Still Keeping Watch

The Massa Damnata be like…


The Readings for the 21st Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Monica

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.

Matthew 25:19

THE TONE FOR THIS XXIst Week of Ordinary Time was set on Sunday when we heard Jesus answer the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He basically said yes. And he urged us all to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” All week long it’s been advice for how to enter the narrow gate but, as noted yesterday, we started to get this last week with Matthew’s telling about the wedding banquet. If you don’t have the right clothes, you’re out. Even if you were invited. Matthew is winding down his pre-passion Narrative with Jesus as a hell fire preacher. It climaxes with a reading we don’t get in this thread – the Final Judgement and the division of the sheep and the goats. If only that were this Sunday’s reading (it’s not) it would make Weeks 2o-22 quite a powerful end-of-summer Apocalypse!

There’s a pattern in these stories: each one says, essentially, “this is not enough”. How many people will be saved? Jesus hears the hidden meanings. The question about how many will be saved is really asking, “How little do I have to do to get in?” His reply over multiple parables is simply “Why do so little that you just get in?” Some would have us say everyone will be saved. Some would have us say that nearly no one will be saved. Jesus is saying, “What about you?”

The Fathers underscore that while scripture says we are all sinners, there’s only one sinner each of us is permitted to know: our own soul is in a state of sin. We can know this. We can only know this. We are to see Christ in our neighbor and that same Christ has said everyone is our neighbor (yes, even the politicians you don’t like).

I, myself, am the only sinner I am permitted to know.

Everyone else is Christ.

There is a theme in all of these stories:

  • It’s a narrow gate: it’s possible to miss it.
  • The wedding garment suggests it’s possible to be at the banquet (the Mass) and get kicked out.
  • It’s possible to keep within the boundaries of the faith as rigorously as a Pharisee and still miss the point.
  • It’s possible to be in the Church and take everything for granted.
  • It’s possible to be a vowed religious and not have all your ducks in a row.
  • It’s possible, as we learn today, to squander the gifts God gave you and lose it all.
  • If we add the sheep and the goats, it’s possible to be 100% dead on and still get thrown into the fire. (Sheep and goats are both kosher and can be used interchangeably in many of the OT sacrifice rituals)
  • It’s a narrow gate: it’s possible the load of stuff you carry is too wide to get through.

Do these sins make my butt look big?

Jesus drives home the points several times: it’s not enough to be here. It’s not enough to do some of the things. It’s not enough to be very pious. It’s not enough to be doing all the things and be hyper pious. What you need to do is risk it all repeatedly.

And then do more.

Why would you only want to do “just enough”? Do more, and then more, and then more again! Jesus says we are the light of the world. BE THE LIGHT! Shine as bright as you dare, as bright as you can, burn out early.

Except you won’t: you’ll shine that brightly forever.

Keep Keeping Watch


The Readings for the 21st Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl. James of Bevagna, OP, friar and priest

Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:14

ONCE AGAIN THE NABRE Renders the Greek as “Stay awake” instead of keep watch or even be watchful. Stay awake is particularly annoying here because even the wise virgins also fell asleep so it can seem petty. But keeping watch means being prepared. The wise virgins could fall asleep in peace and rise again in safety for the Lord was with them (Psalm 3:5) and they had done the necessary prep work.

Doing the prep work is the important part!

What can we read in the symbols of this verse? The wise and foolish are both symbols of believer. They have maintained their fidelity to the doctrines. I get that from the use of the word “Parthenos” in the Greek for “virgin” instead of “nymphos” for young girl or maiden. In terms of the culture of the time, parthenos does not always mean a woman who has not had sex. It means a person (man or woman) who has set apart their sexuality for divine purposes (see more here). The Gospel of course is not talking about “consecrated virgins” as such, but it is implying that these folks (both the wise and the foolish) have set themselves apart for divine purposes.

But the foolish have run out of oil and so they’re worried about their lamps. What is this, then?

In parallel with the man caught at the wedding banquet without the proper clothes, the Church Fathers read the oil and the lighted lamps in this parable to indicate righteous deeds. Mercy in Greek (eleos) comes from the same Greek word as oil. In Hebrew it’s Khesed, Grace. To have oil in the lamp is to be actively engaged in mercy and grace not just for one’s self, but for those around affected by this light.

This is important to me, personally, because I’ve struggled so long with sins of the flesh, with setting my sexuality apart for God. Yet do I have any oil in my lamp? Members of Courage International read the Five Goals at each meeting. I’m thankful that, after the chastity mentioned in the first goal, the second goal of Courage begins with “To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others…” That’s the challenge. Yes, sure, stay pure. But don’t sit there in your purity: do something. My spiritual director had the sense to see that sitting at home was dangerous for me – even though it kept me out of one sort of trouble. The Gospel is not the Gospel unless it’s shared with someone else.

You can set your life apart, certainly, but unless you’re doing the works of mercy, unless you’re shedding your light around you, that is unless you’re reforming your sphere of influence into conformity with the Gospel, then you’re not actually doing anything. Your faith, without works, is dead. You can be Parthenos.

And still be dead.

St Paul makes it clear that preaching the Gospel will make us seem like utter fools to the world: to Jews and Greeks alike. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To be one of those who are being saved in the active present tense (salvation is not something that happens once) is to be engaged in mercy.

Again, this is keeping watch. Jesus tells us to be about his Father’s will until he comes back. We learn in the parable of the Sheep and Goats what these works are – feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, etc – these are the things we are to be about. These are the oil.

Yes, you need the faith. You need to be set apart, to be parthenos. Do these works, though, and you can rest at night without worry.

Keep Watch


The Readings for the 21st Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Saint Louis, King of France

Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

Matthew 24:42 (AV)

RUNNING HISTORY through filters of modern politics always leads us into trouble, but today’s Saint, King Louis IX of France, has been on my mind since the 12th when Salmon Rushdie was stabbed at the Chautauqua Institute last week. I have to admit I’m of mixed emotions: I’m opposed to violence at all. Yet I think the anger may be justified. So I’m not sure how I feel. Our Lord’s command to keep watch or “stay awake” as the NABRE has it (poorly) rendered must include all things that are legitimately in one’s sphere: I must watch myself, a parent must not watch only their self, but also their children and their children’s educators. To what extent should a Catholic in a position of civil power “keep watch”?

Blasphemy is a hard thing in a “modern” society. Hate speech against someone’s deity or prophet is not something we conceive of. Think of the number of pieces of “art” or “cinema” that have been actual blasphemy against Jesus. So, like I said, I’m opposed to violence and opposed to the “fatwah” against the person of Salmon Rushdie, but I totally understand the anger caused by the book. And I think about King St Louis. (I’ve been thinking about him for over a year, actually.)

One perception common among Christians today is that we need only explain to a random Jewish person the way to read the Bible rightly and they will totally understand why they should “accept Jesus”. In certain Evangelical circles this is often focused on the Prophets or even, specifically, the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. If only someone understood how to read that properly then they would understand Jesus. Of course this tactic denies that there is an authentically Jewish way to read the scriptures. It also denies that today is 2,000 years after the fact. It’s this second point that seems important to me just now: a Jewish person today is not reading the Bible the same way Jews did in the time of Jesus. It’s impossible for them (or us) to do so without training and even unlearning. There are 2,000 years of conversation intervening. Jewish and Christian conversations diverged between 30 AD and 135 AD. And then those conversations have progressed (most often without any positive connection with each other) since.

I like to think of the Jewish and Christian conversations as two rabbinical councils. This is very simplified! I just want to paint a picture. In 50 AD, there was one sort of conversation going on – there were many differing sects within Judaism. Of these, the followers of the Jesus guy were one. We hear of others (but not all) in the Gospels: Sadducees, Pharisees, Priests, Samaritans, Zealots, Herodians. From extra-biblical sources we know of others as well, like the Hasids, ‎the Hasmoneans, and the Essenes‎. Each Jewish sect had adherents and there were also people who leaned one way or the other. These may overlap more or less. (Some folks think the Essenes may have included John the Baptist and/or Jesus, for example.) By the time we get to 135 or so, though, there’s really only a few of those sects left and by 200 there’s really only two: what we think of as “Christian” and what we think of as “Jewish”. That said, it probably takes another 200 years or so to iron things out. But there are two “groups of rabbis” then. One are the fathers of the Church Councils and one are the fathers of what we call Rabbinic Judaism. They are not talking officially, although as late as St John Chrysostom (late 4th Century) it’s clear that the laity are doing more than just talking: St John’s sermons telling Christians not to do Jewish things would be unneeded if they were not doing them.

St Louis pops into this story in 1200. 800 years earlier than now, but still 1000 years after the bifurcation between the Jewish and Christian conversations. His experience is 1000 years removed from St Paul preaching in synagogues around the Roman Empire. Oddly though, St Louis seems to think a lot like our modern Christian brain: he thinks we need only explain the “right way” to read the scriptures and any Jew would convert. Louis was, therefore, shocked to learn that Jews have their own on-going unfolding of tradition. There were 1000 years of conversation not only “minding their own business” but rejecting Jesus. And, surprisingly to Louis (and the other folks in France), that conversation carries the weight of scripture – just like Christian tradition does for us. The authority of our faith is not “in the book” but in the conversation. For Jews the unfolding of revelation is part of the conversation within the Rabbinic Councils and within the on-going prophetic understanding of the text. Christians believe the Holy Spirit is guiding our conversation – that God is engaged in the unfolding of his own meaning within the Church.

Unsurprisingly, these two different conversations arrive (continually) at different conclusions. It’s not just Jesus: it’s the meaning of the entire text, the whole kit and kaboodle now. What does the Fall of Adam or Original Sin mean to a Jew? What is Shekhinah, Merkabah, or Kabbalah to a Christian?

Moderns don’t like burning books. But, that said, we don’t actually believe in the free marketplace of ideas: some ideas are considered – even now – to be dangerous. We were officially burning books in the USA as recently as 1956. We’re not above silencing folks even now – cancelling social mediae, etc. St Louis enters this story at a point where the official Rabbinic rejection of Jesus had been pretty much codified. The King opens Jewish texts (in Translation) and sees – essentially – blasphemy. How should he react? Mindful that he is a King and that some part (if not the larger part) of his Job is to protect Christians and Christianity in his realm. How should he treat dangerous ideas?

Can we (who would report someone’s Twitter account for just about anything) feel good about “how far we’ve come” since St Louis? Who is more right? I do not legitimately know. Should anyone be allowed to say anything they want about anyone they want (including God)? What is the function of a secular state when accusations of blasphemy arise? Again, I do not legitimately know.

I do not adventure an answer to the questions raised at the top of the post. We must deliver up each man and woman to their inner court of conscience. I will say we should yield likewise for St Louis. He is a man who acted – as a King – as his conscience guided him. By way of confession, my own internal answers kept me out of my mother’s chosen career paths for me: military, law, and politics. In my youth, I was afraid I would not be strong enough to hold to the faith in the face of pressure. Now I think I would have been cancelled long ago. Thus, I will only close where I began.

Our Lord’s command to keep watch must include all things that are legitimately in one’s sphere. To what extent should a Catholic in a position of civil power “keep watch”?

Diapostolic Dispersion


The Readings for the 20th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.

Luke 13:24

THIS PAST SUNDAY’S Readings presented an interesting reading of some bad things: The Babylonian Exile, predicted in Isaiah, is imaged as both punishment and plan. Paul points out that God only punishes sons – and that for a reason. At least from my Protestant past, I’m used to reading the Exile as a bad thing. But after my Bible classes and reading God and His Image I’m trying really heard to stick with the truth that, for God, there is no Plan B. Nothing God does is reactive.

Isaiah says God’s going to punish Israel for breaking the covenant. He’s sending them away into exile. However read the text closer: this is still Plan A.

“I will send fugitives to the nations (literally, Gentiles. Hebrew: Goyim) that have never seen my glory.”

Israel is being sent out as Apostles not as victims of punishment.

“and they shall proclaim my glory among the goyim”

And they shall come as an offering to God – and God will even appoint some of them as Priests and Levites.

Israel’s exile from the land is part of the plan of salvation for the world.

Israel’s punishment for idolatry is part of God’s loving action in the world. It’s punishment – but as St Paul notes in Hebrews, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”

Israel proclaiming God’s glory among the Gentiles is a theme in other books of the Bible as well. Sirach 36:4-5 says, “As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory. Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you.” In the Exile the jews were not only taken to Babylon: some ran away to avoid captivity. There are communities of Jews living as far away as what is now Lyons and Central Asia.

The purpose is neither simply punishment nor is it replacement. Rather this is part of the grafting in of the Gentiles. Israel, through the exile, is bringing the narrow gate to the gentiles: showing the nations the moral law of God, not by preaching but by living moral lives among them. They were winning proselytes at the time of the Maccabees, When, after Pentecost, the Apostles are sent out to proclaim the Gospel, they will go to these far-flung communities of the Diaspora. They will find Jews as well as righteous Gentiles there ready for faith in Messiah, ready for full participation in the New Covenant.

Nec laudibus nec timore

Moloch by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra


The Readings for the 21st Sunday Tempus per Annum (C1)

Contendite intrare per angustam portam 
Strive to enter by the narrow gate
All these readings tie together: it’s like someone had planned it or something. This morning in the office of readings, we got a passage from Zephaniah (1:1-7, 14-2:3) which left me breathless.

I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Ba’al and the name of the idolatrous priests;
those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens;
those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom;
those who have turned back from following the LORD,
who do not seek the LORD or inquire of him.

Process that:
The Lord’s going to punish… within the Holy City and the Kingdom of Judah
Those who worship Baal and their clergy.
Those who go up on the roof and worship the stars.
Those who worship YHVH and also some other deity.
Those who have left off following YHVH.
And those who never bothered to follow YHVH in the first place – nor even tried to find him.
Again… all of these types of people are found within the walls of Jerusalem and the land of Judah.

If that list of people inside the Church doesn’t scare you, then today’s Gospel will. Listen to what Jesus says to those members of the Church, those who “ate and drank in [his] company,” those he has taught.

I heard this so clearly last night, that the actual homily was lost: “I bet you thought Christianity was all about just being nice and trusting in Jesus. You’re swearing by Jesus, but worshiping Milcom. God’s got a message for you.

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

How many are the folks in churches (not just the Catholic Church, but all churches) who claim the name of Christ, but get lost in Newage Astrology and magic? It’s only just “herbalism” or “crystals”. How many Catholics fall prey to the Ba’als of this world: sex, political ideologies, secularism, abortion, birth control, racism, money. How many, thus, say they are Christian but, in fact, are worshiping another deity they have made up inside their head – or fallen for one that is offered by someone else.

It comes to me that “striving to enter” is not what we’re about today. The heroic attempt to win salvation (take the gate of heaven by violence, Jesus says at one point) is not what we’re about. We feel that we should just do enough, what is the minimum? Going all the way seems a bit much.

I thought of all the times, in fact, I had not striven to enter anything at all: when it was ok to get swept along by the tide – when I actively sought out ways to not-do Christianity. I feared for all the times that I didn’t “Fail” to enter. It was not that I wasn’t “strong enough” to enter. I just didn’t want to.

How many times have we failed, as a people, to stand up?

I learned this week about Blessed Clemens August, Cardinal von Galen. His nickname, “The Lion of Munster,” comes from the way he fought Hitler during the war. (His full name is awesome: Clemens Augustinus Emmanuel Joseph Pius Anthonius Hubertus Marie Graf von Galen.) Blessed Clemens did not pull punches. Hitler wished him dead but was advised that to kill him would result in the loss or rebellion of Catholic Germans. His preaching was bad enough, but to remove him would be worse. The Bishop (later Cardinal) was opposed to racism, the concentration camps, the marauding, the bullying. But he didn’t stop there. After the war, he opposed the mistreatment of Germans by the forces of allied occupation. The British didn’t want him to travel and tried to censor him. The Russians did the same.

This man was hated by Nazis and the allies. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.

His motto, which heads up this post, nec laudibus nec timore, means “not for (or because of) praise, not for fear”. Don’t fail to preach the Gospel out of fear of what men will do to you or out of fear of what men might say about you.

In this age, when the right hates Christians for our adherence to moral political ideals about the human person and the left hates us for our adherence to moral sexual ideals about the human person, when the left hates religious tradition because they can’t use it and the right likes religious tradition because they can use it to hide behind, neither of them cares anything about Truth. We will be lost in the shuffle. Or worse. We can, like many “catholic” politicians, cave in and become left/right ideologues, forcing our religion to conform to some secular dogma. Or we can choose to do nothing nec laudibus nec timore. We can choose to make the Gospel and God’s Kingdom the primary – in fact the only – goal of our action.

Or we can worship the Ba’al of sex, the Milcom of politics, the host of heaven. We can even just give up and walk away.

I don’t want to.
I pray I won’t.
I’m afraid that
I might.


Noblesse Oblige


The Readings for Saturday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Sed quae stulta sunt mundi elegit Deus, ut confundat sapientes : et infirma mundi elegit Deus, ut confundat fortia.
God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.

You know, Nietzsche’s complaint about Christianity being a “slaves’ religion” is 100% correct. If one were to be so foolish as to deny this, we have today’s readings to support old FFred. We also have Benedict, Francis, Dominic, and all the others who taught poverty was central. Paul was a scholar of his day, but he was a tent maker. And although the Way attracted the rich and powerful, their income promptly went to supporting the poor. If you’ve not had a chance to see the movie, Paul the Apostle, you’ve missed Prisca and Aquila harboring an entire Christian community in their house. They knew that the wealth God had given them was given them exactly to care for the poor in the Church. God had given everything – including their wealth, station, and skills, expressly for the care and feeding of those poor brethren to whom he had not given such things; save only by the hands of Prisca and her husband. They did not bury their talents. They lavisged them on others and on the Gospel. This care for the poor, this care for the weakest, this care for the foolish is our Way.

It’s supposed to be our Way internally first, to a superfluity that flows out and begins to be our way in the wider world. People are supposed to say, “See how they love each other” even as we give away our extra food to anyone who needs it. To the Romans a weak, elderly person was a danger to the whole tribe and could be exposed on the hillside – as could a newborn baby that no one wanted. Christians rescued all these folks and nursed them back to health, or to a death with dignity in a community of love. In the end it was this care for the weak and the lost that made the Christian faith not only a threat to Roman culture, but, eventually, the victor over Roman culture when the latter had become so corrupt, so rotted from the inside, that it fell way like a chrysalis that was enclosing an entirely new form of life. 

From this moment we get our Western cultural values of charity and of community. Even when we don’t follow them, we pay lip service to the idea of them: as the current administration embodies. Everyone knows things are supposed to look like Mayberry. They just don’t agree on how to get there.

What we do know is there’s no biological or evolutionary reason to do this: there is no non-religious reason at all for caring for the sick, the weak or the poor. There’s no idea of “justice” that requires me to give up all my hard-earned cash to care for you. There is no human system of morality in which this makes sense. Socrates can give us Plato (or vice versa) and ideas about rhetoric disguised as essays on homoerotic love, but he can’t give us charity. Even our founders knew that these ideas don’t come from us – we are endowed with these by our creator (even as we might disagree about how best to relate to him).

And so it is in the eyes of the Church as of the founders, really: the state’s best function is out of the way of the Church so that she can do her job.

Lately our failures in this respect have underscored how our own values have fallen by the wayside. The state’s function of Justice seems needed. Care for the weak (children) and care for the other has failed as we have become power-hungry. Some have openly disparaged the poor and the stranger in the face of clear church teachings, others have misused children in ways that the Pagan Romans would have easily recognized. This has damaged our ability even to opine on these topics, let alone teach, or lead by example.

So we must, what? Bury our talent in the ground? No. Even more we must get out there and be the Gospel in action. Time to double down on the Truth. It may expose us to shame and to mockery, but that’s when our Lord was able best to show his love for us: by going through the same mockery and abuse. We have such a Lord and Savior who asks that we may be like him. Love othersoth hard that we accepts steal into our palms and side.

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Not Sweetness and Light


The Readings for the Memorial of St Monica
Monday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Clauditis regnum caelorum ante homines! vos enim non intratis, nec introeuntes sinitis intrare.
You shut the Kingdom of Heaven to men! You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

It’s important to hear these verses in a Jewish content. A scribe, a lawyer, was often one of the Sadducees. This tradition within Judaism was of a more literalist sort, invoking the scriptures in a fundamentalist way: “without” interpretation, has it were. The Pharisees, from the other side, were more inclined to circumvent some laws, to find ways to expand them. They were using scripture plus interpretation. These two might be seen as “conservatives” and “liberals” within the Judaism of that time, although there were other parties that were either more or less free with their understandings of the Torah. Some were so concerned about the state of affairs that they treated the whole temple as ritually impure. Others were so liberal that they never bothered to go to the temple at all. Jesus is yelling at both “revisionists” and “traditionalists” in his world. Conservatives and Liberals.

Sometimes it’s tempting to project these verses on our religious opponents. Certainly the plethora of (not so) good-natured religious jokes about Southern Baptists and drinking is a class of this: 

Why do you have to take two Baptists with you when you go fishing? Because if you take just one, he’ll drink all your beer.
What’s the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist will tell you “howdy” when he sees you in the liquor store.

And often these verses get pointed as very large guns (because spoken by Christ, himself)  at Jews of many different ages. And that is never, even in a pretend way, good-natured. Christian Anti-Semitism is a problem of massive proportions. It cost lives and prevents the haters from getting into the Kingdom as well as the Hated which last see Domincal evangelism as only more of the same. 

It is tempting in today’s crisis, to point these verses at the clergy who were having illegal sex with minors. They certainly have avoiding the Kingdom of Heaven while, at the same time, preventing others from entering: not just their victims, but many others who are scandalized or spurred to levels of anger that keep them away.

Still, I can only judge myself. I would like to point these verses as very big guns (because spoken by Christ, himself) at me.

I’m mindful of how much of my life was spend finding ways to bend the rules, to be comfortable, to be left alone, whilst having a religious experience of my own choosing. I think of how my own parents, following my lead, have become activists in their own denomination (UMC), withdrawing support from their parish when the preacher speaks in a way they think of as oppressive. In the times I was “church shopping”, regardless of what denomination it was, I would only go to “friendly” places. And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don’t want the Authorities to come down on them. I’ve even found them in Orthodoxy, and you can find them in Catholicism too.


When I hear about the current crisis I think of how easy it is, Revisionist or Traditionalist, for a Double Income and No Kids family to become a strong financial pillar in a local parish, to keep the pastor quiet about certain issues, to dance through a religious culture without ever setting off the landmines that might challenge one’s place. At the same time, one is preventing not only oneself from hearing the Gospel, but also others.

And we have many examples, I think: not just from my own orbit, but in other ways. For I know that there are many couples married for a while without kids. There are many writers who find the social (including environmental) teachings of the church to be annoying in a capitalist culture. There are politicians who prattle on to keep their positions. There are clergy and lay teachers who like the size of the donations that come from these parties; or, who actually agree that disagreeing with the teachings of the church is “OK in this area now”. And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don’t want the Authorities to come down on them. But maybe the Authorities will change soon… Conservative or Liberal matters not. 

And this Crisis, which is a scandal, a stumbling block, an injury, a wound in the sides of the victims as well as in the side of the Church, is caused by this culture. Yes: it is the specific sins of specific people. But the complicity lies far wider than the action. The action of complicit consent is practically a prime tenant of 1st World religious practice – regardless of religion. 

When I hear conservatives or liberals complain… dissing the teachings of the church from either side, we are the folks Jesus is talking to today.

As for me and my house…


The Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ego autem et domus mea serviemus Domino.
I myself and my house will serve the Lord.

On the one hand the lectionary for the Novus Ordo Missae gave us more Bible to chew on. On the other hand, curiously, it allows for it to be more watered down. The same is true in the Daily Office. There are more texts to read… but more options to skip parts we don’t like. The Daily Office skips verses of the psalms that are “problematic”,  and the Mass lectionary allows us the option of skipping whole passages. 
One such event is in today’s Lections where, if so inclined, a parish can skip over all the troublesome bit about “being subject” and just get on with the “love” part. Mind you, the love part has no context without the “be subject” part. But that’s never stopped anyone from editing out things that convict them of wrong-doing… or, as they say today, make one feel unsafe.

The two choices are both listed on the lectionary page for today.

I was assigned this reading as lector so I wrote an email asking which version I was to have ready. The response was be ready to do either but it was up the homilist. I wondered why the homilist picked the shorter one. Then it dawned on me that since he was not preaching on the Epistle, maybe he didn’t want to leave it floating out there without comment. That may be the real reason to skip a passage: so that you don’t have to talk about it when you’d rather highlight something else. That made good and charitable sense. 
But the effect is still the same: we don’t do this passage any more. 

Subversion of the social order was Paul’s special charism: he took things like the political and family structures and turned them to tools for working out our salvation in fear and trembling. God’s providence had placed us where and when we are. So salvation was possible where we are, not needing to run away to another place. All we needed to do is…

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

A monastic in the Eastern Rites understands this from the get go: when a man is about to be tonsured, as the superior is raising the scissors to cut his hair, the scissors are dropped to the floor. The novice is told to pick them up. The rite begins again, except the scissors may be be dropped three (or maybe more) times. Each time the Novice is told to pick them up.

Obedience is where we give up self-will and begin to find salvation. 

Now men had a hard time in Pagan Rome for no free Pater Familias was under any social obligation to obey someone else on a regular basis. Paul puts the man under the obligation to love.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,

Paul is here breaking apart the Roman Family, the traditional Roman marriage. Paul is subverting this order. He’s making a Christian Sacramental Action out of a Roman Civic Contract. To a pagan man, a wife was his property. To a Christian man, she was his own flesh. To a pagan, there was a contractual obligation involved. A husband owned everyone in his household.  To a Christian man, his wife and his children were a chance to go to the death in Agape love.

Wives, however, have a built in social obligation to use for this purpose. This is why,

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

And a wife of a Christian man would take comfort in the fact that the husband must agape the wife. But even a Christian wife of a Pagan might take comfort in knowing that by obeying her husband, by sacrificing her self-will, she was becoming the best Christian possible using the tools she had to hand in God’s providence.

Paul wanted his folks using the cultural tools and not risking trouble by breaking the local laws unless those laws also broke the law of God. A Roman Pater Familias might send his family starving into the streets, or expose unwanted babies and seniors on the hillside. A Christian certainly could not do so, nor could a Christian stop a pagan from doing so. But, once done, a Christian could open their homes in the name of Agape to those thus abandoned. A Christian could not divorce his pagan wife or her pagan husband. But a Christian should open their homes to those so divorced because of their faith.

Paul’s subversion of the Roman Order was so important that, after trying it out in Rome, he sends Titus to literally take over Crete with this Novus Ordo Seclorum, hoping to change the entire Cretan society by changing the way the family functioned.

Today, when we might hear this passage incorrectly as “Sexist” and “Patriarchal” it is good to be reminded that it is revolutionary to Pagan Romans. 

How do we apply it in today’s culture? Certainly not by recreating the Pater Familias and trying to rule the household with an iron fist. But if we – my household and I – or “your household and you” – choose the Lord what does that mean for us?

The clue is in verse 21. The Greek word describing how we are all to be one-to-another (of which the relationship of Husband and Wife is only an example) is ὑποτάσσω hypotasso from two Greek roots, “under” and “arrangement”. Brothers and Sisters, but yourself under each the other’s arrangement. Let others make choices for you.

This is the same word used in Luke 2:51 to describe Jesus’ relationship (as God) with Joseph and Mary. 

And Paul doesn’t say to do this – as the NABRE would have it – out of “reverence” for Christ. Paul’s Greek says we are to do this out of fear of Christ. The person giving us so much Agape is to be viewed in phobos, in holy awe, in fear. 

This is why it is good for every Christian, lay, monastic, or cleric, to be under obedience to someone. For some of us –  after 50 years as unmarried wild cards in the world – this might be most important. But it must be someone who takes those reins in Agape. This passage tells us it’s not enough just to go to Mass. Submission to another in Love is part of this process. We must stand with Joshua and say “As for me and my house”.

No one is saved alone.

How not to be a useless servant

Today’s Readings:

Et inutilem servum ejicite in tenebras exteriores.
Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside
Matthew 25:30a
We all have gifts. Some of us use them. Some of us run away from them. I posted this a day or two ago, from Cardinal Newman:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

The thing that I see there, that is the most important, is that Blessed John Henry doesn’t send you out on some Vocational Discernment Weekend, nor does he say you need to go hide in the desert until some vision strikes you: only, I shall be a angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling,  by which last he means “in my daily work”.
Elsewhere in this same book, (Meditations and Devotions) he offers a very simple rule of life – as quoted by the Catholic Gentleman – to direct us all on the way to Sainthood. Not nominal least common denominator mushiness, mind you, but full on sainthood:
  • Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
  • give your first thoughts to God;
  • make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
  • say the Angelus devoutly;
  • eat and drink to God’s glory;
  • say the Rosary well;
  • be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
  • make your evening meditation well;
  • examine yourself daily;
  • go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

To this I would add this simple rule, offered by Alexander Schmemann in his journals (Mindul that he was writing privately, but to a hypothetical reader who was craving monastic obedience as the magic panacea for whatever it is that ails you):

  • get a job, if possible the simplest one, without creativity (for example as a cashier in a bank);
  • while working, pray and seek inner peace; do no get angry; do not think of yourself (rights, fairness, etc.). Accept everyone (coworkers, clients) as someone sent to you; pray for them;
  • after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations;
  • always go to the same church and there try to be a real helper, not by lecturing about spiritual life or icons, not by teaching but with a “dust rag” (cf. St Seraphim of Sarov). Keep at that kind of service and be–in church matters–totally obedient to the parish priest.
  • do not thrust yourself and your service on anyone; do not be sad that your talents are not being used; be helpful; serve where needed and not where you think you are needed;
  • read and learn as much as you can; do not read only monastic literature, but broadly (this point needs more precise definition);
  • if friends and acquaintances invite you because they are close to you–go; but not too often, and within reason. Never stay more than one and a half or two hours. After that the friendliest atmosphere becomes harmful;
  • dress like everybody else, but modestly, and without visible signs of a special spiritual life;
  • be always simple, light, joyous. Do not teach. Avoid like the plague any “spiritual” conversations and any religious or churchly idle talk. If you act that way, everything will be to your benefit;
  • do not seek a spiritual elder or guide. If he is needed, God will send him, and will send him when needed;
  • having worked and served this way for ten years–no less–ask God whether you should continue to live this way, or whether change is needed. And wait for an answer: it will come; the signs will be “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”
You can grow and use all your gifts this way. 

And if you can’t then try again. Be faithful in piety and love, God will give you ways to use your gifts and you will see them and fulfill them.

Give me oil in my lamp keep me burnin…

Today’s Readings:

Et quæ paratæ erant, intraverunt cum eo ad nuptias, et clausa est janua.
Those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.
Matthew 25:10
There’s a reason this is a wedding feast, above and beyond any of the other possible events: you don’t come late, or poorly dressed, to a wedding feast. You just don’t. When you do, it’s a country music song, and it’s a hit… because you don’t do it.

But we’re an egalitarian society (or we pretend to be) and it’s perfectly alright to show up to the wedding late – it’s just a religious sham anyway. Let me in to the party, dang it.
It’s just not nice to keep people locked out just because they ran out of oil or, to be honest, the oil was running low. But it wasn’t gone. They just wanted to borrow some. Those selfish prigs said no.
So – to do honor to the bridegroom – they ran out to buy some (on the chance, mind you, that they would run out… they hadn’t run out yet…)
And that manipulative scum of a boyfriend locked them out.
At least that’s what it sounds like to us modern folks. Those five women with no oil do not know how lucky they are! They are only pounding on the door because the have been acculturated to do so. What they need is a vacation in the good old US of A.  We know how to treat guests here.
But I think we miss a major lesson in the first verse of this chapter. Tunc simile erit regnum cælorum decem virginibus. The kingdom of heaven is like ten virgins. Before the Parousia, all these people are the Church together. The kingdom of heaven is the Church.
The foolish virgins are just as much a part of this party as the wise ones. The foolish ones heard the same teachings as the wise ones. They worshipped the same God, had the same sacraments, celebrated the same feasts as the wise ones. They got distracted though. They decided the bridegroom wasn’t coming. They had all day to get ready. They had all night to rest up. Instead though, they neither got ready nor did their shopping early. When the time came, they could have bothered. They didn’t though. But now that he’s here… now they think better get ready.
All of Christianity seems to divide into these wise and foolish virgins. I’ve met wise ones and foolish ones in the UMC, the ECUSA, the PCUSA, the OCA, the AOCANA, and the RCC. I’ve met them both in the nondenominational world, and in the indy Cath world.
Across the board, in each one of these groups, there’s a group that is all sticklers for the particulars that make one a Roman Catholic as compared to the OCA. There’s an Organization that will tell you what is special about ECUSA as compared to the ELCA, or why the UMC is unique among the churches. And in each body there’s a second group that doesn’t do that very well at all. Their uniform doctrine is “let’s all get along, none of that matters.” Whilst claiming the name Christian, after a while they even let go of nearly everything that identifies a Christian as one: beginning with our uniform and historic focus on sexual purity (viz teachings on sex outside of sacramental marriage, birth control, abortion, and divorce) and progressing right up to the foundational dogmas of Trinity, Incarnation, and Eucharist. All Foolish Virgins are all alike. Across the board. The sticklers can’t seem to agree on if there is such a thing as baptismal regeneration, but they know Jesus is God in the Flesh.
I know I’ve staked my soul on the teachings of the Catholic Church, but I have rather more in common with someone who has made the same stake on Luther or Cramner than I do with someone who supports the Concordat. All foolish virgins are all alike, and they are all boring. I’ve been in all these places and lots of people asleep in the light.
This is why the foolish virgins are knocking on the the door and asking to be let in: they know what they are missing. They remember the promises that are made at baptism. They have heard the legitimate teachings of the faith all their lives. Yet they rejected them, walked away, found other teachers that would satisfy them by saying things like ‘that’s not a sin’ and ‘do whatever you want, but just love…” But they knew it wasn’t the Church. They knew, inside, that there was a place they were supposed to be.
And in the end, too late.  They made so many choices, picked their way through so many things, that, that sudden realization that oh, it’s all true…