Jonah’s New Signs

From my old copy of “The Sign of Jonas” by Thomas Merton

Readings for Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent (A2)

No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.


Wake up this morning was to news about the Pope’s Lenten Retreat on the Holy Prophet Jonah. This story from the scriptures was, therefore, on my mind as I went to Mass. A fund thing to note (props to Fr Anthony not-on-twitter-now) Catholics don’t cite scripture, but we know the stories. So to remind us of two-thirds of the story (in outline):

  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “nope” and went the other way on a boat
  • God tried to wreck the boat in a storm
  • The sailors threw Jonah over the side
  • Swallowed by a fish
  • Fish spat him up
  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “Nope, if I go there, they will repent and you’ll forgive them”
  • God said, Right. Go to Nineveh.
  • Jonah said, “ok” and went
  • Jonah preached a little.
  • They repented.
  • God forgave them.
  • Jonah got all “DAMN IT I KNEW YOU WOULD DO THAT”

Jesus says the only thing he’ll give is the “Sign of Jonah”. Now… the Church tends to read the following text in Jesus’ voice and I will not correct that… but the Greek text has no quotation marks. Matthew and Luke have this story in slightly different versions although Jesus says “no sign except the sign of Jonah”. But then is the rest of the passage Jesus? Or Christian rabbinical conversation? It doesn’t have to be the former. It could be the latter. I want to think of it this way:

  • Rabbi Luke says Jesus means this: as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
  • Rabbi Matthew says Jesus means that and also a prophecy of the Resurrection.

Accepting that as a given truth, are there possibly other signs for us in our present Generation? I think the answer is yes. I’m not fleshing these out but offering them as meditation points. I think there’s a lot of room for digging in:

  • Jonah tried to dodge vocation by going the other way. God fixed that: do we run away at any excuse?
  • The Ninevites only needed a tiny push to repent: is it possible that even those “heathens” you work with need only a gentle whisper of truth to breakout the sackcloth?
  • Nineveh’s conversion was so total that it made Jonah angry: we don’t want to see our opponents converted. We like hellfire from heaven better.
  • Jonah was an outsider in Nineveh yet his power was multiplied because he was following God: how many times do we go looking for someplace to “fit in” as a missionary rather than just going where God wants us?
  • Another way to think of that point: When Jonah was following God’s will it didn’t even matter that he didn’t speak the language. Everyone heard him: Jesus is also an outsider in most of our world yet this crucified criminal overthrew all of Rome and changed history.

That’s it. Some different signs to chew on. Feedback is welcomed.



The Readings for Saturday, the 1st Week of Lent (B2)

Ego autem dico vobis: Diligite inimicos vestros, benefacite his qui oderunt vos, et orate pro persequentibus et calumniantibus vos.
But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.

I am thankful that we have finally learned how wrong Jesus was here. We know, now, after 2,000 years of feeling guilty about hating folks, that if someone says or does something we don’t like that we should politically silence them entirely, we should boycott them, we should belittle them in public and elect politicians who will bully them on our behalf. 

No. Wait. My sarcasm always fails in pint.

But seriously. We rarely find hate among the civilized folks any more. No one has the emotional depth to actually hate. We can be nearly clinical in our niceness as we seethe with righteous opposition though. Our passive aggression is only topped by our schade freunde and both are best served chilly and callused.  We don’t have the depth to hate. Just to wound without killing.

Yes, I could be talking about purely secular politicians (I think of the recent presidential race as entirely made of of surrogate bullies) but I’m actually talking about the Church. I’ve seen some pretty stupid stuff done in the Church in my day, from ECUSA to the UMC, from the OCA/ROCOR battle to the Mtr Phillip vr the Tradies battle, to getting an earful from a Roman Catholic deacon who thought I was walking away from a Latin Mass. We Christians have some choice names for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We may not like the communists or whomever is on the Other Side of a political battle, but we save what passes for hate these days for someone who might be in the pew next to us.

And when that emotion is directed at us we respond in kind.

It’s not hate so much as it is a de facto (and de operare) ex communication.

Only the Church can do Excommunication, friend. If the Church hasn’t done so yet, maybe the rest of us should lighten up? We all know the Church is wrong for letting Them stay here. But neither you nor I are Pope, so what will you do about them?

To love means to will the good of the other. How do we will the good of “The Other” who is into singing Eagles Wings and Liturgical Dance? How do we do we will the good of “The Other” who women should cover their heads in Church and that everyone should learn Latin? How do you will the good of someone who says a Faithful Catholic can use birth control? or, if you are that person, how do you will the good of someone who thinks you’re going to hell?

This is really how this needs to be phrased.

I don’t really care how you feel about someone who disagrees with you on Gun Control or immigration if you can’t Love the person who is praying next to you.

Whales Tales


The Readings for Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent (B2)

Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam secundo.
And the word of the Lord came to Jonas the second time.

The first words in the Book of the Prophet Jonas are “Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam…” and there follows two chapters of Jonas running away from God. There’s a boat. And there’s a whale of a storm. And there’s a whale, of course. Then there’s a long Lament that makes everyone so sad that the whale spits out the mournful prophet. And none of that is the point. In fact, if you get hung up in the first two chapters, debating where Jonas was in all this or where the sea was or how big was the whale, then you’re totally going to miss the point. The whale’s a red herring.

But then there is “Et factum est verbum Domini ad Jonam, secundo….  (it does the same thing in Hebrew, the same opening repeated with the addition of only one word.) This is one of the best punchlines in the Bible. 


God loves to give second chances.  In fact, the whole book of Jonas is about Second Chances. The whole city of Nineveh gets a second chance. And Jonas does too. 


Almost, when Jesus talks about the Sign of Jonas, I can hear him say, “This generation will be given a second chance…”

Today’s verse before the Gospel get us into the act:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart
for I am gracious and merciful.

So what path have you walked down that you thought was so right… but turned out being wrong. How far did you make it before turning back? 

We can totally ignore this part…


The Readings for Monday, 1st Week of Lent (B2)

Et ibunt hi in supplicium aeternum : justi autem in vitam aeternam.
And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. 

A friend outside of Catholic Mass, gathering signatures for helping the homeless was told by a parishioner, “No, I don’t care about homeless children, homeless families, or homeless anything.” The man said this after receiving the Sacrament and my friend couldn’t tell if he was joking or not so she joked back. Sadly, the man was very serious. Really, though, why should these verses be any more important than any other part of the teaching which, for American and European Catholics from Nancy Pelosi to me in the pew with you decide we can ignore most of the time?

All post-modern Theologians from James Allison and James Martin to Rob Bell and Dominic Crossan are quite clear that God doesn’t care what we do, God loves us anyway, and that when it’s all over these random verses in the Bible are just legalistic verbiage that people use to beat each other up. We should stop using the Bible that way.

So, we can ignore the poor.

Have a blessed Lent.

Don’t worry: be happy.

If the scriptural moral code is optional, why are these verses more important? The same God who said, “Do not defraud the laborer his wages” and “when I was hungry you fed me” also said, “go and sin no more” and a whole lot of old fashioned “thou shalt nots…” we don’t like nowadays. Who is to say action X is good as compared to action Y? This is what none of my post-trad Christ-follower friends have ever been able to answer to me. Which is why I drifted trad-ward.

It’s ok: God doesn’t care, don’t worry. Be happy. Also worth noting: there are folks do totally ignore this part – and the part about unjust wages – and only focus on the other things. They’re in the same camp as the first group. And both groups pretend to be better than the other.

Preaching to those in Prison


The Readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent (B2)

In quo et his, qui in carcere erant, spiritibus veniens praedicavit : qui increduli fuerant aliquandont”
In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison: Which had been some time incredulous. 

This passage from St Peter is rather rough, depending on who is doing the parsing out. It seems to say that Jesus preached to those in prison (unbelievers who had been there since the days of Noah).  Or does it say Jesus preached to the unbelievers souls in prison (and then something else about Noah)? Or does it say Jesus preached to the souls in prison (who are somehow connected to those who didn’t believe Noah in his time)? Or does it use those who doubted Noah as a figure for all of those who even now do not believe? And that is my reading here. All those souls in prison.  And even now. This is not “hell” as such, although another name for hell is “Tartarus” which is a “place of restraint”. So preaching to the Souls in restraint… but unbelief is hell. So: all of us (Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.)

I’ve been thinking about things lately. And after the shooting this week I remembered an article, tweeted by my friend, Steve, out there in cyberspace.  Steve asked if you could imagine preaching the gospel in this nation (some highlights):

America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society…

…So there is of course also an “opioid epidemic”. We use that phrase too casually, but it much more troubling than it appears on first glance. Here is what is really curious about it. In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy. So the “opioid epidemic” — mass self-medication with the hardest of hard drugs — is again a social pathology of collapse: unique to American life…

These two factoid-heavy paragraphs got me but there are others in the article (go read it, seriously). And of course there was a shooting this week, and there was all the usual US vrs Them political ax-grinding silliness that comes out of it. And I thought of these factoids again. And naturally the shooting happens on Ash Wednesday. Which, if you’re not a Catholic-minded Christian, is like discovering a death metal concert in the basement of a rented space where you’re attending your grandmother’s funeral. It makes you angry and then you realize you’re not supposed to be angry and then you’re angry and then you realize…

There is a lot of Tartarus in America right now – restraint. It’s not caused by Government, or anyone in power: because those folks, too, are suffering from it. I saw hell, once on a recent bus ad: a woman looking like she had a gun to her back and was told to smile getting all excited about a garbage truck coming to take away her junk. We are making this world, ourselves. You can see hell anytime you want by going to the Apple Store: a couple of hundred people waiting to buy the Next Greatest Thing which – you can tell if you look at them – they all know will be useless in 6 months. It’s torture to stand and watch.

Thursday, walking to Mass I passed an honest to goodness Robot on Howard Street. It was carrying a book bag and was followed by a minder looking at his phone as he walked, looking supremely bored. That’s what it’s like to be prepping for the next six month release in the Apple Store. Howard Street: The runway to hell.

Rereading that article, the author gives America too much credit. We have seen these Pathologies before: the greed and predatory indifference that ate up an entire world. It started just before Cicero laments at the passing of the Republic and climaxed with Caligula. And that was when the 400 year long collapse was just starting. Augustine was still mourning it. Or think of Egypt, passing from Pharaoh to the Ptolemies, ending up with the drug-addled princess Cleopatra.

And in that world of decline, death, and darkness, comes Jesus preaching to the souls in prison. We’ve totally been here before. And we get here every time we turn from God and start amassing metric tons of useless disposable trash in the centers of our personal global empires

A famous San Franciscan, Harvey Milk, once gave a speech where, to be honest, he’d probably be angry I’m quoting it, but anyway, he pitted all the “us” folks against the “them” folks. And since I have deeply loved friends on both sides of Harvey’s divide (now and in 1977), I take it personal that he divided the world that way and I refuse to do so. But he said:

The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope… the “us-es” will give up….  I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you… have got to give them hope.

Where is there hope in this world of robots and disposable thousand dollar toys? Can you not divide the world into Us and Them? Can we remember that every “them” once was an “us” to their parents and can we love them back home? Can you remember that Every Last Them – even the most deplorable – is a deeply loved and terribly important “us” to God? Refusal to do so makes you the “them” here and so God loves you all the more.

If hope is built on other humans building new things, then there’s no hope because all humans fail. We’ll next be excited about the garbage truck coming and of America is just the Empire waiting to fall, I live in Rome. 

And still there’s Jesus, speaking to the Souls “In Prison”. Those who waited for God incredulously. That’s the entire world today. Harvey classed himself and a lot of his “Us-es” into those exact incredulous chains, although unintentionally.

Christian: what are we going to do about this? Lent is here. Our 40 days of fast and prayer. What are we doing to weave real, honest-to-God hope into the fabric of our daily life – hope so strong that others catch it? How is your fasting from chocolate or coffee going to help with all this mess? Is this loving your neighbor? Is this making your loving more real, more present today than it was yesterday?

Before Our Father

A Patristic Homily on the Gospel Reading for today, Tuesday in the First Week of Lent, from the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, using the words of Sts Augustine, John Cassian, John Chrysostom, and Pope Gregory the Great. 

Judaism has the teaching that God is the Father of us all. In the teaching of the Trinity, Christianity personalizes it – God the Father is not just the All-Father, as in Judaism and even in many pagan paths, he is the generative source of God the Son and to the degree we stand in Communion with the Son his Father is also Our Father in Heaven, not just in an Omnipotent Creator sort of way, but in an intimate, loving, paternal way. We do say “Lord” and “King” along side “Father”. But we also say, “Daddy”.  Thomas Aquinas patristic commentary on the Our Father is long.  Please read the whole thing. Scroll down to where you’ll see verse 9 in red:  9. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed by thy name.” The rest follows. For today’s Patristic Homily, we’ll stick to the first two verses of today’s Gospel:

7. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.8. Be ye not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.”

The hypocrites use to set themselves so as to be seen in their prayers and the Ethnici (that is, the Gentiles) use to think that they shall be heard for their much speaking; so Jesus tells us, “When ye pray, do not ye use many words.” We should indeed pray often, but in short form, lest if we be long in our prayers, the enemy that lies in wait for us, might suggest something for our thoughts. Yet to continue long in prayer is not, as some think, what is here meant, by “using many words.” For much speaking is one thing, and an enduring fervency another. The Lord Himself, as it is written, continued a whole night in prayer, and prayed at great length, setting an example to us. Yet also the monks of Egypt are said to use frequent prayers, but those very short, and as it were hasty ejaculations, lest that fervency of spirit, which is most behoveful for us in prayer, should by longer continuance be violently broken off. Let prayer then be without much speaking, but not without much entreaty, if this fervent spirit can be supported; for much speaking in prayer is to use in a necessary matter more words than necessary. But to entreat much, is to importune with enduring warmth the heart Him to whom our entreaty is made; for often is this business effected more by groans than words, by weeping more than speech.
Jesus thereby dissuades us from empty speaking in prayer; as, for example, when we ask of God things improper, as dominions, fame, overcoming of our enemies, or abundance of wealth. He commands then that our prayers should not be long; long, that is, not in time, but in multitude of words. For it is right that those who ask should persevere in their asking; “being instant in prayer,” as the Apostle instructs; but does not thereby enjoin us to compose a prayer of ten thousand verses, and speak it all! What He condemns is many words in praying that come of want of faith; “as the Gentiles do.” For a multitude of words were needful for the Gentiles, seeing the daemons could not know for what they petitioned, until instructed by them; they think they shall be heard for their much speaking.
True prayer consists rather in the bitter groans of repentance, than in the repetition of set forms of words. For we use many words then when we have to instruct one who is in ignorance, what need of them to Him who is Creator of all things; “Your heavenly Father knoweth what ye have need of before you ask Him.”
So in our prayers we do not instruct, but entreat; it is one thing to inform the ignorant, another to beg of the understanding: the first were to teach; the latter is to perform a service of duty. We do not then pray in order to teach God our wants, but to move Him, that we may become His friends by the importunity of your applications to Him, and that we may be humbled, being reminded of our sins.
So we ought not to use words in seeking to obtain of God what we would, but to seek with intense and fervent application of mind, with pure love, and suppliant spirit. Yet even with words we should at certain periods come before God in prayer, that by these signs of things we may keep ourselves in mind, and may know what progress we have made in such desire, and may stir up ourselves more actively to increase this desire, that after it have begun to wax warm, it may not be chilled and utterly frozen up by divers cares, without our continual care to keep it alive. Words therefore are needful for us that we should be moved by them, that we should understand clearly what it is we ask, not that we should think that by them the Lord is either instructed or persuaded.
Still it may be asked, what is the use of prayer at all, whether made in words or in meditation of things, if God knows already what is necessary for us. The mental posture of prayer calms and purifies the soul, and makes it of more capacity to receive the divine gifts which are poured into it. For God does not hear us for the prevailing force of our pleadings; He is at all times ready to give us His light, but we are not ready to receive it, but prone to other things. There is then in prayer a turning of the body to God, and a purging of the inward eye, whilst those worldly things which we desired are shut out, that the eye of the mind made single might be able to bear the single light, and in it abide with that joy with which a happy life is perfected.

Who is my Brethren?

A Patristic Homily for the Monday in the First Week of Lent. From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Remigius, Gregory the Great, Rabanus, and Origen, the Teacher of the Fathers.

Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

To this most sweet section of Scripture which we cease not continually to ponder, let us now listen with all attention and compunction of spirit, for Christ does indeed clothe this discourse with more terrors and vividness. He does not accordingly say of this as of the others, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” but shews of Himself by direct revelation, saying, “When the Son of man shall come in his majesty.” Jesus gives us this story as he, himself, is within two days to celebrate the passover, to be delivered to the cross, and mocked by men. He now fitly now holds out the glory of His triumph, that He may overbalance the offences that were to follow by the promise of reward.

Both the wicked and they also who shall be set on His right hand shall see Him in human shape, for He shall appear in the judgment just when he was incarnate: in a form like ours. He shall come down with the Angels whom He shall call from heavenly places to hold judgment. “For all his Angels shall be with him” to bear witness to the things wherein they have administered to men’s salvation at His bidding. “And all nations shall be gathered before Him.” (Proving also that the resurrection of men shall be a real and bodily event.)

The wicked are called goats, because they climb rough and rugged rocks, and walk in dangerous places. Under the figure of a sheep in Scripture is signified simplicity and innocence. Beautifully then in this place are the elect denoted by sheep. The goat is a salacious animal, and was the offering for sins in the Law; and He says not ‘she goats’ which can produce young, and “come up shorn from the washing.” Then He separates them in place. For the Saints who have wrought right works, shall receive in recompense of their right works the King’s right hand, at which is rest and glory; but the wicked for their evil and sinister deeds have fallen to the left hand, that is, into the misery of torments. Then shall the King say to those who are on “his right hand, Come,” that in whatsoever they are behind they may make it up when they are more perfectly united to Christ. He adds, “ye blessed of my Father,” to shew how eminently blessed they were, being of old “blessed of the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

Observe that He says not ‘Receive,’ but “possess,” or “inherit,” as due to you from of old. This “prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” is to be understood as of the foreknowledge of God, with whom things to come are as already done.

The Saints obtain the boon of this heavenly kingdom because, says Jesus, the Judge, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me to eat.” In fact, Our Lord here enumerates six works of mercy which whoso shall study to accomplish shall be entitled to the kingdom prepared for the chosen from the foundation of the world. These are they who are judged on the side of the elect, and who reign; who wash away the stains of their life with tears; who redeem former sins by good deeds following; who, whatever unlawful thing they have at any time done, have covered it from the Judge’s eyes by a cloak of alms. It is from humility that they declare themselves unworthy of any praise for their good deeds, not that they are forgetful of what they have done. “Lord, when saw we thee &c.” They say not because they distrust the Lord’s words, but they are in amaze at so great exaltation, and at the greatness of their own glory; or because the good which they have done will seem to them to be so small according to that of the Apostle, “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

It is Christ in every poor man whom we feed when he is hungry, or give drink to when he is thirsty, and so of other things; but when He says, “In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren,” He seems to me not to speak of the poor generally, but of the poor in spirit, those to whom He pointed and said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother.”Yet if they are His brethren, why does He call them “the least?” Because they are lowly, poor, and outcast. By these He means not only the monks who have retired to the mountains, but every believer though he should be secular, though an hungred, or the like, yet He would have him obtain merciful succours, for baptism and communication of the Divine mysteries makes him a brother.