Waiting at the Bottom of the Ladder


JMJ

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

Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you…

Jacob sees all that’s going on and suddenly “…there was the LORD standing beside him…” To make free with a later vision in the Bible, God was not in the vision of ladders and angels, God was a quiet voice beside him.

We can get distracted by all the things (even holy things) that are going on around us. We forget the one thing important, that God is right there…

The Late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago made an oft-quoted comment about the increasing secularization in our world and how the Church would fare in it. (Tim Drake sussed out the quote and the context here.)

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

Although that bit about his successor may be premature, it’s the last bit that seems important for our readings today.

God will protect us wherever we go. It’s actually not going to get any easier. I think, in fact, it’s going to get harder from here on out because God doesn’t change. The things God asks of us, expects of us, and the things God wants us to be do not change. We’re going to have to fight all the harder just to hold on. We will not let you go until you bless us. It’s a hard struggle, but the truth is God is not changing: it is the world that is changing around us. Holding on to God is the easiest thing we can do. It’s the path of least resistance because God is not changing. We don’t have to run to keep up with God. We only need to hold on and wait.

Truth is, we don’t want to. We’d rather let go and float along with the current.

God himself walks into the room and says, “Don’t worry she’s not dead she’s only asleep.” And the crowd ridicules God to his face. The girl really was dead. But God is not the god of the dead but of the living. To God, that girl was only asleep. That’s how God sees all of us. We are seen by God as so different from the way the world sees us. The world may not be mourning us, but the world thinks we’re stupid. The world is not sad over us, but the world thinks we’re backward. The world does not regret leaving us behind, but the world does think we’re haters. God says otherwise. The world laughs at God.

I don’t think it’s going to get any easier: it’s going to get harder. Cardinal George continues:

God sustains the world, in good times and in bad. Catholics, along with many others, believe that only one person has overcome and rescued history: Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, savior of the world and head of his body, the church. Those who gather at his cross and by his empty tomb, no matter their nationality, are on the right side of history. 

We see this as today. Both left and right in our political spectrum seem to espouse the same things. Violence is only directed at different parties. The church, strangely, gets it from both sides. That is as it should be. While some on the left think we’re too conservative and some on the right think we’re too liberal we should just be about the business of God. Holding on to God, the one point that does not change or move in the midst of all this chaos.

In the end, it will be up to us to follow Cardinal George’s final option. The Church must “pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

God is right here. Let us hold on. This place is awesome. The House of God and the Gate of Heaven. Hold on. When this chaos is over, we will have more work to do.

Towering O’er the Wrecks of Time


JMJ

The Readings for the 14th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 

Disciples become Apostles. You never stop being a disciple of course, but eventually, you hit a point where you must become an Apostle. Disciple means learning. Apostle means sent. You never stop learning, however, eventually you have to start teaching. You never stop praying however eventually you must begin preaching. The Christian life is not a give me, give me, give me experience. The Christian Life is a give me so I can give away experience. If you never become an apostle it is as if you stayed in third grade because you were afraid of graduating college.

Saint Francis is often misquoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary.” He never said this and, in fact, it would be silly for the man who preached to Muslims and to birds – who never stopped using words – to say something like this. This is often used to tell people to shut up, or to “do social justice” instead of preaching. Eventually, you have to speak up.

But Francis did, in his rule, advise his spiritual sons and daughters, to preach the Gospel with every aspect of their lives – not only their lips, but with their hands, heart, mind, and feet as well. Jesus sends out his 72 Disciples as Apostles to prepare the way for him as he is coming to share the Good News everywhere.  Jesus says, “Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and  scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” Yet he adds, pointedly, that this should not be our pride: rather we should rejoice that our names are “written in heaven”.

So it is that Saint Paul says he will only boast in the cross of Jesus. There is nothing of more praise, nothing of more joy, nothing of more peace for the Christian than the Cross of Christ.

The cross is the sign of God’s love for us, the depth to which God will go for us even in his Mercy.

It was not enough that God should create us.
It was not enough that God should give us his Covenant.
It was not enough that God should become one of us.
It was not enough that God should teach us in his own voice.
It was not enough that God would interpret his Covenant in his own words to us.
It was not enough that God should eat with us.
It was not enough that God should love us that much.
It was enough that God should die for us.
That we should kill God and have God rise again.
This is God’s love for us.
This is how deep God will go.
This is how attached to his creation by love is God: that he will let us attach him to wood by steel in his hands and his feet and his side.

God is affixed to us, nailed to us like a cross by his love for us as we have affixed him to wood in our hate.

This is what it means to glory in the Cross of Christ. without the cross there is no Resurrection, without the cross there is no Eucharist, without the cross there is no harrowing of hell, Without The Cross there is no church. We have no idea what God’s could have done, we only know what he did do. And so we don’t have “The Cross as Plan B”. We have the Cross as the only plan we can possibly know.

The lamb was slain before the foundations of the world. There is no plan other than this. And so, in the Cross of Christ I will glory. For this is the love that he has for me. This is the love he has for you. The cross. The cross. The cross. This is Jesus’ love for you. This is God reaching to each of us in mercy and love.

The cross. The cross. The cross. Let me shout it from the housetop, let me sing it from the tops of mountains, let me pray it from the depths of my heart! The cross! The cross! The cross! God forgive us that we needed the cross. God love us for we needed the cross.

God open to us the gates of the cross that we too may be affixed to you on this wood.
That we too may love you this much.
That we too may sacrifice everything we have, that we too may be as given to you as you are given to us.

This is how we are disciples.
How we take this message in our lives to others is how we are Apostles.

There is yet one other aspect of this message. when we take it to the world we are Apostles, but when we bring it back to the church we are prophets. God would have this message inside and outside his church. We disciple so that we can be Apostles to those outside the church and so that we can be prophets to those inside the church so that we can raise the church out. so that the Holy Spirit can once again be freed to work inside the church. God has promised to revive Jerusalem. God has promised to heal Israel. God has promised to bring her children back to her. And so we should be ready. That’s as disciples, as apostles, and as prophets.

How many are you worth?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin.
Saturday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Nonne duo passeres asse veneunt? et unus ex illis non cadet super terram sine Patre vestro. Vestri autem capilli capitis omnes numerati sunt. Nolite ergo timere : multis passeribus meliores estis vos.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 

This became a most-beloved passage when Fr Yakov mentioned that the sparrows in question are being sold as “Street Meat”: grilled on skewers and offered as snacks. If this were modern day New York, Jesus might be saying, “You’re worth more than many hot dogs.” If this were San Francisco, he might say tacos or pupusas. The parallel would hold because Jesus was talking to poor folks who would eat Street Meat. To reach today’s hip crowds in SF, he might have to say “IPAs” or maybe Vape Hits.


The “sparrows” bit is intended as some sort of comfort offered for the rest of the pericope, though. Jesus is saying, “They hate me… and you’re neither sinless nor God in the flesh. So they are really going to not like you one bit.” This follows on the texts from yesterday and the day before about how troublesome it’s going to be to preach. Rely fully on God – not on your money belt, not on your social connections, not on your religious connections! God may or may not rescue you from the folks howling at your feet, but God will save you.


On the one hand, stop acting (or not) in fear: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul? On the other hand, don’t be a hypocrite: if you don’t believe that God’s got this, how can you preach this Gospel at all? If you find yourself making decisions based on fear (as I do) then you need to reevaluate your position: Why would the Evil One take any action against you since you’re so willing take action against yourself? You’re doing his work for him! And if you’re telling others to trust in God when he is not the source of your strength and satisfaction, how long will you keep setting yourself up for failure?

What are you afraid of? His eye is on the sparrow (or the IPA) so he must be watching you as well. It is in order to prevent us from falling into this repudiation that he reminds us of our values before God.


These passages were first spoken to the Apostles as they were sent out on their mission. And they apply to us now. We are the ones who are to confess him before others. How do we do this? The Greek text makes it clear. To “confess” or (to “acknowledge”, says the milder NABRE) is homologeo, literally to “say the same”.  But another way to read that is to note that it’s using the root “logos”: to be of the same Logos as Christ. To be in the mind of Christ. This is why the Spirit tells us what to say – for we share one mind with Christ.

We must speak with Christ’s words before others. That’s hard, right? To heal, to forgive, to bless and not curse. It’s so much easier to triumph, to lord over, to gloat. If we fail to say the same as Jesus before others, if we repudiate him by our words or our actions, he will do the same to us. 

Then we’ll be worth bupkiss.

___



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Not even a pocket handkerchief

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Gratis accepistis, gratis date. Nolite possidere aurum, neque argentum, neque pecuniam in zonis vestris : non peram in via, neque duas tunicas, neque calceamenta, neque virgam : dignus enim est operarius cibo suo.
You received without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food.

This passage has affected a lot of folks most famously, perhaps, St Francis of Assisi who used it as the basis for his rule. But all the mendicant orders bear some of the nature of this verse: the absolute reliance on God in the performance of God’s work. And even today, wrapping up my first year with the Dominican Tertiaries, I find this total reliance to be (nearly erotically) attractive. Not that being a Dominican Tertiary means I can’t be a mendicant: the Dominicans and the Franciscans are together in this eight century long party! (Francis was my confirmation name when I was Episcopalian… this is a tight circle.)

At Mary of Egypt, herself a patroness for other reasons, found herself on this path, abandoning all not to preach the Gospel, but rather to live it. And she was set up for it in her way of life: for she had placed such an emphasis on satisfying fleshly concupiscence that she was already seriously uprooted from the norms of society. One might say that her caving in to sin had set her into a “pre-monastic” way of life: rootless, homeless, penniless, ready to run at a moment’s notice to a distant land just to keep have sex with the hottest guys. Ironic, is it not, to think of this as one step away from her monasticism?

But I wonder what mendicancy means today. Yes, nearly everything I own is within an arm’s reach of me as I type. I have no pension, no savings, not many more possessions than I had in the monastery. I have no debt nor, save for my cat and my parents, any legit obligation or ties. But I still feel weighed down, trapped. The thing I feel that is holding all this together is fear: fear that God will not hold up his part of this bargain. Fear that I will be homeless and dead or in jail – at least if I do this in the city. But if I did this in the country where would I go? A friar needs to be with people. (When I first became Orthodox I created a bit of controversy by suggesting an Orthodox monastery in the city… even though St Basil and others had done the same thing.) Service is a mendicant’s middle name.

And finding someone to go with me in next to impossible. The whole point of this adventure is at least two by two, if not a whole host of brothers. But most folks like the idea of more things, more stuff. 

So…  fear and alone…

But it shouldn’t be that way, right? If there was ever a chance, a time… why not now? 


___

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Some sheep go astray…

Can you get from this image to the topic?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Benedict, Abbot.
Wednesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Potius ite ad oves quae perierunt domus Israel. Euntes autem praedicate, dicentes : Quia appropinquavit regnum caelorum.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Bishop Barron often makes a painful point: for every one new convert that enters the Church, six leave. In the USA alone, the second largest religious group is ex-Catholics. The largest is Catholics, as well. In the San Francisco Bay area, 25% of the population is Catholic. Although that “organized religion” thing sets us apart, the reality is that we are so lost among the 75% that folks don’t see us. And often the folks not seeing us are ex-Catholics who would rather forget about us in the first place.

Go to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.

Although it’s tempting to want to evangelize among folks who are already Christian, I think Jesus’ first words of direction are important here. The lost sheep do certainly include the “separated brethren,” as they are called, but they’re not lost. They do not fit under the rubric of the “Nones” who have nothing to do with Organized Religion and the lapsed who just have not come back within the last 20 years. I’ve been amazed at the number of lapsed Catholics I know. Folks who used to go, but don’t anymore. I knew folks in High School and College that put my liberal protestant piety to shame, but now probably don’t have even a Bible in the house gathering dust.

I’m sure they have stories like mine: one day I woke up and didn’t believe it. It made no sense to me – at least not as much sense as sex and a job, a commuter card benefit, health insurance, and a few hobbies. I wasn’t cavalier enough to have only 1 hour on Sunday devoted to this private hobby so I dropped it altogether. Besides, there were other religions that were so much more fun in the first place: better food, better rituals, boutique cultural contexts, more interesting DIY functions. Everyone in every bar knew what a “christian” was: Episcopalianism was only slightly less exotic than a Rum and Coke. But no one knew what a Gnostic Pagan was. 

Others may have other reasons for leaving and more heartfelt and less egotistical than mine. But there is one story. 

How does one get back? You have to be invited. I had one afternoon of emotional sap: listening to an old LP I found in the bottom of my closet cleaning out my Sophomore year dorm room. It was of 70s Christian music, and it brought back “all the feels” as they say today. And I cried a lot. Also I left it in the dorm, along with the record player I had it on. That’s how important those feels. But then one day – some 15 years later – I was invited back. The person that invited me was named Ethan. And his invite took the oddest of forms: for he only suggest that maybe, when I moved to San Francisco in 1997, I might have something in common with a local Episcopal Church. And it took me the better part of a year or two to hear the invite in my memory and respond. That community was a perfect way to get me back inside… 21 years later I think it worked, although my path has more than a thousands hairpin turns. Look, you never know how God is going to act. My invite to the Catholic Church came in the most unlikely of ways – from the husband of my Orthodox Goddaughter, who mentioned St Dominic’s to me offhandedly. When the time came Nathan’s recommendation calmed my nerves a bit. And by “coincidence” he was at the service when I made my profession of the Catholic faith.

Our job is to go to the lost sheep. We may not be the folks who “win them back” but Ethan and Nathan both extended invites to me.
How do we go to the Lost Sheep? How can we say the Kingdom of God is at hand in a way that they can hear? St Benedict, whose feast is today, has been nearly maimed into a political slogan by the ranty right, but the Father of Western Monasticism knew that living the kingdom properly wins converts.

At Mass last night, Fr D reminded us that even Dorothy Day knew you don’t do it with “social action” that comes without dogma, but that might be a way in. Finding out that the Church’s pro-life action includes housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, free education for kids and adults, justice for refugees, social services for the poor, medical consultancies (everything from foot-care to drug-interaction advice), and rehab clinics… doing these actions – you can do them all at my parish – will draw others in. Jesus said “let your good deeds shine before men” that they may praise God. Our right action will lead to others coming in for right praise. Our Orthopaxis (which can only flow from our Orthodoxy) will lead to others’ Orthodoxy and, in turn, their Orthopraxis as well.

Go out and find the lost sheep… and tell them the Kingdom is here. Now.

And invite them in.

___

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Being a Local Guide

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam.The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

In my “work” as a Google Guide, answering questions about businesses on Google Maps, I’m asked the same sort of questions over and over about local shops, restaurants, bars, and events. One of my favourite questions is “Is this place easy to spot from a vehicle in normal traffic?” Since I walk a lot, I don’t usually think of that, and in this day of GPS and “catch a Lyft right to the street address” it’s not something that bothers me.  But I do think about it for gMaps.  In fact, on SF streets where the speed limit is 25 mph but most folks do 45 unless you know where you’re going, you’re going to end up somewhere else. It’s not an issue in my current house of worship (see the photo above). I usually tell the Lyft driver, “turn left and you’ll see the front door…” I would make a comment about “most” Catholic churches, but the 70s kinda ruined it. A bishop once said of my former Catholic parish (in Georgia), “Is this a Church or a Pizza Hut?”

I was asked on Sunday why I had become Russian Orthodox (the subtle difference between the OCA and ROCOR is a bit hard to convey) and I told the story of how, even though I lived within walking distance of an Antiochian Parish, they had no sign outside with a service schedule, they had no Yellow Pages ad (this was in the early 00s), they had no voicemail (churches used to put their service schedule on their voicemail), and they had no website. Father Victor, memory eternal, the dean of the OCA cathedral, had not only a website, but one that was often updated by either himself or by his eldest son who is now the dean of the Cathedral. Fr Victor was committed to evangelism as was his assistant, Fr David – and as is the new Dean, Fr Kyrill.  A neighbor of the Antiochian parish tells me they still don’t have service times posted. SInce he had never seen what we call the Orthoburka, he thought maybe they were Muslims.


Since a lot of us are on the road somewhere, having visible churches is important. But walk-in or drive-by traffic is not the best source for new folks. Getting most folks into church still requires an invite.

When I was younger, I would hear our Lord in today’s passage talking about “laborers” and think “ordained ministry”. That’s not a very Catholic idea at all. In fact, there are places the non-ordained can go and things we can do that are too difficult for clergy and, sometimes, even for the non-ordained members of religious orders. Sure: a friar looks cool, but he sure does stand out in a crowd!

A former boss, an Episcopal Priest, once shared this with me: Every member of the People of God (Greek, “Laos” which means “people” gives us the English “Laity” More on that in a minute)… every member of the People of God is called to be an Evangelist, an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. All of us Evangelists are called to the Eucharistic Table for strength, solace, and empowerment by God’s Spirit. Some of us, however, don’t do quite so good as Evangelists, so we give them other duties. We make them waiters around the table. Some don’t do so good, even so. We still have a function for them. We make them each a maître d’ and give them a staff of waiters. 

Now, the Eucharistic community of Evangelists (with our waiters and maître d’s) is often in trouble. So we’ll take a maître d’ every once in a while, maybe one that’s past his prime, and we’ll let him serve in a new function. We’ll dress him up in fancy robes and a big hat, and put him out in front of the community to draw fire, as sort of a decoy. This way, the whole community, of Evangelists, waiters, maître d’s and decoys can do the work of spreading God’s Kingdom, each in their own role and function.

It’s not quite what you might think of the ordained ministry, but it makes a point I’ve heard over and over in the Catholic Church: it’s our job, as the Laity, to do this work. The ordained ministry is there to support us in this work and call ups to deeper holiness (which is the internalized version of this work). We turn the whole structure on its head when we forget that the point of our hierarchy is service: the higher up you go, the more folks you have to serve. The Pope is called “The servant of the servants of God”.  

So when we pray for more laborers, we don’t mean more clergy (although we need more Priests in America, at least). What we mean is more folks in the Laos. I heard an Evangelical – whom I rather like – say that there should be no division between the “laity” and the “clergy” (fair). He then said “Laity” comes from the Greek word for “nobodies”.  In fact, quite the reverse: in the Greek Old Testament which Jesus would have used, “Laos” is used for Am Israel, the people of God, but not for the Gentiles (the Goyim). The People is an “us” term. It’s not a nobody, it’s a member of and worker for the Kingdom.

That’s us, the Evangelizing people of God.

Can someone see your Parish from the road in normal traffic? If not, why are you not standing in the traffic directing folks into your spacious parking lot? You are the best local guide going. But you gotta work it.
_____

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Math is hard.


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et sponsabo te mihi in sempiternum; et sponsabo te mihi in justitia, et judicio, et in misericordia, et in miserationibus. Et sponsabo te mihi in fide; et scies quia ego Dominus.
And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. 

Zaphod Beeblebrox, the former president of the galaxy, was once condemned to a form of torture so cruel that no species was known to survive it. The Total Perspective Vortex showed the condemned being their true place in the universe by showing the entire universe and they, themselves in it. As this was the universe created by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker trilogy, there was a humorous point, of course: but it was driven home. We’re nothing.

Dr Sagan tried to make this same point in a different way, using an image of earth taken from beyond the reaches of our solar system and sent back. It’s more complex than Zaphod’s experience, but the message is much the same…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Through an odd literary conceit, Beeblebrox was not destroyed in the torture. I think Adams was on to something far more Christian that the self-described Atheist would ever know.

These verses today from Hosea are part of the blessing recited daily by pious Jewish men as they wrap their arm with the Tefillin. Specifically the bit about betrothal is added as the finger on the left hand is wrapped three times, as if it were a wedding ring.

I found this image in the wild,
but memory tells me this is Daniel Sieradski

The Tefillin are a sign of the wedding between God and Israel, the covenant struck at Sinai. This marriage, in turn, is a prefiguring of the restored union between God and all mankind, lost in paradise but restored in the last days.

God has bound us to himself in love by becoming one of us, by entering into this world as it’s creator, living and dying in it as its subject, and rising from the tomb as the conqueror of death and the Lord of all.

Wrestling thus with this passage I began to wonder at two things: the gender bending in that it is only men who wear Tefillin according to tradition, and yet it is men who speak as being betrothed (as bride) to God. And, in what way might this be personalized? Could one speak of himself as personally the Bride, in the Church or in the New Israel? Certainly the Tefillin are done individually, a sign, a connection, a sacramental, if you will, of the covenant itself between God and his people. But can that be seen as “one’s personal relationship”?

As Zaphod is exposed to infinity he discovers that he is, in fact, the center of the universe. It takes a while (in the books) to figure out why, but when I first read that it made perfect sense, at least in a mathematical sense. What is the center of infinity? Some, today, would want to say infinity means we are nothing. This is a sort of tyranny of gigantic numbers. The large wins, the small is lost. But in God’s economy, it is the proud that is lost. The humble wins. And, as Dr Sagan noted, these infinities leave us humble.

In God’s creation, as close to infinity as we can imagine, and God himself, who is an infinity of Love, what is the center of infinity? The math is clear: the center is you. The identifiable center of the infinite ocean of Love flowing from the Eternal, Radiant Is… is you. In a circle whose circumference is infinite, the center is everywhere. Far from being destroyed by the perspective of infinity, we are blessed to realize that it is one, in the first person, who is betrothed to the Eternal One, blessed be he. And it is that love, the source and ground of all being, that makes my own being, all other being possible.

If you were the only person left, God would die for you. In love. Infinity is in your hands and your heart. And you are betrothed in Love.

A few twists and you’re good to go.

JMJ

The Readings for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Libenter igitur gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis, ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi.
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 

Paul reports having a “thorn in the flesh”, some secret skate key that Satan can crank on to send Paul coasting; a way that Satan knew he could get to Paul. And Paul kept praying that God would take it away. And God said, No.

What was this thorn? The KJV makes it sound kinda like a sickness of some sort. Think like maybe the Ague, or the Dropsy, or Lumbago: some kind of old-timey illness that we might cure nowadays with a shot, but back then was just annoying. The Greek, though, says it’s more like a “pointy thing in my flesh” using the Greek word for the actual body, sarx ,the physical thing itself rather than a complex metaphor. This is something that bothers or hurts his body. The Latin of St Jerome renders this as “stimulus carnis meae” an irritation or even a “stimulus” of my flesh, in my sarx, my physical self. Paul has something rather more like a case of scabies,  physical scabies with spiritual implications.

I have a fear, a deep seated fear that rises from this verse. But also from an obscure, fringey (and admittedly heretical) teaching in Russian Orthodoxy called the Toll Houses.  This is like the idea of Purgatory, but with no way out: after we die, as we journey to the heavenly throne, the demons will be allowed to tempt us with our sins and we must rely on God’s Grace. Yes, I know this sounds rather more like the Hungry Ghosts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead or some other Pagan parasite on Christian truth. But I have a fear that after death I will be just as distracted as I am now by certain temptations of the flesh. And even though these cannot be fulfilled by the dark ghostly powers, they can be spuriously proffered. And what it I give in? And I am so afraid, that even at the last, a tautly flexed curve or a husky growl will doom me. 

Look… here is my weakness. Yes, I have other sins, but here is where God’s grace must be my sufficiency. What was Paul’s? I do not know. But here is stimulus carnis meae. For some it may be power, or wealth, or some other form of pleasure. But for me, just now, this is it.

Sufficit tibi gratia mea. This whispered promise, this trumpeted grace, these softly spoken words of my divine lover are the anchor of my hope against that fear I described. There is my weakest point and even so, there is the grace the strongest.

And I don’t know who you are who are reading this… but we are all taught to fight, to struggle, to reform, to build up, yet I think right here (or right there, where it is for you) that is the place to keep calm and pray. It’s not right to say, “Ah, well, God’s gonna fix it” because what if he doesn’t? What if “fixing” is not the point? What if the whole point is to give God the glory for rescuing even someone as messed up as me? Yes, we are to fight, to struggle, to semper reformada oursleves more and more into conformity with the Cross of Christ. But here, where the base material is least supported, where the foundation stones are the weakest, where the ice is thinnest… God’s glory comes from us saying, “You better got this. Cuz I do NOT got this.”

St Paul says that pro me autem nihil gloriabor nisi in infirmitatibus meis. As for myself, I will glory in nothing but my infirmities.  I will glory in nothing, myself, but these very things that God’s got for me. I can do nothing else… the actual reality that I am standing here (or sitting here) on a Saturday night typing at all and not, right now, chirruping up some bloke in bar is not an act of self control, but rather an act of prayer.

That’s not some holier than thou condescension, as you have no idea at all how easy it is to turn that skate key, to stand me on top of some hill in San Francisco and just give a shove. 

It is for the grace to pray at that point, when the skate key starts turning, that I beg God for each day. The three times to pray for this are morning, noon, and night, for all the ways that key might be turned are subtle, covert, and gentle. One does not need more than a lyft ride and a chatty fellow passenger, or an extrovert rider on the bus. There are so many affectations that need repair, so many coded idioms that need to be overcome. And in the end, the issue is only this: one doesn’t fight alone. This is a tag team match. And I’m not the main partner.

God’s grace is sufficient and, to paraphrase an old movie, the power of Christ indwells me.

This is God’s glory, not my own. We can dance in the fiery furnace not because we’re skilled in fending off hot coals but rather because God makes the flames throw dew. There is nothing sweeter than the breeze on a summer’s evening when it is carrying God’s grace from the furnace heated seven times and even killing those who stoked the fire. But here there is healing, mercy, peace.

A Hymn to God the Father

BY JOHN DONNE

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, 
         Which was my sin, though it were done before? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run, 
         And do run still, though still I do deplore? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won 
         Others to sin, and made my sin their door? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun 
         A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun 
         My last thread, I shall perish on the shore; 
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son 
         Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore; 
                And, having done that, thou hast done; 
                        I fear no more. 



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