But What If

The readings for the 13th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum

Amos 3:1-8; 4:11-12
Matthew 8:23-27

Quid timidi estis, modicae fidei?
Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?

JMJ

THIS MORNING, Fr Michael’s homily took this scene all the way back to the creation, reminding us that God’s first actions (on the first three days of Creation) were related to God calling order out of Chaos. Here Jesus is stepping into the role of Creator, calling order back into his creation. Another priest also reminded me that this was a Theophany: a manifestation of God. Jesus used the disciples’ lack of faith to show them who he was. It’s the standard homiletic reading of this text: I think it aligns firmly with the Patristic reading here as well. But I immediately asked, Is that all there is? I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but…

The Disciples are terrified. I get that. These men who have been fishermen all their lives are seeing a storm – perhaps a once-in-a-century storm. Whatever is wrong they are terrified, so this seems to be more than the normal thing.

Yet, Jesus – God incarnate – is asleep in the boat. Will anything happen to them? I ask you here and now. Will anything happen to them? Even if they do not wake up Jesus, asleep in the boat, will anything happen to them? I think not.

In another passage written decades later, St Paul tells us that we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. The Apostles surely fit this description. So what would have happened if they had had faith to say, Goodness but this storm is bad. We have Jesus sleeping in the boat though, so everything is ok.” When they do wake up Jesus, he chides them. Why are ye fearful? O, ye of little faith. (Jesus uses the Greek neologism, ὀλιγόπιστος, oligopistos. It’s only found in the Gospels and it only refers to the Apostles, in other words, to us.) Why does Jesus snark here? I mean he does wake up… he fixes things… what complain?

I’ve been thinking about this in light of our problem with statuary.

No one but Unreconstructed Confederates cared when the targets were Confederate memorials. Yet even secular statues of men who happen to be saints seem to need defending by the Church and I’m wondering why. The storm, you see, rages all around us: is Jesus sleeping?

Pope Francis’ meditation on St Mark’s version of this story is important here:

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi 27 March 2020

The storm. It’s breaking all around us and all we can think to do is scream back into the darkness. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet.

I think it’s strange that we have yet to connect (in our hearts) the terror of March with the anger of June. We don’t realize this is all one pattern.

Why are we still afraid?

The Holy Father continues, Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.

I find myself wondering why we are afraid… why we are ashamed. We have to confess our sins to be forgiven – we are Catholics and we know this. Why are we afraid to admit that the Mission system was part of a colonialist campaign by Spain, attempting to protect the West Coast from the Russians? Why are we afraid to admit that we destroyed a culture nearly a millenium old, replacing it with food, language, polity, and social structures alien to the locals? We wanted to make Christians out of them – that’s certainly Good – but we added to “Christian” the title of “Spaniard”. We wanted to make Spanish Christians out of them, as certainly as the earliest Church wanted to make Jews out of Gentiles before they could become Christians. Certainly, it was wrong this time as well? Why are we afraid to admit that? There might be sins that cause people to hate us. And we might have to repent.

Why are we afraid to admit that our alliances with false princes and potus-tates have left us mirroring the world, unable to work for its healing. We’ve become partisans. We can’t repent – that would mean we’re wrong. Instead of the Hail Mary we keep chanting the mantra about “The judges” even when the judges have betrayed us and given the lie to all our panderings. Instead of the Bride of Christ, we are only the call girl of Washington. What if this storm is our cross now and our redemption? What if we are only to let go… to remember Jesus is sleeping in the boat with us. All will be well if we but sacrifice our place, our power, our illicit lovers.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity.

Pope Francis, speaking in March, seems nearly prophetic now, reading his words in June. Why do we double down on our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities? Now is not the time to screw our courage to the sticking place and tell the world where to get off in “all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead… we deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”

Now is time to confess our sins, to embrace our cross, and save the world.

In the Howling Wastes


JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 13th week Per Tempus Annum (C1)

Isaac asked, “Which of my sons are you?” Jacob answered his father:  “I am Esau, your first-born.”

God used Jacob: he was the second born son rather than the preference of Patriarchs who want the oldest boy. Think about it, though. Isaac was the second born son as well. Think back… the oldest son of Noah caused a curse as did the oldest son of Adam. In fact, Adam was not the first created animal: he was created last and asked to rule over the animals. David was the youngest son of Jesse. Solomon was not his oldest son – in fact, he was the youngest son of the seventh wife if I count rightly. So even when you have a “patriarchal culture” God doesn’t quite follow the rules.

Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother – a thing probably not normal in any culture that has something called a “birthright”. Esau probably imagined that was a meaningless transaction. But, lo: God honors it even so. And Esau falls into a long line of firstborn sons who don’t quite measure up.

How does this typologically fit Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God and the firstborn of Mary?

Well, Jesus came from the wrong side of town…

Rome was the Center of the World. Culture was made there. Technology and money concentrated there. It was not only the seat of power: it was the center to which all things flowed. The produce of the world, the art, philosophy, and the economy of the world drained out in Rome. It was the Silicone Valley of its day.

Jesus wasn’t born there.

If Rome is the urban center of the San Francisco Bay, Jesus was born to a poor family in a cowshed on the outskirts of Canon City, Colorado. His followers said he was Lord of the World. Even a couple of decades later, in the heart of the empire, there was only 150 or so Roman Christians, many of the homeless, slaves, rescued orphans and elderly… these were not the revolutionaries that would ever overthrow the known world.

But they did.

Picking up the lowly and casting down the mighty. That’s how God works. The “Flyover States” are the most dangerous place on the map.

Would the judge of all do that?


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 13th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him?

This bizarre scene where Abraham bargains with God leaves us with a huge question: why would God want to be bargained with?

The stories about the city of Sodom are not pretty. As is recounted in Jewish tradition the Sodomites were inclined to hating homeless people, to killing people who dared to beg, and to stoning those who dared to help them. Sodom was not a good place to be unless you were very wealthy and well-connected. It was a lot like modern America.

God wonders to himself if he should tell Abraham what he is about to do. The reason God wanders this is because he’s going to make Abraham a source of blessing for the Nations. That doesn’t make sense unless this is a time of training for Abraham. God wants Abraham to learn something here. What is it?

From the text we’re left to assume that the lesson is in fact intercession.  God wants Abraham to learn how to intercede for strangers. So he starts small and lets him intercede for Lot, his cousin, and his family. Instead of interceding Abraham bargains; but that’s okay: this is a learning process.

God is teaching Abraham how to pray. Abraham steps up admirably. In time the Jewish sense of their purpose would include linking the Temple in Jerusalem and its sacrificial system to the safety of the entire world. Jerusalem becomes the navel of the world, the stone that prevents the flood waters from rising again. In time Israel will give birth to the Messiah, the savior of the world. The Seed of Abraham will become the intercessor for all of us.

We are Abraham’s children. This is our job. We are to be a blessing to the Nations. The church fathers taught that the Church in the world is rather like yeast in bread. It only takes a pinch and the whole loaf rises. The Church’s function in the world is rather like the soul is in the body: we are to be the light of the world, the flavoring that makes everything possible. When was the last time you prayed for strangers?

I thought of this as I heard prayers this weekend for all the folks in town and I thought why shouldn’t we pray for their safety? We are to pray blessings on everyone, to all the nations.  Shouldn’t we pray for their peace? We are to pray for our enemies. We are to pray blessings upon those who curse us. This is exactly what we should be doing. We should be bargaining with God, pardon the phrase, for everyone. This is what Jesus did as well: his entire life was an intersection for the world. When we fail at this we failed to be Christians.

Monking Where You Are.


JMJ

The Readings for the 13th Sunday Tempus per Annum (C1)

You are my inheritance, O Lord.

Right now Catholic, American internet seems to be filled with one of three different types of politics. These might be described as Monarchist, Socialist, or Capitalist. There are subtypes as well: the Socialists might be split into various camps depending on Marx or Chavez or Trotsky. The monarchists might be split between absolute, Divine Right Monarchists and the Constitutional Monarchists. The capitalists are split between sort of vaguely agrarian communitarian and post-industrialist, libertarian camps. There are Alt Right and Alt Left just like in the secular world.

What each of these types has in common is that they claim the Church’s authority for their political beliefs. Each one seems to say I have found the one right way to bring about Catholic Social change. They ignore the fact that the further right you go, the less you sound like a Catholic social ethicist. While the further left to go the less you sound like a Catholic moral theologian. You can’t be any of these things be a Good Catholic

Today the psalmist offers us the answer.  You are my inheritance, Lord.

I believe and confess that as Catholics we are obligated to bring about a Catholic social order. The USCCB’s Catechism for Adults says:

Through participation in political life—either as voters or as holders of public office—they work for increasing conformity of public policy to the law of God as known by human reason and Divine Revelation. This they do especially by showing the coherence of Catholic teaching with the fundamental yearnings and dignity of the human person.

The catechism does not tell us which political system to use. In fact, it seems to imply that regardless of the political system we still have the same obligation. In fact, it seems to say that it is the performance of our obligation which is the proper focus, not the political system. The Catechism seems to presuppose that making Catholic moral choices will change the political system to be the right one. Focusing on the political system first is to put the cart before the horse. You are my inheritance, Lord.

Not just politics, but in other parts of our life, too:  we seem to put our Catholicism as the caboose on the train rather than the engine. We worry about our jobs too much. Or we stress over our apartment and our status as caregiver for our family. God says to worry about God. Everything else will take care of itself, or better he will take care of everything else. This comes home to me nearly every day recently. When I stress over something I’ve said, or something I’ve done. Will they find out I’m Catholic? Will there be social repercussions? God says he is my inheritance. Not my job, not my social welfare, not my health insurance, not even my parents. But God.

When I say it that way, you might ask why I don’t return to the monastery. I don’t think that’s what God wants. I don’t think that’s my calling. As much as I love sitting in the quiet of a monastic Chapel I don’t think that’s my calling. I think my calling is here in the world. That doesn’t mean I cannot live a monastic life. Or, as a friend rather unkindly implied the other day, pretend I’m monastic. I live alone, I have all day to pray, what else can I do? I feed my cat and read my breviary. You are my inheritance, Lord.

Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I spend a lot of time looking back: not like Mrs. Lot who turned around to have fond reminiscences of home. I turn around to look back out of fear. Who is following me? Who has managed to evade God long enough to sneak up behind me? The sphere, this lack of trust, shows a weakness on my part that can be exploited. My fear is my downfall. I forget who my inheritance is. I go after the world doing its own thing. I expect from a selfish world more care then I got from God on a moment-to-moment basis. How strange is that? You are my inheritance, Lord.

But someone with children, someone with a career, someone with an active life filled with things to do and places to go has the same experience. That’s the whole point of Dominican tertiaries: we are Dominicans in the world. We’re not pretend monastics, we’re not pseudo-religious, we are Dominicans Where We Are. I am a Dominican whose primary ministry is in writing and customer service. How does my Dominican presents at my job create a Catholic culture? How do I contribute to the building of a Catholic Social and moral order in the world? How does my Dominican charism bring the Gospel’s preaching to everything that I do? This is Ministry this is the living of a Christian Life in the world. You are my inheritance, Lord.

If we had political activists in the Catholic Church who were focused solely on manifesting Catholic social structures imagine the revolution we would have! If we had social activists in the Catholic Church who were intent on creating a Catholic culture, imagine the revolution we would have! You are my inheritance, Lord.

If we had beauticians, bartenders, bus and taxi drivers, baseball players, librarians, grocers and bag boys, comediennes, architects, artists,  teachers, journalists, photographers, drummers, Piper’s, soldiers, sailors, everything…  all of whom were committed to their Catholicism first to the building of the Catholic moral and social order first, and these other things second. If they all did their stuff as Catholics rather than finding a way to attach their Catholicism to their stuff, imagine the revolution we would have! You are my inheritance, Lord.

Temples of the Nation

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 13th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et dixit Amasias ad Amos : Qui vides, gradere : fuge in terram Juda, et comede ibi panem, et prophetabis ibi. Et in Bethel non adjicies ultra ut prophetes, quia sanctificatio regis est, et domus regni est. 
And Amazi’ah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 

It can be impossible to preach against the political order. Yet we need to hear it. We are Catholics first then whatever we are after that. We are Catholics who are sojourning in the US. It’s not that the current political order is worse than anything that came before (or will come after) but any political order will be missing the fullness of the Gospel. There’s always need to bring the secular order more and more in line with the Gospel. Even in those rare cases when the crown was supposed to be aligned with the Church, the need for constant correction was present. How much more so when the nation has no desire to be in sync, no self-orienting call to follow?

How do we deal in a nation that expects us to have public political opinions but not religious ones? Recently, at least, it seems as if we’ve been willing to have our only flags be our political opinions, even fighting with our brothers and sisters in Christ over politics rather than being one in Christ. Although we know that political opinions are religious ones, that there is no such thing as a “secular” topic, we are quite willing to judge our brothers and sisters over their politics devoid of religious content. We act as if the prime moral issue is voting for this candidate or that candidate. We don’t point out the theological issues, we don’t even use politics as a shorthand to make a religious comment. The politics are the issues – just as they are for our secular friends.

At Mass yesterday we opened with Faith of Our Fathers which is a perfect take on politics. It’s a song about our ancestors in England, when being Catholic meant death under the Martyr Maker, Queen Elizabeth I.

Faith of our fathers, living still
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word!
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If we, like them should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
will win all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God
Mankind shall then indeed be free.
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife,
And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

We are called to live the Christian Faith to our death – be that the red martyrdom of the sword, the white martyrdom of the vowed life, or the green martyrdom of the sacraments and self denial. By dying to self, and living to Christ, by loving our enemies and turning the other cheek, we will win the salvation of all. These are our prime endeavors – not voting for the right candidate (although that can be an important part of the deal). And we need to be willing to rebuke our leaders in the name of Christ – not in the name of political ends. It’s nice that Obama wanted something like universal healthcare, but no one challenged him in the name of Christ to make it a moral system, or to stop his other immoral actions. And most of us were just happy to get something.  It’s nice that Trump wants to appoint pro-life judges, but that doesn’t absolve him of the strident moral issues from other parts of the administration. Nor should it. 

So it’s impossible to preach against the political order. Even though they need to hear it. We should pray for each other – that we can become courageous. And then we should be willing to face exile and martyrdom for it. Otherwise we are only partisans and our churches temples of the nation instead of temples of God.  We make an idol out of political affiliation and we deign to weave into that idolatry our religious journey.

 We forget we are in the US but not of it. Catholics sojourning in the land of exile.

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Typology for the Fourth

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 13th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et vota pinguium vestrorum non respiciam. 
Neither will I regard the vows of your fat beasts. 

Iconoclasm is the breaking of icons. In modern usage it tends to be a good thing: destroying “sacred cows” of the culture in order to progress in a field. But historically, iconoclasm was a retrogressive heresy, an attempt to go back in time to a mythical past for the sake of safety. People destroyed the sacred images in churches. And, since the Church teaches every human is an icon of God, every attack on the image was an attack on the divine archetype. So also today, although we forgot to our peril, attacking the icon of God is attacking God, himself.

Independence day. These are some awesome readings for a random Wednesday in July. I think they are very meaningful. Matthew is unusual in that his version gives us two demoniacs rather than one possessed person. We might see in the parable of the Gadarene Demoniacs a typology for our current situation.

There are two of them, as it were political parties or even candidates. Both parties are terrified of the Son of God and his followers, even though they need our votes. Between the failed social justice motions of one party and the failed moral actions of the other, all the demons have driven all the pigs mad. And the voters all at once charge into the water.

I do not labor under the impression or even the assumption of a “Christian Nation”. We once had a society with a Christian Veneer and that made many of us comfortable, but we have been wearing down that veneer for more than two centuries: and beneath it we were no more Christian than any other nation. We downgraded the Divine Icon of every African Slave in America to get our nation started, we trade off the Divine Icon of children born and unborn now to various political ends and selfish personal empowerment. We daily deny the divine icon of self and others in our consumption of porn, and we celebrate this denial in our horror movies, our news stories, our business choices, and our cheap plastic junk.

We are engaged in wars around the globe, the fruit of 6 presidential administrations. We revere as our honored dead the largest force of colonial oppression the world has ever known, dying for “Our Freedom” to continue in our iconoclasm. We have set up the world to destroy it. We siphon the wealth and resources of entire hemispheres into our yawning maw and crap out identically unique individualities based on the stuff we own instead of the icon within us. What we now call freedom we used to call license. We were once opposed to it. Now we demand it. We pass our political shell games off to others as “liberation” when what we really need is a new factory to produce more sprockets cheaply. The only thing that sets us apart from other powers engaged in the same actions today is July 4th is our holiday, not theirs. Still, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia are all on this train with us.

Calling out the truth from within, I do not put myself above this Leviathan for I help build it, I helped enforce it. My purchases feed it. For a long time I let it emotionally move me. The seeds were planted in 1776. It has taken 240 years to being the fruit to maturity. The pips were gleaned from the fruit our first parents dropped. The tempter was the same.

We get the fat beasts we deserve. We own the demons we curate.

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Why Does God Allow Cilantro?

JMJ

The Readings for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Deus mortem non fecit. Nec laetatur in perditione vivorum. 
God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  

The man, Jairus, corners Jesus in a crowd and says, “Come, heal my daughter.” But even before he can get home, the news reaches him: the girl is dead. Why did God let that happen?

There’s no more powerful question, really, for trying to refute any person of faith. It’s a question that demands an answer.  Why did God allow Amazon to take over the retail market? Why does God allow WalMart to ruin downtowns all over the nation, or Tesco and Loblaws to do the same in the UK and Canada? Why does God allow Facebook? Why did God allow the second Nixon administration? Why does God allow fake news? Why does God allow my parents to get a divorce? There are many noxious things in the world, some taste like hairspray and people add them to soup. Why, God?

Now, certainly, this question usually gets asked regarding larger events… why did God allow the Tsunami on Christmas day 2004? Why does God allow war? Why does God allow the Trump administration to rip children like Elian Gonzalez away from their families? Why does God allow gun violence like like in Waco Texas in 1993? Why does God allow mass murder like American business allies committed in Mexico in the 1920s or throughout Latin America in the Reagan years?

We might as well ask why God allows your dad to wear over the calf socks and plaid shorts with a striped shirt.

Why does God allow anyone at all to die? The reading from Wisdom brings this home.

God “created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.” but… verse 16 (which is left out of our reading) says “ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his party.”

We do this to ourselves. The entire second chapter of Wisdom is a catalog of sentiments from our modern culture. These few lines alone are basically #LifeinSF

Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

This is basically a description of our culture’s MO from the get go:

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions… 

The text rejoins our reading at the end:

God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.

In short, God made the world good, but humanity grew tired of all that boring goodness and went looking for something else. And the Devil, all too happy to help, provided the options we’ve all come to know and love.

The answer to all our questions is the same: God’s will is to give us the freedom to choose to do his will, which is also the freedom to ignore his will. And most of us enjoy our freedom too much to let God intervene. Equally important questions: Why did God allow me to have all that sex? Why did God allow me to cheat on my taxes? Why did God allow me to sneak out of the office without my boss noticing? Why did God allow them to vote for Trump? Why did God allow them to vote for Obama? Why did God allow…

Because we’re free. God does not micromanage. Mutually assured destruction is an option we all have. God would call us home. But we have to listen… and have to respond.  He will not force us.

Why did God allow Jairus daughter to die? Because death is now a part of this world: woven in – by man – on the weft God gave us, the warp of death is from the craft basket of Satan. But it’s part of the deal now.

See, the thing is… the thing is… Jesus has taken that warp and weft, and sewn a new garment of life for us. Death is no longer the slamming shut of the final door, but rather the turning of the first key, the dawn of a new day. Jesus did this as God, by dying the death we all die. But he’s God, and it was remade. God can’t undo the patterns we’ve woven, but he can remake them, repurpose them, and even incorporate our tiny, miswoven patterns into a glorious story of his own design that is far more than we can imagine. Death is now only sleep. Life is eternity. Our lives cross over and touch so many things: we only see ourselves. We can be selfish and insist on seeing only in the first person. So life is nasty, brutish, and short. But God sees it all, the big picture, the whole megillah. There is no destructive poison in any of it… except cilantro.

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