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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