Hearts Like Mom’s

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Blessed is the Virgin Mary who kept the word of God and pondered it in her heart.

Alleluia Verse

MARY’S TITLES ARE Innumerable. In the Byzantine Rites, in the Akathist (a hymn) to her she is called over and over by the titles:

Rejoice, through whom joy shall shine forth;
Rejoice, through whom the curse shall vanish.
Rejoice, fallen Adam’s restoration;
Rejoice, redemption of Eve’s tears.
Rejoice, height that is too difficult for human thought to ascend;
Rejoice, depth that is too strenuous for Angels’ eyes to perceive
Rejoice, for you are the throne of the King;
Rejoice, for you hold him Who sustains everything.
Rejoice, star that shows forth the Sun;
Rejoice, womb in which God became incarnate.
Rejoice, through whom creation is renewed;
Rejoice, through whom the Creator becomes an infant.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.

Source

Today’s memorial of the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Mother celebrates her purity, and her love for her son and – through him – for us as well. But we can get so wrapped up in her superlativisity that we may forget she is a human person. What is in her is by God’s Grace, not her own merit. And we are called to that sanctity too.

By God’s Grace, at the moment of her conception, the Immaculate Virgin was protected from the stain of Original Sin. This means that she was not pulled away from God as we all are. Her will was free to make choices entirely on her own, unwounded by the common would we all share. Her will was still free to choose. She chooses God over and over. As we are called to do.

In Luke 1:28 she is called “Full of Grace”. The Greek is κεχαριτωμένη kexaritomene (Strong’s 5487). This word, indicating the bestowal of grace, is used twice in the New Testament: once to describe Mary as she is when Gabriel meets her and then in Ephesians 1:6 to describe us as God makes us in Jesus, his beloved Son. What Mary has by God’s grace from her conception is given to us in Jesus through Baptism and the other sacraments.

Now, yes, we are all sinners who have that wound of Original Sin. We walk towards God with a limp, like Jacob. We cannot make this choice on our own, but God’s grace can move us in his will. And so we are called not to be like Mary but to become like Mary. (I think the internetniks would say “begome” here.)

Mary loves us as the brothers and sisters of her Divine Son and we are called to grow up to be like our Mother – and our Oldest Brother, Jesus. We are called to this sanctity no matter who we are or where we are in life: single, married, celibate, lay, clergy, or monastic.

This was driven home by today’s second reading in the Daily Office, from a sermon by Saint Laurence Justinian, bishop:

Imitate her, O faithful soul. Enter into the deep recesses of your heart so that you may be purified spiritually and cleansed from your sins. God places more value on good will in all we do than on the works themselves.

Therefore, whether we give ourselves to God in the work of contemplation or whether we serve the needs of our neighbor by good works, we accomplish these things because the love of Christ urges us on. The acceptable offering of the spiritual purification is accomplished not in a man-made temple but in the recesses of the heart where the Lord Jesus freely enters.

Let us ask Mary’s prayers that God may make us more faithful sons and daughters of such a loving and immaculate mother.

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.

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.

Now, Daddy! Now!

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 12th Week Tempus Per Annum:

Thus, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, his wife Sarai took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his concubine.

First, Abram didn’t quite follow God’s instructions to leave his family. He brought along his nephew, you know, just in case. Now Sarai notices that she hasn’t yet had a child so she gives Abram her slave. This foundation story in the Old Testament is filled with people making up for what they feel God is lacking. God has to pick up the pieces and fulfill his part of the Covenant even when his human friends decide they want to do it their own way.

This is the same thing that Adam and Eve did: instead of waiting for wisdom to grow in them and with them, they took it. Eating the fruit on our own terms is never the right answer – but we all do it. When Adam and Eve did it they got kicked out of the garden. But God was really desperate to get this Abram dude to father Israel and to bless the world. So every time Abram makes mistakes God – not very politely – steps in and slaps him on the wrist. Then God picks up the pieces. Some of the best stories in the Old Testament come from the shattered pieces that God has to pick up.

Today’s shattered pieces involve this Egyptian slave, Hagar, and her child. God has to pick them up. They are left alone in the desert. It’s one of the funniest things in this passage: Sarai first says, “Here take my slave.” And then like a housewife in a 1950 sitcom, she changes her mind and says, “You did this to me.” “Women!” Says Abram, looking at the camera. “Am I right?” Then he shrugs his shoulders and does what his wife wants. So God has to go into the desert and find this woman and her child and rescue them.

I bet you’re looking forward to next week when the shattered pieces will involve Lot, Mrs. Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah. I know I am.

Anyway, the entire story of Abram seems to be about someone who should be trusting God and yet fails to do so at every turn. Everything God promises God does. But Abram, rather like Varuca Salt, wants it now, Daddy, NOW! And so Abram’s story is not just about God’s Divine Providence, it’s also about God’s Divine Providence responding to our continual f****** up, pardon my asterisks.

God’s Providence happens anyway. For we still continue on like Abram.

No matter what we do, no matter which choices we make, God’s Providence will always happen. We can imagine that we have a vocation to the ministry and find ourselves 55 years later blessed beyond compare even though we’re not ordained. We can imagine that we should be doing great things at every turn and failing and find ourselves blessed beyond compare, even so. Because even when we’re not faithful, God is always faithful.

This is the message of the entire Bible – which humanity has yet to learn. God is working his purposes out. We can help him or we can try to hinder him. We can do either of our most common tricks: “Yes I will help,” we say. But we do not. Or “No, I will not help” we say. But we try to anyway, under our own energy – instead of God’s. But even then God’s Divine Providence will bless us beyond compare.

Jesus says, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Most of us, it must be said, will fail in either the listening to these words or in the doing of them. Still, God is faithful nonetheless. God is faithful to his word. He cannot not act on it because his speaking is his doing. God’s word, Jesus, is a doing. The word of God, Jesus, says “light” and light is. God’s word is action. God’s action is reality. When God speaks his faithfulness performs the speaking. Even when we are not faithful God is.

This is not the Prosperity Gospel.

God’s promises are hardly ever for mere material blessing. St Paul says God’s purpose is to will the reconciliation of everyone. And so everything must be seen as working towards that end. If that requires poverty or death, war, earthquakes, famine, whatever… they will come to be.

Our faithfulness requires that we trust God even then. As we will be blessed beyond compare.

Act of Resignation


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 12th week of Ordinary Time (C1)

Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support them if they stayed together; their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. There were quarrels between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and those of Lot’s.

We plan… contrary to God’s command… and crap happens. See: if Abram had no heir, then his Nephew would inherit. So Lot is on the journey to watch after Uncle’s stuff. God has told Abram he will be a great nation but Abram’s just covering his bases, making sure the lot falls to him in a favorable way, you’ll pardon the pun. Then Lot gets quite wealthy and begins to squabble with his uncle. They part ways, when we next see him in the story he’s been captured. And, after that, comes the Sodom Story. Lot is not going to do well for tripping up God’s plans.

Those who fail to plan plan to fail. Or so we’re told, but God has other plans for us than the ones that we can make. Our human Free Will serves only one purpose: we can choose to follow God or not. Every question, every choice, every decision, every random act falls under this rubric. We can choose to follow God or not. We are entirely free. God will do what God wants to do anyway. Not to you, not against you. If you choose not to go along, if you choose not to do the mission he has for you, if you decide not to say the word he has you set up to say, he’ll get somebody else. He is God, after all. But what will you miss if you fail to dance to the tune that God has set out for you?

We will never know. That has become a good that God had planned for the world that will not come into the world because you refused to give it birth. You aborted it. God can freely do what God will do but you can freely refuse to cooperate. There is only one choice: we can choose to follow God or not. I used the word aborted on purpose. God can bring new life into the world and we can refuse to cooperate with him. Who knows what great musicians, what wonderful doctors, what magnificent scientists, what world statespersons we’re sacrificing on the altar of our choice? We will never know. But we can do so.

Likewise, when God has a plan laid out, steps to call, a fiddle to play and we decide not to dance; what do we miss? We come along for the ride but when we get wealthy, we go our own way.

I have been thinking lately of two prayers. This one is from St Ignatius:

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. 

And this one is called the Act of Resignation:

O Lord my God, I now, from this moment do I accept from Thy hands, with burning love and sincere contrition, with a calm and willing disposition, whatsoever death Thou shalt choose to send me, with its pains and griefs. Amen.

These prayers have been in my thoughts because I sensed I might have cancer. I had a lump or two that I could not explain, and there was also a spot. I say these prayers every day, but they were words. Suddenly they had meaning. I kept looking at these prayers wondering if I could pray them any more and mean them. Only vaguely, was I able to pray them. Only vaguely. I haven’t quite decided yet if I need to make confession about that.

It dawned on me as I struggled with them, that these prayers speak of nearly every aspect of our lives: not just death. So many times we think we know what we need and we demand it of God. When we don’t get what we think we need we tell God we will go our own way and we’ll get it ourself. That can be a new job, a new apartment, a new spouse, a new set of shoes, a new diet, a new political party, a different Parish, a better Pastor, a better boss, we go looking for anything that we want instead of struggling with what we have. This is, in a way, libertarianism done up in a personal lifestyle. I’ve come to realize that anyone who uses libertarian memes or thought processes, for any economics, politics, or personal choice is a functional atheist.

We think of libertarianism as being something along the lines of smaller government means fewer laws and so I can do what I want, and most people, left to do what they want, will do what is right. We’re Christians, people. We know that’s a lie. Most people, left to do what they want, will not do what is right. They will do what is good for them. Reagan’s trickle-down economics voodoo economics as it was called or any supply-side dream is exactly that: a dream. We think of Taxation is theft because I should not have to give up my wealth. But it’s not yours its Gods. Libertarianism is functional atheism. We’re saying God step aside we know what to do here.

But this is not just an economic choice. This is any cultural choice. Libertarianism is what gives us our free divorce laws. Libertarianism is what gives us our business structures. Libertarianism is what gives us our bizarre approach to politics, regardless of which political party we say we belong to. We say we live in a country where anyone can grow up to have a political office. We’ve proven that several times in the last 60 years. I don’t want to live in a country where anyone can hold political office. I want to live in a country where only qualified people get elected. People with good schooling, people with good education all the way through their life. People who understand other cultures and want to work for peace. Not anyone.

On the other hand, we rob our people of good education and of culture by the same libertarian shenanigans. The market will not tolerate it, we say. Let the market decide who can afford things. I’d rather a nation where car wash attendants know Shakespear and Sun Tzu, than a nation where people without knowledge of Shakespear and Sun Tzu are allowed to run the country because they are rich. This same choice applies all the way down the line. Any time we say “the market” and we speak of “religious choice” or “educational systems”, any time we appeal to finances to verify ethics, anytime we make a cryptic appeal to a “hidden hand” we are closing the door to structured, ethical choices and opening the door to their opposite. We are pretending God doesn’t get involved (which is the same as “doesn’t exist”) and we’re saying that God doesn’t use human hands and institutions (ie Gov’t) to regulate human evil.

So what about my cancer? Well, I didn’t want to go to the doctor for quite some time. I was terrified of what I might hear. I was terrified of what would happen the day I went in and the doctor said yes this is cancer. Who would I tell take care of my cat? To whom would I give my stuff? I don’t have answers for these and every time I tried to talk about it I would get shut down. I finally realized I had to trust God. Among the tools God has given me are medical professionals. So I finally realized I had to say those two prayers and then go talk to my doctor. So I said them vaguely. I took a deep breath. And I went to the doctor.

In the end, Lot loses everything. And Abram takes him under his wing. God has things for Abram to do, but God wants us to follow our cultural dictates and take care of our family too. Abram disobeyed God, but God still used him.

We have only one choice: to follow God or not. Submitting to God’s will is the right choice. But it’s never the only choice. We can find ourselves moving right along after Decades of having made our own choices. We can come back. The choice is either rules or no rules. Because if God Is Right the other things to one degree or another, to a greater degree or less, are off the mark. They might begin pretty close together, but drawn into eternity, eventually, those lines will diverge greatly.

When the Doctor told me I hadn’t cancer but rather some genetic issue called a “lipoma”, I was greatly relieved. When the Doctor told me that the spot was nothing to worry about and, by the way, for someone with such pale skin, you seem to be impervious to sun issues, I pretty much danced out of the office. These prayers are no longer just words. When God finally, really calls me from my family and friends to a new land flowing with milk and honey, will I be ready to go?

So many. So many…


JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
The First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

Et omnes male habentes curavit : 
And all that were sick he healed

And all that were sick, he healed… that “all” there is the Greek word, πάντας pantas, meaning all. It drives some folks bonkers. They can rant their way through that. They want to argue for what is called double predestination: that God has doomed some men to Hell already. So when the Bible says Jesus died for “all” obviously he didn’t die for all meaning, you know, all. He died for a handful of people like, you know, us. I’ve seen a marked argument from some that “all” only means some… As if God wants to not set the world aright so much as to keep it from lurching so sharply to one side. So, clearly, Jesus heals only ever other one, or maybe one out of every 3 that comes to the door. 

Or he heals all.

There are just a handful of healings recounted in the Gospels. We have two in our reading today, but the important part of this story is what happened that night when all that came by were healed (where all means all).  We can imagine that Jesus spent the better part of 3 years ignoring everyone, with the occasional “zap” to keep up the headlines. Or maybe God went around doing what God does: fixing things that we had broken.

The Fathers say that Jesus weeping at the grave of Lazarus was not weeping in the human sense, mourning for the loss of someone (because Jesus already knew he would raise him up) but rather the tears of God weeping over what human sin had done to the world and how well death reigned. 

It seems possible that there were many such heart-rending moments for the God-Man, seeing the depths to which people whom he loved dearly were driven. Imagine the pain of God at seeing his own mother’s grief at the death of her husband; or seeing her grief over his own passion and death. And I can imagine the young Jesus sweeping though a crowd and healing everyone just because everything must be set right. And when he goes out in the morning to pray and regather his energies, it is because he is literally exhausted. Remember he once slept in a boat in the middle of storm.

This is the humility of God, coming at us as one of us and yet being God. Pouring out his all and his everything for us even when it means the total loss of strength, the total exhaustion of his flesh, the running ragged of this mortal coil. This is God saving us with every fiber of his being. Every ounce of his strength.

Yet we like to hold a little bit back. Instead of coming at God with all that we have, we need to keep this one place (or maybe two places) in our lives “in control” right? For me it’s usually things around sex but for others it may be work or money. It comes up anytime one says, “Yea, I’m Orthodox, but…”  or  “My family is Catholic, but…” What ever comes after “but” is a place we’re holding off from God. It’s one place we’re not giving our all. It’s the ballot box, or the doctor’s office. It’s our relationship with our in-laws or our boss. It’s, “Let me cheat on my taxes, it may be immoral, but I’ll give more money to the Church.”  It’s like a Mafia Don willfully committing the same sins over and over again because he knows confession is easy. Or Politician saying she can get more votes by supporting a few non-Catholic things… and be in power to do overall Good, right?

The problem with our logic is that holding back doesn’t save us. We need to imitate the God who gave up everything – and continues to give it all up. 

All here, means all.


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