The New Wine Fallacy

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Vetus melius est.
Old is better.


Jesus’ saying about old and new wine skins gets abused a lot. It often gets turned into an excuse for percussion sets in Mass. I’ve heard it used in presenting new teachings on sex and sexuality. It gets spun into presentations about changing who gets ordained. It becomes a perfect argument for any new thing, any compromise with the world, any idea that’s never been tried before.  “We don’t do it that way because it’s wrong” is treated as code for “We don’t do it that way because we’ve never done it that way before”. And then out come the misuse of new wine skins. It’s really a category of Chronological Arrogance: we know better now.  It is argumentum ad novitatem


Jesus does say that new wine goes in new wine skins. Jesus does say that you don’t use new cloth to patch old clothes.


These are both true.


But Jesus does not say, “Therefore the New Wine is Better”. In fact, quite to the contrary, it is old cloth that is better for patching old clothes, and, right there in Verse 39, Vetus melius est.  Old is better. Or, really, “Melius” means “honey-like”. The Greek word used is χρηστός krestos meaning kindly and useful.  It is also a known pun on “Christos”:

“Xrestus (“useful, kindly”) was a common slave-name in the Graeco-Roman world. It “appears as a spelling variant for the unfamiliar Christus (Xristos). (In Greek the two words were pronounced alike.)” (F. F. Bruce, The Books of Acts, 368).

Everyone knows that Old Wine is better than New Wine… aka souring grape juice.

So, let Jesus words give you something to think about the next time you hear someone want to sing “Eagles Wings” at a Requiem…

That Natural Man…

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Animalis autem homo non percipit ea quae sunt Spiritus Dei : stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere : quia spiritualiter examinatur.
The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 


The Latin is “Animalis” or animal. The RSV rendered it as “Unspiritual”. The Greek, however, is ψυχικός psychikos or “natural”.  It’s usually contrasted to πνευματικός pneumatikos which does mean “spiritual”… however we miss something here if we’re not careful.

In Christian athropology, there are two types of life: Soma and Zoe. The Soma life is something shared by all animals. The Zoe life is shared by all spiritual beings. Since the human being is a hybrid between spirit and flesh, between pneuma (spirit) and sarx (flesh), we have a choice: we can continue to live the Somatic life until we just consume ourself and die; or we can live Zoetic life forever.

Soma and Zoe are contrasted all through the New Testament. Sarx and Pneuma (Parts of the person) each have their own sort of wisdom, their own sort of teaching. Soma only comes from God in the sense that God gives all breath. But the Zoe is the very life of God. Humans can’t destroy the sarx (for we are created as sarx and pneuma together) but we are called to the action of self control: to submit the sarx to the pneuma, to control the flesh with the spirit. We are called to be Pneumatikos instead of Psychikos.

Have you ever gone to a Zoo and seen an Alpha male orangutan engage in sex acts in the monkey house? I make this point this way because orangutans seem to do this all that time… every time I’ve been in a monkey house (Bronx Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, San Diego Zoo) the orangutans have been sexually busy. And if they can’t get what they want, they’ll engage in autoeroticism. It’s so odd to see: because there’s no pr0n in the monkey world. They just do this thing. It’s 100% natural.

And so that makes it ok, right?

That’s the argument that we hear in the modern world. To this the Church says it’s possible to take a higher path than simply “natural”.

It’s fine to eat meat all the time or to go vegan, it’s find to eat dairy or sweets… but the Church says food is only there for one purpose: to help you serve God.  There are times when it would be spiritually better to not eat. The Church doesn’t stop with food or sex: the teachings are that sometimes perfectly natural things can be harmful to the spiritual growth of the human. 

As we are to act in a godly way, and God’s first action is self-giving, anything that counters that motion of self-sacrifice is harmful. This draws boundaries around certain actions in the world. And even some things that would be ok out of love and self-sacrifice are rendered evil by doing them out of selfishness and/or fear.  

The Zoetic life is one of charity, forgiveness, and constant connection to God. God is love and so those who follow him live in love. The Somatic life is one of self-reference: I can forgive if I feel like it. I can love it I want or feel you deserve it.

Truth be told, most of us flicker back and forth between these two modes. Even the most worldly of persons might be struck by divine beauty or perform an act of selfless giving. Even the most spiritual of persons might wake up grumpy. A friend reported meeting Pope (now Saint) John Paul II at a general audience. When the Holy Father entered the room, someone in the press of people trod on his foot. (This was before the assassination attempt, and before the extra security.) The Pope grimaced and “gave a look”. My friend said that from that moment he loved the Pope fully because he could see in that look a sign of hope for the rest of us. We dance along the Mason Dixon line between liberty and slavery always. It’s hard not to give in to the old ways that should be gone with a Spiritual Wind. But they can seem so refined, so worldly, so stately. So natural. 

And the world cannot understand why we would ever want to do anything else. Why not just stay in this place, in this natural state, in this warm, comforting sleep? Why trouble with waking up? The red clay under our nails is a sign that we are from the earth, yes. But we can rise on the Spiritual Wind far above our past, to our rightful place.


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Getting Out of the Inner Ring

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Pope St Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church
 Monday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et multi leprosi erant in Israel sub Elisaeo propheta : et nemo eorum mundatus est nisi Naaman Syrus.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Fr Dwight did an excellent article, drawing on the writings of CS Lewis, about the Inner Ring mentality that allowed for the recent scandals to root, evolve, and stay hidden. All it takes is one whispered secret. There are no passwords, no secret handshake, no admission nor expulsion; it is a secret society nonetgeless. Lewis’ point is that this happens everywhere: not just in Church. It seems to be part of humanity’s fallen nature. When Scarlett O’Hara first sees Rhett Butler at Twelve Oaks, she’s told “he isn’t received” meaning that no proper, polite family will welcome him into their home. But here he is, at Twelve Oaks. If the Wilkses have let him in to their home, suddenly, he is now, received. So it’s ok to be seen with him. That’s the way a real inner circle works: the very definition of “Not what you know, but who you know.”

We want to be in there, right? We want to be on the inside. Ask me how I feel about being “in the Dominican Family”.

I heard recently of a deceased priest who would navigate through the silent canon of the Latin Mass (in the days before the V2 council) saying “wordy wordy wordy” soto voce. I know an Orthodox priest who skates through the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom by only saying aloud the words of institution. The rest of the Anaphora takes maybe 1 minute or 2, glanced at briefly whilst the Choir sings the Sanctus and the “We praise you”. As this is the normal practice in many parish churches I visited during my 12 years of Orthodoxy, I can’t say it’s odd. Someone (or several someones) must have known about Fr Wordy’s practice, because the Silent Canon is silent… so… someone didn’t call the Archbishop.

The print above shows Christ rising from the Altar in a style that will be familiar to many Orthodox and Byzantine readers as “Christ the Bridegroom”. He is appearing on the altar during Mass offered by Pope St Gregory the Great in response to the latter’s prayers who asked that an unbeliever in the room might be shown the Truth of the Eucharistic Miracle. In this most common and universal of miracles, the very Body and Blood of Christ, living, eternal, human, and divine, is made present on the Altar in the forms of Bread and Wine. 

The Pope prayed for such a miracle because there was a deacon in the room who doubted. This most basic teaching of the Orthodox and Catholic faith was doubted by a member of the clergy in the 6th century. Further more, this image – and the story – was vastly popular throughout the Middle Ages in Europe even during the Spanish Evangelism of the New World. Persons who, as clergy, doubted the most basic teachings of the Church. And many laity acting as if it’s not quite a shock to find out… 


It’s St Gregory’s Feast today on the New Roman Calendar. St Pius X is celebrated today on the older Calendar. Either way, today is the feast of a Pope who taught the historic faith in times of trial. Both Popes faced clergy who were at odds with the teachings of the Church. Both Popes had wins and losses in that face-off. St Gregory dealt with lax clergy living lavishly in Rome. He created a monastery and put everyone under monastic obedience. St Pius dealt with modernists denying the faith and created the Antimodernist Oath.  And both Popes are makes as great reformers – notably in both cases, of the Daily Office. It is prayer that fixes the inner rings of the world, by opening them up to God.

The Bible readings underscore that sometimes God not only acts in spite of the “inner circle” but sometimes goes right outside the Church. The cited cases (of Elijah and Elisha) highlight how God’s prophetic actions required Gentiles, that is non-believers. When you find yourself facing non-believers inside the Church, you need Gentiles to back your reforms. You may need to even let in the Government Officials. 

St Paul knows the answer though: I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified… in weakness. That’s all we have. That’s all we need, really. When we celebrate Christ as the Man of Sorrows, bleeding on our altars whilst all of us kneel in awe instead of a divine potluck with hand holding, when this is the Gospel we preach – the whole package – even the parts that call us out, call us sinners, make us change our lives…

Then we can preach the Gospel, because we’re living it.

But we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s not happening: because it’s been not-happening right along.





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More Sober Vigilance

Today’s Readings:

Omnes enim vos filii lucis estis, et filii diei: non sumus noctis, neque tenebrarum. Igitur non dormiamus sicut et ceteri, sed vigilemus, et sobrii simus.

For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do,but let us stay alert and sober.
1 Thessalonians 5:5-6

We have it here again, that combination of Sober Vigilance that is so important to the Apostolic conception of the Christian life.

Satan never says, “Hey, let’s do this awesome bad thing.” He uses the “Hey, let’s do this less-good thing” over and over until you’re doing a bad thing.

I have this problem: I want to be in bed by 9:30. I love writing these daily meditations, but, really, about now (8:34 PM as I write) I should stop and set about my evening prayers and getting ready for bed… so that I can get to bed by 9:30.  But these meditations are a good thing – for myself, and for my readers. They touch people, they invite people into relationship with Christ. But, in the end, if I start writing at 8:30, it’s going to be 9:30 before I’m done. There’s the teeth brushing and the bed making and, tonight, the putting away clothes from the dryer.

Then I skip my bedtime prayers and tell God I’m sorry and go to sleep.

See? A less-good-than.

In the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, the 8th daily prayer is for our power of estimation:

Grant that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them, that we may never turn away from higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods for the sake of sinful self-indulgence.

And tonight at a meeting discussing the Ignatian exercises, the group leader pointed out that it’s discipline that leads us to self-control.

So, with those passing thoughts, I’m going to be sober and vigilant. It’s 8:43PM now.

Asking your prayers.

(Stick it, Satan.)

Memento Mori


Today’s readings:

Quoniam ipse Dominus in jussu, et in voce archangeli, et in tuba Dei descendet de cælo: et mortui, qui in Christo sunt, resurgent primi. Deinde nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Christo in aëra, et sic semper cum Domino erimus.
For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
How’s your bucket list doing? Got a lot checked off? North Korea just exploded a bomb that world media turned into a veritable Fright Night of clicks and ad revenue.  Al Jazeera literally made it into clickbait with this tweet:
Since I grew up in the Cold War, I’m pretty much over all this stuff: but fear is real. I think some part of the tensions in this country are the venting of the fears we’re experiencing just now, although granted our Glorious Leader Don al Trump also scares a lot of folks.
My twitter response to A-J’s tweet was three points long. The first is, “Everyone dies”.
Literally, everyone dies. Today, tomorrow, sometime in 2050, whatever. Everyone Dies. Personally 18 mins warning as we prepare for Nuclear Evaporation is way better than I don’t know, a sudden gunshot, or a car accident, or an earthquake. All of these are likely. Yet I don’t walk around afraid of them. But, nukular bomb, thuggee, ninja, gangsta, old lady driver,  or the mother of all San Andreas shatterings, none matters. We’re all going to die and share one thing:
There is nothing pretty about death at all.
The breathing becomes labored. The edges of the body, if you will, start to crisp up and die first. The light in the eyes full on and there is terror. Then out. And there is nothing. If you’ve ever had anything die in your arms… or watch someone pass… it’s nothing like a movie at all. How’s your bucket list doing?
There is nothing pretty about death.
But God has done it.
There is nothing pretty about death on a cross. Nothing at all.
One of the things that makes me ready to accept the Shroud of Turin as really the burial shroud of Christ is because it’s been around through a part of the Church’s history when we did not prefer to think of Jesus as a maimed and bloody mess. The shroud shows a man covered in blood; not just blood prettily staining his hands and feet (or even garishly flowing from those wounds) but literally covered in blood. This makes sense if you know anything about the process of being scourged… but I’ll stop there.
There is nothing pretty about death on a cross. Nothing at all.

But God has done it.
There’s this invocation from the Ninth Petition of The Jesus Psalter: Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.
That is the Christian Mystery right there: We walk this road neither unscathed nor unchanged, and yet for all eternity though it lead to death and darkness, now it leads to life and light because God walked it himself. The map is the same, the path is unraveled and rewoven. The tapestry undone and repaired.
I heard a sermon yesterday about (among other things) the Satanic appeal to human pride that is this concept of “Death with Dignity” and legalized mercy killings. I will post it when I can. But for now, let’s just note: God walked the path, we can’t turn aside from the path and say we’re following him. We have to walk it through to the end, all the way, without chickening out.
This is dignity because God has done it: this path leads to a known ending now. Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.
But we all want to Run Away. This fear of death is just more of the usual Fear of Missing Out: what will we miss when we’re not here? How’s your bucket list doing? 
I’m afraid we are all haunted by our bucket list into thinking that seeing the Pyrenees or riding the Orient Express, making love in the Grand Canyon, or making a pilgrimage to Mall of America are all as equally as important and as valid a goal as getting right with God and persevering until the end to Salvation.
I had a bucket list when I was 29. Oddly enough I’ve done a lot of the item on it. I feel nothing at all of the sense of accomplishment I imagined I would feel when I was 29. Quite the opposite in fact, I’m aware now of how shallow they were, how pointless, how totally irrelevant all the petty and prideful sins on that list were and are. And they are sins exactly because petty and prideful. Yes, I can say I’ve done something… that was on that list… but did that something save anyone? Make the world better? Heal the sin-sick soul of myself or anyone else? No.
How’s your bucket list doing? We walk this road neither unscathed nor unchanged, and yet for all eternity though it lead to death and darkness, now it leads to life and light because God walked it himself. The map is the same, the path is unraveled and rewoven. The tapestry undone and repaired.
St Paul says hat those of us who are alive will be changed. That those who have gone before will rise first. And that all of us together will rejoice in the presence of the One Who went before us. He is the only Dignity we have – any of us. Even those who reject him are only measured by him, by how much they (unknowingly) reflect his light.
I have climbed Everest, I have seen the moon by standing on it, I have ruled the world, I’ve cause chaos on three continents by my internet communication skills in an era when those were few and far between. But if I can’t meet Christ in the air on that last day, I have failed.
I may have “made the world better”, I may have helped a lot of people be “happier” or “more free”, I may have done anything and everything that would make someone think “he was a good person.”  But if I can’t meet Christ in the air on that last day, I have failed.
The rest of the Ninth Petition of the Jesus Psalter:

Jesus, grant me grace always to remember my death and the great account I then must render; that so being kept continually disposed, my soul may depart out of this world rightly in Thy grace. Then by the gracious intercession of Thy blessed Mother and the assistance of the glorious St. Michael, deliver me from the danger of my soul’s enemies; and do thou, my good angel, I beseech thee, help me at the hour of death. The, dear Jesus, remember Thy mercy; and turn not, for my offenses, Thy face away from me. Secure me against the terrors of that day, by causing me now to die daily to all earthly things and to have my continual conversation in heaven. Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.

Throw away the bucket list.
Learn to feed the poor at your doorstep without worrying about those on the next block.
Pray.
I’ll see you there, but only if you pray for me to meet you. I totally need your prayers to make this.

I’ve never been to me…

Today’s Readings

Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequatur me. Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet eam: qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me, inveniet eam.
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 16: 24b-25

It’s not quite as fun as it was all cracked up to be. In the end, there were no blessings for being free – if by free you mean, “You ain’t the boss of me.” For all there were were more things left to wander about and the distinct paranoia of our modern world, the Fear of Missing Out.

We have only one job in all of this. What if one job is more like watching bread rise than being Katy Perry’s Fireworks?

At the middle of the Rosary there’s the Mystery of the Carrying of the Cross. It’s come to me lately that that’s really all there is: this is the only part of Our Lord’s Passion we’re asked – nay, commanded – to emulate. Yes, we’re to die with Christ, and yes, we’re to be baptised, and yes we’re to eat this bread and drink this cup, but the only part of the Passion we’re told, specifically, to repeat, each in our individual life, is this one thing: Carry the Cross.

This is Christianity: carrying the cross.

It’s not about “finding my passions” or “doing what I do best for God”. It’s not that “Jesus has a plan for your life” (and he does, but he’s not going to show you…). You have free will, you have choices to make. Wake up in the morning and carry the cross.

This passage is very Psychological. Reading these verses, you might remember another translation that asks “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul.” The greek word is ψυχή psyche, used over and over:

For whoever wishes to save his psyche will lose it,
but whoever loses his psyche for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his psyche?
Or what can one give in exchange for his psyche?

Psychological – not in the sense of modern mental onanism that tries to find the “me” in all this and “fix it”, but rather in the classical, Christian sense. You have a Psyche. It’s not the “soul” living in you like the Platonists and the Gnostics taught, nor is it the Mind like the Greeks imagined: it’s your very self. You are a union of body and spirit, of Matter and Eternity. Your Psyche is this presence of place and time that is your fulcrum into the Cosmos. You. We are not souls living in matter, but rather matter living in souls.

And if you try to hog all the stash, you will die.

We are created in the image of God whose entire being is self-emptying, kenosis. Not self abnegation, but emptying AS self. This is what God IS. And so are we… unless we miss the point.

So very much of our modern world is about finding my me-ness, and being that. Well, guess what, your me-ness is about giving it away. Literally, that’s what we call Love. Wiling the good of another until you sacrifice all of you for it.

Jesus says that when you find it and be it, you will die.
But when you give it away… then you actually live.

What if the very thing you thought was your me-ness was a black hole that sucked in everything and everyone until there was nothing left but a yawning maw of pride and bullied corpses of your enemies? Then you die.

What if the very thing you thought was your me-ness was only skin deep, was driven by hate, was a sociological and unscientific construct that had nothing to do with either biology or history. What if it made you push away everyone and everything in the name of a dream of some sort of revenge of the underdogs. But you could only love people like you. Then you die.

What if in the end, all you had left was your few treasured possessions and an illimitable sense of you’ll never catch me! Then you die.

Me is not in the getting, the having, the experiencing, the sexing, the dancing, the working, the pain-avoiding, drug-taking, fear-filled-zombified thing the world calls “life” and “reality TV”.

There’s no me there at all.

We’re going to die so fast that we don’t have time to wait to give it all up. Take up the cross and walk. This is the me that we are each offered.

St Paul takes if further than Jesus, telling us to offer our bodies as sacrifices too.

And in the end, where there is nothing left but the divine and eternal life that is the very act of kenosis enfleshed in each of us – at that point when we are surrounded by so much joy that we don’t miss our toys and our games – at that point we say with Jeremiah, “you seduced me, Lord, and i let myself be seduced.”

But it will not feel that way here, now – or, maybe not for the next few centuries. For if you speak out the World of YHVH today, you will – like Jeremiah – feel as though you’ve been sucker punched. To actually preach the Gospel in word and/or deed is to step out of the world and to actively critique it. To Love in the fullest sense, in the Gospel sense, anyone at all is to will the Good, the True, and the Beautiful into their lives – even if they don’t want it. (Yes, there are good, better, and best ways to do this, and they vary with the person… but to not do it at all is so much not-love as to be hate.)

And to love like that – to pour out your life, your heart, your soul, your art, your job, your whole being in love for another person – is to find life, is to be life, is to be the image of the Father, of whom the Son is the Icon, and by whom we are made to share this eternal outpouring with the world. And when we do that – and the world spits it back into our face, or our friends leave us in disgust and hatred, then we will say with gusto, faces buried in our elbows, bitter pints of IPA on the table, “Lord, you seduced me… but I let myself be seduced.”

As Catholics, we know that Jesus doesn’t promise us success or victories. We know there are no full wallets in the Kingdom of heaven. We know that there are no full bellies, no full closets, and no full mouths. But there are full hearts pouring eternity into each other.

We may not yet have our bodies on the line, but soon, it is possible, that we shall.

And then it is us who must love beyond life itself. Willing the good of all – even when they don’t want it. We have only to walk away from Love to die… but we are seduced into living instead. This is who we are. Christians are the ones who will die to show they love their murderers, to embody the love they feel for whomever is in front of them. Before of a society that will offer a pinch of incense to any Caesar that promises to liberate them from any sense of obligation, we will throw ourselves under the bus, jam the gears like so many Luddites, and stuff our bodies into the air vents to seal out any poison lest anyone else die. We are seduced. We can only love more.

We must make our bodies, our minds, our pride, our sense of self, an offering all to Christ in his person and in the person of our neighbor. The ever living Christ is as near to us as one seat over on the bus, the shopping cart in front of us at WalMart, the door just down the hall.

That’s when we are finally loving, we will have psyche then. Each and all of us.

We are seduced.

Into carrying the cross daily out of service: We don’t want them to have to go too far when they need a place to nail us up.