The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
(18th Saturday, Tempus per Annum C2)

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Matthew 16:24

BY A STRANGE COINCIDENCE of calendars today’s Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord (on the Gregorian Calendar) is falling on the Hebrew date of the Ninth Day of the month of Av. (This year, since the 9th is a Sabbath, the commemoration is moved to the 10th day of the month.) The 9th Day of the Month of Av is the date on which the Temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Bablonians. And it was the day on which the Romans destroyed the second temple. A number of other sad events are commemorated on this day, making it a day of fasting and mourning. Since mourning is forbidden on the Sabbath, this year’s “Ninth” is actually on the Tenth, as noted above. The coincidence of the 9th of Av and the 6th of August strikes me as one worthy of meditation for a number of reasons.

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, with the follow-up bombing of Nagasaki tomorrow. That’s a transfiguration and destruction of a sort engineered by man. I no longer believe the “number of lives saved vrs number of lives lost” arithmetic that is used to justify the bombings: we can never know what would have been. We can only know the evil that happened, among which was the raising of two whole generations in perpetual fear of nuclear war. That’s the power of the nuclear deterrent.

Another level of meditation is found in the time Jesus said “if you tear down the temple I will raise it up in three days.” As the Gospel adds, “he was speaking of the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Building on that level we are all part of the Body of Messiah (I Corinthians 12:27), each believer is a part of the Temple he raised up. And each one of us has a body that is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19).

There is a tradition in Judaism of reading a passage from Isaiah on this Shabbat (before the Fast) that describes what is called “The Third Temple”. This is interesting to me because some protestants view any “third temple” as an act prefiguring their literal reading of the Book of Revelation, so the Tish B’Av has in it some future apocalypse overlap as well. Although the major break between Jews who followed Yeshua and Jews who did not do so would not come until the 13os (when Bar Kochba was given Messianic titles) somehow the destruction of Jerusalem refocused the Church almost entirely on the Parousia: we have no earthly home anywhere.

There’s a mosaic in Ravenna, Italy. Floating over a grassy field filled with sheep, safely grazing, a cross is surrounded by a field of stars and radiant light. It’s indicated (pointed to) by radiant beings. There are trees. It’s beautiful and nothing like a Crucifix as we might see in a Church today. (When a Crucifix was first presented – in a Greek Church – the Latin Bishop thought it might be scandalous.) In the center of the cross there’s the Face of the Crucified, shining in glory. It is, as I mentioned yesterday, an image of the Cross as the glory of the Messiah.

Now, look again. On either side of the floating Cross are symbols of the Torah and the Prophets, Moses to the left and Elijah to the right. There are three sheep, Peter, James, and John. And a hand comes from heaven. This is the Transfiguration depicted as a Crucifixion.


The Apostles who had seen the Transfiguration ran away at the Crucifixion even though the latter was intended to be a comfort to them during the former. If he is God, as he is in the Transfiguration, then all things point to him even the darkest time of his Crucifixion. In fact, the latter, more than the former, is his glorification. Yet, they still ran away.

The meditation arises that things that are good might be seen as bad, and things that are bad might be seen as good. And, furthermore, what we think of as bad and good might not be, really, those things. God’s ways might be as far above us as we can imagine and then more.

Of course, none of this will apply next year, when the calendars do not overlap in the same way. (Next year the Fast is in July.) But this year, seeing Christ Glorified in the Darkness, we must ask:

When things get dark how can we refrain from running away before the light breaks through?

Deny. Take. Follow.

Jerusalem Cross: Representing the Five Holy Wounds


The Readings for the 18th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Our Lady of the Snows

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

Matthew 16:24

THERE IS A PHRASE in the Catechism that gets bandied about, that drives me bonkers. In the English there is a mistranslation. That seems important. Here’s the paragraph in Latin:

Gloria Dei est ut haec manifestatio et haec communicatio Suae bonitatis, propter quas mundus creatus est, in rem ducantur. « Praedestinavit nos in adoptionem filiorum per Iesum Christum in Ipsum, secundum beneplacitum voluntatis Suae in laudem gloriae gratiae Suae » (Eph 1,5-6). « Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei. Si enim quae est per condicionem ostensio Dei vitam praestat omnibus in terra viventibus, multo magis ea quae est per Verbum manifestatio Patris vitam praestat his qui vident Deum ». Finis ultimus creationis est ut Deus, « qui conditor est omnium, tandem fiat “omnia in omnibus” (1 Cor 15,28), gloriam Suam simul et beatitudinem nostram procurando ».


Right here: Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei. It’s a quote from St Irenaeus of Lyon. Even though I quote it in Latin, the Latin is only the Catechism: St Irenaeus wrote in Greek. I’m searching for – but cannot find – a copy of the Greek. I realize at the top of this post that all that follows may be overturned by one Greek quote with a reference link.

Anyway, in the official English translation, it gets rendered as the oft-quoted “the glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God.” Please note there is no superlative in the Latin. Nor is there in any of the other European Languages:

French: Car la gloire de Dieu, c’est l’homme vivant, et la vie de l’homme, c’est la vision de Dieu.
German: Denn Gottes Ruhm ist der lebendige Mensch; das Leben des Menschen aber ist die Anschauung Gottes.
Italian: Infatti la gloria di Dio è l’uomo vivente e la vita dell’uomo è la visione di Dio.
Spanish: Porque la gloria de Dios es que el hombre viva, y la vida del hombre es la visión de Dios.
Portoguese: Porque a glória de Deus é o homem vivo, e a vida do homem é a visão de Deus.

Each of these translations says that the Glory of God is “the life of man” or “a living man”. But there is no superlative. No “fully alive” in any of these things.

The reason it makes me bonkers is that “fully alive” sounds so much like “follow your bliss” and in the hands of the nefarious it turns into permission to out, loud, and proud, and in the hands of the misled it becomes pablum.

Glory though… let’s look at glory. In Greek, the word “glory” usually means radiance and shining light. The word itself, “Doxa” comes from a root meaning to “appear” and it has more to do with the visual experience of something. The Glory of God, therefore, is a “bright shining light” and it’s something that can blind us or reflect on our faces (as with Moses).

In Hebrew, the word is “Kavod” and it has little to do with a shining light. It means “weight”. It’s something felt rather than seen. God’s presence is, as it were, pressing down on us from above. The head covering traditional for Jewish males can be seen as the hand of the Holy One pressing down.

This weight – this reality – is felt in the presence of the pillar of fire pressing down from heaven. Here is something more real than the reality we have or see. This reality is our life. Turn in contemplation: this glory is the life of man. To rest in this light, to rest under the intense weight of this Presence is to become real. To dodge it is to miss the mark, to fall into oblivion.

In Yeshua this reality becomes both present to us and one of us. The Glory of God, the weight, the more-real-than-any-of-us, the Existing One, the One-Who-is, the Alpha and Omega, the Aleph and the Tav, enters our world as one of us.

Jesus the God-man.

Although I don’t think the line from St Ignatius bears this weight fully, I have heard one Orthodox priest say that the proper translation is “The Glory of God is the life of a man” with the man in question being Jesus. I’m ok with that reading as long as it is not the only meaning. It leads us to where I want to go:

Jesus’ act of self-emptying led from the Trinity, to the silence of the Womb of the All-Holy Virgin. God unable to speak, the word of God with only a baby’s cries. God with dirty diapers. God with daily chores. God with acne. Deny yourself. God with favorite foods and, most likely, not favorite ones. (“Young man, eat your auntie’s sweet potato surprise, and don’t forget to say ‘todah’“). God with stage fright on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. God taking up his daily life daily.

Just as we are all called to do. God making a sacrament out of every action man can make. Taking out the garbage? God has done this. Dozing off. God’s been there. God is so in love with you that he has done this. The life of man. It is God’s glory.

But that is not all: for on the Cross he was lifted up – it called it his glorification. It is his throne. And so daily we must walk in the way Yeshua walked: because he, in his person, is God walking among us. As the Cross was the Glory of Messiah it must be our Glory as well. As the cross bore the weight of Messiah it must bear our weight as well.

The Glory of God is the Life of Man.


Is this on the final?


The Readings for the 18th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St John Vianney

I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts;

Jeremiah 31:33

DR FRANK PETERS (nee SJ) was one of my religion professors at NYU. He taught one of two required courses for religion majors (such as I was at the time). One course was called Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, taught by Dr Jim Carse. Dr. Peters taught Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He also wrote the textbook. (We didn’t have the book: we were his beta program.) One day in class we discussed the development of doctrine in Judaism through Rabbinic Debate. A student mentioned offhandedly on the way out of class that this process of development is how we get from “don’t boil a calf in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19) to having different dishes for meat and dairy. The next class was an hour lecture on that exact evolution, prompted by the student’s comment. We traced how a very explicit command to not cook a very specific dish became an entire culture, along with the no-pork rule. Jesus could not have had a bacon cheeseburger, but a cheeseburger would have been fine at that time. It was an hour of Rabbinic jurisprudence placing “fences around the Torah” (chumrah) as the saying goes, then fences around the fences, and then fences around the fences around the fences, ad infinitem, until meat and dairy needed two dishes and, in some very wealthy homes, two kitchens (four, if you had different kitchens for Passover as well).

At the end of the hour of really enjoyable nerdery (at least for the student who asked the question) Dr Peters was asked directly, “Will this be on the final?” The answer was a guarded no (it was not on the final) but the method of research – and the method of chumrah – were both important to know.

It highlights, though, a Jewish way of reading the law. Let’s dig in.

The assumption in Rabbinic Judaism, at least since the time of the Exile, has been to avoid breaking the precepts of the law by adding defensive laws around the law. Thus, lest we accidentally cook a calf in its own mother’s milk, we shall outlaw cheeseburgers as well. If it is a sin to work on the Sabbath, let’s define exactly what is work and what is not work, and say that we must stop doing these things ten minutes before Sabbath begins and that we cannot do them at all until at least ten minutes after Sabbath ends. It’s important to note that, over time, violating even these fences around the Torah came to be seen as equal in magnitude to violating the Torah itself.

And, to be honest, many Christians read the law the same way. My current stress point is how many men wear baseball caps in Church. I don’t really care about women and head-coverings, but I was raised to take off my hat or cap when I pray, when in church, when the sacrament (or an icon) passes in an outdoor procession, when the flag passes in a parade, or when a political leader passes: the mayor, the president, etc. This is simple respect. Yet I know there are some cultures where the reverse is true: to present oneself without one’s head covered would be to claim authority. The US is not such a place. And I stress myself out wanting to run over with a ruler and swat them. Is the law not only to be obeyed but also to be protected by my actions? Should I work to pass civil laws to protect the Law of God from being violated?

This way of reading law, however, does not sound like what God promised Jeremiah. “I will put my law within them, and write it on their hearts.”

The question to ask is whether or not the “law in our hearts” is a duplication of the 613 laws of the Torah. Should I not be thankful that someone is in Church at all and not worry about their clothing?

That leads us to wonder, more directly, what the purpose of the Torah was. Is Torah a law code or something else? The word, “Torah”, means instruction. Is it there to teach us certain legal things or is there something else going on?

I have not worked all this out yet (the Church is still doing so, actually). So we need to open end this meditation off this springboard: IF the instruction was to draw everyone towards God in the death of Messiah, it’s not really a question of bacon cheeseburgers.

Tough Love


The Readings for the 18th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Matthew 15:22

THIS PERICOPE always intrigues me: there’s no Canaan. There’s no province of Canaan, there’s no area of Jesus’ world with this name. How do we get a Canaanite Woman?

One possibility is that Matthew is wrong here. Many outside the Church (and some inside, tbh) would love for that to be the case. We could then just ignore things as we felt like it. See: this Gospel has errors. That’s not a path I want to take, but we should acknowledge this mention of an ahistorical “Canaanite” opens up that question.

Remembering that Matthew was writing his Gospel to a primarily Jewish community, then two other possibilities arise for our meditation.

The Church has had lots of chances to change something that was “wrong” in Matthew’s Text. Other Gospels refer to her as a “Syrophoenician Woman“. The Church has refused to harmonize this passage meaning that this is something we should consider as is, not “as an error”. I mentioned a few posts ago that the medical term for being uncircumcised was a slang term for Gentiles among some Jews with whom Paul was talking. Paul condescended to use the vulgar term to say circumcision does not matter anymore. Is it possible that, among the Jews to whom Matthew was writing, “Canaanite” was a slang term for Gentiles living in the geographical area of Israel? (Interestingly, it was also a term used for supporters of what we now call “Zionism” at the beginning of the 20th Century.) I’ve no way to check on that idea, but hold that in thought for a moment: I don’t want that to be the real meditation today, but it does add an interesting, spicy take to my point that follows:

Could Matthew have been making a point that Jesus came not just for Jews but for everyone? This was a point of contention in the earliest days of the Church, of course. Should Gentiles become Jews first before they can follow the Messiah? The Church’s answer was a profound no. It seems one way to read this passage is to see the Apostles (Jews) saying “send her away, she’s annoying”. Then Matthew’s text allows Jesus to show he is, at heart, a Dominican, by making a pun: “Canaanite” “dog”. Get it?

Jesus seemingly rebuffs her in order, the Fathers all agree in saying, to provoke the cry of faith from her: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Her act of faith saved her and her daughter, as well as the Apostles and us.

That is the second point for meditation today: what seemingly negative things in your life are being allowed by God in order to provoke a cry of faith from you? I’m coughing from Covid right now. I can’t begin to understand how this thing has come to pass – not to me – but to all of us. What Was God doing in 2019 and 2020 when all this started? Among other things was he provoking a cry of faith from us?

Do you remember the Urbi & Orbi blessing that Pope Francis gave at the beginning of the Lockdowns? A blessing for the City and the World. I watched it live in my basement apartment, moved profoundly by the Holy Father’s act of Faith, giving the world a blessing as only the Vicar of Christ on Earth can do: leading the entire world in an act of spiritual warfare, a cry of faith. The entire world… we are never told what might have been if that action had not been taken. I believe profoundly that the world was changed that night and the plague was stopped. That was a miracle.

By an act of faith. But it was most important that it be done publically, out loud, as it were with all the police cars sounding their sirens as the Sacred Host was raised in blessing. The Holy Father’s act of faith saved all of us.

St Paul makes the point that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. There is only one good: union with the Lord. So all things, accepted with the cry of faith, can draw us closer to God. The Canaanite woman shows how her faith grows: she goes from call out to Jesus from a distance to drawing close and worshipping him. Sometimes that thing that seems like a no from God can really be a yes if we but see the opening to ask correctly.

The third point for our meditation is why? What is the need for your cry of faith? Is it primarily for you or is it for others?

Why are you being provoked by something negative in your life to cry out in faith to God? You may never know. You may be a change needed in the whole world. You may be a story for future Christians to read. You may be the inspiration of others who are sick as well.

Your act of faith never saves only you.



The Readings for the 18th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)


Someone on the Vatican Liturgical Commission, Probably

MY PARISH IS CELEBRATING the Solemnity of the Dedication of the Church this Sunday. It’s not the 18th Sunday for me. So, there.

As you know I like to look at the verses that were skipped and see if we can figure out why. In the first reading there was not really anything skipped: the missing verses get used elsewhere and Ecclesiastes 1:2 is being used as an introduction to the Very Goth verses from chapter 2. In the reading from Colossians, though, something was skipped. It might be read as if the missing verses, as a whole, probably made someone a bit squeamish.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
Because of these the wrath of God is coming.
By these you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way.
But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths.

Colossians 3:6-8

There’s a double command to stop doing these things. And there’s a notice not only that you (the Colossians) once did those things… but also you “lived that way”. And there’s a list of the things. The NABRE renders the things (in verse 5) as “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry”. The Greek for the first one is “porneia” and it means exactly sexual immorality as you might expect. The words rendered as “impurity“, “passion“, as well as the phrase “evil desire” are also related to sexual lust. With these in mind, “conducted yourselves” and “lived that way” has a whole other meaning for our modern ears, I think. I’m sure this passage made someone a little jumpy.

While Sunday sermons are not that place for specific things like this, Sunday Blogposts are.

The verb in the phrase “lived that way” comes from the same root as “Zoe” which, in most of the NT, is used to refer to the Life that God shares with us. Normal, sinful man does not live a “zoe” but rather shares a “bios” with all living things and he tries to pretend it’s a Zoe. That’s why he eventually dies. Zoe, though – God’s life – is eternal. So, it’s interesting that Paul uses a word that sounds like divine life to indicate the life of sexual sins here. Some of us know from intimate experience how especially sexual sins can literally seem like life – and a very abundant life at that! Our entire Media industry seems devoted to celebrating this misunderstanding of sex. We use the media to deaden our reaction to sin, to hypnotize ourselves into thinking some part of this is normal, some part of this is “really living”. And if you go deep enough, you begin to excuse the other parts as well: I can’t say anything about them because I’m just as… what? Bad? No no no. We’re all equally good! Now we’re really living!

Paul says some of the folks in Colossae used to do all these things – but now, they no longer do. And he commends them to continue to “put off the old man with all his practices”. It was the old man that did these things. WE have moved beyond that now, and Christ is all in all. In other places he says it’s best to not even name those sins that people used to commit.

Our new self (in the Gender Inclusive style) or “the new man” as the Greek says, is Christ himself. I’ve been meditating on the Holy Name recently looking at the Hebrew. The name “yeshua” is the same word as salvation, “yeshua”. So, Jesus’ name is literally salvation. Salvation in Hebrew and in Greek implies being “made whole”. We’re made whole in working out our salvation. Jesus is the fullness of humanity and when we put on “the New Man” we become more than we were in terms of virtue and health, and less than we were in terms of sin and disorder. We find in Messiah our Zoe instead of our old, earthly way of living.

Yet this is not an all at once kind of thing. Only when Christ – our Life – appears, then we shall know ourselves fully. It’s a process. As the Didache says – “do what you can”. It’s a growth.

However it is a timely thing. Paul notes the “the wrath of God is coming.” And Jesus says this as well in his Parable of the Barns. We should not take the Didache’s advice to “do what you can” as permission to do nothing. We start where we are and then we grow into our full stature. Even that is in God’s time, not ours. The only call is to more forward, not to stagnate.

Meanwhile, on the Gridiron.


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…


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

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


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.


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!


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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