Temples of the Nation


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


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?


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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