AEEEEEEE-LEEEEEEEEE-AAAAAAAAAAA!


JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom
Friday in the 23rd week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Numquid potest caecus caecum ducere? nonne ambo in foveam cadunt? Non est discipulus super magistrum : perfectus autem omnis erit, si sit sicut magister ejus.
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.

This is a parable, not a gnomic pronouncement. It the Latin it says, “Dicebat autem illis et similitudinem”, meaning he taught them a similitude. I used to read this passage as a comment on how we can’t be better than Jesus (our only teacher). Today, for some reason, I saw that the teacher/disciple thing was in parallel with the blind/blind thing.

A : B :: C : D
It’s a similitude.

It means we can’t pass on what we don’t have. This is the meaning of Original Sin. The Catechism says:

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (Para 405)

Adam lost his original holiness and justice, therefore, he cannot pass it along to his children. This passage in the Gospel, though, is not about the Fall. It’s about teachers: If I don’t have the fullness of the faith (if I’m not even willing to have it) then I can’t pass it on to you.

I struggle with this in leadership roles: at church, certainly, but also at work. This is not only a religious doctrine, but it’s true across the board. In fact, because it’s true across the board, it is also a religious doctrine. A politician who knows nothing about the law cannot pass along the correct information to his constituents – or refute lobbyists. A president who knows nothing about meteorology cannot draw on maps what he doesn’t have. A priest who rejects the teachings of the Church on human sexuality cannot be expected to pass along those teachings. Worse: having discovered that the teacher doesn’t know one thing, we may expect the teacher doesn’t know other things as well.

There’s another level of complication. Do you know about the humidity in NYC in the hot months? I do, after living there for 13 years. There was a ticker-tape parade for the “Desert Storm” heroes in 1991. I was watching the weather report the night before. The weatherman taped an 80% humidity marker on his blue screen and said, “Tomorrow will be nice, cool, and comfortable for the Parade of Heroes.” In other words, he lied. So, on top of issues with knowledge, the blind can be misled by people feeding them organic, free-range, grass-fed buffalo droppings. And you can fall out of that first paragraph up there into this, less honorable one very easily. A mistake plus wayward pride is the trump card in every hand, lately.

Some are blind because they cannot see and some are blind because they refuse to see.

And when the blind are led away from the truth they become convinced that their blind teacher knows it all.

Today we commemorate John Chrysostom. He fought against the pride and lying of the political leaders of his day – their lack of concern for the poor, their kowtowing to the rich and mighty, their lack of morality, their lack of ethics – that twice he was exiled. We have no such leaders today in the Catholic Church or in the Orthodox Church. The closest is Pope Francis, but even he will not call “cow pellets” on the leaders of the day. And if he dare speak too loudly, the rightists in the church call him a communist and say we can ignore him. His advisors, at least, seem to know more than other folks advisors. Or when he speaks in favor of tradition, the progressivists get all riled up. In the East the Russian Patriarch has been sleeping with the crown of Russia since Peter the Great, and even the mighty “ROCOR” now sleeps with a former KGB agent. The Arabs and the Greeks are wrapped up in their internecine wars and the westerners are along for the ride – buying their way into the hallways of Byzantine power.

We have no such leaders in the Church today. Blind guides of the blind.

I’m thankful we have Jesus. But if we’re not careful the powerful will try to lead us away.

…I met a man with seven wives…

If we are united to Christ and share in the fullness of God-stuff (as we noted yesterday) then it’s all done, right? No. For what we discover if we pay any attention to ourselves is that there are a lot of things present in us that seem to have a certain quality of “B.C.” How do we deal with them?

There are three options, really: ignore them, expunge them, incorporate them. These are the same three options the Church uses when she comes to a new culture – how does she treat the things that are there already? Some local traditions can be ignored, some can be included (we may even say “baptized”), and some have to be done away with. We can look at the three categories in terms of the evangelization of the peoples of the British Isles. The Pope told Augustine of Canterbury that while idols needed to be destroyed, churches should be built where the idols were: the people were already used to coming to those places for worship. The same held true of other cultural artifacts. But the idols had to go. However, whereas the Church had already dealt with monarchies and tribal chieftains, in the British Isles she found a form of distributed (nearly republican) democracy: even the kings were elected. She not only baptized this but supported it for a long while. (William the Conqueror really tried to stop it, but it showed up again and again.)

The same is true in our personal lives: fasting rules aside, if you want to be vegan, paleo, or keto, the Church doesn’t really care. And even if the fasting rules seem to conflict there are pastoral ways to get around that – even in the Byzantine tradition where fasting is very strict. If you want to play Baseball, you’ll find this is baptized into Church Leagues. Although you can’t be a Freemason, you can be a Knight of Columbus. If, however, you want to engage in polygamy or ancestor worship in a way permitted by the culture, the Church will tell you, “No” and in that she will rely on 2,000 years of her conversation plus another 4 – 6,000 years of Jewish conversation prior to that. Even in cultures which were largely polygamous, the church has relied on attrition to end the practice. At the same time, the Church will be generous in letting the old ways pass away.

So what in your life needs to go? What in your life needs to be baptized? What can be ignored as not terribly important? Which parts of you are from the earth? St Paul has a list: Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. This last – to covet something – earns the additional title of idolatry. When you realize how much of our consumer culture is set up to trigger covetousness you begin to see that the other sins may be rooted in this one. The first step in any of these sins is to covet something that is not rightfully yours: your neighbor’s stuff, or spouse, or your neighbor. The fruit or children of idolatry are these other things in the list.

Considering how much of our daily life is spent satisfying ou desires, these words of Jesus from the Gospel will be hard:

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.

All the fullness

The NABRE gets the Greek text here better than a good many Protestant Bibles: Christ is filled with the πλήρωμα pleroma, the fullness of the θεότης theotes, the “God-stuff” and in him, we share in this πλήρωμα as well. This would be horrifying to most modern Protestants, although the Wesley brothers, at least, along with the Holiness churches, seemed to understand that “sanctification” is far more than just forgiveness. Our salvation is something that happens in this world or not at all, really. We can’t put it off until after death or we might miss our chance.

Sin, ultimately, is boring: a simple repetition of something humdrum and (often) tedious rather than participation in this πλήρωμα, this fullness of God-stuff. We have, moment by moment, a choice: to participate in the fullness of God stuff, or to simply prattle on thinking that this thing or that is more important.

The odd thing about the Fullness of God-stuff is – since Christ became Man – the πλήρωμα is hidden in our everyday life. If you’re a parent, it’s most often in the care of your children. If you a child, it’s most often in obedience to your parents. If you’re a worker, it’s in not looking at the internet at work. If you’re a boss it’s in paying a just wage to and keeping a healthy environment for your workers.

I mean, sure, it’s also going to Church and praying a Rosary, but that’s the obvious stuff. If you want to find the real treasure, you must actually look in the mundane places. It’s in feeding your cat, and in taking your child to school oh, it’s in doing your homework, and in not fighting with your spouse that we find Salvation. Here we find the fullness of all this God-stuff that we’ve been promised. Even if you’re a priest, or a religious, or even if you are the Pope the chances of you walking into a vision of divinity and being instantly transfigured are very slim. So you’re going to have to learn how to bake bread for Jesus, how to iron your shirts for Jesus, how to keep your floor clean for Jesus and, most importantly, how to send a hundred emails a day for Jesus (or sell stock, or teach kids, or whatever your work is).

This is where the fullness of God dwells for us: doing all these things in Union with Christ who did all these things. Since God became man and lived a human life, working for his Dad, obeying his Mom, taking out the garbage, cooking, washing his clothes, cleansing himself after the bathroom, etc: all these things are things God does for our salvation. And in them – done for the same intent – we participate in the fullness of God-stuff.

Shirking responsibility, ducking out when things get rough, avoiding conflict, pretending to be nice when not being nice, these are all things that Jesus did not do. These are all things that will not lead to our Salvation. in these things does not well the fullness of God-stuff. But it is very easy to do them. Very easy and very boring. It’s in these boring things did we find sin. Mundane and boring are not the same thing.

Mundane means Earthly. It is in common, earthly things like human flesh, bread, and wine, that God has chosen to be manifest.

Only sin is boring. It is an addiction wherein we do the same thing over and over hoping for exactly the same soporific results: We want to forget God. Sin helps us forget God but it also helps us forget ourselves and our mundane duties. The world in which God participates is filled with Divine Life. Sin, boring sin is the only thing secular.

Idols of the Post-Moderns

JMJ

The Readings for Our Lady of Sorrows
Saturday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Sed quae immolant gentes, daemoniis immolant, et non Deo. Nolo autem vos socios fieri daemoniorum : non potestis calicem Domini bibere, et calicem daemoniorum; non potestis mensae Domini participes esse, et mensae daemoniorum.
But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God. And I would not that you should be made partakers with devils. You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord, and the chalice of devils: you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils. 

The image above is from the cover of one of my favourite political books, the T.A.Z. or Temporary Autonomous Zone. For a while in the early 90s, I could practically recite the thing. It seemed the perfect image to head up this post.

Paul can be of two minds about the pagan deities in the cultures he visits. On the one hand, there is no such thing as “Hermes” or “Magna Mater”, so the idol is nothing. It’s unimportant. We should pay it no mind at all. On the other hand, the “energies” or “things” that draw humanity to worship idols, that foment fear and superstition in men’s minds: these are demons. So, on the one hand, we know that food offered to idols is – literally – food held up in front of a bit of wood or waved under some metal. Might as well be cooked over wood or in a metal pot for all the “juju” that’s in the idol. But on the other hand there are demons involved in the delusion. 

Paul tells us that if you find something in the market, go for it. But if someone tells you that it was sacrificed to idols, then you shouldn’t eat it. The issue is that there’s no “demonic activity” in the meat. But there are demons tempting others – and you – and even accidental visual collusion is still collusion with the demons.

We don’t have a lot of metal or wooden idols in our world any more. So where do we find the demons lurking? 

In Ephesians we find Paul telling us we “wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We’ve made our own idols I think. License and selfish desire, concupiscent ideologies, and false spiritualities all lead us astray. I think it would be easy to make an idol out of some adult entertainment stars, but we’re never that poetic. And demons hate actual art. We’d rather make an idol out of a flag, a football team, or an addiction. For St Paul all the idols of Crete or the Areopagus were also centers of cults: communities of folks. But for us, with our isolation, our internet, our buffering, and introversion, we find that our cultus has room for only one or two.

As with the idols St Paul knew, the thing, itself, is nothing. Drugs, Apple Pie, Chevy Trucks, Hell’s Angels, Cats…  The thing, itself, is nothing. But the energies that draw us and hold us to the thing, the desire to craft identities around it (instead of our God-given identity in Christ) that’s the “powers and principalities” that we’re fighting against. These rulers of darkness draw us into their orbits and force us into isolation, away from each other, away from people who worship differently. Today we’ve even developed drugs so that we can listen more carefully to our preferred voices, shutting out all else. When these demons get their hooks into us it can take decades before healing can begin.

This, then, is the cost of this much more subtle, more more personalized content that’s passing for idolatry today. Against this Jesus stands as a “sign of contradiction”. Jesus is not about “me” but about “us”. Jesus calls us out of our isolation into communion, out of our pallid humanist ideas of “equality” and into constantly kenotic communities. The weaker leads, the stronger serves, the wiser learns at the feet of the fool. God is love: a fiery all-consuming, all-engaging, all-dancing act of self-giving. And we need to be that as well or we’re nothing at all like God. The demons hate this.

The image above, as I noted, is from the cover of one of my favourite political books, the T.A.Z. or Temporary Autonomous Zone. It seemed the perfect image to head up this post as it is clearly of an idol that was constructed by an artist. It’s a sort of thing the occult community used to call “Chaos Magic”. It means nothing to anyone save the artist that made it. But for the rest of us it is beautiful, maybe. Tonight, as I was typing the final lines of this post… I took off my contacts and sat back down to the computer. Only then did I see the demons in the image. I’ve had this image in my possession for nearly 30 years only now, liberated from the book and propped up on my blogpost did I see them. 

We do not share our demonic communions with anyone at all anymore. Except the demons.  And they like it like that. Divide and conquer. 

The Courthouse at Apophatics.

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom
Thursday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Si quis autem se existimat scire aliquid, nondum cognovit quemadmodum oporteat eum scire.
If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 

There is a strong tradition of negation in Christian theology: of things we cannot know. We travel down this path quietly, patiently, humbly. The first step is abandoning childish ideas of God – Santa Claus, Magic Maker, Karmic Thunder Clap. We have to mourn the passing of these false gods. And then we let others die as well, the divine Therapist, the Matchmaker, the Life Pattern Writer. We give up each of these false gods for the purpose of knowing God as he has revealed himself.

But there are Johnny Rebs of this process too: they want to jettison everything, even the things God has revealed about himself. They want to strike out on their own and they insist that nothing can be known.

Imagine if you introduced yourself to me and I insisted that, even so, I cannot know your name because I cannot trust my knowledge. Or maybe you’ve told me your name, and I insist that I’ve discovered your name is actually something else because I sat alone in silence looking off into space and heard a voice saying, “The reader’s name is Zaphod.” So when you said, “Hi, I’m Samantha!” My response was “I can’t grasp knowledge about you at all, but I’ve understood your name is actually Zaphod.” Perhaps you introduce me to members of your family who back up your ludicrous claim of being named “Samantha”.  And I point out to them that their life-long association with you does not undo the need for humility and submission to the Unknowable, whose name is actually Zaphod. 

There is a strong tradition of negation in Christian theology. In fact, to claim that I know anything at all about God is silly. God as the very Is of being, the act of essence, the totality of real, the negation of unreality, the loss of nothing… is all beyond my comprehension (even though I have good, poetical mystic words to use).  I have words, but I can’t know it.

But to say God can’t reveal things about himself, to say that God can’t interact with us in any way, shape, or form is to deny the Incarnation. Even the most apophatic of Byzantine mystics will tell us that God is in relationship with us, that in his energies, he is knowable. I might actually go further, but the Neo-apophatics, these folks would deny the very existence of God as “unknowable.”

This is the state of most liberal Christian theology today: this trying to call Samantha Zaphod. My experience in the Episcopal Church and among liberal Orthodox and Catholic folks is that this tradition of negation is used, most often, to make room for heresy. “My personal point of view is just another Christian point of view because God is unknowable.” You can’t tell me I’m wrong: God can’t be known. James Martin is no different from Katharine Jefferts Schori or, at least recently, in terms of sexuality, Kalistos Ware. Free for all… 

St Paul has a whole other point for this: we can know nothing therefor we should be as conservative and careful as possible. Paul is quite sure there is no such thing as “Zeus” or “Hecate” and that eating meat from their temples (which is free…) is a good way to get a good meal. But someone might see him being “free in Christ” and be scandalized. So he will give up meat. Forever.

But it doesn’t mean he will let Christ be worshiped alongside Zeus because, “hey, we can’t know, right?” Paul’s quite clear about God’s revelation to the Church. Faith is not the same as Knowledge. Faith, rather, is the submission of my experience to the Church’s corrective teaching. If I’ve experienced God in a field of dandelions, that is good. But if I insist, then, that God is a dandelion, or this field of dandelions, or that God lives in this field in a sacramental, focused way. The Church is going to step in and say “No” to that. Faith is accepting that the Church’s position is an important, corrective part in this equation. The Church is the control group in my religious exploration.

God says, in the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word there is to “know in the Biblical Sense” as they used to say. It’s the same word for the sexual intimacy between man and wife. But also between Eve and the Apple. With God – as with Good and Evil – the experience is the knowledge. We can know something in book learning. We can stalk someone on the internet and think we know them. But we won’t know them until we are face to face.

When I surrender, when I stop rebelling and return to the divine union of God and Man that is the Church, when I give up my slavery to my own reasoning, then I can actually know – by revelation – what cannot be known by searching. When I come before God not in Questing Mode, but rather in Adoration Mode – adore from the Latin, “Ad – Ora” or mouth-to-mouth/face-to-face – then I can know God and be known by him, as two lovers to each other.





Wei Wu Wei

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et qui utuntur hoc mundo, tamquam non utantur : praeterit enim figura hujus mundi. 
And they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 

The Greek in these verses is interesting and a lot of English translators (and St Jerome, as well) build it in parallels:


Those married as not married

Those weeping as not weeping
Etc

The same verb is used in the positive and negative form. It’s nearly like Lao Tzu’s “Do Not-Doing”. Cry not-Crying, Rejoice not-Rejoicing. Own not-Owning… So they get to Verse 31 and keep the parallel going: use not-using. Except that’s not in the Greek. Unlike the earlier verbs the writer doesn’t just say something and not-something but rather χρώμενοι xromenoi and καταχρώμενοι kataxromenoi where kata adds the meanings to over-use, to use fully, to use up. The Greek says “Use the Kosmos without using-up the Kosmos” or even use without abusing the Kosmos.

There is a difference between using the good things of this world and abusing them, between blessing God for a good vintage of wine and getting blotto. There are intended uses (the telos) of God’s blessings and then there is abuse of them. CS Lewis covers this in Perelandra. There are fruit so good, so refreshing that one is filling, but a second – when it’s not meal time, nor otherwise needed – would be sinful, an act of gluttony. Food is like that on earth. Sex is like that: for God gave it to us for a purpose and we’ve discovered myriad ways to over use or abuse it. Earlier in Chapter 6, Paul gave us a list of people who kataxromenoi everything to the point of becoming their overuse for Paul uses the verbs as nouns. He adds, “They will not inherit the kingdom of God”.


That’s what it means to kataxromenoi: to use up something so much as to become identified with the using of the thing. 

It is to be noted that “Kosmos” does not mean “the planet, the orbiting stars” etc. It can mean that, sure, but it means “the system”, or, literally, the arrangement. The ordered harmony of the stars but also the system of Empire, the way the world is governed. We’re not to do that: think of people who say “American then Catholic”, or who break it down even further and say “Kennedy Catholic” or some other political styling; anyone who hyphenates. When we let the worldly system define our faith, we’ve drifted into καταχρώμενοι and away from the faith that is described as “Catholic” that is, whole. 

The Catholic faith is her own Kosmos, or rather she is the breaking-in of a new Kosmos on this one. The form of this Kosmos is passing away… as the new one, the Kingdom of God, breaks in. We can use even the political system of this world as long as we don’t become hacks in it. We can enjoy the food as long as we don’t become gluttons, we can have sex adhering to the divine plan. We are to be the advanced, covert (yet somewhat overt) force of an invading army.  We are the spies with Joshua in the Promised Land. We are, as Lewis notes, in occupied territory. We can’t be going native. 

What if?

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et haec quidam fuistis : sed abluti estis, sed sanctificati estis, sed justificati estis in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et in Spiritu Dei nostri.
And such some of you were; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God. 

Yesterday Paul said that some in Corinth were celebratory about their sins when they should be mourning. That struck me hard because there are those Catholics who feel “enlightened” and they have “left behind” all the strange teachings of the church and come into the “real” world, the “modern” world. And reading Paul’s list… it seem remarkably like the way enlightened folks might behave today.

When they found out I had joined Courage two years before becoming (or wanting to become) Catholic, two friends asked me about attending meetings where “my identity” should be called into question. A year later, I’m not sure what to do with the knowledge that two such highly placed folks – one a Catholic missionary, and one a Catholic educator – would ask me why I wanted to adhere to the Church’s teaching on chastity. I mention this because it is how we got to where we are.

Such some of you were.

Aslan says we are not given to know what if but only what isI’ve been told that for those who did not have sex, this is easier. As I do not fit into this category I won’t know. I will tell you this is a hard struggle. Still, it seems no harder than those who deal with other sins: and Paul seems to know a list of very hard sins indeed. There are folks who seem to think that they can have their pet sins if they allow me to have mine.

A large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.

This is the life I have: God seems to think that, if I now cooperate with him, this is exactly the life I needed to have had in order to bring my soul fully to him. There is grace before and behind.

What is it for you? What is it that you think really is who you are, that is not… really, even the tiniest fraction of your real self? What is the one thing you see when you look in a mirror that is hiding – from you – how God sees you?

—-


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Reformat then Reboot

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et adducunt ei surdum, et mutum.
They brought to him one who was deaf and mute.

OK. We need to look at some Greek. The word rendered “deaf” here means deaf. Not “hard of hearing” or “Had to yell when you spoke” but unable to hear.

The Greek rendered “mute” (mutum in Latin) is usually translated as “a difficulty in speaking”.  It is only used this one time in the Bible: μογγιλάλος mogilalos. It comes from two Greek words meaning hardly talking, i.e. dumb (tongue-tied) although some decide to render it as “speaking with difficulty” instead of “hardly talking”.


This is important.

If one is deaf from birth, one has no words. One doesn’t know what they sound like. If one is only partially deaf, or not so from birth, one has words.

I think there’s a miracle here so amazing and it was hidden from all the generations of Christians until just in the 20th century. Only now do we kno w the claim Mark is making here.

Congenital deafness prevents the parts of the brain that do language from developing. But we’re only learning this, fully, now.

Do you see the miracle performed here? 

When Jesus says to the deaf mute, “Ephphatha!” He is not just “healing” him: Be open… to Jesus. Not just “open your ears and your mouth” but “OPEN!” He’s fixing him, reformatting his brain, giving him words, rewriting his entire history into language. The WORD is being imparted to his brain in the same way that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at the beginning. 

Mark links this with the Isaiah prophecy about the mute speaking which is one more reason to hear this not as “Speaking with difficulty” but “mute”.

This happens one other time in the Gospels: with the man born blind. Again: he has no way of connecting sight to words. The part of the brain that understands “that’s a tree” is not there. Healing his eye sight requires doing the whole brain reformat and reboot. 

This is how much our God love us. This is what is possible to the human that opens to God.


I’ve read a lot, recently, about same-sex attraction and sexual sin. A lot of folks seem to think men and women who are same-sex attracted cannot live chaste lives according to the church’s teaching. I’ve heard this even from folks I would count as friends.  They are saying to me that Jesus would never say “Ephphatha!” to me. They are saying I’m beyond the grace of God.

They seem to say that recent sexual scandals happened not because of a culture of permissive silence, not because of a continual moral compromise, not because of a growing worldliness, not because of a satanic attack on the church, but simply because these abusers were same-sex attracted. Some will allow it might have been some of the other things, but they were able to happen because of the last item and, really, we know how those people are.

I don’t know what to think except to pray that they are wrong. This Gospel story, the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and the teachings of Courage seem to indicate that it is more than possible to live (by God’s grace) within the teachings of the Church. It is desirable and possible for someone to do so. As Isaiah says, 

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Why should God be so small as to not lend himself to my struggles?

Why should I be so small as to assume he doesn’t want to help me?

—-

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Pie in the Sky By and By When You Die

Today’s readings:

Beati pauperes, quia vestrum est regnum Dei.
Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Luke 6:20b
It seems entirely possible to read this and other passages as if God likes poor people and hates the rich, as if there are so many ways that the poor are blessed in the afterlife – and the rich are damned – that it must be quite easy to “buy your way into heaven” by getting rid of all your stuff. That reading can work really well for a certain sort of activist who wants to overthrow the system and make everyone “equal”, whatever that might mean. It also works equally well for another sort of activist who wants to condemn all religion as the opiate of the masses.

It is not so: there is no state on this life that will “fix” us in this problem. St Basil says (emphasis added):

Not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us. For the Lord Himself has fulfilled every work which leads to happiness, leaving Himself an example for us to follow.

You are not virtuous simply because you are poor. Wealth, per se, is not listed among the sins, but pride and envy are, both.

In the Gospel, however, we have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn’t have time to care about our political squabbles.

St Ambrose of Milan notes (emphasis again added):

But although in the abundance of wealth many are the allurements to crime, yet many also are the incitements to virtue. Although virtue requires no support, and the offering of the poor man is more commendable than the liberality of the rich, still it is not those who possess riches, but those who know not how to use them, that are condemned by the authority of the heavenly sentence. For as that poor man is more praiseworthy who gives without grudging, so is the rich man more guilty, who ought to return thanks for what he has received, and not to hide without using it the sum which was given him for the common good. It is not therefore the money, but the heart of the possessor which is in fault. And though there be no heavier punishment than to be preserving with anxious fear what is to serve for the advantage of successors, yet since the covetous desires are fed by a certain pleasure of amassing, they who have had their consolation in the present life, have lost an eternal reward. 

St John Chrysostom would warn that all of us are in danger of condemnation:

The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.

I’ve noted, often, a desire to care for the poor in abstract, but not in specifics. A desire to run charities, while at the same time a fear of the poor procreating; a desire to educate, but not to evangelize (cuz, why would they want to come to our church?). There are people who smell out there. The first time I heard Christians not wanting to let “them” into “our” church was not with Joel Osteen was worried about Hurricane Harvey, but rather back at the turn of the century when a nice Episcopal congregation was afraid that feeding the homeless on Friday would mess things up too much for liturgy Sunday.

We’re really scared of the lower classes in this country: see how easily a populist political movement that, a few years ago, would have been called part of the 99%, is now called “deplorables”. We’re ok with poverty in the abstract, but not in the particular.

Jesus was, I think, mostly poor and perhaps often homeless. But not always. But he was always from among the laboring class: lower class, smelly, sweaty. Pious. But not always the “best class”. God has no preferential option for the poor in terms of salvation. And, even if there was such a thing, here in the first world, with you reading my essays on the internet, neither of us qualify. We’re rich.

And condemned. We can all be equally warned by the words of St Paul, Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Jesus wants to draw us all into his Kingdom. With man – and our political aspirations – this is not possible. But with God, all things are possible. We’re left holding the bag of junk and our job is to give the junk away to those who have none and then offer all of it to Christ. 

Making Up for Whatever is Lacking

+J+M+J+


Today’s readings:

Adimpleo ea quæ desunt passionum Christi, in carne mea pro corpore ejus, quod est Ecclesia.
In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church…
Colossians 1:24b
You have to admit that’s a shocker.
Paul, who is not God, saying his pains somehow complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? The Greek word rendered in Latin as “desunt” is ὑστέρημα, husteréma, meaning “lacking” but also “a defect”. It’s a strong word here.
The Anglicans, contra St Paul’s divinely inspired teaching, underscore what most of us modern folks (I dare say, many Catholics as well) would understand as the truth, that Christ on Calvary, made “by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”. We’ll get into the daily, omnipresent Eucharistic Oblation at another time, but today let’s let the Anglican formulary (and what I presume is the understanding of most modern folks about Jesus’ actions) wrestle with St Paul’s idea that he can add something to Jesus’ sufferings.
Follow me here.
Jesus says: Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do to me.
Paul says: For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ…and are made one in Christ.
Jesus goes further and says: As the Father has loved me (which love we understand to be the Holy Spirit) so have I loved you; and we are also to love one another.
Even Cramner says that in the Eucharist we are made “very members incorporate in the mystical body of” Jesus.
By Baptism and Eucharist, by our incorporation into the Body of Christ, we participate fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do not thereby exhaust the power of God in those actions (which is infinite) but rather make those actions present in place and time. Our simple somatic presence in this world is replaced by God’s divine Zoe, the life of Christ. 
What happens to us – in that state of Grace – is part of the Passion of Christ.
And all of our lives, if properly offered to God, can partake of that divine transaction. 
Thus our suffering – our back pains, our arthraticky, our lumbago, our agony over the place of America in the world, our wrestling with the ideas of the current political climate, our pain at feeling rejected for our faith, our humility in submitting to an unjust boss or landlord, our willingness to go without so that our children might not go hungry, our setting aside a former life, our chastity, our abstention from meat or any other thing that is good by itself, our pains of withdrawals, our doing without an extra vacation or winter coat so that others might have one winter coat… these are now all become the action of Christ in his redemption of the World if they are offered up in that way, apud Josephum per Mariam ad Jesum

Dearest Jesus, after the example of the Chaste Heart of Joseph and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all of my plans, dreams, and intentions, all of my thoughts, words, and deeds, all of my joys and sufferings, my hopes and fears, all of my crosses and crowns of this day and all of my life, all for the intentions of thy Sacred heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope.