Bonfire Night

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

There is no one among your relatives who has this name.

Luke 1:61 (NABRE)

HOLY MOTHER CHURCH Celebrates three people especially, noting their conceptions as well as their births and deaths: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. (The Baptist’s Conception on 23 September is celebrated now only in the Eastern rites.) These three must be holy folks indeed if literally their entire life is enclosed in feast days! Jesus, we can understand. Our Protestant brethren may disagree on Mary, but she is the Mother of God, after all. But why John?

The people in the local community say “no one in your family has this name”. This is an important code: in the Jewish tradition you name a child after a dead relative. (To name them after someone living would be to wish the living person dead.) The Community is saying to Elizabeth, “You’re not honoring anyone’s memory.” And she’s saying, “Yes, you’re right. This is an entirely new gift from God.” (Jonathan means gift of God.)

This birth is a hinge between the Old and the New, both being needed: the proclamation makes possible the fulfillment. The fulfillment arises from the hope proclaimed. The parents know that the Messiah is nearly here.

John is always depicted on icon screens in the Eastern Churches and he is always to the right of Jesus on the icon called the “Deesis” or “Supplication”.

In the Verses skipped by today’s Gospel reading, John’s Father calls him the “prophet of the most high”. That’s from the Canticle of Zachariah which the western Church prays every day at Lauds. Where have we heard something like that before? Rather recently, actually, by way of liturgical coincidence, we heard the story of Melchizedek, priest of God Most High. John is Prophet of the Most High. Jesus, of course, is the Most High God. John is the one “preparing his way”.

Looking again at the Deesis icon above, it seems that it can be read as the OT (reading from right to left in Hebrew) in the person of John, together with the NT in the person of Mary, interceding for us to Jesus. The last man of the OT with the first woman of the NT, both praying to God the Most High.

Today’s birth of something entirely new is placed (by the Church’s calendar) on the longest day of the year (as it was once calculated). The thing about this day is that every day after today is shorter than the day before. The Sun is losing it’s power. The pagan, solar gods are passing away as of today. John is the hinge of between old and new even outside of the Jewish tradition.

John’s birth (in Europe) is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks. I wish we did so here!

Today is the day to let the old things pass away so that God can bring something new out of the old world you’ve lived in. He will give you a new name that is not honoring anyone in the past, but rather proclaiming your new life in him.

It’s a free gift.

Come See What I’ve Found

JMJ

The Readings for the 12th Wednesday Tempus per Annum

I have found the book of the law in the temple of the LORD.

II Kings 22:8 (NABRE)

WE TEND TO IMAGINE ancient Israel as something like a theocracy under Jewish Law: everyone being faithful to one degree or another, over time the culture drifting away or coming back. But, generally, you know, Jewish, or – at least – Jew-ish most of the time from Moses until Jesus. But the Bible is filled with stories of not very Jewish things – or even very Jew-ish things. And there are suprises, like today’s reading from the reign of King Yoshiyahu (Josiah), whose name means “Yah (YHVH) Supports” when they find the “Book of the Law” hidden in the Temple. If you open your Bible to II Kings and read Chapters 22 and 23, you may be surprised to find out what was in the Temple of the Lord that was destroyed.

[R]emove from the temple of the LORD all the objects that had been made for Baal, Asherah, and the whole host of heaven… an end to the idolatrous priests who burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the vicinity of Jerusalem, as well as those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, moon, and signs of the zodiac, and to the whole host of heaven. From the house of the LORD he also removed the Asherah…He tore down the apartments of the cult prostitutes in the house of the LORD, where the women wove garments for the Asherah.

From II Kings 23:4-7

The Temple in Jerusalem was quite the little New Age bookstore, yes? God’s own house was even being used by Temple Prostitutes like any heathen shrine in much of the world.

Yoshiyahu went on to purge pagan practices from all over Judah. And then he had the people celebreate the Passover. And catch this:

No Passover such as this had been observed during the period when the judges ruled Israel, or during the entire period of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, until the eighteenth year of King Josiah, when this Passover of the LORD was kept in Jerusalem.

II Kings 23:22-23

The important thing to note is that Passover has not been observed since about 1382 BC (when the Judges are estimated to have started) though the kings until Josias (who is estimated to have reigned c. 649-609 BC. So, nearly 800 years with no Passover celebration: the very mark of Jewish liberation – and one of the main parts of Jewish tradition that Christians bring forward as Easter. This was not at all a thing. David never did it. None of the Judges. Solomon didn’t.

You want to ask what were they doing all this time?

I don’t know at all.

And the interesting thing is that the compilers of the Hebrew Scriptures left this confession of their sin in the text for us all to see and read – and ponder over.

How far had Israel’s Children strayed – not observing even the basics of their religion for eight centuries? And yet, for all that long had God been merciful to them and not destroyed them at all.

Yah supports.

Jesus says of false prophets, “By their fruit you shall know them.” Some fruits take 800 years to manifest. This comes after “not judging” and “pearls before swine” etc. Can we bear the sins of those with whom God is being merciful at least as long as God bears them?

How long has God supported your sins and yet not destroyed you? Can you repent like the People of Judah? There is time now.

Yah supports.

Pigcasting

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

Don’t cast your pearls before swine.

Matthew 7:6 (NABRE)

APART FROM THE EPONYMOUS comic by Stephan Pastis, this verse usually means don’t give something important to those who don’t know how important it is. It pairs well with “don’t give what is holy to the dogs”. In our reading today, skipping over a few verses, the comment about pearls in verse 6 is seemingly linked to the Golden Rule in verse 12, however it is not so in the full text. peals, swine, and dogs are sandwiched between yesterday’s comment about taking planks out of our eyes before trying to help brothers with their splinters (in verse 5) and the skipped-over verses beginning in verse 7 with “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Then, several verses later we get to the Golden Rule. Either we have a laundry list of aphorisms or else all of this is actually linked together in a way we’re not yet seeing.

It’s time to put on our meditation caps. What follows is only my meditation, a sort of lectio whilst writing. You may use it as it or springboard off in another direction. Jesus isn’t exactly a fortune cookie of aphorisms, though, so I think these two lines need a larger context. For this reason, we should pull back a bit to a wider view.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus does not assume everything in the Church will be hunky-dorey. Later in Matthew (18:15-17) he gives us a way to deal with brethren (and sistren) who get out of hand. So Jesus knows some in the Church will go wrong: later (7:21) he says, “Not everyone who calls me Lord is actually in the Kingdom.” St John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Matthew, highlights not the lack of the splinter in my brother’s eye, but rather the beam in my own. He says this is a call to forego our own sins so that we can confront an errant brother.

In this light, “take the beam out of your eye first” is not an abstract idea but a direct command. Then, having purified your heart, you can discern in the Spirit if your bother is able to hear your rebuke. If he is unable to hear it at all, Chrysostom says, you are casting your pearls before swine to even try. You are giving what is holy (your attention, your teaching, your time) to the dogs.

But, the passage continues, you know if someone asks for something good, God will give it to them. Pray for your brother or sister engaged in sin. Beg God for their salvation. They may not yet be able to hear you, but God can always hear you. This is important for us: for we know many around the Church in error who won’t listen. Even clergy. Every rainbow we see this month in Church is a reminder.

So we pray. And we struggle. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling and – once the beam is out of our own eye – we can prayerfully discern what to do about others in their sins. But first, work on the beam.

Two Words for One

JMJ

READING SCRIPTURE IN Multiple translations leads one back to the original languages sooner or later. There is a danger there: as my friend, Steve once said, “Nothing is more dangerous to the faith than a man with an interlinear Bible and a Greek dictionary.” The same is seemingly true with Hebrew, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

A paper I did on fire back in February documented the translation of Greek into Latin.

Faith is the important word. In Greek, it’s pistis. This is how the Greeks begin the Creed at liturgy: “Pisteo”.  In Latin we say “Credo”. Pistis is also used to say “by faith” here in Hebrews. In Latin, though, the translation uses a form of “Fideo”. We’ve broken this Greek “Pistis” thing into two Latin parts: a credo or “I believe” – I assent to this teaching – and a fideo or “I trust”. Picture the Greek word Pistis as breathing. Then we can imagine the Latin words breathing in at “Credo” and then breathing out at “Fideo”.

So one Greek word becomes two Latin words. Where the Greek carries all of the meanings, the Latin words each carry about half of the content. By the time it gets to English, we’re back to one word (Faith) but we’ve farmed out all the other content to other words: believe, trust, even hope. We can believe in Santa using the same word we use to say believe in Jesus. But no one trusts in Santa, I think. (Put a shrug emoji here.)

One of the online struggles between the Christian east and west is over the whole definition of “Grace”. Again, it’s an issue with translation in a lot of places. Is it the divine life itself, or is it the action of the Godhead (atonement) that allows us to participate in the divine life? Essence and energies, can we know God? Flipping the sides, the West would say grace is actually God – and so we can experience him. The East would say it is the energy of God – not God himself. But, we say, God is absolutely simple. You cannot get a part of God. The East would say, exactly, therefore this can’t be God…

Meh. An ecclesial Abbot and Constantinople routine.

Another example is “Lord have mercy”. By the time it gets into English, it’s something that chained oarsmen scream in bad claymation movies as they get whipped. Crying out, “Have mercy!” means “Stop beating me up!” And so when we say, “Lord, have mercy!” we acknowledge that God is a tyrant whose bullying wrath we need to divert. To this the Greeks reply with a useful etymology:

“The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for ‘Lord, have mercy,’ are ‘Kyrie, eleison’ that is to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal a very Western interpretation but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray ‘Lord, have mercy,’ with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.”*

Source

This is a standard complaint in the Orthodox world – that the west has forgotten what “mercy” means. Making it worse is the translation into Latin, miserere, which really is a legal term: I’m wretched, give me a light sentence.

It’s that second part of the Greek essay that got to me recently, though – linking the Hebrew “hesed” חסד.

See: in Hebrew, Hesed is far more than “eleison” (truly rooted in eleos, meaning oil). Hesed is such an unusual word that the translators of the King James Bible invented a new word: lovingkindness. And I’ll go one further: in later scriptures, including Christian texts in Hebrew, hesed means “Grace”. Mary is called “full of Hesed”.

So back to the East/West split. Before “mercy” or before “essence and energy”, before the Latin “Miserere” (which does mean lighten up your beating…) or the Greek “eleison” there was the Hebrew “Hesed” which combines all the meanings into one word and gets used to imply all the layers PLUS divine Grace. So that – western insistence on divine simplicity – actually makes sense here: Miriam is full of Hesed, overshadowed with the Holy Spirit (God himself) which encamps within her the Divine Logos made fully man.

Essence and energy are one – at least before we translate it again.

Let me fix that for you.

JMJ

The Readings for the 12th Monday, Tempus per Annum

Let me remove that splinter from your eye.

Matthew 7:4 (NABRE)

THIS BIT ABOUT NOT JUDGING is quite familiar to us. We’re often told (as Catholics) that we’re being “too judgey” when it comes to sex or some “inclusion” issue in secular society. People who don’t listen to a thing the Holy Father has said about abortion will yell “Don’t Judge” and “Who am I to judge?” without even realizing it’s a line from the Bible. (That’s a hateful book that should be in public libraries, they say.)

What struck me in this reading today was the very passive-aggressive line, “Let me remove that splinter from your eye.” The implied context is the other party didn’t ask for help first. I’ve someone asked me for help, it’s ok. But jumping into “mansplain” without being asked to do so is very tiresome, indeed! That’s sort of “Hey, let me show you where you’re wrong, even though you didn’t ask.”

In this passage, Jesus is telling us to hush and just sit there for a while. Pray even.

How often is it possible to do that? Depending on one’s job and general personality that can almost be a moment-by-moment temptation!

I think it might be useful to focus on the area of faith in this meditation. How often do we reach him and say, let me fix that for you when nothing is broken?

Recently on Twitter, someone noted that they did not find the rosary to be of any use. Instantly there were jumped upon by a whole bunch of people, sadly including the present writer, all of whom insisted you needed the rosary to be Catholic. This of course is not true.

There are those who judge others for their piety, insisting that one or another item will break things. My own struggle with this is in the area of the Daily Office: having hit a liturgical high point with the traditional Benedictine Office in English in my former monastery, it drives me bonkers when people can’t understand how to put the office together, when the Church says certain Psalms make people “uncomfortable” and shouldn’t be said, or when Church leaders publish books on the office with mistakes. I mean it’s so simple! Let me show you how it’s done. Did you know the Dominicans only do the antiphons once?

Jesus whispers, hush. And tells I need to sit down.

You have no idea how important that is: inside my brain, I was practically screaming as I typed the above “problems”.

One of the things Jesus is pointing to here seems to be cutting people off unnecessarily. The greek word for “judge” means to “cut”. In my liturgical examples, we are dividing the Church, cutting people off into right and wrong groups based on the assumption that I am right and you need to learn a few things.

For actual sins, Jesus tells us how to do things (see: Matthew 18:15-17) working with the whole Church. This is why Bishops are empowered to do certain things that random laity are not. And, when the Bishops work together with the Pope, they can decide whole teachings are heretical and outside the bounds of Christianity entirely. But that’s not my job. Nor yours, really. When Jesus describes the right way to work with a brother who is sinning, the point is to win the brother back to the Church (Matthew 18:15b). When we act like that even when the Brother is not out of bounds, we risk kicking him out by our own actions instead of by his sins. In other words, we risk offending him and sinning ourselves.

Jesus whispers hush.

Dismiss this Crowd

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of
the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ (C2)

He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Luke 9:13 (NABRE)

WHEN THE DISCIPLES went to Jesus it was with all good intentions. There’s a whole bunch of people here, nothing to eat. We should do something. In most cultures, if people come to you you are the host and the host is expected to provide something. This is not an imposition, this is the Law of Hospitality, and it doesn’t really matter where you are: leaving somebody hungry is just bad form, Old Bean. The disciples (and Jesus) know that no town in the area has enough food to sell to feed all these people. But if you send them all away, they all probably know someone in the area and the Law of Hospitality will apply. Everyone will get something somewhere.

Jesus says, in effect, they are our guests, let us feed them. Of course the challenge to do something impossible is troublesome to the disciples. Eating people is always a risk. Will they like my food? Do I have enough? Will I like them? Will they be worthy of my food? These are questions any host may ask in their own home or, perhaps, if they work in food service, these questions may get asked at work. These questions often get asked in charity work as well. And certainly one of the Works of Mercy is to feed the hungry. Jesus is asking his disciples here to feed the hungry, to become the hosts of this party he’s gathered.

Did you ever think of Church as this heavenly party to which Jesus has invited everyone and for which we are the hosts? There are those who take this reading from Luke (and other “feeding” passages) as a sign that the Holy Communion should be given to everyone without question. This gathering on the Mountainside was not a Holy Mass however. You cannot read this to be “rules for communion” at all. Yet you can read this as being about Church. People have come together to hear the teaching of the Lord. We are the disciples in that image! Jesus says to us “you give them something”.

We know that from RCIA class to the monthly Mens Club, there’s no good meeting without food! But in those cases we feed ourselves: we draw from our own members, arrange pot lucks, assign people to rotas, etc. That’s not hospitality, really. That’s what any good family does for the monthly budget. We can spend a certain amount to feed ourselves. The disciples have a collective purse for themselves. (Judas carries it, remember?) But there’s not enough in the purse for this crowd of people!

What do we do when a crowd of The Unexpected show up at the door, needing Jesus and food?

Depending on where you live, this crowd of people is probably beating down your door on a near-daily basis. They need food and Jesus. We can’t give them Jesus only: what will they do in their hunger but despise us?

This is where we (the hosts) have to turn to Jesus. We bring what we have and ask him to make it enough. Our outreach depends on your charity, but not on your charity only, for we have to offer everything to God and let him make it enough.

I just finished reading a wonderful book for a class in Christology: Atonement by Dr Margaret Turek. There’s a lot of good stuff there and I have a paper due on it this week so I’m not going to get too far into the book today. However, in one of the appendices, Formation of Missionary Disciples, there is a passage of interest for us today. She writes (following Balthasar and Pope BXVI), “If the action of missionary disciples is to be effective as a sign and an instrument of God’s saving love, it is not enough to attempt to imitate God by standing in social solidarity with the poor, the stranger, and the oppressed. Neither the wife of the Trinity nor the Life of Christ is to be regarded as a mere Paradigm to guide programs of social and political involvement.” (p. 243)

We’re not doing a social program here: Church outreach to the poor is not a replacement for any political or societal reform movements. Everything we have comes from God and nothing he has given us is for ourselves – but for others. A mother’s life is not her own – it is for her child. A parents income is not their own, it is for the family. A doctor’s work is not for himself, but for others. The military are not only guarding their own family, their own neighborhoods, but all of us. God has configured us to pour ourselves out precisely for others. Charity is exemplifying the life of Christ in, if you will, an economic form. We are the Body of Christ given for the life of the world.

Dr Turek continues, ” The crucial factor, for Balthasar, is that Christian action participates in God’s own life of Trinitarian love. Christ, through his Incarnation and the bestowal of his Spirit, imparts to us a participation in the Divine freedom of his sonship, by virtue of which we are made capable of taking part in his trinitarian mission.”

When we partake of the Body of Christ, we are committing ourselves to being Jesus in the world. Like Jesus, then, all our life must be for others in praise of Our Father. All our money, all our food, comes from God and is poured out for others. We are brought into the Body of Christ and – in order to live like Jesus in the world – we must be for others. They may like (or not) what we have to offer, but we have to offer it! We may be able to vote a certain way to change societal structures, but that’s not the Gospel. The gospel is give, give, give, give yourself, give everything you have, give. Then die, just like Jesus did.

How’s that for a punch line?

Jesus takes our “All”, offered to him in love, and makes it so much more. When we engage in the dance of the Trinity, we become the open channels of the Trinity’s love for the world around us. Thus, not by some social or political action, but just in our daily lives, the action of God is made manifest in the lives of our neighbors. But we don’t do this to “help” them. Feeding the hungry is not only just to feed them. Church is not a social program, nor is outreach only a substitute for better school lunches and more federal aid. We do this precisely to draw them in to the same dance.

If I only feed your body – but not your soul – I’ve not been a good host.

If I only try to feed your soul – when you and your family are starving – then I’ve not been a good host.

If I try to force-feed you Jesus – when what you need is a good lunch – then I’ve not been a good host.

But if I only give you lunch – when all men need Jesus – then I’ve not fulfilled the action of a Missionary Disciple. I’ve not invited you into the dance of the Trinity which is the only thing that will keep you whole until eternal life. I’ve brought you to the Heavenly Party and left you sitting at the Kids Table in the kitchen.

Don’t dismiss the crowd! Rejoice that God has called them to himself through you. Give you life for them.

When Jesus says, “Give them something yourselves” he is challenging us to realize: all we have comes from him. Give it all away and there will be enough. But he will make it to be something more. We must give him away too. All we have is never enough without him.

Chez Mammon

JMJ

The Readings for the 11th Saturday, Tempus per Annum

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Matthew 6:27 (NABRE)

WORRYING, SO GOES THE ONLINE WISDOM, is a form of Atheism. It seems to arise from something said by the Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, or it could be Pastor Rick Warren. Online quotes are so frustrating because they just get cited over and over. This seems true, but who said it first? Well, we can trace it back to Jesus in one way or another: worrying is not something Jesus told us to do. It’s interesting that the Church’s lectionary for daily Masses has us read the “don’t worry” passage preceded by Verse 24, ending “You cannot serve God and mammon.” So the Church would have us read all of these meanings together:

  • You cannot serve two masters
  • You cannot serve God and Mammon
  • You cannot serve God and worry about stuff
    • don’t worry about food
    • don’t worry about clothes
    • don’t worry about nothing
    • Today is bad enough, tomorrow will come when it does (in 24 hours)
  • Trust God.

New Polity’s podcast on Good Money (starts here) convinced me that most of our world is based on worry: worry about what others think about me, worry about what will happen tomorrow, worry about what might happen after the fact (that’s what a lot of social anxiety is – worry about a conversation after it’s been done). Everything from toiletries to technology is sold using “what will others think of you” schemes. We don’t want money so much as we want to do things with money that will make us fit in. As I’m thinking about this passage I had to turn in a budget for the forthcoming fiscal year. Although I have lived on a monthly budget for most of this century, this is the first time I’ve had to turn in an organization budget. Look, Ma: an entirely new way to worry!

Or, as an old adage has it, “Man plans, God laughs” or even, “Man proposes, God disposes”. We’re only able to see today, only able to know right now. Planning may be good stewardship, but it’s not a way to fend off worry. It can, in fact, inculcate it.

Where your treasure is, there is your heart (as we learned yesterday). If your heart is anywhere other than in God then you are certain to experience the changeability of things. And this will cause you to worry.

Mind you, the contrary practice of Trusting in God, take a long time to develop this side of Judgement Day. Nevertheless, it is a good practice to take up.

My Jesus, I trust in thee.

Things are bad. Things are good. There’s enough money or food. There’s not enough money or food. There’s rising crime and inflation. Things are peaceable and prosperous. There’s danger from earth, wind, or fire. It’s pretty safe. No matter what the situation, it is well with my soul because I trust in Jesus.

Or, at least, that’s where I want to be.

My false hearts pull me in many directions, not the least of which is the desire to “make people happy”. I put that in quotes because I don’t really want to make people happy. I want them to be happy with me. My ego has to be comforted, my ego has to be inflated, my ego has to be validated. The fake hearts (fake identities) we make up have to be continually validated because they do not pump any real blood. Like vampires or parasites, they live on the lifeforce offered by their hosts and by others. Our false selves drain us of love and emotion so that our real hearts, tuned to God, weaken and begin to fade away. They can never be wholly destroyed, so there is always hope, but we do love our false idols of pride.

You cannot serve both God and Mammon.

Validate Me (pt 2)

JMJ

The Readings for the 11th Friday, Tempus per Annum

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Matthew 6:21 (NABRE)

HEART IS ONE Of the most important words in the Bible. Especially in the Hebrew Scriptures – and therefore in the teachings of Jesus – it is the equivalent with the self or soul. The heart in Christian thinking is the seat of the being.

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶2563

The heart is – as the Place of Covenant – the Holy of Holies within the temple of our person. Ideally it is the throne of God, the seat of Christ reigning in us. As the place where “I am” it is also the place where we engage with the core of our being – which springs from God’s beingness. The Holy Trinity is always there – always the fire at the core of our beingness. Only the Spirit of God can know it fully for He dwells there and – if we are graced to know Him – we can begin to know our real selves.

God is always there. But sometimes, I’m not.

Earlier this week I wrote about the constant quest for validation and how that leads to seeking the praises of other people. God is our source and our validation. God is the core of everything that provides meaning in our lives and in the world. If we value the praises of others above the praise of God, we will not be entering our Holy of Holies, our inner core, to seek communion. Instead, we will create a false heart, a false identity somewhere else in our “psychic drives”. That’s where we imagine our heart. But it’s not a real heart. It’s the “heart of stone” that God says we have in Ezekiel 36:26. It’s a stony idol we have created. We can’t enter it, but we can worship it. And we do.

Remember the Golden Calf? Israel danced around the idol and Aaron said this metal calf was the one that brought Israel out of Egypt. He even said the idol was YHVH by name! (Exodus 32:5) We worship at the altar of our false heart, but it’s not God there. We even name it God. Whatever passion or psychic drive we pick we say, “God made me this way.” Just like a real heart we revolve our entire life around this fake heart. We pretend it is in ourselves that we “live and move and have our being”. All the while we are only a shell of a person, ignoring our self. But, Gosh darn it, people like us.

On Thursday I read this quote from Pope Benedict:

Since the heart is the place of decision and the place of communion, if we create a false heart, a false identity – insisting that really is me – then our communion is off, our worship is off, and our decision-making (our conscience) is off. This false heart becomes the place where we rest in indecision, waiting for others to think highly of us, and unable to make any choices without others: for there is no real heart here. It’s just a rock, an idol. So evil finds a voice.

Where your treasure is, there is your heart: even if it’s a false heart. We worship there, just like Israel dancing around the Golden Calf. And evil takes us into its dance and we fall from grace.

Turn back to your real heart: let the false one(s) fall away. When you enter the Holy of Holies, you will find the Glory of God waiting for you, to give you peace, even in the midst of trial. The choices you make will be real choices, and the light that you see will be the light of the Transfiguration of your life.

To Kingdom Come

JMJ

The Readings for the 11th Thursday, Tempus Per Annum

Thy kingdom come

Matthew 6:10 (AV)

MINDFUL THAT the original texts (in Hebrew and Greek) had no punctuation, I want to challenge you to read the Lord’s prayer here with a colon instead of a line break, comma, or full stop.

Thy kingdom come: thy will be done on earth as in heaven.

The implication being that it is somehow the doing of God’s will that brings about the kingdom. This follows on yesterday’s idea of doing everything for God (and not for worldly praise), and also on Jesus’ call that we “be perfect”. To be who we are called to be we must be within the will of God.

There are many who imagine the “Kingdom Come” to be some kind of economic left, inclusive, woke utopia filled with repressive laws that keep everyone pressed into a Hippier Boomer mold but, you know, Catholic. There are others who think it will be filled with repressive laws that keep everyone pressed into a mid-20th Century, white, middle-class, American mold, everyone looking like Ward and June Cleaver but, you know, Catholic. Both of these visions, left and right, imagine the state enforcing whatever form of politics is needed to make everyone pretend to be Catholic. No one seems to care about changing the hearts needed to make the Kingdom actually come. But that’s what’s needed. Forcing everyone to “do God’s will” by law is legalism, pure and simple. It can damn more than save.

But how does the colon change things? How is doing God’s will bringing the Kingdom? What is God’s will, anyway?

St Paul has the answer to the second question in a way that also answers the first:

God wills that all men should be saved.

I Timothy 2:4

Prior to this Paul has us praying for kings and all in authority – even at a time when they were killing Christians. Mind you, not praying toend their government, but to change their hearts that all might be saved (that is, made whole). The will of God is that all come to a saving knowledge of the truth (that is, Jesus) and when that is on Earth as in heaven then the Kingdom will have come.

That’s what we pray for.

But do we act for it? We tend to think, “If we build it, they will come.” But that’s not at all how it works. If we build the Kingdom before we bring people to Jesus, we’re just Walt Disney. It’s bringing people to the saving knowledge of God that builds the kingdom. Doing God’s will brings about the kingdom – not the other way around.

Validate Me

JMJ

The Readings for the 11th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum

Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 6:2b (NABRE)

MANY RECENT CONVERSATIONS have been around the topic of seeking validation. Your host became aware of this issue leaving his job history (of nearly 25 years) in the DotCom industry and moving back into Church work. One of the main changes was the way in which workers are treated. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t treated poorly in DotCommuslavia nor are I treated poorly in the parish where I work. In fact, in both places, the treatment is, I think, above average. It’s the how of the treatment that interests me at this moment.

In my previous line of work, praise and acclamation is not only a given, but perhaps the main point of most conversations. One constant feature of my day was verbal praise, emails filled with bouncing gifs, and a slack filled with emojis celebrating every aspect of my life and the lives of my coworkers. Hands in the air, rainbow flags, and – my personal favorite – the Party Parrot.

Angel Parrot

Leaving there to come to parish ministry, all those shenanigans went away. It was quite an ego collapse, let me tell you! For more than a few months I had no idea if I was doing my job correctly – or at all. There was no tradition of meetings starting with affirmations (prayer, yes, affirmation, no). There was no culture of positivity, there was no “design of personal empowerment”. Sigh, I can still speak the language. Anyway, (NEway, as the cool kids say) what came to me was that this was how the real world functions – a lot less smoke blowing and quite a lot of adulting.

Or another way to look at it would be to realize that a huge part of our culture is based on affirmation: what others think of me is important. What others do or say must be evaluated on how it makes me feel. If it does not affirm me, there’s a problem. If you don’t put a rainbow flag in your company logo for June, you’re a hater.

Jesus tell us not to seek the praise of others, nor to do anything in order to get that praise. Jesus tells us to do thinks not to be seen – in fact to hide away lest we be seen at all. Jesus suggests that we even keep the knowledge so secret that our left hand will not know what our right hand is doing.

There’s nothing wrong with praise – as such – but there is a lot wrong with praise seeking or even attention seeking. I struggle with this a lot because attention is the currency of the internet. That’s why I’ve owned Doxos.com since 1998 and why I’ve been e-journalling since before there were blogs at all. (I love that my blogger profile says Member Since October of 2001.) My original twitter number was in the low 600k. My FB account has been around since Mark first let non-college students join. (The original idea was only college students and only people who were known already by other members could join. Then this was opened up.) MySpace, LiveJournal, and a few other services were all places I could go for attention.

Attention seeking keeps you from growing up: from owning your opinions, from acting on your beliefs and – eventually – attention seeking makes you jealous of (and vindictive around) the interactions in this world of “Social Capital”. What will we do? When we act on our faith are we doing so to be seen doing so? When we hold back for the same reasons, what will become of us? Will Twitter Deplatform me if I speak out the truth about sexuality and human sexual differences? Or would I dare say that at all anyway? Conversely, am I saying them out loud just to get more attention? Clickbait is an artform.

And we already have our reward.

And the spiritual is no longer good enough: we can’t get the “hits” of likes from God who already loves us infinitely. There’s no more God-capital to get. So we need more social hits every day to make up for turning our back on infinity.

The curious thing is that, depending on your job, this behavior works at work. You have no reason in the secular world not to do this. Our entire person is external and socially constructed in that world. But in the Christian world, our personhood is internal: generated by God and involved only in authentic communion with other persons equally God-given. To be you requires an internal dynamic that has nothing to do with attention (social, sexual, or otherwise).

A Christian is set free from craving likes and tweets. We are called to focus on Jesus even when it means the world hates us. Think instead how may Catholics imagine persecution is coming. I mean, of course it is, but getting kicked off YouTube is not persecution!

We should pray, follow the rules of the faith (fasting, etc), or do the works of mercy (give charity) to please God and to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. But if we’re doing them to be seen, we already have the reward for which we are working. We did it for no spiritual reason at all – and so our reward is not spiritual.