The Readings for the Feast of St Laurence
The Readings for the Feast of St Dominic
Wednesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
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.
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.”
Then Came Henry.
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:
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:
So a blessed feast that was. And may the Holy Name fill you with joy.
The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration
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.
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!
The Readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
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.