Meanwhile, on the Gridiron.

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Laurence

Qui amat animam suam, perdet eam; et qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam aeternam custodit eam.
Ὁ φιλῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολλύει αὐτήν · καὶ ὁ μισῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον φυλάξει αὐτήν .
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
This is one of those places where English loses out to both Greek and Latin. Both of these languages have (at least) two words for “life” and the writers of the scriptures use them to mean different things. I’ve set them in bold in the verse above. 

Animam (Latin)  corresponds to the Greek ψυχὴν psyche and it means that common life we all have no matter who or what we are: the driving force that humanity shares with bovinity, broccolinity, and also amoebinity. Or, as Douglas Adams put it in Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “all lifekind”. Anything made of carbon (and maybe a few other elements) that we describe as “alive” is this.

Vitam in Latin, on the other hand, is the Greek ζωὴν zoe. This is what Humanity shares with all the other Spiritual creatures. For a human is a Spirit/Flesh hybrid. We are not only living matter, as are animals, nor are we only spiritual beings, as are demons, angles, etc. We are flesh and blood. And we are Spirit.  We have choices to make regarding our Vitam and our Animam on a daily, or literally moment-by-moment basis.

It’s to be noted that the choice of “love” in English corresponds with φιλῶν philio in Greek, that sort of love we think of as friendship. God, in John’s Gospel, loves the world with agape or a divine charity. We can do the same thing. But friendship with the world is an entirely different thing all together. A friend, says Solomon in the book of Proverbs, loves at all times. That level of loyalty to the world is what we’re not supposed to be doing.

The gridiron has been an important religious symbol since the third century. Today’s Saint is the patron of my former Monastery. St Laurence is known for two things: his snarky martyrdom, and his use of the treasures of the church in what, today, would be called embezzlement. 

When the elders of the Roman Church saw a persecution looming up on the horizon, they entrusted all the wealth to Laurence, a young deacon of the church, and urged him to safeguard it. But he knew the Gospel story. So when he was arrested he promised he would turn over the whole thing… and they sent him home to get his booty – which he promptly delivered into the hands of the poor as was his job. So he gave away everything that was in the church’s possession and returned to his jailers. He said the treasure would be delivered in the morning. And when all the poor of the city showed up on the doorstep, he said, These poor are the treasure of Christ’s church.

Even Church gold can be friendship with the world. And we must always be mindful of the sin of mammonolatry.

So Laurence was arrested and condemned to death for loving Christ’s treasures too much and the world’s too little. We’ll get to what that has to do with football in a minute.
Thomas Aquinas gathered these Christian elders into a Rabbinical sort of conversation on this passage:

Chrysostom. He loves his life in this world, who indulges its inordinate desires; he hates it, who resists them. It is not, who doth not yield to, but, who hates. For as we cannot bear to hear the voice or see the face of them whom we hate; so when the soul invites us to things contrary to God, we should turn her away from them with all our might. 

Theophylact. It were harsh to say that a man should hate his soul; so He adds, in this world: i.e. for a particular time, not forever. And we shall gain in the end by so doing: shall keep it to life eternal. 

Augustine. But think not for an instant, that by hating your soul, is meant that you may kill yourself. For wicked and perverse men have sometimes so mistaken it, and have burnt and strangled themselves, thrown themselves from precipices, and in other ways put an end to themselves. This did not Christ teach; nay, when the devil tempted Him to cast Himself down, He said, Get you hence, Satan. But when no other choice is given you; when the persecutor threatens death, and you must either disobey God’s law, or depart out of this life, then hate your life in this world, that you may keep it to life eternal. 

Chrysostom. This present life is sweet to them who are given up to it. But he who looks heavenwards, and sees what good things are there, soon despises this life. When the better life appears, the worse is despised. This is Christ’s meaning, when He says, If any man serve Me, let him follow Me, i.e. imitate Me, both in My death, and life. For he who serves, should follow him whom he serves. 

Augustine. But what is it to serve Christ? The very words explain. They serve Christ who seek not their own things, but the things of Jesus Christ, i.e. who follow Him, walk in His, not their own v ways, do all good works for Christ’s sake, not only works of mercy to men’s bodies, but all others, till at length they fulfill that great work of love, and lay down their lives for the brethren. But what fruit, what reward? you ask. The next words tell you: And where I am, there shall also My servant be. Love Him for His own sake, and think it a rich reward for your service, to be with Him. 

Chrysostom. So then death will be followed by resurrection. Where I am, He says; for Christ was in heaven before His resurrection. Thither let us ascend in heart and in mind.

Aquinas: If any man serve Me, him will My Father honor. This must be understood as an explanation of the preceding. There also shall My servant be. For what greater honor can an adopted Son receive than to he where the Only Son is? 

Chrysostom. He says, My Father will honor him, not, I will honor him; because they had not yet proper notions of His nature, and thought Him inferior to the Father. 

A friend yields to the desires of his friend. A friend supports his friend in all actions. A friend will be loyal to the death. But yet might only on rare occasions correct or even chide. A friend is known by the company he keeps, really. And, to value one’s psyche over and above one’s Zoe is to cave in, far to many times, to the things of the world.

I find myself smiling when I see a priest using a smartphone to read his office or to navigate a litany without a book. But I had a coworker once who lost his job for using smartphones and tablets in the way one might in these latter days. And that same problem was mine in the monastery. So I worry, too. What else happens with phones pulled out in Mass? So, that, I think, is the line for friendship with the world – not the smartphone, but the misuses of it. And so pull that image out into an analogy. I know folks who pray before voting and who abstain from some races while voting in others – all to take part in the political process as they feel is their religious duty. But I know others who cave in on all issues in the name of a political defeat of “the enemy”, saying it is more important to get electoral victory than to hold on to their faith. In which case friendship with the world seems to have taken over.

That’s where we cross the line – or at least where I do. I find that it’s really easy to write the posts even nightly for a fortnight. And then still find myself caving in to concupiscence. Friendship with the world becomes addiction. 

And we must begin, again, to say “We acknowledged that we were powerless over our friendship with the world and our lives had become unmanageable.” 

Today, as schools return to session, many folks will be looking forward to games played on the gridiron. In some places, even clergy will get into the act, trying to be “cool” and “relevant” in their friendship with the world, seemingly unaware that anything that keeps their flock away from the altar on Sunday is the force of evil. Full stop. Anything at all that would be good, clean fun in most times, once it begins to override our connection with the Lord at Mass, is evil. And lest one think I am speaking only of our pornographic obsessions with team sports, I know a good few folks who get upset when the service takes them in to “overtime” as defined by the pot roast in the slow-cooker at home. 

We must learn to say, with St Laurence, that even the world’s worst actions are not as bad as losing our Zoe, our common life with God.  Tied to a large iron grid, and roasted over a flame… he rather famously said, “I’m done on that side. Turn me over.”

I want to imagine it said with a smile that angered his torturers and moved his friends to tears.

And so should we all be able to say if we’ve come to believe that a power higher than ourselves can restore us to sanity. God’s zoe is all that we need. It puts absolutely everything else in its proper place. Even football. Or that thing Americans play with the pointy ball.
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Food for the Dogs…

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Dominic
Wednesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Non est bonum sumere panem filiorum, et mittere canibus.
It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. 

It’s a long standing bit of church-geeky wordplay that takes St Dominic’s name and turns his friars into Domine Canes the Dogs of the Lord. Yet they come by it honest, for before he was born, his mother the Blessed Jane of Aza, had a vision of a dog carrying a torch as it ran through a field, catching all things on fire. A Benedictine priest told her that her son would be a preacher, setting the world on fire for Christ.

Dominic’s first and longest standing outreach was to the Albigensian heretics of Southern France. These were, essentially, a Manichean revival, teaching that physical things were bad. Physical here includes the body. Spirit trapped in a physical shell… this is a familiar teaching to many, but it is not Christianity. The Church teaches that humanity is a spirit-flesh hybrid, and that our physical selves are as important as our spiritual and mental makeup. This is why Christians believe in “carnis resurrectionem” and “resurrectionem mortuorum”, that is the resurrection of the flesh from the dead. Since they believed the flesh to be evil, the Albigensians did not believe in the physical resurrection at all. Bringing the Gospel to these folks was a lifelong process for Dominic. 


So on to other word play. Matthew’s Canaanite Woman.

It’s important to know that at the time of this story there were no Canaanites because there hadn’t been a Canaan for thousands of years.  It’s as much of an anachronistic misnomer as is calling Jesus as “Palestinian” for there was no province of “Palestine” at this time. Matthew’s well-trained Jewish audience would know who the Canaanites were and, since they spoke Greek, they would have enjoyed comparing the  woman as a κυνάρια, kynaree-a (canine) and a Χαναναία, a kananaia (Canaaanite).

Equally wrong would be calling Jesus a racist because of this story. (I suspect Fr Martin has already lined up his Jesuitical tweets in this regard.) The lack of actual Canaanites in this time period means there’s more than an historical/literal point here. If Jesus is God he is setting up the scene, and everyone is falling into play: Jesus solicits a show of faith from the woman just as he does from others. At Matthew’s telling, Jesus uses wordplay to force his audience to listen again. “Did he just say that?”

There are other cases of word play in Matthew’s Gospel. I think they are important. Matthew’s community is being taught something that is lost on us, perhaps because we no longer need it in our preaching. Or because we are easily offended.

Yet there is something here.

Jesus is reaching out to the Gentiles very early and using them as examples of faith. Matthew’s community probably gets mildly scandalized here. Even more so when the Centurion’s servant is described in terms of pederasty. Matthew seems to want his community to see there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to the Gentiles who, in fact, can be better at this faith game than the Jews. And he uses word play to call them out.

So back to Dominic, whose Albigensian preaching became the first really good example of enculturating the Gospel. The preachers and teachers of the heretical movement were poor ascetics. The people could see in their leaders a holiness of life that they could not see in the wealthy Catholic prelates and even parish priests, with their huge carriages and houses and domestic staffs. Dominic knew that the first thing he’d have to have was a community of preachers whose lives reflected the poverty that these folks had come to expect of their religious leaders.

So the followers of Dominic became poor that they might reach the poor, and well educated to debate with the folks who were preaching the heresies. The dogs of the Lord begged for their bread crumbs and lived lives that the locals could see as holy.

They didn’t become Albigensians, but they did find in the heresy something good, something of value that they could carry with them to bring the Gospel more fully home to these folks. It matters not that they have to give up worldly splendor and comforts to preach. In fact, as it turns out, that’s one of the greatest goods of the Dominicans, their ability to move through the world unencumbered by the things of this world and although this is a clear teaching of the Gospel, they begin using it to combat its misuse among the Albigensian communities.

This is how the Gospel must be preached today: finding the good in things (even if it is misused) and calling it out to draw others deeper into the fullness of the Spirit.



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Something about the Name.

Holy Name Altar, St Dominic’s SF
JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Statimque Jesus locutus est eis, dicens : Habete fiduciam : ego sum, nolite timere.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”



Today, 7 August, is a feast no more among the Catholics of the Roman Rite as far as I know, but it holds a place in my heart. In England, today was at one time the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This was a popular feast and there were altars and fetes, and society and guild meetings, fairs and all. 

Then Came Henry.
And Cramner
To destroy and ruin all that had been built.

But they could not destroy this devotion and so the English Church, even in her Babylonian captivity, kept this feast beyond king Nebuchadnezzar’s death, beyond the fateful reigns of all his children and their children, this devotion held together with the memory of this feast. The 1662 BCP held this feast, the Anglo Catholics remembered in during that revival in the 19th Century, and held on to it. Nowadays, though, many folks just stick with 8 Days after Christmas.  Still this lovely feast in Early August…  It’s not in the Roman calendar, but when I was Western Rite Orthodox it was on our calendar. And my monastery kept this feast as well. It’s in our old OSB Breviary – copied from the C of E’s attempt at an OSB Revivial in the great house of Nashdom – although the texts are not special for this day: they are just copied over from January.

And so this feast… what is it about the Name of Jesus? The devotion is not just Catholic. The Orthodox have it. Protestants have it. And it’s nearly the same in all forms: just a meditation and mulling on the name, itself.

The heathens have this same sense as well, for not a one of them will ever curse in the name of Allah, nor any Sikh guru. No one will settle for a “God damn it” in a meeting when they can utter the all powerful name of Jesus in a blasphemy. Their piety is twisted, but they know. And they will say it even when they don’t know a Christian is in the room. They’re not doing it to offend or get a rise, they are making a powerful statement on purpose.

There’s something about that name.

If you are of the Eastern Rite, you have a long form of devotion to the name, the reciting of the Jesus Prayer whilst using the prayer rope. In the west, the Litany of the Holy Name is a very good, daily practice. But there is another western devotion, dating back to the Henrican Reformation. Published in 1520, the Jesus Psalter was a very popular devotion.  

Best said on a Rosary, in my opinion, it begins with a ten-fold recitation of the Holy Name and some invocation:


Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me. (10x)
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, grant me grace to remember my death. (10x)
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, give me grace to order my life to thee. (10x)
Et cetera.


It is divided into three sets of five decades each, and so it pairs well with the Rosary of Our Lady for daily recitation or for use as one long prayer at a Holy Hour. I find it very useful at a Latin Mass where I suspect it was used most. A full text is here, although there are a number of variants available. Some are in print, arranged for group recitation. Some few are in other places online. Using these invocations and images to meditate on the name of Jesus gives not only a more-full sense of what the English were on about, but also will expand your sense of what the Name of Jesus (“God Saves”) is all about. Salvation does not mean “keep me out of hell” although that’s a part of it, nor does it mean “Take me to heaven when I die”. Salvation in the name of Jesus is an on-going, all-encompassing event.  It fills everything: filtering out fears, sorting through friends, navigating tough choices, making every knee bow, of things in Hell, things on Earth, and things in the Heavens.

This is why, in the end, the English Martyrs remembered this prayer as only one line:

Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi Jesu
Jesus, Jesus Jesus, be to me Jesus. (That is, Salvation.)

So a blessed feast that was. And may the Holy Name fill you with joy.









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Jesus in the Sky with Prophets

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Non enim doctas fabulas secuto notam fecimus vobis Domini nostri Jesu Christi virtutem et praesentiam : sed speculatores facti illius magnitudinis… Et hanc vocem nos audivimus de caelo allatam, cum essemus cum ipso in monte sancto.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…. we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

A question comes up every year around Easter: how can we know? Where is the proof?

Truth be told we take a lot of folks at their word, over and over. We never ask for more proof than their spoken word, even when it’s obvious (to anyone paying attention) that some story or other is clearly fabricated. There are whole websites devoted to disproving fabrications and there are, equally, whole websites devoted to dispensing fabrications. Yet, not to put too fine a point on it, none of these websites ask their owners (or even their readers) to pay the price of their truth with their very lives.

We live in an age when religious martyrdom has been given a bad rap. Only insane folks die for their version of religious truths. Sane religious folks are to be differentiated from the nuts that fly planes into buildings or park trucks in front of government offices. Lunatics kill themselves to make a point. Regular folks live and let live and don’t bother with messy things like doctrines. That’s not, actually, what martyrdom means. Killing oneself or oneself and a whole lot of others, is not what makes a martyr.

Being slain for or because of one’s faith does, however.

So it would be possible to look around the globe today and find folks of several religions who are killed exactly because of their religions or, in the line of duty described by their religions. A Jew slain in their Synagogue, a Native American defending tribal sacred grounds, a Christian killed while she was praying at a shrine. These are all martyrs. The Royal Martyrs of Russia are of this sort, as are very many slain by the Communists. The right wing militias supported by the US have given us a lot of these as well, especially in Latin America. President Reagan deserves the title of “Martyr Maker”.

There are also martyrs of a sort very commonly understood: people who are ordered to recant their faith and do not – and so are slain. Communists, Fascists and other forms of paganism have given many faiths – including Christianity – a lot of these. Likewise the English have given the church a lot of these. Queen Elizabeth I deserves the title of “Martyr Maker” as well.

St Peter – and the other witnesses to the life of Jesus – are, in fact, martyrs of a different sort. Their witness, their confession lies at the root of all the others. These 11 men (and 400 or so others) insisted that what they had seen had actually happened. And not one of them recanted even though every last one save John, could have purchased their very lives by that recantation. 

We have seen this. St John adds, “We have handled this with our hands”.

Yet today it is popular to deny the authority of the witnesses.
To say the tales are fabricated.
To insist that the stories must have been written down long after the reported events.
To demand any number of options that make it easy for the stories to be untrue.

It’s not enough to say St Paul didn’t write his letters, we have to image St Titus was a lie as well, or St Timothy. The whole thing is made up.

Well, OK. 

The theory that Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and fed to garbage dogs (forgive me) and that’s why there is no body is a self-contained and non-contradictory way to read the possibilities. But then what about the Resurrection? Well, those were stories the failed followers of the guy told themselves in their guilt at deserting him.

OK.

Except who goes to their death for a lie – knowing it’s a lie? And while yes, you may be able to get one or two folks to do that, who gets 12? Who gets 400?

You can’t prove that this thing, this Christ event did not happen. But you can believe it to be a lie, yes.  Are you wiling, personally, to go to your death to say you know it didn’t happen? Can you get 400 folks to join you (who are not equally inspired by their own religious faith)?

A man who believes in nothing will fall for anything. But he won’t die for it.

The Apostolic martyrs paid with their lives the cost of their beliefs. And in so paying, they brought hundreds, thousands in to experience the change of life that only Jesus can give. The first experience of the light of Mt Tabor that comes with baptism and is renewed – every day – at Mass and confession.

Today’s feast gives us a goal for all this. This image of Jesus, the Son of God, glorified in his flesh, this is what God has in store for all of us. It’s not enough for God to become a human baby, urinating on himself, or defecating on the ground and wiping his bottom with his hand. Nope, that’s not enough of a scandal. God has opened the gates of intimate union with his divinity to all of us. This glorified God-Man we see before the Apostles today is a sign of our own theosis, our divinization. As we are he has become so that as he now is, we can become by his grace in the future.  

This participation in God – as God participates in our humanity – is a thing unimagined and yet making so much sense: that we would be able to return, in Christ, to a place not only before the fall, but to our intended place in spite of the fall. This makes the whole of history into a unified story arc with Christ as the creator, corrector, and culmination.

The Transfiguration is not only a sign of Christ’s coming triumph in the Gospel texts, it is a sign of our coming triumph in the world to come.

Each martyr from St Stephen down to those slain on a beach by ISIS have paid with their lives not for their taste of this life, but to prove that they had done so. Their death pays for others to taste it, for us to taste it as well.

A blessed feast!
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Leeks! Onions! Fleshpots!

JMJ

The Readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Utinam mortui essemus per manum Domini in terra Aegypti, quando sedebamus super ollas carnium, et comedebamus panem in saturitate

Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full.

We’ve been slaves for 400 years. They know nothing but this life for generations. Suddenly there is freedom. Freedom… is hard. You have to make choices nearly every single day. And you have to be responsible for them. You can’t say My master made me do that and walk away from it. You have to own it. The Bible is filled with folks passing the buck. Here… demanding God feed them… I always wondered why God didn’t, instead, teach them how to hunt.

The Israelites were never good hunters. Warriors and farmers, yes. But not hunters. Seems like it would have been a logical choice. And we know there were sheep and other animals with them: because they made sacrifices. So why yell at God? Why demand that he feed us? I love the line, “God should have just killed us in Egypt… we could have died there where there were things to eat. Unlike here. Did God have to bring us this far on our feet to kill us?” 
The Jews here suffer from a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Everything wasn’t so bad as all that under the Egyptians, right? Even now we could probably get back in their good graces. And, yes, it was hard making all the bricks and, yes, they did take away our straw. But they fed us every day.
Then God feeds them. Later they will start to kvetch and moan about the manna itself: we never knew a miracle could be so boring…
Why didn’t God leave us alone? Why did he have to bring us out here? This question crosses my mind all the time. If God just wanted to save me could he not have zapped me with “Save Juice” whilst leaving me in my drunken collegiate stupor? Did he have to take away the sex? Could I not have had snuggles on the sofa and also high mass?
We think we love our captors. But we fear freedom.
That’s the issue, really. We’re afraid of the freedom that God has for us and we’d rather go back to slavery.
Deponere vos… veterem hominem, put off the old man qui corrumpitur secundum desideria erroris. who is corrupted by his erroneous desires. Renovamini autem spiritu mentis vestrae,
and be renewed in the spirit of your mind. Your old desires enslaved you. We must get new brains entirely broken off from the way the world thinks, the way the world feels, the way the world interacts with others who are in the world as well. Egypt is this world.
When we stand in church crying for “More relevancy” or “let me do the things I want” we are like the Jews, crying to go back to Egypt. We’re saying, Freedom is too hard, I’ll take slavery: slavery to my own desires, my own  disordered passions. Paul gives us a good description:

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. 

It’s a perfect picture of the world in which we live, a perfect picture of Eqypt.  We have been liberated from it… yet we always have fond memories. And always want to go back. This desire is so strong that there are a lot of folks – in both the Orthodox and Catholic communities – who are intenet on telling me how opressed I am. That they do this to cover their own choices, to justify their Egyptian side trips never dawns on them. They think they are being compassionate, when they are trying to sell me back to Egypt.

Tomorrow, the 6th, is the feast of the Transfiguration. That’s what we’re all called to be now, in Christ.

But really, addiction is so much easier than freedom.


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