Light one candle.

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)

Domine, hic autem quid?
Quid ad te? tu me sequere. 
Lord, what about him?
What is that to you? You follow me.

Peter, with a growing sense of… something… turns around and sees the Evangelist John taking notes like some Cub Reporter. Peter – who has just been given his prime directive – looks back at Jesus and says, What about him? It could mean, What’s his prime directive? Or it could mean: Why’s he standing there? What’s he doing? Does he always follow you around taking notes? Do you have a job for him? Did he betray you too? It could even mean, He didn’t betray you like I did, why not bother him with this stuff about feeding your sheep?

Jesus says, Like you should care. Follow me.

When I was Orthodox, advice like this came in handy during Lent: don’t let someone else’s fasting (or lack of fasting) influence yours. It’s so easy to get hung up on how they are doing it wrong. This is especially true if they are actually wrong. Because then the question becomes, Why are they getting away with it? And after that is uttered (mentally, at least) in all its judge-y glory, the very next question is, Can I get away with it too?

Except fasting – Catholic or Orthodox – is not about food. Fasting in the Christian tradition is about training the will. God has said all foods are clean. But it is tough, is it not, to forego something when it looks so good! That thing may be meat. That thing may be ice cream. That thing may be TV shows on Saturday night when you should be doing lectio for the Sunday readings. Fasting is important because it trains your will to avoid the big things later.  And the one thing you should never do when training the will is turn to Jesus and say, Domine, hic autem quid? Yea, what about him? That’s what I want to know…. Jesus pats you on the head and says, Zok nit kin vey, Zuninkeh, Don’t worry my little one. Fardinen a mitzveh, Do a good deed.

The problem is that this worrying about the other guy can continue.  A lot of my friends ask why they should be chaste when so many people in the Church are not. The question assumes two things: that the asker knows exactly what is going on the person’s moral life and that morality is a majority vote when it is not. The question assumes that one’s salvation is not as important as other people’s fun. The question is best translated, Shouldn’t we all be damned together? This is a far cry from Peter’s question, true, but who of us is going to meet an apostle talking to Jesus? When we ask, “What about that guy?” We are not asking, “Why is he going to live forever?” but rather, “Why does he get to have hamburgers in Lent?” or, more likely, “Why does she get to support abortion and still take communion?” or “Why do they get to live together and have sex and still work as the parish secretary and choir director?” “Why does he get to be such a crass, rude, and inconsiderate so-and-so and still get to be president and hailed by Christians?”

While this may all be the fault of bad clergy, and the reality of mob-rule, the church is filled with humans: and that includes the clergy.  All these humans need your virtue more than you need to sin. Your  virtue, practiced in the praise of God, will elevate them – and the world around you. Your sin is only more of the same grey swamp. But one lit candle will change it all. Don’t fall prey to the darkness. Don’t curse it either. Change it.

Feed my sheep. 

No. Boys always say, “I love you *too*”

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)

Dicit ei tertio : Simon Joannis, amas me? Contristatus est Petrus, quia dixit ei tertio : Amas me? 
He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me?

This is the Bible reading that made me first get excited about learning Biblical Greek: there is so much word play here! In English, in this passage Jesus asks St Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times Peter respond, “Lord, you know I love you.” That’s how it’s translated in English. In fact, that’s how it’s read in every language except Greek and Latin. In Greek and Latin, Jesus asks two very different questions. He asks the first one twice, and when Peter demurs twice, Jesus asks the second question. This is why St. Peter is sad the third time.

The first two times Jesus asks Peter, do you Agape me. Agape is that divine, all-inclusive, all-embracing love that God has for us. Jesus asks Peter if he has this kind of love for his Lord. In fact, the first time, Jesus asks if Peter as more of this love than any of the other Apostles. It’s not, “Peter do you love me?” Rather it’s “Peter are you the best lover I have?”

But Peter twice says in response, Lord you know I Philia you. Philia is that sort of love that friends have one for another. The interlinear Bible renders it as “has affection for”.  So Jesus says, “Do you love me with a all-embracing, all-controlling, mad, passionate, Divine love?” And Peter responds by putting Jesus in the friend zone.

The third time, then, Jesus comes down to Peter’s level. Jesus asks do you Philia me? Are you my friend? And this time Peter is sad. Because he sees that he’s missed an opportunity to fall in love with Jesus. And yet again Peter’s response is Lord you know I Philia you. What is this? Three weeks after the resurrection? Peter has not yet figured it out. In fact, this scene is the end of a very disturbing passage. Peter wakes up one day and says, “I’m going fishing”. In other words, he’s going back to his old life. The other apostles follow their leader dutifully, but Jesus doesn’t want them fishing for fishes. Still, as this passage continues beyond today’s assigned verses, Peter turns to look at John and says, “What about him?” as if to say, “HE loves you… why are you bothering me?” Dude! When will you finally get it?

What we see here is St Peter struggling to understand Jesus, to figure out what all this means, to understand how he is the Rock, and how to love this messiah. But, more importantly Jesus says to Peter all three times, I don’t care if you’re my friend or if you are in love with me: feed my sheep. Jesus has only one command for Peter and it’s not “go back to fishing.” And Jesus has only one command for any of us, the friends of Jesus or mad, passionate, insanely in love with Jesus people. Our one duty is to feed each other.

St Paul tells us elsewhere that we are to build up the body of Christ, that we are to encourage one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. St Paul tells us to make all things into Eucharist and to think only on the good things and honorable things. So much of our life today and centered on anger, on hate, on violence. We focus on individual rights. Jesus tells us to be concerned with other people rather than with ourselves. The Church makes even our sins to be about other people rather than about ourselves. We are not to scandalize other people with our liberties. We are not to wound other people with our actions. Everything we do is to be in service to other people. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “A life not lived for others is not a life.”

Jesus asks you do you Agape me? Even if your answer is for now is only, I can be your friend, Jesus, He has only one command for you: Feed my sheep.

Dīvide et Impera

JMJ

The Readings for  in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Viri fratres, ego pharisaeus sum, filius pharisaeorum, de spe et resurrectione mortuorum ego judicor.
Men, brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees: concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Philip of Macedonia, father of one of my political heroes, Alexander the Great, said διαίρει καi βασίλευε diairei kai basileue Divide and Rule. This political tactic is often deployed to bloody ends: any well written book on Irish history will be filled with the British using it to keep the Irish fighting the Irish. They have their own phrase for it: Playing the Orange Card. Sometimes, though, Divide and Rule can be used to humorous ends, as here in Acts when St Paul plays the Afterlife Card and gets the Pharisees and Sadducee into fisticuffs. The Pharisees believed in the Resurrection of the Dead (and in spirits, angels, miracles, the gradual development of the understanding of religious doctrine, and several other ideas we might recognize from Christianity. The Sadducees, contrariwise, did not believe in any of this codswallop. They thought, like moderns, that you live, and you die, that’s it. Be moral. That total lack of hope in the future life is why they were – like moderns – sad you see? Sorry. Well, #notsorry.

Paul is not afraid of playing political cards at all: in 22:25 Paul says he’s a Roman Citizen to get out of a scourging. Later he will appeal to Caesar. Paul comes out in front of the council and says, The only thing I’ve done wrong is believe in the resurrection of the dead. This riles up both sides of the room and gets him out of the middle. It’s very well done. It’s actually kind of funny.

Paul’s experience is echoed today by Catholics and Orthodox, who report (online and off) that they are too conservative for their liberal friends and too liberal for their conservative friends. We find ourselves defending the homeless, no Muslim ban, no wall, and actions of peace rather than violence, and, at the same time, voicing opposition to abortion and the other fallout of modernity and post-modernity; all in the name of faithful adherence to our religious teachings. While being opposed to unrestrained capitalism, we must also voice objection to Marxism. While finding benefit in a well governed state, we must stop police brutality against those cited as “other” by our dominant culture. While praying for our leaders, we must adamantly oppose some of their favorite, vote-getting policies. And with nary a look back, we must break with party or politician when they cross the line into opposition to the revealed moral order.

Which makes us fickle as all get out. 

Except that’s the exceptions, rather than the reality. You can’t tell a Catholic Senator (of either party) from the others of the same party. You can’t tell many Catholic voters from any other voters in their world. I know one man, leaving mass, who said he didn’t care at all about the homeless in this city. It is sad but true that some in the church are more concerned with the wealthy who pay the bills than with the faith that will save them.  But I know, also, a lot who try to hold the fort down. I know a lot of Catholics who refused to vote for one or the other candidate in the last presidential race. But I am blessed to know a good few – including clergy – who refused to vote for either.

Those are the Pauline folks and I hope to meet more of them. One day I may even be like them.

As Christians we should be the cultural/sociological versions of hunter-gatherers: grabbing what’s needed to advance the kingdom, but leaving behind anything that’s too heavy to carry for fear it would weigh us down or, to horribly mix the metaphors: we need to drop anything that’s going to make the oil in our lamp run out before the Bridegroom gets here. I, for one, needn’t look to hard for other ways to be foolish.


May not be a Bruce Lee quote. But it’s true.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)

Non rogo ut tollas eos de mundo, sed ut serves eos a malo.
I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil. 

There’s this great line in St Catherine’s writings, asking God not to take a temptation away from her, but rather to give her the victory over it. Of course, there’s also the line in the Our Father asking that we not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. 

We sometimes want an easy ride. We want a sermon that’s all jokes, we want a recipe that’s all hamburger helper. We want a religion that’s light and quick. How may Americans confuse Christianity with Mayberry, RFD? How many westerners are happy to call themselves Buddhists, but only on their own terms? (There are Dharma Punx who parallel the Orthodox Children of the Apocalypse in their serious rejection of Western values in the name of a deeper religious calling.) To be fair, before Americans got into the act, a lot of other people confused religion with “our culture”. God even calls out the People of Israel for doing that to Judaism in the Old Testament: creating an easy to get along, cultural thing that had little or no resemblance to the faith taught by the prophets – and a lot of resemblance to the practices of everyone else in the region. Everyone likes an easy religion.

Thing is, most religions are not intended to be easy. Classical Paganism was filled with rules, taboos, stipulations, food regulations… it took late 20th century writers to create a feel-good religion out of all that, a lackluster, Presbyterian sort of paganism for American bookstores. Oprah and Madonna turned the highest levels of Jewish Mysticism into something you could study with friends over a Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Anyone promulgating a traditionally stringent form of paganism gets accused of being a right-wing religious nut just like any other religious conservative.

Jesus’ prayer is a reminder that not even God himself thought this would be easy. St Mary of Egypt struggled for 40 Years in the Jordanian desert. If you don’t think the story is factual, remember it was told by Monks who, thus, at least acknowledged that theirs was a long struggle, a lifelong struggle. So is ours.

Along with Jesus, St Catherine and St Mary both know that without the struggle, the faith is meaningless. It’s ok to make choices, but doing away with temptation, doing away with evil, per se, is not the way to make disciples. 

Taking the easy way out is never the right way.

I’m wrestling with the virtue of fortitude and also with follow-through. It’s easier to run away. 

Tante Corrie Knows

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the th Week of Easter (B2)

Sed nihil horum vereor : nec facio animam meam pretiosiorem quam me, dummodo consummem cursum meum, et ministerium verbi, quod accepi a Domino Jesu, testificari Evangelium gratiae Dei.
But I fear none of these things, neither do I count my life more precious than myself, so that I may consummate my course and the ministry of the word which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. 

Paul will say several things like this in his Epistles. I have only one thing to do… this is it and everything else is only so much dung. I don’t know how to live like that. Because in the few times I’ve been laid off or come to the end of a housing arrangement, I’ve been terrified. Yes, I’ve made sudden changes and always survived, but only by grasping at enough straws until I mixed a metaphor and built a house out of them.

I’ve been reading Corrie Ten Boom’s second book and wondering how it is that I could find myself a Tramp for the Lord, wandering the world trusting that my next step will be 100% safe so long as I am trusting God’s plans and not my own. Of course, I’d have to give up planning to do that. Corrie’s life – after the Nazi Concentration Camp – is filled with stories of landing in a strange city and meeting a random stranger who opens a whole new world of God’s grace for the spinster Tante from Holland. I pray every day for this faith: not faith that “can move mountains” but rather can move me from my own fear and isolation. 

Corrie says that when one has gotten on a train, if the train goes through a long tunnel, one does not not jump off the train just because one is afraid of the dark. One trusts the engineer to keep things moving along. Can one walk into the world, by faith – not by sight – and just do whatever it is God has planed? It seems to me that a single man “of a certain age” who will not be getting married must have something to do, yet. But what will “finishing my course” look like? How can I best be that person?




Once there was a Pentarchy.

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Matthias, Apostle
Monday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)

    Et dederunt sortes eis, et cecidit sors super Mathiam, et annumeratus est cum undecim Apostolis.

    And they gave them lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. 


    I’ve worked for churches, off and on, for a lot of the last 35 years. Add to that non-profits and higher education, and I’d say that easily 60-75% of my job time has been in this world which is a veritable banana split of politics, ego, and turf wars. The 6 months I spent at the Benedictine monastery in Colorado are just the double fudge sauce on this sundae of doom. Today’s reading from Acts calls to mind an odd experience in the middle of all that. 

    A non-traditional congregation was having its annual elections for their governing body (called the Parish Council or Vestry). There was an odd tradition in this community of only bringing one group of candidates forward, by a process of interviews, and then asking the community to vote yes on the slate. You might realize how non-democratic this is. Oddly they did not. It was a way to self-perpetuate whilst appearing to adhere to traditional forms of governance. It essentially ensured that people of the wrong sort would not get elected to office to challenge community norms. 

    My memory does not fully hold a clear vision of how this event happened, but at this council meeting there were two candidates for a job. One was the Approved Nominee. The other was one who was a newbie and an unknown quantity. The team, if memory serves, tried to convince one or the other to step down. But in the end it was coming to a vote. Agent Provocateur that I am, I moved that rather than vote we decide by lot. The official candidate was unimpressed with this suggestion although the newbie didn’t care one way or the other. The community, by majority vote, accepted my motion. The lot fell to the newbie. The official candidate, having been promised the job, remained unimpressed.

    Although there were lots of energies and personalities involved, the sheer politics of the event sucked. Aristotle said man is a political animal, but  human nature is what we’re here to rise above. So… how to deal with Politics in the Church? 

    To be clear, I’m not talking about Church involvement in secular political actions. I think most political choices can be viewed through a lens of morality and I’m thankful that this Pope (and, indeed, all the Popes) have taken steps to guide us towards moral choices in the secular realm. (Admittedly, some Popes did that by modeling bad behavior…) I’m talking about the intrusion of what St Paul calls “factions” in the Church: the taking of sides, I am for Paul, I am for Apollos, etc. This could be read to include the things that are bringing about the demise of the Protestant mainline, but I’m sticking with things like: Orthodox bishops withholding Ordinations until they get a few “donations”, or Catholic bishops asking for priests to be a little more quiet around the diocese for being a bit too famous on the internets, or Catholic priests taking their entire congregations into schism and apostasy because the Bishop is too traditional; priests of any denomination being able to look the other way for wealthier parishioners. 

    All the usual things. I mention none of this for scandal: because it goes on all the time. I’m asking what to do about it. And I don’t mean how to stop it.

    All this week leading up to Pentecost, I think this is a crucial question. How is the Church governed.The first apostles opted for drawing lots. If you’ve ever seen the Shoes of the Fisherman, you’ll know that getting a new Pope involves an odd mix of politics and inspiration…

    So what do you do about it? Run around yelling, “This can’t be the Church?” Toss in the towel and say, “Wow.” I’m somewhere in the middle, to be honest, because I think God’s funny and lets us run amok, and this is how He’s decided to run the Church. This is a mark of divine providence, as far as I’m concerned: because most human institutions last about as long as a tube of toothpaste. 

    The Church, however, can side with soon-to-be-dead political movements, the wrong ethnic identities, financially risky property deals, bad choices in clergy, declining populations (if you think “the Nones” are bad, try the Black Plague), poorly chosen expansion polices, and even egregiously sinful Popes, and yet the Church is still here. Rome, Attila, the Ottomans, the English, the French, the Germans, the Nazis, the Soviets, and quite a few others have all tried to get rid of the Church. Yet, the Church is still here. I take quite a bit of comfort in that. All-too-human politics happening in an all-too-human Church seems the least of our worries.