Apostolic Office

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St James the Apostle
(17th Monday, Tempus per Annum, C2)

“Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Matthew 20:27

THE OFFICE OF READINGS for today’s feast has a wonderful passage from St John Chrysostom, commenting on today’s Gospel. Jesus is asked to let James and John sit on his right hand and left. Jesus says, “Can you drink the same chalice as me?” The two brothers say they can. And Jesus replies, “You will do so! But…” I’ve heard a lot of preachers take that as a “gotcha” moment. “Yes, ok, fine, you can drink this chalice but I can’t let you sit there.” Chrysostom says, instead, that Jesus “is really prophesying a great blessing for them, since he is telling them: ‘You will be found worthy of martyrdom; you will suffer what I suffer and end your life with a violent death, thus sharing all with me.'” Jesus is recognizing – even honoring – their zeal and the fullness of their faith as it was at this moment. He is telling them it will grow so much that they will die for him.

Then he corrects their wrong assumptions: for this means they will become slaves in their kingship, just as he, too, has become a slave in his Godhead.

Christ came to serve, not to be served. He calls the Apostles to this service. So, some part of the Apostolic office is, exactly service: to the poor, to the weak, the ill, and the lost. To express this in other words, some part of the Apostle’s ministry is to those who need the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One might say the entire mission of the Apostles is exactly the Works of Mercy.

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church has spread the Apostolic Office through the entire body of Christ. When Paul enumerates the charisms given to the Church he says that they are all given for the whole Church: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The entire Church together does this work and each office or charism is part of that work, intended for the whole. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) So, all of the ministries are for all of the Church.

When the Church is gathered at the Altar, especially in the presence of the Bishop, we experience the entire body of Christ in Symbol: the people and their Bishop, the presbyters and the deacons, together with the unseen Choirs of Saints also gathered, are configured fully to be Christ present and active in the world, worshipping the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Each member of the Body of Christ performs their ministry, their work in the world, only in this context.

Christ says to James and John that they will drink his chalice. But, see: you don’t quite understand yet what this means. Chill out, Thunder Bros. To drink of the Son’s Chalice is to become part of this glorious “fullness of Christ” in the world: we have work to do and we are sent to do it. But it is not our work we do. We don’t “have jobs” as such, only the work of Jesus continues.

And he came to serve, not to be served and to give his life.

I know you are but what am I

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

He replied, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

Matthew 13:29

ONE MIGHT BE TEMPTED to worry if one is a weed. Likewise, one may be equally tempted to imagine one is wheat. On the internet, at least, the diagnosis is in the second person and they are usually the weeds in question: something like “bogus ordo weeds”. Yet, consider this as the seed is all sown in the field of one heart?

Notice first that the sower sows good seed. After the good seeds start to grow the bad seed also shows up. So the bad seed came in later.

The good seed is the Logos, the Word of God, sown in every human heart by God who is the heart of every heart. If we could but listen to that Word fully and only we would be drawn to God-wards at every moment as assuredly as a comet is drawn back to the sun. But the enemy (more on that in a moment) has sown weeds or, as the more common reading would have it, tares. Tares look like wheat, but most certainly are not wheat! If you feed them to animals the tares are poison. Tares will ruin your flour if you do not get rid of them before grinding the wheat! Imagine losing an entire flour harvest because you missed a few tares on the way to the mill.

This is to suggest that both the wheat and the tares are in one’s own heart and so we need to be careful: careful to discern which is which and careful to not destroy the good. No heart we meet is all wheat nor is any heart all tares.

This applies both in the first person and in the second person. It applies both before and after conversion.

On our way into the Church (especially as adults) we may bring with us many tares from our past or from odd moments on the internet. We may find ourselves one day thinking “this ‘Christian’ thing actually wasn’t very Christian at all…” It could be theological or devotional, it could be moral or political. Just one day the Holy Spirit moved you to see that it was time to let this go. But how would it have been if someone – a few years ago – had reached out and tried to uproot those tares back then before you were ready?

Could it have possibly caused you to give up entirely?

If you were just coming into the Church and someone was pointing out all the tares, would you not have bothered at all? You know the sort: you have to stop that and that and that and that other thing too. You have to stop all this before we’ll even consider letting you into the Church. Or how would you feel if you had to adhere to a dress code before coming to communion? I knew an Orthodox priest who suggested a new convert needed to see a therapist because she had a nose ring. (This was literally the reason I never joined ROCOR nor had anything to do with them.)

As Aquinas says, God’s grace perfects our nature. This is often mistranslated as “Grace builds on nature”. No. Grace perfects. Sometimes grace will tear us down and start over again. The things in us that are of God will grow stronger if we encourage them. Dietrich von Hildebrand begins his wonderful Transformation in Christ with the call to change: “All true Christian life, therefore, must begin with a deep yearning to become a new man in Christ, an inner readiness to ‘put off the old man’ – a readiness to become something fundamentally different.” The things we think we are today become something new in Christ. What if everything we think we know about ourselves is wrong?

Jeremiah makes it clear that God’s concern both moral and theological: deal justly with your neighbor and don’t worship idols. God requires right worship and right action. (St James says this too. We need to be doers of the word, not just hearers, but we do need to be hearers…) If you don’t do the worship right you’re not doing the justice right either – and vice versa. Our God requires of us both a proper love of Him first and then also a love of neighbor.

So the question of wheat and tares becomes important as we navigate through our daily lives. Can we find ourselves in places where an admixture of wheat and tares leaves us wanting to run away? Where would we go? The Word of life is here. How do we treat others on the same path?

Again this is not you wheat me tares. In the end, the final division of what is useful in God’s kingdom and what is not useful at all will be in Purgatory: the good and the bad will flow through the fires of God’s love, the latter to destruction, the former to bread.

What we are called to do right now may be literally nothing but being faithful. Don’t stress when you find a tare, let God’s grace go to work.

Seduxisti me Domine 

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Mary Magdalen
16th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

I have found him whom my soul loveth.

Song of Songs 3:4

THIS VERSE SOUNDS like romance – and it is, certainly. I have seen it on a wedding ring. But that’s not what the Song of Songs is about. Or, rather, that’s not why it’s included in the Bible. I have also seen this verse embroidered on a tallit, that is, on a Jewish prayer shawl. It is how one feels about God, is it not? I have found him? Although, you know… it was not you who were seeking him. We have to dance with God, but God dances the lead. As the title of this post says, “You seduced me, Lord.” The text from Jeremiah 20:7 continues, “But I let myself be seduced”. It’s both-and. This line runs from the very beginning of scripture: God calls the world into being. God calls Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. God calls to Cain. God calls to Noah, to Abram, to Moses, God is always calling. It is we who reply. Yet somehow even that reply is him calling us. The love of Christ, as St Paul says, impels us. It is always God’s love that comes back to him.

This hymn by Jean Inglow is often sung by the friars at my parish:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true,
no, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold,
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea.
‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold
as thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but, oh, the whole
of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
always thou lovedst me.

This is the right melody but not the friars

Mary Magdalen is conflated by Church tradition with several women in the Gospels including the woman who washed and anointed Jesus in the house of Simon. There she is said to be forgiven much because she loved much (Luke 7:47). In later legends she is also conflated in the West with St Mary of Egypt, another person who can be said to have loved too much. When we love in that way, too much, we burn out. Things that are not ours to love in proper order become idols when we loved them. Disordered love is always idolatry. But God can put it back again into the right orientation. God can give things their proper perspective and function: that is to say, when God becomes the center, all the things move into the right places. Yet it is him moving them.

God’s love is properly envisioned as the love of a husband for his bride: we’re ever in the passive role when it comes to God. Yet his passion is for us: his consuming fire is the love of us. As marriage is a mystery “of Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32), so God used the image of an unfaithful wife in Hosea to convey his love for Israel.

“It was then that Hosea understood what had never been understood before him, the secret motives of God’s jealousy. This jealousy was in fact the very reverse; it was the touchstone of a sentiment that one would never have imagined the Creator could have for his creation: God is in love with his creature, in love with something that draws its very life from him, was made by him, but has nothing to give him. However, it is not merely a matter of pity, compassion, or an inclination to save, but rather of loving. Now there is no love without admiration. I think that what distinguished pity from love most strikingly is that with pity there is an awareness that one is better placed than the other; in the case of pity one bends down to another because the heart has been touched by the other’s misery, whereas with real love there is always wonder, always admiration. And when God says that he loves, it is a very serious matter and means that he has wonder and admiration for the beloved. It seems almost blasphemous to say that God can love his creature. How could such a crazy idea ever come forth from a human brain – that God loves his creature? We can imagine that his mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…?”

Fr Dominique Barthelemey, OP
God and His Image” p 166-167

Israel and the Church serve as this sign for all humanity. God loves us all in this way. And what he does for us, he has done for all. All are loved that way if only everyone would open our eyes.

Mary’s eyes were opened first. She is called the Apostle to the Apostles – she who was sent to those who are sent. She is also the Especial Protectress of the Dominicans and so your host as well. She clung to the Lord, he called her name, and gave her a mission. Mary went to the garden – but Jesus was waiting for her. Jesus was planing their dinner long before Zacchaeus ever put foot to branch to climb. Before – and mark well that before – God formed you in the womb, he knew you. He has known you and loved you from all eternity. You.

The Magdalen – and all of us – only love what we imagine to be good, as St Thomas noted. No one loves evil because it is evil. We love only what we imagine to be good. While we are sometimes wrong in that imagining – the Byzantines pray for us to be delivered from our “evil imaginations” and from the “slavery to my own reasonings” – we seek the truth and love for any (even disordered) truth can lead us to the Real Thing if we love much and honestly. It is a matter of tearing off the masks to see the real evil beneath our bad love choices, and then seeing the Real Good where our love leads us – for it is his love at all.

So it is a romance: God is romancing us.

The same verse from the Song of Songs is pressed on my breviary cover. As strange as it sounds, it is his love I pour back to him as I pray the words of David and the Prophets in the Daily Office. I have nothing to offer here. I have nothing to share. I have nothing worthy of him (even playing on my drum). I have no love like his. And he knows. We can imagine that is mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…? If it were possible, this makes him love us the more. Yet his love is infinite. There is no room in infinity for more: all I have is his already, and I pour it out on him and on those whom he sends to me: this is not my love. It is his. As the woman at the well said, “He told me everything I ever did.” Yet he loved me all the more, not in spite, but through it all until finally I found him whom my soul loves.

Sure I was seduced. But I let myself be seduced.

Making Shallow Wells

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.

Matthew 13:11

EVERY SUMMER my brother, sister, and myself would spend time with my Grandparents at their home in Panama City Beach, Fla. It wasn’t condo-filled resort community it is now: rather it was a large, sandy trailer park with ramshackle one- and two-story “motor courts” and tourist traps. The latter consisted of various miniature golfing establishments, a wild west show, and the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Like many such communities, much of the tourist trade was destroyed by the amount of economic support thrown to the Disney company both by gov’t and by tourists. People vote with their feet. (For more on this line of thought, you might like Dixie before Disney.) What drew people to this place though was the white sand beaches of the northern Gulf of Mexico: pure, dazzling white in the Florida sun from the verge covered in Sea Oats, then out under the water for a very long while. You could see the white sand under the warm waves. It was the white sand that earned the area the title, “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” WMBB is still the ABC affiliate there. Swimming was nice and all, but it was playing in the sand that kept us going back to the beach.

You could dig for hours! Pile sand up! There were crabs and bivalves, slimy jellies and so very many sand dollars. Occasionally you’d find a Crucifix Fish!

You could dig “wells” really deep. There would be a little water in the bottom as you reached sea level. And then this odd thing would happen: the water would do its thing in the sand. The walls of the well would collapse and the hole would close up as you watched. Eventually, there would be nothing left but a little depression where you had been playing. Mind you, as we were playing on the beach, the entire Gulf of Mexico was a few feet away. This is the image that comes to my mind reading Jeremiah. “My people have forsaken me, the source of living waters; They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

I think of this when I think of my wanderings outside of the faith. And I think of it whenever I hear of Catholics who find their own faith meaningless but go running after newagey things like “Native American Prayers”, astrology, tarot, and reiki. Yes, I’ve met Catholics into all of these things. And the “Native American Prayer” was offered in our RCIA class. A friend recently shared with me the full text of two articles by Fr Gilbert Márkus, OP, called Celtic Shmeltic. (Referenced in footnote 5 of Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the “New Age” from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.) The whole newage world is filled with shallow wells don’t hold water.

We go looking for deep mysteries. But God has already given them to us.

Chesterton’s famous quote about Christianity goes well here, but not in the way he intended: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” He was speaking of morals, but it applies to all of Jesus’ teaching. We want to simplify it. We want Jesus’ teaching to be an easy melody, a short chorus, and maybe a guitar. Instead, his words blast us in a 40-part motet with full orchestral accompaniment played in a contrapuntal syncopation that would make John Coltrane’s head spin.

And we need to sit there and let it wash over us, reshaping us, changing our ideas of what music is – of what it was intended to be.

This is why the Apostles are like “What are you doing, Jesus?” And Jesus is all, “Trust me, I got you. But my words are NOT very easy to understand.”

But we want them to be.

The problem is we’re fallen. We want deep mysteries that confirm us in our sins, make us feel good about our choices, and – generally – don’t require too much of our lives. We love to be told everything means a lot more than we let on. “This is not sinning, it’s actually an advanced metaphor for salvation…” whispers the snake to us as we take the fruit.

We fall into a shallow well of our own digging and the walls close in on us and we die.

Perpetual Adoration

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Apollinaris, bishop and martyr

Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying to me, See, I place my words in your mouth!

Jeremiah 1:9

LET’S OPEN UP with an episode of Catholic Stuff You Should Know. I’ve forgotten the episode number, but it blew my mind. A seminarian and two priests were talking:

Seminarian: You invited us for a bike ride
Priest 1: I thought it would be fun
Seminarian: But then you gave us the silent treatment
Priest 2: you did your holy hour
Seminarian: you put your headphones on and the first half of the ride was totally silent

And I’m thinking to myself, “Holy hour? On a bike ride? With headphones? What would Fulton Sheen say?”

That one off-handed comment left me thinking, though. Or, caused me to pick up something I’d begun before: how close do you need to be to the Blessed Sacrament to engage in Adoration?

The monstrance is usually an enclosed container of glass so it’s not “air-to-eye” contact. But also it’s not even eye-to-eye contact as you can do adoration when the Eucharist is in the closed tabernacle. There are some churches that are quite large so “from the other end of the same room” means half a block away or more. But you don’t need to be inside: Fulton Sheen himself reported doing a Holy Hour from the Church parking lot when the doors were locked.

And so, if you can be a block away and outside… why not on your bike?

Can you realize, where you are, that you are in the presence of God? Is the Sacramental Presence in the Tabernacle – body, blood, soul, and divinity – any less real than the living presence of God in your being, at the very root of your beingness? Is the Consecrated Host – the actual presence of God – any less real to you than the living presence of God in your life? Can you live in an ongoing act of Spiritual Communion?

In today’s readings, Jeremiah has an experience parallel to Isaiah’s Hot Coal moment, to the same ends, but in another format. And it reminded me of Jesus’ statement, “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matthew 10:20). But there are other similar movements in scripture:

And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!

Numbers 11:29

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33 / Hebrews 8:10

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

Joel 2:28 / Acts 2:17

Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

II Corinthians 3:3

How can we read these and not want to engage in a deeper relationship? How can we hear what God has planned for his people and not want to dig in? If these are the intentions of God how can we not crave and desire these intentions to be manifest in our lives?

Instead of my earlier question, “Can you live in an ongoing act of Spiritual Communion?” Let us try a better one: Dare you not make the attempt? God is ready for you to do so. The word is very near… why not speak to him?

It may change your life entirely, in fact, it is assured to take you out of step with many things you possibly hold dear now. But if you have an ongoing, active, conscious conversation with the Living God, would that not surpass at least a little of what you’d lose?

Bike Riding Holy Hour Now, Y Not?


Always distinguish.

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Monday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

You have been told, O human, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

AT TIMES the entirely orthodox language of the Church sounds rather like the language of the world. It’s not that the Church is too close to the world: rather it’s just that the world has come close enough to the Church to try and confuse Christians. This is dangerous and we need to be on the lookout at all times. Lest “even the elect might be deceived” (Matthew 24:24). Today is one of those times and the “almost worldly language” is do justice.

First, let’s say what it is.

The Hebrew phrase used in Micah is asot mishpat. Asot means “to do” well enough, but mishpat does not mean Justice or righteousness. It does mean judgement. The LXX (ποιεῖν κρίμα poein krima) and the Latin Vulgate (facere judicium) carry this meaning as well. Do a judgement or, more to the point, make a division. Almost every English translation puts in here something about “justice”. And while the way to that idea is clear in the words “division” or “judgement”, there is a direct route from the choice for “justice” to being tripped up by the world.

The world has a decidedly different idea of “justice” than God and worse, the world’s idea of Justice is always changing. At the present time, “justice” in the world includes the right to murder innocent lives in the womb, to help them die later in life, and to deny any meaning to the words “man” and “woman”, or to our bodies. That’s “justice” in the world now.

Needless to say, that’s not acceptable to Christians: God’s law is the deciding factor for what is “just” or not. But, again, that’s not what this verse is saying.

When the late Robert Christian, OP, was consecrated as Auxiliary Bishop for our Archdiocese he gave a brief thank you talk at the end of the service. During that talk he used a phrase that I instantly committed to memory (because it seemed so important). Later I learned it was a very traditional part of the Dominican teaching and theological repertoire, often attributed to St Thomas Aquinas:

Rarely affirm, seldom deny, always distinguish.

It’s that last bit about distinguishing that gets to the heart of what is intended by Hosea by mishpat: it’s not “do justice” (and especially not in the au courant sense of “there is no truth, everyone is right”). Rather it’s an adjuration to distinguish between the things that are important to our final end (that is, for our salvation) and to be able to move forward as needed.

On the most recent episode of Clerically Speaking Fr Harrison pointed out that we often answer ideological questions by jumping to the opposite ideology. Alternatively, if someone has bought into an ideological form of Catholicism, everyone with whom one disagrees is clearly from the opposite ideology. You can see this on the Bird App as people accuse brother and sister Catholics of being Nazis and Marxists. While there are a few of each, certainly, it seems evident that “when I point one finger at you I’m pointing four back at myself.”

So we have to learn to parse things out. To distinguish.

When someone is using a given ideology – Fr Harrison used Gender Ideology in his example – rather than simply jumping into reaction formation, we may want to try and understand what has caused the other person to go so far afield. When they ask for “justice” we want to distinguish between sin and sinner, between what we can legitimately do (with a goal of bringing about a mutual conversion to a deeper faith) and what we cannot do that would involve damning all parties involved.

During my RCIA class, someone asked our teacher if they were required to believe all these dogmas before they became Catholic. In my newbie state I was disappointed that the teacher took 45 mins to say “not really”, but in the fullness of the answer, we are required to assent to them. It may take a lifetime to reach full faith in them. There’s ongoing growth in the faith and one needn’t be perfect to become Catholic.

We need to learn that the real goal of any human relationship is not to “be 100% right and argue the other party into submission” but rather – walking humbly with our God – to bring everyone (ourselves included) closer to God’s Kingdom one step at a time. We need to distinguish the path and through mercy, that is, God’s Grace, we can come forward together.

Come in and sat a spell.

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

The mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones.

Colossians 1:26

CLOSING (ALMOST?) EVERY video & podcast they make, the folks over at the Bible Project recite their Doctrinal Position: “We believe the Bible is a unified book that leads to Jesus.” They use typology and historical study to make this point in over 150 videos translated into 13 languages as they walk us from Eden to Eternity, underscoring both its cultural context and its current applications. And they do most of it in a way that is illuminating and yet wonderfully transparent: they are teaching, yes, but they take us on a voyage of discovery where they are (usually) only a step or two ahead, showing us the way. They are not deigning to download their vast learning “at us” but rather inviting us to learn along with them.

In our Sunday readings Paul takes that same tack: what the Apostles are preaching is the “mystery hidden” from all who came before. Now it’s made fully known to the saints: “Christ in you, the Hope of Glory”.

The Messiah is the fullness of the message God has sent to us. He has come not to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill them. He is the key that unlocks the fullest meaning in all of the scriptures and if you read a passage and think “this doesn’t point to Jesus at all” then you’re reading it wrong.

But it’s a lifetime of study.

The Bible can be deceptively easy. Look at the reading from Genesis: Abraham says to the three strangers (that is, to God), “Sit here in the shade while I get you something to eat.” Then he gets some bread, cheese, and meat and serves it to them. Which sounds good, I guess. But the Bible makes it clear that he asks his wife to make bread – at least a couple of hours worth of work – and, in the meantime, he kills a calf and roasts it. So, maybe 6 hours? This all happens in the space of a few verses of Genesis, but it takes most of the day: starting at “while the day was growing hot” and going to supper time. Did God spend the night before walking on towards Sodom?

In the Gospel, instead of Abraham and Sarah with God, we have Mary and Martha with God. These latter two also struggle with what God is saying to them. Yet they offer hospitality to God and welcome into their home the Infinite One whom all the heavens cannot contain.

Then you must sit with it for a while.

Mercy, not sacrifice, as we read earlier this week. But didn’t God give us (or Israel, at least) a long list of sacrifices and rituals? Yes, but what happened first? The people after having agreed to the Covenant popped off and worshipped the golden calf, breaking the Covenant even before they had received the Tablets of the Law from Moses. God says he’s going to destroy them and start over, but his anger is appeased by Moses’ intercession. No sacrifice needed: the people were saved by prayer and mercy, that is, grace. Jesus, God in the flesh, is not a new plan: it was the plan all along for God to be mercy for us. He loved us even while we were sinners.

And waits only for our hospitality to reveal himself in the mystery that has been hidden through the ages.

They are our brothers

There is a two-year cycle of Patristic Readings for the Office of Readings. It is not yet in the Liturgy of the Hours, but you can use it in the Universalis app, for example. The post below is the Patristic reading from the Monday of the 16th Week in Year 1.

JMJ

From a discourse of St Augustine on Psalm 32

Whether they like it or not, those who are outside the church are our brothers We entreat you, brothers, as earnestly as we are able, to have charity, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the Church. Of these some are still pagans, who have not yet made an act of faith in Christ. Others are separated, insofar as they are joined with us in professing faith in Christ, our head, but are yet divided from the unity of his body. My friends, we must grieve over these as over our brothers; and they will only cease to be so when they no longer say our Father.

The prophet refers to some men saying: When they say to you: You are not our brothers, you are to tell them: You are our brothers. Consider whom he intended by these words. Were they the pagans? Hardly; for nowhere either in Scripture or in our traditional manner of speaking do we find them called our brothers. Nor could it refer to the Jews, who do not believe in Christ. Read Saint Paul and you will see that when he speaks of “brothers,” without any qualification, he refers always to Christians. For example, he says: Why do you judge your brother or why do you despise your brother? And again: You perform iniquity and common fraud, and this against your brothers.

Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptize us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognising our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers.

If they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.

And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realise that they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.

The Kingdom is Like a Trigger Warning

The Readings for the 16th Sunday
Tempus per Annum

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

JMJ

ALL OF THESE PARABLES in Matthew 13 begin “the Kingdom of God is like…”and they always leave me wondering, is the Kingdom like the whole image in the story or like the first symbol in the story the actor or the one to which things happen. In today’s collection of parables each “main thing” is
– a man who sowed good seed in his field;
– a mustard seed;
– yeast.
There are actors in each story – men and women – and they do things like planting a seed or making bread, but which part of the story is the kingdom?

Each of these parables also addresses what should be the action of the Church (God’s Kingdom) in the world. They address evangelism and “church growth” in ways that are unexpected but are very necessary in today’s situation. The actors in the story could each be Jesus (even the woman making bread) or the Holy Spirit, but they are also us, the Evangelists who announce the Good News in the world.

The Mustard Seed is probably the most familiar one in our post-Christian culture. Everyone knows if you have faith “like a mustard seed” you can get a car on Oprah’s show or earn money like Joel Oralsteen. The open secret is, of course, that’s not what Jesus is offering us here. Jesus says the Kingdom starts small and then grows into something huge that even protects others.

The Parable of the Yeast is even more exciting: the woman, of course, is not using dry, powdered yeast from the grocer, but rather sourdough starter. When you mix that with three measures of flour and let it rest the entire thing becomes starter which you can use in the next batch. (The normal thing is to save only a bit of the dough as the yeast for the next batch, but the whole mix is the same thing.) Thus, the Kingdom starts as this small thing – that changes everything! You can take any part of the Kingdom from here and set it over there and it will grow more!

The first being last, the series opens with the Wheat and the Tares or Weeds. You can’t tell the tares from the wheat, the food from the garbage. Tares are, in fact, poisonous and look like wheat so much so that they often get saved, ground as flour and baked. In a small dose can just make the bread taste bad – they can also make you sick. The experience of the Church can be like that: there are bad places where you can get quite sick. There is sexual abuse, yes, but there are also well-meaning folks who just water the faith down enough to be dangerous. There are rigorists who make it so hard to enter the Kingdom that they damn everyone. There are politicians who claim the name of Christian only for their political ends. And there are clergy who play the same game for the sake of power. Yet (especially from the outside looking in) it’s heard to tell the wheat from the tares, until you taste and your stomach is turned.

As Jesus was speaking the Church was 12 men (one of whom would turn traitor), the Blessed Mother, and a handful of other men and women. By the middle of the First Century, there were only a few thousand out of the entire world. There were – at each stage – already some who were tares. No less then than now. Jesus tells us not to worry. Yes, there are tares, but don’t be one of those. There’s a whole process here that is really none of your concern: God’s working this all out. But there is also hope: the whole thing will be leavened. The entire world will be changed, the kingdom will shelter even the birds of the air.

The Church now fills the whole world but truth be told she seems to reflect the world as much as she leavens it. How can she fill the world with hope? Can she purge out the tares so that the crop is pure? The Gospel says she can’t: for they – like the poor – will always be with us. Only at the end of the age… but Jesus puts an interesting spin on it: it’s not only sinners that are tares. He says the angels “will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin.” That’s actually pretty strong language: for we can all do that if we’re not careful. Even in what we imagine to be righteous acts we may cause others to sin. The Greek word used there is σκάνδαλα skandala. The Angels will gather out of the kingdom all the skandala. It literally means “trigger” or “bait”. Jesus is telling us don’t trigger each other.

Saint Paul will later tell us don’t do anything that will make the weaker brethren stumble. He acknowledges that some people might stumble because he eats meat. He said he would rather give up meat than keep others from entering the kingdom. How often do we do things – even things which might be good, in and of themselves – that cause other people to stumble? How often are our actions scandals? The Byzantine Rite has a prayer asking for forgiveness for sins we did not know we had committed: “things known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary.” These are called venial in the Latin rite (CCC ¶1862) “without full knowledge or without complete consent”. Yet they damage a relationship with our weaker brothers and sisters – and so with God. I don’t think God will keep out of his kingdom those who feel compelled to run away by our scandals. On the other hand, those of us who are scandals may have trouble.

The reader may or may not know that sometimes Orthodox monastics can be viewed with suspicion by lay people or by parish clergy. This is a cultural thing in the East. I remember that the late Metropolitan Philip, may he rest in peace, once said, “I don’t want monastics in my church they cause trouble.” I remember hearing of two Orthodox nuns were visiting a parish on behalf of their religious community. One member of the parish took it upon herself to follow the two Sisters around to make sure they didn’t “do anything”. I’m sure that they did nothing, but this member of the parish accused them of stealing food out of the kitchen, since there was a lot of food in the Parish’s kitchen and certainly none at their convent. She called several other members of the parish together to hear the accusation. One of the nuns offered a defense, saying that they had done no such thing. The other nun fell to the ground prostrate and begged forgiveness of the member of the parish for whatever she had done to cause such a scandal.

That prostration, my brothers and sisters, is not causing the weaker Brethren to stumble. In the Gospel the only Sinners we’re given to know is our own self in the first person. Everyone else reacts to my sins, but they are not sinners: I cannot know the state of their heart. So when we see churches burnt, or statues torn down. We should not be like the first nun or the tares amidst the wheat. We should wonder what our sins are: what did we do to trigger this? We should pray for forgiveness – as well as beg forgiveness of the others against whom our sins were committed.

We should evangelize in love.

Looking Trough a Cloud Darkly


JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 16th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

In the night watch just before dawn the LORD cast through the column of the fiery cloud upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic.

If you read Gone with the Wind you get a very different image of Scarlet O’Hara than you do if you watch the movie. The movie skipped bits of the book – which was the best selling book in America at the time – for the sake of brevity. And, because some narrative was edited out, bits of the on-screen story had to be changed. Did you know Scarlet had a son by her first husband before he died early in the war? Anyway: these things did not change the meaning of the movie for the audience at the time because they had all read the book. Moviemakers could make assumptions based on the knowledge of their audience.

I had this reading at the Easter Vigil and I was confused by this verse. Here it is again… so time to look into these word choices.
…Cast upon the Egyptian Force a glance… it sounds like a “dirty look”, or a sort of curse. And what’s with the very off-putting turn of phrase, cast on them a glance that threw? There are no passive verbs in the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin versions of this verse, nor in any English translation.
The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin versions of this text, along with all the English ones based on them, have the Lord looking out and doing something.

The NABRE has the Lord looking out and then – through a really painful grammatical construction – has the Egyptians doing something in reaction to the look.

Are the translators trying to Save God’s Reputation? Well, probably not. Evidently, one bias in the modern Roman Catholic world is to eliminate “troubling” passages. In the ancient languages, this verse says God kills the Egyptians. That could, you know, raise questions. We’d end up discussing the book of Job.

Better to dodge that bullet by saying the Egyptians panic of their own free will which accidentally implies that they could see God looking at them.

Skipping passages that may raise questions is not limited to the Catholic Church. In the Orthodox Churches, where the daily offices of Matins and Vespers are often pared down to 30-45 mins of time (instead of the full celebration of same which could take – literally – hours) it’s up to the Choirmaster to pick which parts to skip. This results in some interesting choices depending on the biases involved. At a Monastery it’s the Father Superior who has that final say, and there, too, interesting choices are made.

The thing about liturgical editing of texts into a lectionary or an evening service is that it should assume literacy and familiarity on the part of the singers, readers, and congregation. All of us should know what was skipped for the sake of brevity or complexity. We should not be confused by the difference between the movie and the book

The real issue is that we do not know what we’re missing.

So when a Greek Parish compresses the entire 45 minute recitation (hour-plus if singing it properly) of the Matins Canon into 5-8 minutes, the Congregation begins to think that’s normal: it’s only the other, strange parishes that make up stuff to extend this. When the Liturgy of the Hours says here is the text for the Psalm, who notices any more when it skips a few verses? Do even the clergy who have to recite it know? When a church that uses the Common Lectionary has someone say, “That’s not in the Bible!” Is it because they never bothered to learn, or because someone hid it from them?