Hashtag Resist

JMJ

The Readings for the 4th Thursday of Advent (A1)

He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.

Luke 1:53 (KJV21)

THE ANGELUS IS A favorite devotion of mine. (If you are not familiar with it I have included it at the end of this post.) I’ve used nearly daily since I first realized it was a prayer to be said outside of Church. (It was usually prayed before the Sunda service at my Episcopal parish when I was growing up, but only in college did I find it could be prayed in other places. It’s prayed three times a day, theoretically at Sunrise, Noon, and Sunset. I was taught it was a “reminder of the Incarnation.” This was the “point” it’s had for the last 40 years or so.

Listening to the most recent Poco A Poco podcast last night, the CFR friars changed my mind. For the first time in 40 years I heard the prayer differently. The prayer is not (only) a memorial of an historical event (or, worse, just a theological doctrine) but rather an active prayer for our transformation in Christ. Mary said “yes” to God – and so we should all be saying yes. It’s a continual submission in faith to what God wants. It’s an ongoing Act of Faith: you have to stay open to God as Jesus and Mary were, never turning away, never closing a part off. I do this all the time. We all do, but I never thought of the Angelus as a thrice-daily prayer to struggle against this closing-off.

But once you open yourself up to that, once you say yes, what are you left with in the world? Nothing. You become like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: promised a land, even living on the very land itself, but owning none of it. Like Moses, seeing the land, but not allowed to enter it. Like David wanting to do something for God and being asked “who are you to imagine I want this to happen?” Everything in this relationship is “now but not yet”. Everything in this relationship is full trust and openness and, yet, nothing like the world imagines those things to be. You have a fully trusting relationship with the all-powerful creator of the universe, which makes you a nothing in the world.

Lift up the lowly
Send away the rich
Tear down the mighty
Give the whole thing to the meek
Who no nothing about it anyway

Saying yes to God makes you the Mother of the LIving Creator of all Things, a condemned criminal dying on a post in the ground. Saying yes to God means the Lord of the Universe nurses at your breast and dies before your eyes. Saying yes to God means all the pain of your life. Anyway.

Why say yes to such a God?

Because that God is love.
And love has no place in this world
Therefore it’s impossible for it not to hurt you
Once you, yourself, become love.
But your love, God’s love, Love.
Is healing the world.
Say yes to God.
Reject the world.
Because you will heal the world
And you can only love your neighbor
(at all)
By loving God.
You cannot say yes to your neighbor
in anyway that will actually help him
unless you say yes to God.

Who will then send the rich away, destroy the thrones, powers, and principalities that stand in the way of the only good that there can be in this world fallen away from God: reunion.

Praying the Angelus three times a day means becoming the Mother of God who wants to redeem the world by letting the world kill him because he loves it so much that he would die to bring it all back home.

The Angelus

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

Hail, Mary...

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail, Mary...

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray. Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Washing Up

JMJ

AS A CHILD your host was raised (for 5 or 6 years) by his grandparents. They were not “Children of the Depression” but rather “Adults of the Depression”. Grandpa had been in his 20s. Grandma, born just prior to the turn of the century, was 30 when the stock market crashed. So their habits and, really, their psyches, were shaped by having known the excess of the pre-crash era followed by the trauma of the collapse. They knew how far things could go in both directions. So, it will come as no surprise that they were never prone to excess. Even though we were neither terribly poor nor terribly wealthy, we were always frugal. Regardless of what other folks did in the 1960s – neither in the rural South where your host grew up nor in other places – but “use it up, wear it out, make due or do without” should be translated into Latin and place on our family crest.

One of the things that always stands this writer apart from other people of the same era is that the idea of wasting any resource horrified us. Leftovers were always reused. Food was never tossed out. Lights turned off. Heat kept low (we burned coal in our furnace). And, always, water was conserved. In childhood, while washing face, hands, and neck was a common experience, barring emergencies, bathing was reserved for Saturday Nights. There were jokes on TV about this. Everyone in Mayberry knew Saturday was bath day. Even into the mid-70s, the idea of bathing more than once or twice a week (it was Saturday and Wednesday by 1974) seemed like a needless waste. To bathe every day – even more than once a day at times – seems a terrible luxury.

Lust (Luxuria) from The Seven Deadly Sins
Etchings, 1558. Pieter van der Heyden

This brings us to the word of the day: luxury. It seems most interesting that while luxury, to us, implies fur coats and sumptuous foods at its Latin source, luxuria, this word means lust.

What makes this the word of the day is the fact that I had no hot water this morning or, rather, I had tepid water. I think the heater in our building was working, but, perhaps, someone had taken an over-long shower. I’ve done that myself in the past. Additionally, this being SF, most of our pipes are actually outside. Thus to get from the boiler to me involves a trip in the cold outside air. It has been quite cold. Anyway, I had not my usual luxurious shower today. And I found myself thinking of Exodus 90 and also of the folks that come to me and ask for help. And how showering in the cold is normal for some folks, as is not showering at all.

This is not a post about feeling guilty for our modern luxuries. But it is a post about not-recognizing that they are, exactly, luxuries. No one has a right to bathe every day or even to do so in warm water. No one has a right to not-smelling or even to not-smelling their neighbors. To put it even better, no one has a right to clean neighbors.

I think of how race was once used to exclude strangers from whole neighborhoods. Now it is also class and smell with the defense (in all cases) being “property values”. My right to not-smell you is enough for me to demand you not be allowed to sit in “my pew” or next to me on the bus. In fact, it’s such an important right that I will fill up the road with private vehicles so we don’t have to smell each other – gas fumes are better. My property values are more important than your dignity as a human icon of God as is my right to have meat at every meal, my right to have cheap plastic junk at Wal*Mart, and my right to consume adult content on the internet.

At root, our modern luxuries are, exactly, luxuries.

Urbi et Orbi

JMJ

The Readings for the 4th Wednesday of Advent (A1)

The voice of the man I love! Here he comes, bounding over the mountains, skipping over the hills!

Song of Songs 2:8 (CJB)

DURING THE GLOBAL PANIC in March of 2020, watching bodies pile up, morgues overrun, hospitals sealing off units, the Holy Father did an Urbi et Orbi blessing with the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, praying and blessing the entire world as only the Vicar of the Messiah can do, has the authority to do. No matter who you were or where you were that night, you were blessed, even if you do not know it: the sign of the Saviour’s Victory was traced over you by the Pope. We will never know what course the Pandemic could have taken without that blessing. In my heart, by faith, I know the world was changed that night.

The world’s beloved came over the mountains to her and spoke in his humble silence that night.

I took a couple of hours off work to watch. I want to say it was about noon here? 11 AM? It was dark and cold and rainy in Rome, watching the Pope walk all by himself up the steps to the Basilica like Christ walking to Gethsemane. And the whole world watching. At the Benediction, all the sirens and church bells of Rome rang out. Weeping I reached to touch the screen of my computer. The whole thing, live-streamed, was palpable. It was real. Most of the world could not go to Mass or confession, but the Pope gave an indulgence.

And there we were.

In the arms of our lover, absolved, and – eventually – victorious. But Victory here means something other than what the world means.

We do not find victory like Messi in more goals and the defeat of our enemies, but rather in the messiness that arises from love and forgiveness. In the end, even the pandemic was for our salvation: walking the path through to the end means that God has dirty diapers and dies on a post stuck in the ground.

And loves us all the more.

Our lover is no longer coming to us but now is with us. This is the Messianic age. And yet it is not. We have work to do – or rather he has work to do and only waits for us to get out of the way.

God is with us, ripping open the heavens and coming among us, ripping the veil of the Temple and revealing it to be empty. God dwells in our hearts. This victory is his.

Clash of the Titans

JMJ

The Readings for the 3rd Wednesday of Advent (A1)
Memorial of St John of the Cross, Priest & Doctor of the Church

Heavens above, rain down justice; let the clouds pour it down. Let the earth open, so that salvation springs up, and justice sprouts with it. I, Adonai, have created it.

Isaiah 45:8 (CJB)

READING this verse (or, as is common at this time of year, hearing it sung) always makes me think of a Greek Myth wherein Zeus appears as a rain of golden fire to Danaë, which is how she conceived Perseus. It is one of the more poetic of lines from Isaiah, addressed to Cyrus, the King of Persia, whom Isaiah calls “messiah” in 45:1. It is the liberation of the Jews from Babylon that is happening here, by the anointed hands of Cyrus.

God is using human politics to bring about divine ends. Cyrus did things for his own reasons (and for his own god, Marduk) yet the one, Almighty God appointed him to be the liberator of the Jews from their Captivity into which he – God – had sent them for their sins. This is Almighty God acting in history through the free will and agency of a human actor. This is how God has chosen to act in almost all of human history. He has condescended to enter into relationship with us wearing the face of our neighbor, meeting us where we are, and conveying to us his grace in the hands of those around us.

What about those who are not “one of us”?

Well, as with Cyrus, even praying to Marduk, God can cause divine grace to pour through his actions, through his politics. And in those places where God was not sending the Hebrew Prophets to prepare his way he was still preparing his way. The Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus, certainly, but actually, the whole world is such. How can it not be? All truth leads to the Truth. All light is but a reflection of the Light. All true life is but an echo of the Light. There is only one story, one way.

Or, you can walk off the screen. Your choices is valued and real. You can decide to reject the grace literally pouring in from everywhere.

Then it will be fire (for it always has been).

Time flies…

JMJ

LEARNING, TONIGHT, OF TWO different readings of this passage. One will be familiar to my Christian readers, the other to my Jewish ones. There may be some overlap, but they seem to be mutually exclusive. There may be a way to pull in the both-and option, but we’ll see.

The Torah Portion that was read last Shabbat Morning was וַיִּשְׁלַח Vayishlach which means “and he sent”‎. The important passage, for me, is the wrestling with the angel. I have that as the header image on literally every page and post on this blog. (By way of stealing a bit of the sky from the Doré illustration.) But I do not read it the way the Jewish Tradition does.

A man wrestled with him: our sages explained that this was the ministering angel of Esau.” A commonplace of Talmudic and midrashic literature is that every nation has its own angelic “minister” who represents its interests before G-d. It is Esau’s angel, then, who attempts to frustrate Jacob’s mission.

Source which cites the Talmud and other texts in support

Every Christian commentary I’ve heard on this passage indicates that Jacob is wrestling with God, himself, with even most of the liberal scholarship falling on the side of this being a mythological telling of Jacob wrestling with God. Israel is taken as a literal description of what has just happened (Jacob has wrestled with God) and a prophecy that he has nothing to fear from his brother, Esau, with whom he has also striven. The same commentaries say Jacob is sending his own angels ahead of him (Messangers = Angels, I get it).

Then Jacob and Esau meat and are reconciled. This reunion gets spun into some very interesting symbolism.

Jacob left home to try and control his own destiny but he knew he had to come back – God wanted him in Eretz Israel for his own salvation as well as the blessing he would be to the whole world. To come back into the Land, though, he would need to reconcile with his family – including the ones he had tricked. God needs to make evident that Jacob intends to be here – evident not to God, but to Jacob. So it is fitting that there are trials for Jacob to overcome on his way home. God wants Jacob to see that he – Jacob – wants to be here.

Sometimes, when things are too easy, we are willing to drop them just because they were too easy. When we have to work for them… suddenly I will not let you go until you bless me. This journey home was Jacob’s purgatory. He has more to come, actually. But he’s home for now.

Part of our own journey home is realizing where home really is.

This Sunday was Advent 3, Gaudete Sunday. “Rejoice”, from the Introit Verse in Philippians 4:4, Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Amen, rejoice.

From my first visit to St Dominic’s in 2016

Six years ago on 3 Dec 2016 I walked into St Dominic’s Church for the first time. It was Saturday before the 2nd Sunday of Advent that year. Three days later, as my friend Tim says, I moved in. I was thinking about it this weekend. Six years later and some things have happened. I feel like I’ve been here at least 10 years. One lifelong parishioner assumed I was also a lifer. Look upon this vine you have planted….

Making, with my Sister Anne, Life Profession as Dominican Tertiaries.

In the midst of all life’s changes and passions, I wanted to promise God I would not run away. That if he let me come back to SF from my exile in Alabama, I would stay put. I would root this time. Nothing would be an optional item. Nothing would be expendable. God would be in charge of staying or going. I’m not leaving minus clear indications otherwise.

Six years after walking in the front door, I work for the parish and I’m involved as a Dominican tertiary and also in the formation program for the diaconate. It’s not been easy – there have been many surprising bumps and som very hard knocks. Purgatory is not supposed to be easy. But the end is the reunification of God and Man. The Catholic Answer to Gnosticism is not “God can use matter” or “matter is neutral” or even “don’t worry about matter”. To make a direct pun, matter matters. There is literally nothing in life that is not intended as an action of God’s grace. Your friends, family, even your enemies are there to pour God’s grace into your life for your salvation. This is why icons are bathed in light: all of the universe, all physical matter, is mdiating God’s grace to you if you can but see it. Icons are windows to heaven and heaven is happening here, now.

Is Jacob wrestling God or an Angel sent from Esau? It matters not – for, for him who loves the Lord, all things are God working out his salvation. All angels are divine messengers, no matter who they are guarding. Esau’s angel cannot but be doing God’s will any more or less than any other angel.

As the Rabbis teach, “Only in the Messianic era will the world experience the wholesomeness of the restored relationship between Esau and Jacob, between matter and spirit, between body and soul.”

We are in that era now: these words are fulfilled in your hearing. Indeed, for most of the Church Fathers any theophany in the Older Scriptures is God the Son – this Angel, the Burning Bush, the voice on Sinai. God thw Father speaks, yes, but his word is the Son. God has become man and flesh and spirit are returned to their rightful relationship. Even in the things you fear, Rejoice! God is mysteriously working for your salvation and healing.

Our Idols Our Selves

JMJ

WHILE LISTENING to the most recent episode of Clerically Speaking, I was struck by Fr Harrison’s ruminating on his ADHD and his free will. If we make out a part of us to be “who I am” then everything is filtered through that. Father seemed to be asking if he’s created too much of a crutch, short-handing his entire life into the ADHD diagnosis. It was an internal conversation I recognized because of how we treat SSA. The claim that “this is who I am” is reinforced, over and over, through the process of coming out: each emotional hurdle – telling Mom and Dad, telling my siblings, telling my friends, telling my faith community, etc – involves a process of fear, courage, and eventual release of endorphins, that it might almost be called self-hypnosis. The individual formulates a self-image, then does a test-run and is affirmed in that image. Eventually even the negative reactions to that image become positive reinforcements.

We can do this with sexuality, medical or psychological diagnoses, with our job, our class, our social positions, etc. We create a self-image based on some tiny aspect of ourselves and then feed that image until it grows into sort of synecdoche for our entire person. But that image isn’t me: it is, essentially, an homunculus, a fake me that I put out there to let others see and interact with. The real me, deep inside my being, is not important. Who I am projecting to be now is the only thing that matters. I’ve made a new me out of this one thing.

There are a couple of moments in, of all things, Brideshead Revisited when the narrator recounts that either himself or another character (Rex Mottram) are “part of a man pretending to be the whole”. For Rex it is his political aspirations, which are so important that his politics change over and over: from far right to far left, from capitalist to socialist, he will do anything to be popular – even contradict his previous self-image. The Narrator does this as an artist: puts a self-image of Bohemian Creator out there and runs with it. Anthony Blanche busts him free of this, calling out his charade. It takes, however, a few more chapters before the narrator gets it. Rex never gets it at all.

This seems a species of Imposter Syndrome, projected outward. At the heart of this is a fear that I’m not good enough. I must fool you into thinking I am, though. If I show you a fragment of me, just the bits that are what are needed here, then I have some control over things. You will like me or I will make up a new me for you to like.

What struck me, working through this with my therapist and my spiritual director (two different guys), was that having an homunculus is a defensive habit that is hard to break. In the last 6 months I’ve caught myself making a new one out of my job and out of my vocation: a tiny little mini-me that has all the qualities of a deacon or a soup kitchen director, but none of the qualities of me. God can’t save a mini-me, only the real me, hiding in the background. I wondered how often we do this to ourselves: set up a defensive shield of something (my liturgical office, for example) and then hid behind it. For me it was my religious journey that, after a while, became the thing. I was looking for something but even when I found something it was never good enough. This makes sense, of course: if it’s not the Truth, how can it be good enough? But for a while, it was fun just being the “guy with a really cool journey”. It didn’t matter that I never got anywhere. Rootless trees don’t grow though: they are more properly called tumbleweeds.

The homunculus is, really, an idol: someone I’m pretending to be that is much more important than who I really am. Not, mind you, that the homunculus needs to be important: but it is more important than me. I have created this thing so you must deal with it. You must love or hate it not me. You must argue with or support it not me. I have put so much work into creating this that you must pretend not to notice me at all. This thing is who I am… fully responsible for all that happens, and never at fault. Eventually, I have no choice but to do the things that the homunculus would want for its own preservation. I become the thing itself. (Except that’s not really possible…)

When we have an idol (or a pantheon of them) we can comfort ourselves with the idea that people are relating to us. But no, they are not. They are only relating to the idol – the fake person created to pass for the whole. They sacrifice to the idol their love, their companionship, their time and worth. But they do not know they are doing so. Carrying the idol around, I know there’s an idol, but I dursn’t admit it: to do so would risk giving up the not-real connections I think I have. If I give up the idol, you might not like me. So I, too, begin to sacrifice to it on a regular basis. The idol becomes stronger than I am. Chapters 10-14 of CS Lewis’ Great Divorce have two stories of this issue: The Man with a Dragon (Chapter 11) and the Man with a Chain (Chapter 12). But, more subtly, there are other stories about holding on to self-image in lieu of self also in that chapter. We can make an idol out of everything and, eventually, the idol destroys us.

Tracking my own reactions, there are times when people break the homunculus, or when they shatter my self-identity unintentionally. If I’m doing something where (in my mind) I must be perceived as this thing then to do something that clearly is outside of the role I’m playing makes me wither in self-doubt. For another person to (by their actions) cause me to break character is to provoke a huge emotional response from me – usually anger, yes, but sometimes fear, self-loathing, or pouting. I know who I am pretending to be, but if you get a glimpse of the real me, I have to be defensive. I have to lash out in anger to not only fix the thing you broke, but to quickly cover up the rip you’ve made in my self-image.

As Lewis points out, the homunculus eventually takes over, like a parasite feeding on its creator’s life. Eventually there is nothing left except the homunculus. The thing is God can’t save the homunculus. God can only save a human soul. The Church can’t ordain an homunculus, even one that is liturgically perfect. An homunculus cannot love others, although it can be made to seem as if it is loving others. A choice must be made: do I keep feeding the homunculus, or do I let the real me out of the box? The risk is that the real me must now feel and make choices: to be liked or not, to get saved or not, to love other people or not. Taking risks can be dangerous.

That’s what life is about: be still and know. Life is coming to oneself which can only happen by God’s grace. And self we imagine we’ve found on our own is not really us. As with Abram and the Prodigal Son, God is the only one who can reveal our real self to us. There is no need for panic attacks, angry lashings out, or fearful idol worship. Be still, and know.

Patience is a Virtue

JMJ

The Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (A1)

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.

James 5:7 (NABRE)

WHY IS JAMES ASKING US to be patient? The notes to my Lectors’ Handbook suggest this is a reading looking to hope in the 2nd Coming of Messiah. But That seems odd if you read the whole pericope: what’s that bit about the farmer? And the complaining thing? What’s that? Indeed, as the notes in the Handbook seem to indicate, this reads rather like a bunch of random wisdom sayings strung together here that we might have some pithy quotes to lob about. But I don’t think so.

If you pull back just a bit in the Epistle of St James, there’s a longer argument going on here that starts in the previous chapter. I think the whole argument runs from 4:1 to 5:11. That’s a bit long to take in at Mass, or even for a 7 Minute Homily, but let me sketch out the argument:

4:1 Why are there fights in the Church?
4:2 – 4 Because you covet things other people have, you’re jealous about who has what position, power, etc. In fact, that just shows you’re still friends with the world rather than God. Then James calls us unfaithful wives (to God), repeating something the Prophets said about Israel all the time.
4:5-10 if we are, therefore, humble before God, he will fight for us against these temptations. Humble yourself before God and he will lift you up.
4:11-12 We have an example of pride now. Gossip. Remember, these temptations lead to fights in the Church so…. don’t speak evil of each other. No backstabbing gossip, etc. That would cut off most of Coffee Hour sometimes. If you speak evilly of a brother or sister in Christ it means you’re judging them. NOTICE PLEASE that St James doesn’t seem to care if your comments are right or wrong. He says we talk this way because of our own pride. Pride leads to covetousness. That causes fights in the Church. STOP HAVING FIGHTS IN THE CHURCH. See?
4:13-17 We have another example of pride now: we make boasts all the time. Look what I plan to do tomorrow. Watch me do this thing. Look, Ma! No hands! All such boasting is evil. (Side note: this would end most staff meetings and all advertising.)
5:1-6 James carries this into an example of the example: rich people, who tend to boast in their wealth, are, in fact, being unjust all over the place. God will get them. Don’t envy them, don’t covet their wealth. We see that covetousness is a sign of friendship with the world up in Chapter 4, and that’s what causes fights in the church…
Finally getting to our passage today.
5:7 THEREFORE BE PATIENT, waiting for the Lord to return. What has that to do with anything? Why is there a farmer?

Because God is doing something here. God is working on the rich. On the prideful. On the Gossips. On the unfaithful wife, the Church herself. God is doing something here and he – the faithful farmer – is willing to wait until the early rain (Baptism) and the latter rain (the Holy Spirit) fall on all us sinners and make us into a fruitful harvest. SO WE should also be patient with one another not judging each other – or even COMPLAINING about things as they are – because such judging (back to 4:1) arises from pride and covetousness. And causes fights in the Church. So…

Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Update: by way of application, this is about a lot of things. It reminds me of the old tshirt wisdom, “Be patient, God’s not finished with me yet.” Reading that as a prayer for humility on the part of the wearer and the reader is important. I’m a jackass, I know, but God is working on me…

This passage usually gets spun as a ugent advice along the lines of Sure, Jesus isn’t coming back now but wait some more. It seems rather to mean, Thankfully, Messiah hasn’t yet come back so we have some time to let him work on things in us.

Finally, to let God do that work in you (or in me) you have to be humble, don’t complain, bear with each other, and let God use the tools he has picked to do the job.

Meat Cookies 2022

JMJ

THIS YEAR I continued my experimentation with Mom’s Sausage and Cheese balls. I think this year is the best I’ve come up with.

  • 20 oz (two packages) Longaniza Sausage (it’s kinda like chorizo but much more firm).
  • 2 lbs shredded cheese (I used a cheddar jack blend)
  • 1 small box Jiffy cornbread mix
  • 1 cup or so of bisquick or other baking mix (I used Jiffy’s mix)
  • Spicy Salsa
  1. In a skillet, brown the meat a little while breaking it up. This causes the meat to release some oils and add a few Maillard reactions to the mix. No need to cook this all the way to crispy. Do not drain.
  2. Transfer the sausage to a mixing bowl and all all other ingredients.
  3. Combine thoroughly. Then refrigerate for a couple of hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 425.
  5. Make balls about 1 inch in diameter. Place them on a baking sheet about 1 inch apart.
  6. Bake for 30 mins.

Makes about 3 dozens.