You’re doing it wrong

Bl. Stanley Rother saying Mass in a traditional chasuble with a Guatemalan scarf.

The Readings for the 1st Tuesday,
Tempus per Annum (A2)

Factum est autem, cum illa multiplicaret preces coram Domino, ut Heli observaret os ejus. Porro Anna loquebatur in corde suo, tantumque labia illius movebantur, et vox penitus non audiebatur. Aestimavit ergo eam Heli temulentam, dixitque ei : Usquequo ebria eris? digere paulisper vinum, quo mades.
As she remained long at prayer before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth, for Hannah was praying silently; though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli, thinking her drunk, said to her, “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine!”

JMJ

Among the Orthodox, I’m sure it will not surprise you to learn, there are Liturgy Wars. I found this to my great horror after a while in Orthodoxy. There is a phase for converts (it took me about 2 years to outgrow) where “my parish does it right” and everyone certainly does it the same way. My time was compounded by visiting very similar places when I traveled. This led to “My parish is right and anything else is clearly wrong.” But that was followed by about 8 years of “there must be someone who does it right…” because I began to develop a list of things that are clearly wrong: pews, first and foremost. Skipping parts of the liturgy – everyone does this – was increasingly horrifying to me. A part of the morning service of Matins which at my on parish took 15-20 mins to do might take 3-5 mins at some places, or even less! Then I discovered that my own parish skipped a bunch and that part of the service should take about 45 mins on a short day – say a normal Sunday – and maybe 1h15 or even more on a Holy Day! We were all doing it wrong. Listening to us Orthodox criticize each other you might think we were all Eli yelling at Hannah for being drunk.

The third phase of this was the realization that doing what your Bishop told you to do was the right way to do it. Some Bishops allowed more latitude than others, but as long as one was within the limits established by Episcopal oversight, no pun intended, one was ok. Things got hella wonky when I drifted into the Orthodox Western Rite communities where seemingly anything goes and every pastor is his own liturgical Episcopos. The Latin phrase sui generis, meaning “alone of its class” and usually applied to special exceptions to general rules, was invented for the Orthodox Western Rite. No one really does what the Bishops say – although everyone starts with the same collection of books.

All this by way of lead-up to my becoming Catholic. The alleged post-conciliar chaos was one thing that had kept me from becoming Roman Catholic when I fled the Episcopal Church in 2002. But here it was in Orthodoxy too. There are even some Orthodox Churches with altar girls and – roughy speaking – open communion. There are “liturgical archeologists” who make stuff up because “the ancient church” did it. Orthodoxy had all the same mess as the Roman Church, so why fight it? I became Catholic. I also mellowed a lot.

I love a good Latin Mass: I go to one almost every week. I find praying my way through 2 hours of intense liturgy to be quite wonderful. There are those partisans of the Latin Mass who say that the other form of the Mass, the Novus Ordo, is not valid at all. There are even some who say the 1962 Missal is wrong and that we have to go backward in time to the next missal (or the one before that…) Sadly, there are some vice versa feelings too. And there are some in either camp who freak out when they see the Novus Ordo done with elements of traditional liturgy at all. As much as I love the Latin Mass, it’s this last – Novus Ordo with all the trad stops pulled out – that is my favorite. I was Episcopalian for long enough that this most Episcopalian of Catholic liturgies feels like “home” to me.

Go to a Christmastide Mass at St Patricks in SF and see all the blue LED lights and gobs of fake flowers. Try the Chinese New Year Mass with the Dragon. There’s the dancing Gospel at St Paul of the Shipwreck, and the two guitars and a flute at St Dominic’s at 5:30 PM. See the Divine Liturgy in (mostly) Russian style at Our Lady of Fatima and the Latin Mass at Star of the Sea. This is only the beginning: the glory of the Catholic Church. While there are some who would insist that they are right and all the others wrong but each liturgy is filled with Catholic hearts raised heavenward.

Yet we are all Eli convinced the others are Drunk Hannahs who are doing it wrong. The joke was on Eli because it was his own sons who were doing it wrong and it was Hannah’s son who was to replace them. Those in power were about to be thrown down, as is God’s way.

What shall we do with our liturgical diversity as blessed by our bishops?

Give thanks to the Lord our God for it is right and just.

Saul and Matthew

 

JMJ 

The Readings for Saturday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat et bibit Magister vester? 
Why doth your master eat and drink with publicans and sinners?

The Latin does render it very enjoyably, no? “Why, with publicans and sinners, eats and drinks this Master of yours? The Greek is much more condensed: Why, with tax collectors and sinners, he eats?

Scroll back a little though.  

Our first reading has the anointing of Saul. The  Hebrew calls Saul the Annointed (the Messiah).  And what’s not to like? He’s tall and handsome. He’s from a wealthy family. He’s both respected and impressive. Why should this man not be the king of Israel, to sit next to neighboring kings at banquets, to woo their daughters. Everything looks good.

But we know the outcome… God will cast Saul down. Looks are not everything. What the people think they want is not the best thing for them. God has a plan.

Now look at Levi: a fallen member of the priestly class. In modern slang, a PK – a Priest’s Kid. He probably grew up thinking he could do anything he wanted – and his parents doted on him so he did, exactly, that. And here he is, with no shred of respect for his own heritage, collecting taxes and chillaxin with the ladies. He was friendly to those in power, who were – quite literally – oppressing his own people. He Uncle Tommed his way in to helping the oppressors and getting rich at the same time. This is how far this Son of Israel and Israel’s Temple had fallen.

Jesus calls him to not only be an Apostle, but also an Evangelist.  This man, fixed up by Jesus, with his Levitical education and classical exposure, would know all kinds of things about slander and words that shock. And he would use them over and over to win people to Jesus’ side. 

Jesus takes the broken and makes them awesome because they have nowhere to go but up.  God cannot much use those on top. They don’t need his help. Saul was only looking for a prophet to help find some asses – like us who only only need the help of Saints to find our house keys. Saul knew he was destined for Greatness: he just didn’t know what. 

Levi knew, though, how far he had slid but didn’t know the way out. And when Jesus calls, he’s rather more than confused: his first response is to throw a regular old dinner party for all his friends and Jesus comes.

Jesus’ open table fellowship confuses folks without a Sacramental awareness. They imagine that these radically inclusive meals would indicate something they call “open communion”. But while eating meals with sinners was shocking, Jesus only had the 12 with him for the Last Supper – and even that was only after 3 years (at least) of Catechesis and constant exposure to him and his teachings.

Jesus radically open feasting though, another issue: was itself quite shocking. Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat et bibit Magister vester? 

Sometimes it’s tempting for one in the faith to only want to hang out with those in the faith. But Jesus calls us to these dinner parties with sinners. It’s ok if you want to have dinner with your friends once in a while, yes, but so many of the Gospel Stories are about sharing food and drink as evangelism

Later in the story of Saul we’ll hear how the Royal Schmuck uses meals as a method of control. Jesus, though, opens wide the doors and says everyone come in. He welcomes them as they are – yes. But they change in response to his love. He heals them. And just coming once into his presence changes everything. The fallen PK, Son of Israel, becomes the herald and writer of the divine proclamation of mercy. Levi, the ruiner of livelihoods, becomes Matthew, the healer of lives.  

Saul, the hunter of asses, becomes Saul, the king of them. God lifts up those who are bowed down, but those who are high already… he’s got but little use for them.

Perverse and Foolish

JMJ

The Readings for Friday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2):

Non enim te abjecerunt, sed me, ne regnem super eos.
For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them.

God sounds rather downcast here. Give them what they want…

Except I think that would be a lie. God’s making a point to Samuel: that he should not be downcast. God is right. The Jews are rejecting his direct rule and asking for a king that they should be like the other nations. God has a plan here. And even though the Jews think they have a better idea, God is bringing salvation out of even that normal human urge to look like everyone else.

God warns them.

This will be the right of the king, that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to run before his chariots, And he will appoint of them to be his tribunes, and his centurions, and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him arms and chariots. Your daughters also he will take to make him ointments, and to be his cooks, and bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your best oliveyards, and give them to his servants…. And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves: and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king.

They don’t care so God gives them the Royal Schmuck, Saul, and says, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

But then Saul goes out of his way to offend God… and God sends the people David.

Then from David came the Messiah. And Jesus is God’s final answer to the Jews asking Samuel for a King.

They are not rejecting you – they are rejecting me… so I will be their King anyway.

This is God’s wisdom, God’s majesty: I will bring salvation out of even your errors.  Hindsight is 20:20, yo. What would have happened if the Jews had not asked for a king? It’s not important. What we have is God’s history as it has happened now.

And when we see the Tapestry woven from human sin and divine grace we are overwhelmed with God’s love for us. Each time we ran away the pattern was seemingly rewoven to include that. Or did we only feel we were running away?

Last night at Evening prayer this came rushing in as we sang this poetic setting of the 23rd Psalm by Henry W. Baker, in Hymns An­cient and Mo­dern (London: 1868):

The King of love my Shepherd is,
  Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
  And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
  My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
  With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
  But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
  And home rejoicing brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
  With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
  Thy Cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
  Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And oh, what transport of delight
  From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
  Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise

  Within Thy house forever.

That third verse in italics up there… singing that I lost it: couldn’t sing. Cuz that line “perverse and foolish oft I strayed” is like my motto for the last 50 years.  Yet there I was, standing in a Dominican Community singing vespers, in a Roman Catholic Church. How? Well, if you read a long you know how. But so overwhelming was God’s mercy and my sense of his love for me…

God gives us what we want, weaving anew (or in spite of, I can never tell) our many missteps. And the great dance that is created has one final goal, one final ending which was also read at vespers last night:

There is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears. Although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing you now believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation. (I Peter 1:6-9 – Liturgy of the Hours)

It is all to that end: the goal of faith is not our happiness in this world, not some Witchy Peddler of a great get rich quick secret of manifesting our dreams, nor some Royal Schmuck of a politician that rooks us all for racist fools: rather our Salvation – including the politicians and racists and the witchy peddlers and all of us. God’s out to save us all, no matter how perverse and foolish we are. 

Sheep are smelly, stupid creatures that, if not minded carefully, will feed to close to rushing waters and get carried away. (Their wool traps air, and makes the buoyant.) We may not always smell, but any political rush will sweep us along.

Jesus – whose very name means salvation – is God’s only answer to our plaintive, toddler cry “leave us alone!”. God has sent a human being to us. Fully Human, this being is also God.

Totally Scooped by the Bishop

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2):

If you were reading along yesterday, you may be thinking I was in a Dark Spiral of some sort, and you’d be right. I was totally going somewhere with this, but I hadn’t noticed that this is also a story we’re getting for the first reading on Sunday. So, this AM: in my morning Podcasts, I totally got scooped by Bishop Robert Barron in his weekly Homily podcast.

I’m totally ok with that. Go listen. 

In defense of my intentions: where Bishop Barron was talking about the abuse scandal, I was talking about a cadre of clergy and lay instructors who seem to want us to change our teachings on Sex, Sexuality, Marriage, Divorce, and even Birth Control… it totally still applies. I don’t feel qualified to talk about that other topic, but this one I’m ok with.

My Favourite

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2):

Vade, et dormi: et si deinceps vocaverit te, dices: Loquere, Domine, quia audit servus tuus.

Go, and sleep: and if he shall call thee any more, thou shalt say: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.


This scene of the Calling of Samuel has a couple of interesting bits. The first is that the boy doesn’t know who’s talking to him because God hasn’t revealed anything to him yet. The second is, not knowing God’s voice, he think it belongs to Eli the Priest. Right there, I should stop, I think. But I’ll be brave.

None of us know the sound of God’s voice until we’ve listened to his priest. 

But what if the priest mispeaks? What if the priest misteaches? What if the priest indulges in petty whims, contrary to the tradition, as a way to cover his own failings? What if the priest is vested in fame and can’t differentiate truth from likes on twitter? What if the priest is just as lost as the rest of us?

Holding the line against Catholic revisionism is nowhere nears as annoying as doing so in ECUSA and the EOC. In ECUSA the revisionists had already won before I got there. People who were in power in the General Convention of 1967 were still in charge of things in 1997 when I left. ECUSA held the moneybags for so much of the Anglican Communion that it was only a matter of time. In the EOC, they are very covert, but they are in power and hold the moneybags for most of the Orthodox world. Much of the Orthodox world (other than Russia) is already under their sway; unwilling to censure anyone who might send another $5,000 to the Motherland – even if the do gave unmarried and same-sex couples in their upscale parish.

They only have sway in parts of the Catholic Church that are already falling apart. American Catholics do not hold the purse strings for anyone. And lo, the Millenials, contrary to all predictions, are coming in more conservative than their forebears.  I shall welcome them in positions of leadership. And men of my generation, largely, are coming off the same. There are three generations of clergy at my Parish, and I have so much hope as I meet the ones younger than I, as I meet couples engaged (or about to be), as I visit other parishes where the same is true. As I surf out on the internet, there are signs of hope everywhere. In numbers alone, there’s hope. 

So, there we are.

What if Eli had said, “Go back to bed, it’s just a bit of undigested mutton.”  We shall see tomorrow. 

Pray for your priest – even if he’s one of the revisionists. God has a plan for him and your prayers are part of it. He’s just come through one of the two busiest times of the year. He’s exhausted, maybe even a little cranky. Pray for him: send him some flowers or a six pack or a gift card for BBQ.  And don’t you go along for the ride either. No work. Just a gift.

Even Jesus needed time alone.

And your priest is not the Divine Logos.

Mortimer and Me.

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2):

Porro Anna loquebatur in corde suo, tantumque labia illius movebantur, et vox penitus non audiebatur.

Now Anna spoke in her heart, and only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard at all.


Today is the first day of “Ordinary Time” since the new liturgical year began on Advent Sunday. In the Liturgy of the Hours we’re already prayed through one entire volume in the year! This year the Epiphany “Ordinary” Season is medium-short: Septuagesima Sunday, the traditional beginning of “PreLent” in the Pre-VII Liturgy is on 28 January, the earliest date being 18 January. Ash Wednesday is 14 February. We do have a little time for some Ordinary Reflections here, but not a lot: Ash Wednesday can fall as late as March 10th. (We’ll have that in 2038, with Easter falling on 25 April!)

So, our Ordinary Time thoughts open with Hannah praying for a child. Her lips are moving, but Eli can’t hear anything so he thinks she’s drunk.

How do you pray? For most of my life – including my “spiritual but not religious” Neopagan Days, and my Protestant journey and also a lot of my Orthodox time – I practiced the things I learned in the Methodist Church of my youth: bowing my head, closing my eyes and, in my brain, saying things to God. Praying out loud seemed unnecessarily pious. Now, the Charismatics prayed out loud! They did so with great alacrity and in many sorts and conditions of tongues. And when I became Episcopalian I learned to read the hours in Church, but, generally, on my own, I stuck to reading them silently.

So I was surprised, when I began to study in the Benedictine Tradition, first as an Oblate, and later as an monastic novice, that we were required to say something when we pray, even if it’s only ultra soft whisper. And our lips should move.

This was explained as to avoid those odd, misty, mental shenanigans that happen when we “close our eyes and bow our heads in prayer.” That’s really something only the greatest, advanced mystics can do. The rest of us are left using our bodies and our souls in concert. We see it in the Russian instructional text, The Way of the Pilgrim as the pilgrim recites his Jesus Prayer over and over, even at dinnertime, his lips keep moving.

This is also the teaching of the Catholic Church! Paragraphs 2701-4 of the Catechism

2701 Vocal prayer is an essential element of the Christian life. To his disciples, drawn by their Master’s silent prayer, Jesus teaches a vocal prayer, the Our Father. He not only prayed aloud the liturgical prayers of the synagogue but, as the Gospels show, he raised his voice to express his personal prayer, from exultant blessing of the Father to the agony of Gesthemani.
2702 The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication.
2703 This need also corresponds to a divine requirement. God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.
2704 Because it is external and so thoroughly human, vocal prayer is the form of prayer most readily accessible to groups. Even interior prayer, however, cannot neglect vocal prayer. Prayer is internalized to the extent that we become aware of him “to whom we speak;” Thus vocal prayer becomes an initial form of contemplative prayer. 

(Emphasis Added.) 

Our bodies are required participants in our prayer! O, heavens, how liberating this is!

It’s such a blessing to be at the door of the Church when it opens at 6AM. As folks filter in, leading up to Mass at 6:30, there is a quite, pious whisper that builds. All the folks praying their rosaries or other devotions, quietly, but making noise. Their lips moving, their souls and bodies working together to reach out to God. This is the prayer of the Church. And yes, there are times of total silence, of bliss and waiting, but these are opened and closed with the voice. Even the devout practice of sacred reading, of Lectio Divina is properly done out loud and slowly. The various offices in the Liturgy of the Hours can be read silently to oneself in about 5 minutes, I think. But that’s not properly doing them: read in a whisper, they are longer. We are not mute before our God, who wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.

Our bodies are required participants in our prayer! 

Why is this liberating? Because our bodies are God’s gift to us, our station in the great chain of being: the Angels being pure spirits, and the animals being only flesh, we are both spiritual and fleshly. We are a spirit-suffused fleshly hybrid, and in our nature we are wholly God’s creation, a unique essay in what it is to be created by and for love and worship of him. We must not fall prey to the demonic, gnostic myth that our bodies are (mostly) useless tools that can be replaced, destroyed, changed, etc without any harm to our Spirit. We have a body as fully invested in our identity. 

This is me: so long as by “this” I mean both seen and unseen, spiritual and fleshly. This is who I am.

And so when I pray all of this must pray.

It is, of course, possible for a prayer to be all on the lips and no deeper at all. I know how to read out loud, liturgically while making up a shopping list, or listening to conversations around me. I can read psalms perfectly well (from the outside) without ever once noticing the words that are passing from my eyes to my lips. I am a very loquacious ventriloquist. I have no idea how I do it. It’s impossible to listen that way and to respond that way. But I can read out lout that way!

We are required to bring our interior voices to our vocal prayer as well. When we pray our brain should be “saying” the same thing as our lips. We must unify the entire created person in intercession before the throne of Christ. We cannot be reciting the Rosary, the Jesus Psalter, or the Jesus Prayer and, at the same time, be looking around in Church, driving the car, wondering what’s for dinner, or (as I was this AM) designing a new rosary. I’ve also designed bookshelves…

This effort to unite mind and voice (and later heart as well) is the on-going ascesis, podvig, jihad, or struggle of Prayer. Like athletes we are training our bodies not to do whatever they want but to only do what is needed to worship and love God. Every prayer must be part of this struggle. Every action must be part of this prayer. Hannah was quite well advanced. I am not. I can’t pray a rosary while driving (although I can piously listen to one, also a good action). I can’t listen to Mass while making mental notes about liturgical errors – this is a very common problem for me. 

We must come out of the mental fogs, out of the misty onanism of heads bowed and eyes closed, into the glorious light of fully incarnated prayer. We have the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication.

When we pray all of this must pray!