Mouth on Fire


The Readings for the 14th Saturday, Tempus per Annum
Memorial of St. John of Cologne, OP, & Companions, martyrs

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

Isaiah 6:6

DURING THE LITURGIES OF St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great (in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches) communion is distributed using a spoon. It is served directly to the communicant by the priest as one might feed a child at table. This has been their tradition since the 9th century and, at some later point, this image from Isaiah was seen as a typological parallel. This writer has heard priests say to communicants, “this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” It’s a beautiful symbol of how the Eucharist moves us away from sin (¶1393) and it also continues the liturgical parallels in this chapter: the “Holy Holy Holy” of the Angels is sung in Mass and most of the Eastern rites. This has been part of the Eucharistic liturgy since the late 1st of early 2nd century! It all arises in this vision of Isaiah.

But on this Saturday (Shabbat Shalom!) I want to call our attention to the next thing that happens after the typology of the Eucharist is received and Isaiah’s sins are absolved: God calls and Isaiah begs to be sent.

There is a way in which the Eucharist, making us ever more part of the Body of Christ, involves us ever more and more in the mission of Christ: in the being-sent-ness of Christ who was sent out from the Father to redeem the world. He, in turn, sends us out to do the same work.

To willingly and worthily participate in the Eucharist is to find oneself purified for mission. That may be in the Church basement feeding the poor or on the streets preaching the Gospel, or it may mean in China (etc) but the Eucharist is never food for couch potatoes. It is always Viaticum: food for the journey.

Preaching at my parish for the Ordination of priests in the Dominican Order, Bishop Robert Barron said what God does to the bread at the Eucharist – He Takes, Blesses, Breaks, and Gives it – God also does to the priest. A priest is taken, blessed, broken, and given to the Church.

Let’s take that one step further: God also does it to us and after we have been broken on the altar, he calls us to give ourselves away in love.

Who will go?



The Readings for the 14th Friday, Tempus per Annum

Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Matthew 10:19-20

AS OUR CLASS WAS wrapping up the Book of Acts, our professor, Dr Wendy Biale, noted that the Holy Spirit seems like a very real presence to the Apostles. He tells them things, he sends dreams, he gives instructions. In his book, You Can Understand the Bible, which we used in class, Peter Kreeft gives a list of things (in sum):

  1. The spirit is her personally, directly, and concretely as a person.
  2. Miracles are done so powerfully through Paul that even his handkerchiefs are an agency for healing.
  3. Demonic activity appears and exorcism is needed.
  4. Confession, repentance, and turning away from sin or clear and strong.
  5. The faith is so strong that the unbelievers are offended.
  6. Worship is such a joy that long church services are common.
  7. Christians are ready to die as martyrs.
  8. The good news is preached as a historical fact not just as values.
  9. The faith is not politicized: all powers are subject to Christ.
  10. The church is bold, brave, and even brazon.
  11. Prophecy abounds.
  12. Angels interact with humans, not as myths or symbols but as real persons.
  13. Though very tiny the church is Infamous. They have turned the world upside down

Compare this to where we are today.

In the movie Xanadu a muse comes to earth to inspire an artist to live his dream. She gives ideas, moves things around, makes connections… for him. It’s like magic. But she falls in love with her artist and so must become mortal. And thus give up her power to inspire. Yet in her love she becomes so much more for the artist.

It’s a very shallow parallel, but I think it’s a better parallel for the Holy Spirit than “the Force” from Star Wars. God really does love us like that. God really does inspire us like that. God really does move into our lives like that. Jesus seems to assume we will have an ongoing part in this conversation: all of us. Not just clergy, not just monastics, but all of us, in all walks of our life.

The Church assumes this as well.

2558 “Great is the mystery of the faith!” The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles’ Creed and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy, so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.

This mystery then…

Requires that the faithful believe in it, this means that we must assent to it and that we must act in our lives according to the reality it describes. If we only assent to it, with no action in our lives, faith with out works is dead.

...that they celebrate it that is liturgically, and even in the calendar on the feasts of the Church. We’re called to ritually partake in the actions of God.

that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. an ongoing relationship… not something that we pull out on Sundays or when we need it for help here and there, but continually. You don’t wake up one day and pretend you’re not married. Your spouse is always with you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh. Forever. God is closer and even closer still. Why are you not talking to him now?

This relationship is prayer. Please note that while some devotions can be prayers, prayer is not devotions. While some liturgy can be done in prayer, prayer is not the liturgy.

Prayer is the relationship itself.

So, possibly, the reason that we don’t move in the world of the Apostles is not because things have changed, but because we have changed. The reason we do not feel the presence all the time is that we have no relationship to speak of.


Pauline Slang


The Readings for the 14th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.

Galatians 6:15 (NABRE)

UNCIRCUMCISION Is such an odd word. Of course, it means “gentile”, that is, person without a circumcision. But that’s really the natural condition. So, it seems strange to discuss it as “un-” something. However the Greek is actually kind of vulgar: it’s a technical term that literally refers to the foreskin. And – unsurprisingly? –  Greek-speaking Jews would use this technical term as a slang word for Gentile men. “Hey, look at that foreskin over there…” Mind you, modern Yiddish is no kinder: a Gentile male is called “Shagetz” (Pl: shkotzim) and comes from the word meaning “Abomination”. The abomination in question being the aforementioned part of the male anatomy. (Let’s all sing “Tradition!” from Fiddler on the Roof.) St Paul is speaking in slang because he knows his audience will hear him. We, on the other hand, get the odd and elevated-sounding English word, “uncircumcision”.

In the preceding verses, though, the slang finds the reason for its use: some members of the congregation wanted everyone in the congregation to get circumcised. Why?

There are two theories as to why they wanted everyone to look like Jews. And it was exactly to look like Jews that they were trying for. Paul calls them, “those who want to make a good appearance in the flesh” (v12) and notes that “Not even those having themselves circumcised observe the law themselves; they only want you to be circumcised so that they may boast of your flesh.” (v13) These are people who want to look like Jews. To whom? So, two theories:

One suggestion is that they want to look like Jews to other Jews. This could be read to mean that members of the synagogue were pestering (Messianic) Jews for hanging out with Gentiles. Some Jews did this to Peter as mentioned earlier in this letter. (See Galatians 2:11ff.) Another suggestion is that Romans – who knew Jews and Gentiles should not worship together – were persecuting the Messianic Jews for not being “really Jews” since they ate with Gentiles. As Jews enjoyed a sort of privileged outsider status in the Empire, doing things that risked that statues was not good. If everyone would only get circumcised then we’d all blend in and it would be better for us all.

I don’t know which of these is true and it needn’t be either or. Regardless of the reason, the call was to blend in with Non-Christians. And Paul says

We get called to blend in all the time: by the world, certainly, and also by those Catholics who just want to play along to get along. They want an easy life where “Catholic” is just another word for the “perfectly normal people who live next door”. They can’t have that easy life if Catholic teachers make comments about politicians and abortion, or the homeless, or immigrants, or same sex marriage. If you’re Catholic and rock the cultural boat, they think, all of us will get wet. They don’t want to get wet. Please don’t rock the boat.

That leads us to what I noted yesterday. (Yes, these are the Sunday readings and I’m writing on Thursday.) An unwillingness to “lean in” on the full Truth of the proclamation of the kingdom means people are not always coming into the same place: if we don’t proclaim the Gospel, people cant accept the Gospel. Full stop. We also thereby provide an inoculation against the real thing. Paul calls us to boast in the Cross. And the world has been crucified: so even if we don’t rock its boat, it’s sinking.

Worse than 1867


The Readings for the 14th Thursday, Tempus per Annum

Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Matthew 10:15

1867 OF THE CATECHISM is one of those hard ones. It lists the “‘sins that cry to heaven‘: the blood of Abel139, the sin of the Sodomites140, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt141, the cry of the foreigner142, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner143.” And whilst it is heavily footnoted, there are no other explanations offered than these Bible verses:

  • 139 Cf. Gen 4:10. And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
  • 140 Cf. Gen 18:20; And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
    Gen. 19:13. For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.
  • 141 Cf. Ex 3:7-10. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; (etc)
  • 142 Cf. Ex 20:20-22. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. etc
  • 143 Cf. Deut 24:14-15; Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
    Jas 5:4. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the teachings on the Church on these matters. I’m not here to debate the gravity of them: some – along with me – agree with the Church on these things. Some disagree – citing misunderstandings, heretical teachings, or even Satanic distortions – to approve unjust wages, oppressing strangers, and sexual sins. Some approve one while rejecting others. It’s important to see that the Catechism lists them all together as the most grievous sins.

And Jesus says hindering the Gospel of the Kingdom is worse.

Jesus is clear about what this proclamation looks like: “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:7-8) We don’t do much of that, tbh, anymore. (The CFRs did a podcast about this recently.) But, apart from what some confuse with “Charismatic stuff”, backing away from or hindering the Gospel can come in many forms from flat out refusing to say Jesus’ name to just letting others (coworkers, for ex) abuse it without correction; from open support for cultural lies to making RCIA easier or “inclusive” because of an attachment to “the numbers”. We walk a fine line always. An unwillingness to “lean in” on the full Truth of the proclamation of the kingdom means people are not always coming into the same place: if we don’t proclaim the Gospel, people cant accept the Gospel. Full stop. We also thereby provide an inoculation against the real thing.

This is worthy of Jesus’ condemnation.

Again, after yesterday’s post about Hosea (where I filled in the missing verses) the same is true today: if, instead of 11:1-4, 8E-9, if you read 11:1-11 you’ll see a very disturbing image: God’s love shows up as wrath.

They shall follow the LORD, who roars like a lion; When he roars, his children shall come frightened from the west, Out of Egypt they shall come trembling, like birds, like doves, from the land of Assyria; And I will resettle them in their homes, oracle of the LORD.

Hosea 11:10-11

God hates the distance Israel puts between the people and God. God hates the distance we put between ourselves and him. He lets us suffer the distance we put there. We will come trembling. But we will come.

God wants us to be with him. But running away isn’t really the best option.

Letting others stay away – because we’re uncomfortable – is selfish and worse than Sodom.



The Readings for the 14th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum

Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 10:6-7

JESUS SENDS His disciples ahead of him to the towns the plans to visit: let them know the Kingdom is at hand. What is the Kingdom? The odd Greek title for this post, autobasileia, is (for me) the most compelling answer. We’ll get to the meaning in a moment, but first there are some other contenders for the meaning of “The Kingdom”.

Readers are probably very familiar with two very American, or at least Western, ideas of the Kingdom: both are political. First is that Jesus wants us to build the kingdom here and now. Pick your political model, left or right, woke or reactionary, prove that Jesus loves them and get to work. The Kingdom of God needs you to vote, shop, struggle in the political arena in only this way. To do else is to oppose God. The second option is a modification of the first: it assumes that America (or some other empire in the past) actually is the Kingdom and we need only get it right. Bring back the Hapsburgs, or Make America Great Again, or Why did Kennedy Have to Die, or any one of a hundred other political structures that should have been, could have been, can be again the Kingdom here on Earth.

Theses readings tend to provoke cries about the Separation of Church and State, but one rarely objects to political changes one likes in those terms. If my religion teaches no-abortion, but I ignore social justice issues, the Social Justice Warriors will cry about Church and State. But they will never notice my religion also teaches many of their SJW stances. I can work for racial integration because I’m a Catholic and no one will talk about Church and State.

Two other readings are less political: the Kingdom is in your heart. Ironically, this is the most modern and American reading. The Kingdom being “in your heart” means there’s no political reaction needed. You can do whatever you want, but it’s “in your heart” that counts. This is the Sunday Christian who is very pious at Mass and then evicts tenants on Monday, supports the Death Penalty, and abortion. But he is pious. The second non-political reading is “the Kingdom is the Church”. This also tends to result in apolitical non-activism. Just leave the Church alone and let us ride our horse-and-buggies as we avoid any contact with the world. This last reading, though, brings us closest to the meaning of the Greek word, and so we go there next.

Autobasileia is a title for Jesus, used by the Church Father, Origen and cited in this century by Pope Benedict XVI in his exhortation, Verbum Domini (that is, The Word of the Lord) ¶93:

The word and the Kingdom of God

Consequently, the Church’s mission cannot be considered as an optional or supplementary element in her life. Rather it entails letting the Holy Spirit assimilate us to Christ himself, and thus to share in his own mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21) to share the word with your entire life. It is the word itself which impels us towards our brothers and sisters: it is the word which illuminates, purifies, converts; we are only its servants.

We need, then, to discover ever anew the urgency and the beauty of the proclamation of the word for the coming of the Kingdom of God which Christ himself preached. Thus we grow in the realization, so clear to the Fathers of the Church, that the proclamation of the word has as its content the Kingdom of God (cf. Mk 1:14-15), which, in the memorable phrase of Origen, is the very person of Jesus (Autobasileia). The Lord offers salvation to men and women in every age. All of us recognize how much the light of Christ needs to illumine every area of human life: the family, schools, culture, work, leisure and the other aspects of social life. It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers.

Verbum Domini 30 Sep 2010

Please note that complete lack of warm fuzzies here: It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts.

The Kingdom of God, that is Jesus, is not something that stays home and minds its own business. The light of Christ needs to illumine every area of human life: the family, schools, culture, work, leisure and the other aspects of social life. When we rest in the kingdom (that is, Jesus) we become his action in the world. The Church, then, is a sacrament of the Kingdom, but not the whole Kingdom: which is Christ himself, the second person of the Trinity, and his action through grace in your life.

In this light, the parsing out of the reading from Hosea is interesting (thinking about the verses skipped).

In the text as provided for reading today (10:1-3, 7-8, 12) it sounds as if God had some trouble with Israel and they saw his anger (v8) and he closed out with some good advice (in v12). But taken all together with the rest of Chapter 10, v1-8 are about how bad Israel has been. Verse 12 is what they were supposed to have done instead. And God’s going to let them suffer the consequences of ignoring him.

I honestly believe we are there right now. God’s beginning to let us experience the consequences of ignoring him. And it’s only just beginning. The Bible Project folks call this “decreation” – an undoing of the blessings outlined at the beginning of Genesis. It’s a natural, logical consequence of ignoring God.

The people who want to keep Jesus in their hearts (but go on doing whatever they want) are leading us all amok. And it won’t be pretty because the Kingdom of God came near – we ignored him by searching for our own kingdoms, by trusting in our own power, making up our own rules, trying to decide on our own what was right and what was wrong.

The only hope is in the Gospel.

Repent – as the Alleluia Verse says – get a new mind, think different. Put your full trust (and all your actions) in the Good News.

What Do You Fear?


The Readings for Saturday in the 14th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Si patremfamilias Beelzebub vocaverunt, quanto magis domesticos ejus? Nolite timere eos qui occidunt corpus, animam autem non possunt occidere.

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household? Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

What is the origin of fear? I’m trying to suss this out. St John says perfect love casts out all fear. So is the origin of fear in the lack of love? Or, is it in the imperfection of love?

Since no human being, created in the image of God, can be without love I suggest the answer is the origin of fear is in the imperfection of love. Working hypothesis: we fear not because we hate, but because we love imperfectly.

Jesus says do not fear those who can kill the body. Those are the folks we actually fear the most. We may not say “kill the body” anymore, but we are afraid of people who can deprive us of life and liberty. We are afraid of those who can socially kill us by firing us, taking away our home, expelling our children from school, taking our children away from us, shaming us on social media, destroying our reputation on the internet, or stealing our identities and ruining our credit scores. These are the people we fear.

So, I suggest the problem is that we do not love them perfectly. What would it mean to love perfectly?

Jesus’ best example of perfect love is when he says his father causes it to rain on the just and on the unjust. The sunlight, too, can be said to fall on the just and the unjust equally. God’s love is like that: falling on all of us equally. I used to have an image of the love of God pouring down upon us like beams of light and there were some on whom it did not fall. I realized that didn’t make sense. Then what I saw was that there were some who tried to use umbrellas or anything to keep that pesky light from hitting them. These are the Goths of the spiritual world. They try to hide from the light. God doesn’t love me! So they say.

And certainly, there will be those people who will deny you the chance to love them. But you have to keep loving them! Let them say no. You must always say yes. Love must be perfect. We can’t do it yet, fine! But let’s work towards it, later! Love must grow to be perfect.

When our love is perfect and we will not be afraid. Fear is a luxury a person in love simply cannot afford. Fear is the luxury of folks who love stuff more than people. Fear is a luxury of someone who loves their job more than people. Someone who loves their favorite foods, their favorite sex toys, their favorite appetites, their ego, their reputation, more than people: they can afford fear.

So do not fear the person who can kill your body, but brother loved him perfectly. On the way to the beheading, as you’re walking up the steps, Weep For Love of your executioner. Pray in love for his soul. Beseech God to have mercy on him who is about to kill you. Even if that only means slandering you on the internet.

They do that to Jesus moment by moment. What more do you expect for yourself?

Mira! El Otro!


The Readings for Friday in the 14th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Tradet autem frater fratrem in mortem, et pater filium: et insurgent filii in parentes, et morte eos afficient: et eritis odio omnibus propter nomen meum: qui autem perseveraverit usque in finem, hic salvus erit.
Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
Again with the brother against brother and in the New Testament, now. Apart from the Sons of Zebedee and Andrew and Peter, there are very few brothers that get along in the Bible. The Macabbees, I guess. Everyone else seems to have a bit of an issue with internecine incivility. 
This passage, though, is about the Church. Brother will hand over brother to death: Christians will be acting like the sons of Jacob, as the sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve that we are. Although it can seem a bit conspiratorial at times, this is actually one thing I fear. I know why I fear this: because I was often on the other side.

Yes, I’m a Christain, but not like one of those over there…

My great fear was that someone would think I was a Christian like the ones the someone hated – whoever they were. In that us-and-them mindset, trying to be really cool (not like them) I was bound to sell Christians short in order to look good to my friends. It actually doesn’t matter who the “us” was in this story. It’s only important that I be seen to be not one of them.

Who was one of them?

Actually: it doesn’t matter.

Repeatedly I’ve had driven home to me lately that, as far as human beings are concerned, there is no “other”. There is only us. There are still two sides, but they are not the sides we think of.

In Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” In short, we are “The Others” we’re afraid of. Even that fails to describe the real situation: God made us. We belong to him. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. God made all of us. Even the folks that say they don’t or won’t belong, even the folks that feel left outside, even the folks who hate all conception of God, Church, Good, Chastity, Love… whatever. God made us all and we belong to him.

There are folks who struggle to stay on one side of that line. There are folks who struggle to stay on the other. Very few people want to reject love, peace, goodness. And everyone usually acts out of love of something. And all love… is of God. You have to love something and to the extent that you love – even broken – you are being Godly. Certainly, because we are humans, our love can be broken. Most of us have broken love. If you’re walking around, in fact, it’s broken.

There are those beings who would have us love stuff and use people (instead of the reverse). God’s image is not in stuff: but it is in all people. When we fail to love people when we love stuff (pepperoni pizza, cheap radios from WalMart, political ideologies, national anthems) we are at risk of devaluing the image of God present in each person – and so of devaluing God himself.

There is only one force that drives us to devalue persons created in God’s image. It matters not if we do that by our shopping, our voting, our eating, or our dishonesty. When we do it, we’re fighting for the other side.

Today’s Gospel reminds me that there are those (and I have been one) in the Church who fight for the other side. We don’t even do it covertly. We become convinced that those over there are so wrong as to not even be one of us. They are the Sharks. Or the Jets. They are not one of us humans, you see?

In all honesty, they may fail at being Catholics. They may fail at being Christians. (Who of us does not fail?) But they are always one of us: one of the bearers of God’s image. We fail in this, become the other side when we forget another Solzhenitsyn quote (perhaps the rest of the one I’ve cited): “Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”

The Saints and Fathers teach us over and over again that we are to mourn and pray for those around us led away into fighting against Truth. As we are to mourn each our own sins, when we see someone who does not know their sin, or who is aggressively opposing the truth, we should assume two things: if they knew the real truth of Love, they would not oppose it; and, it is us who have failed to tell them or show them. Corrie Ten Boom found herself standing in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp watching Nazi soldiers beat another prisoner. She found it a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel of God’s love with the inmate standing next to her. I’m afraid to do this on the bus – sometimes I’m afraid of the person next to me at Mass or at work! Over and over Corrie saw God’s presence in the person next to her, and she reached out in Love. It’s amazing how many times the response even from Nazis, was Love given back.

We should, therefore, pray all the more for them and mourn, all the more, for our lack of love in showing the way more clearly.

And we should remember that the only “them” is the Demons who seek to divide us. Even if someone is leading us to the chopping block, the executioner, the press, the social media, or the courts for our faith, it should be assumed that it is a failure of love leading to this, not a failure of the person. Jesus says we will be persecuted because of his name. If you find this love difficult – and who would not? – begin perhaps by Thanking God for using this person to show you the fulfillment of prophecy. Then pray for them – and you – to be wrapped in Love.



The Readings for the Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot
Thursday in the 13th week Tempus Per Annum (C1)

Pro salute enim vestra misit me Deus ante vos in Aegyptum.
It was for your salvation that God sent me before you into Egypt.

Yesterday’s writing may have seemed a bit out of character for me. I’m a placid, poetical sort of writer usually. Nu? I have dark corners too.

So I will wonder again: is this statement of Joseph’s absolution or just a statement of fact? To a mystic, a statement of fact is rare and Joseph, the dreamer of dreams and the reader of omens, is certainly a mystic.

Dylan’s lyrics, continuing from yesterday. It’s the refrain:

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

I was walking home from a bar late one night – oh, actually it was about 5 am – with my housemate Rick. It was one of those snowy nights in the middle of winter in New York City when, with the snow falling, there is absolute silence. It’s one of the few things I miss about New York City. This weather. This silence. Anyway, walking. Rick was trying to figure out this song phrase that was running through my head. Rick was very good with Broadway musicals but this one was escaping him. We found out later it was actually a TV Musical that had been on once when we were kids in the late 60s. One word of one song was stuck in my head still in 1995. I could even sing it.  “Imm-poss-ible.” I was certain it must mean something, if only we could figure out why it was stuck there.

Rick said, “There must be something in your life that doesn’t mean something else.”

“Why?” I asked.

Joseph could see his light come shining. He knew that sooner or later he would be released. Yet, he never was. To the end of his days, he was this Hebrew captive in the house of Pharaoh. He was even given a slave name meaning the “The God Speaks so He Lives.” You can read it to mean that Joseph could hear meanings in things… which Pharaoh understood to mean that some deity was speaking to Joseph… or did it mean that Pharaoh (the God) had decided this slave could live? It seems highly likely it was the latter. Joseph was in prison about  orto die… and the god-king spoke and let him live.

If you read the story of Joseph in Genesis close enough, it sounds as if this Hebrew slave is the beginning of the idea that Pharaoh owned the entire land of Egypt. The Egyptians sold their goods and their property to Pharaoh through Joseph in exchange for food during the seven year famine.  And thus Pharaoh – not Joseph – became very rich. Joseph was still Pharaoh’s slave. And through Joseph, all of Egypt, too. And Israel.

I see my light come shining
from the west down to the east.

Dylan was on to something: he was a good mystic too. We all journey from the west to the east in search of more light. Jews and Christians face east to pray: that is the proper orientation – get it? – of synagogues and churches. But everything means something else. Who will help the widow’s son?

When Joseph says that God sent him there, is he stating fact, or mystery? Why do they have to be separate? Joseph’s claim on us is that he is so broken. Joseph is a victim trapped in his victimhood. There is literally nothing Joseph does after he is sold into slavery where he is not a Slave. To highlight: Joseph made his brothers promise that even if he died he would they would take his bones with them back to the promised land. Take his bones. He chained them by their promise to his corpse. I am still a slave who can do nothing. You must take me out of here.

Is it not possible in the sacramental world that fact and mystery are the same thing?

Have you ever looked at recursive formulae in mathematics? After the cth failed attempt, resend the frame after k · 51.2 μs, where k is a random integer between 0 and 2c − 1. It’s like a magic box filled with mirrors, an onion in reverse, where each layer in is bigger than the one outside.

You can get lost in there, meditating on it. Why does a fact have to rule out a mystery? Recursion says they are the same thing, more and more as you go deeper and deeper.

Joseph is both slave and Liberator. Joseph is both Egyptian and Hebrew. Joseph is at one time Jacob’s son and Pharaoh’s son.  Then, by a chiasmus in the text, Moses is those things as well: slave and Egyptian, Hebrew and Liberator, son of Pharaoh’s daughter and son of Israel’s daughter too.

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east.

Fact and mystery become the same thing in a sacramental universe; because by a glorious chiasmus in the text Jesus is these things as well: slave and Liberator, human and divine. Then in the Gospel Jesus becomes the chiasmus, and we become those things for those around us.

Any day now. Any day now.
I shall be released.

The Amazing Technicolor Nightmare Coat


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

Merito haec patimur, quia peccavimus in fratrem nostrum, videntes angustiam animae illius, dum deprecaretur nos, et non audivimus : idcirco venit super nos ista tribulatio.
We deserve to suffer these things, because we have sinned against our brother, seeing the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this affliction come upon us. 
I’m not at all certain what the Committee was doing when they chopped up Genesis to get passages for this week. They leap into the middle of Joseph’s story with no backstory and they leave us with a weak opening for “Israel in Egypt”. We’ll get the Exodus story in a few days but this internecine dysfunction that plays at the heart of Israel’s story that carries past the Maccabees – and on to Bar Kochba in AD 135 – is suddenly robbed of its context.
Israel, oddly like the Church, is filled with squabbling brethren.
Bullies will creep up out of cracks in old sheds on snowy days in funny Christmas movies. They will appear in the bass section behind you to make obscene gestures with their hands on your ears. They will ooze out of the bus seats behind you to taunt you while the bus driver can’t see. They are your own brothers selling you into slavery – to the Egyptians, or to other bullies…

This act is heinous: for the brothers sell their own flesh into slavery. Joseph seems to lord over his brothers his own status as “Daddy and Mommy’s Baby Boy”. Yet the level of bulliness the brothers display is unparalleled: first plotting to kill Joseph (but not doing so only out of a fear of breaking the Kin’s Blood Taboo), then selling him into slavery.

And here they are, ten or 15 years later, still reaping the horror of what they’ve done.
Bob Dylan has this song… the opening verse describes what I imagine would be Joseph’s lament:
They say everything can be replaced
Yet every distance is not near
So I remember every face
Of every man who put me here
I’m not sure how Joseph feels. He’s crying by the end of the story… but is he crying from sheer loss, or from loss of will to torture these men who tortured him?

As someone who was bullied a lot in school, I confess I remember every face. I look them up on Facebook. This dude has a wife and kids and seems kinda happy. This other dude looks like he may have done some time and perhaps has found Jesus recently. Being bullied leaves a mark much deeper than the wounds inflicted, although you can still see my broken nose and tooth.

I’m not sure what Joseph feels here but was I to meet the members of the NCHS Warriors in a similar famine situation – even 35 years later, I’m not sure how I’d feel. Joseph is not exactly gracious. In fact, he gets a good bit of revenge before he caves in. Yes, I’m committing eisegesis: reading into the scriptures instead of exegesis, reading out. But hey, it’s my blog.

The brothers feel compunction here. Maybe not for the first time but, in a sense, finally. And as they speak Hebrew, Joseph can understand them… and I’m sure his own heart is pricked a little by the number of hoops he makes his brothers jump through.
Why does he do it? I don’t know. It’s possible to project all kinds of psychology into this story. It’s remarkably devoid of motive on Joseph’s part. First, he tries to bully them, then he makes them travel back and forth, then he breaks down.
It’s possible he doesn’t forgive them any more than I’ve forgiven my own crop of bullies. I try, but even typing this brief post as made me agitated: not angry, mind you… just… agitated. By the end of the story he seems to have reconciled with his family, but did he hang out with his brothers at all after this? Or just put them in nice houses in Goshen and leave them there? I hear echoes of mistrust and psychic wounds in the story of Potiphar’s wife, in the prison prophecy, in the story of his reunion with his father, and finally of his making his brothers promise to not leave even his bones behind in Egypt.
When he later says “You intended this for evil… but God intended it for good.” Is there any absolution or just a statement of fact?

How do the bullies feel? The brothers somehow remember Joseph, and that is as it should be: but do bullies remember their victims usually? Do they just go unthinkingly on with their lives? I would not be who I am today but for the bullies. I only went to one HS reunion – my ten year, I think – and I admit I was mortally afraid. So… yeah. I remember every face.


Love different


The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Nequaquam, inquit, Jacob appellabitur nomen tuum, sed Israel : quoniam si contra Deum fortis fuisti, quanto magis contra homines praevalebis?
Thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel: for if thou hast been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?

In Sunday’s readings, St Paul called the Church the “Israel of God” so it’s good to get reminded, today, what that means. Israel means one who wrestles with God.

Israel says to Joshua, “As we obeyed Moses in all things, so will we obey thee also” (Joshua 1:17) and we know how well they listened to Moses! That’s the Church. If you don’t believe me look at Matthew 28:17 (another verse 17).  The risen Christ shows up, “And seeing him they adored: but some doubted.” Doubting him to his face they are. Here’s Jesus now! Oh, well, I don’t know…

But they don’t let go until Jesus blesses them anyway. That’s an honest picture of the Church. God is with us and sometimes we don’t like it. But may God have mercy on us anyways.

The Church is this wrestling partner and the bride of Christ, forever locked in a grapple, declaiming I will not let you go until you bless me. While we often think of the bride of Christ in romantic, sepia-toned, soft-focused images, the truth is the image we have for the church – for Israel – is often less Ward and June Cleaver and more Ralph and Alice Kramden. Even on her best days, the Church is more like Lucy Ricardo… Ricky, let me in the show! Loooceee!

So what does this mean for us, we who lovingly wrestle with God?

In the RCIA class last year one of the Disciples asked if they needed to accept all of the Catholic Church’s teaching before becoming Catholic at Eastet. It’s a valid question. The Church teaches a lot of things… some of which may draw you, some of which may repulse you. What do we do with that stuff?

If you’re joining the Catholic Church, you’re about to say “I believe everything the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God”.  Notice that you don’t “believe everything the church believes.” If you’ve decided to become Catholic or to return to the practice of your faith, I think it’s fair to assume that your goal, your desire, is to be a faithful Catholic – without reservations. But you might have some reservations at the present time. The journey is the thing. Is it your goal to be 100% Catholic 100% of the time, even if you can’t do it exactly, just yet? God doesn’t want perfect disciples and even the Doubters in 28:17 get sent out as Apostles.

The entire story of the Bible is filled with people who do what God didn’t want and yet God brings good out of it. If you’re trying to do what is right… even if you can’t make it yet… you’re much further along than some of the important folks in the Bible! We leave behind, today, the story of Jacob and leap into the story of Joseph tomorrow. God’s beloved is sold into slavery… becomes the leader of the known world. Ah, how can we dance with a God like this and worry?

In my journey through very conservative forms of Christianity, I’ve met a lot of folks who openly reject this or that teaching of the Church. Then they act as if they are the insulted ones in the relationship. I’ve always wondered why they bother to be Catholic or Orthodox. I don’t really know. They’ve stopped struggling. They’ve decided they are more right than the Church. But they are clearly not 100% sure: because if you’ve stopped being Catholic or Orthodox go be Protestant. Be faithful to your inner voice and follow your conscience!

But then there are many faithful others who struggle. They want to be this thing, but they have failures. They want to be Catholic, but really? This thing about sex? Really? This thing about birth control? Really? This thing about the Pope? Really? This thing about… I’m serious, they have trouble. But they admit they are having trouble, they struggle, they wrestle. They know that there is something here. They even know they are wrong. When they stumble, they go to confession, they talk to their priest, they abstain from communion… then they come back.

They don’t want the Church to change to please them. They want to – but they can’t yet – change. It’s just not happening. The issue is not how many times you fall: you have only to get up one more time than you fall. It’s only one more time.

I will NOT let you go until you bless me. One of these days, Alice. One of these days… to heaven.

Come back next week, try again. Even limping away, you win.