In the Gospel we see two very different faces of God for he weeps over us for our idolatries. Then he scourges us.

Jesus weeps because Israel will not hear her promised Messiah speak. He knows and this deafness will continue. But then he goes to the Temple and purges it. While there are some who say that this was simply because no one should be doing business in the temple, that was not the case. The merchants were there with permission, in fact at the invitation of the temple itself. The individual Merchants were not making a profit for themselves, but rather for the Temple. Money that was stored in the Temple was able to be loaned to the poor for interest. Jesus was interrupting the entire economic system of oppression. Later, one of the first acts of the First Jewish-Roman War was the burning of the debt records in the archives.

The temple was holding on to its idols: and Jesus was driving them out, disrupting the system at its roots. Shortly after this moment in Jesus own life, the religious people of his day will call on the government people of his day to sending federal agents to defend government property. Arrested in an unmarked van, he will be dragged away for a secret trial and death.

This Gospel is not a comforting one when God is speaking to his chosen people and saying everything you see here will go away, for the sake of the Kingdom. The Church is the New Jerusalem. Jesus weeps over us for our sins for God is merciful and loves us. But he will not leave us alone in our sins. And, for the sake of our Salvation, he would rather destroy everything that has been built up that we might be purified and be his bride. We are in such a state right now, when everything is being destroyed and we have a choice: we can cling to our precious things, or we can recognize the visitation of God and repent.

Also, remember that our bodies are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist, sacramentally or spiritually, and he cleanses us. It’s not a comforting thing for he destroys the systems of Oppression that dwell within us. He overthrows the money changers that we have allowed to be set up by our enemies, the evil ones who would use us to oppress others, calling us in the name of “Law & Order” to oppose “Anarchy” we are opposing Jesus.

We should not be party to this. On the contrary, the Offertory Reminds us that God’s commands are joy to the heart and that his judgements against us are sweeter than honey. For his correction is, St Paul says, like a father to his son: God loves us and wants us to come to him as his children and if we will not learn in the good ways we still must learn.

In the Secret we again ask God, as we did in the Collect, to help us to pray: “grant that we may be worthily present” that the “work of our redemption” may be “made effective”. What is the work of our Redemption but the in-dwelling of justice and peace and wholeness in our lives, in our relationships with others, and in the world around us? The Communion carries this thought forward, reminding us that through the virtue of the Eucharist we abide in God and God abides in us. The communion of the Holy Trinity pours forth not just between us and God but between us and those around us. The Postcommunion prayer caps off this thought: may we be purified from sin and also united with each other.

This Sunday’s propers are a challenge to us. We struggle when we see the world hating Christians but that was all we were ever promised. Furthermore we struggle against what we think might be God’s judgment on us. But that is a sign of his love. The same God that drives the money changers out of our temples also weeps over us for our failures to understand. It is entirely possible to hear these texts as pointing only towards a historical event in the Earthly life of Jesus. But we miss that these texts are intended to have application in our present moment. The church is not worried that we might be selling books or candles in the back of the nave. Whether we are being called to not participate in systems of Oppression.

Yet, too often we find ourselves held up, elevated by those systems of Oppression: we make Idols of them. God will destroy them for us if we do not destroy them for him.