So Very Much Love

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Sts Andrew Kim Tae-gon,
& Paul Chong Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Thursday in the 24th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Remittuntur ei peccata multa, quoniam dilexit multum. Cui autem minus dimittitur, minus diligit.
Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. 

It took me years, decades to realize what he said to me. I mean “your sins are forgiven” is clear. But what did I know? I’ve been finding them at ever turn lately. Deeper and deeper. When he said I had loved much, I thought he was laughing at me. For I have. I was not running away from my sins… they were still in my pockets that night at his feet. What sins I had done? I was just living a fun life. There was the long sexual history, of course, but that turned quickly into a pharisaical judgement of folks who didn’t have that history. There was the condemnation of all my sexual partners, the instant feeling of superiority, and the realization that I could always just go to confession. And I knew what it was all about. But I needed to condemn and forgive myself as well.

Sure, I had dissed my parents to pull this off, but it was so important when I did it, right? They were oppressing me into their cultural models of virtue and binding me to the slavery of the middle class. Of course I got out of that house and blew off the family as quick as I could! It has taken most of the last three decades to make up for that. Forgiveness is nothing without healing. “Saved” is the same Greek word as “made whole” and damn it all but I realized I needed my family to be whole. Still, for the longest time, even after he touched me, I didn’t care about them. They were always trying to hold me back. And now I had found the real liberation. This Jesus was the freedom I had always craved. Goodbye, Pops.

Then, later, when I realized what my history had done to me, I struggled to reconcile who I was becoming with who I had been. This guy had reached in and broken all my crutches. But I had used them for so long, that I was literally limping. I would wake up and cry out, How can he do that to someone? Take away all that’s ever been important and leave them alone? And I was not alone because he was still, right there: his hand on my head, my tears falling. My hands holding. My lips kissing.

I still needed so much to wash his feet and to know this wasn’t another hallucination, another lover that took what he wanted and left.

And I found his feet everywhere I looked. And found myself washing them and kissing them over and over. And I realized these were men I had used to get away, to free myself. Sure, I took their money, but sometimes I didn’t cuz it was fun. I had made them all into idols and toys… to fill the broken, empty place where Jesus should be. Idols of lust. Idols of liberation. Idols of personal satisfaction. Idols of gosh this is fun tonight. And each man failed to be that replacement for the one thing needed. Each man fell short, and I had to replace him too. There are no Alphas anywhere. Now that Jesus was here where he belonged I could even love these men, even pray for them, beg God to show them some part of wholeness; some path to wholeness. It took forever for that to dawn on me: restored relationships means even restoring these that had been my destruction. God’s restoration, his love acting through my love, means healing even these broken lives and hearts.

When it all crashes down, when you hit rock bottom, sure, it’s easy to see what good a love like Jesus’ can do for you. But when you’re not at rock bottom, when you’re only aware that something, somewhere, has gone horribly wrong… Love like Jesus offers is only the beginning of a long, slow, climb up. Yes, there glimpses of glory and flashes of light, but mostly, it’s just a trudge up out of the pit I dug for myself. Jesus is here walking with me, but I have to walk. It’s no less deep because I didn’t hit the extremity. 

In the latter times, I felt a call unexpected. Could I just, a little, find something good in the past and bring it with me? And that painful last grip of darkness still clings to me. Can I not just maybe find someone that I can take comfort in (read “use” and “self gratify”). I have loved much, and I have also lost much.

I can be forgiven all of it. But I have to let it all go.

And there’s this long, slow trudge, still: where nearly everyone needs my forgiveness and where, I need theirs. And I have to be loving: because what the kids call “slut shaming” is a real thing. We don’t shame folks out of their sins. We love them. For most of them, it was a loss of love or a quest for love, or a demand for love on “my own terms”, that took them there in the first place. Only Jesus can be that love. And your heart has to open, has to draw them forward, has to let Jesus love them through you.

When he said I had loved much, I thought he was laughing at me. For I had. But decades later, I saw what he saw: I was not running away from my sins… they were still in my pockets that night at his feet. I was running to him. I had heard that this man – above all other men – was capable of being Love so I had to run and give him a chance. I never expected forgiveness. What did I need forgiving for? I was in a place I had chosen. But this love that he saw… that he knew inside his own child. This love that his love awoke in everyone who reached out to him.

This love is still becoming the meaning of my life. I’m still letting it unfold and finding new ways of kissing his feet.

Thoughts and Prayers

+JMJ+

The Readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B2)


Vade retro me Satana, quoniam non sapis quae Dei sunt, sed quae sunt hominum.
Get behind me Satan, you’re not thinking as God does, but as men do.


At vigil Mass on Saturday night I had the second reading: that passage from St James. Well practiced and ready to proclaim. I think I did good. 


But I sat down having heard it come out of my own mouth.  And I finally heard what James was saying.  We hear it as an accusation today because we don’t feed the homeless and we are, exactly, inclined to say “sorry, no change but here’s my thoughts and prayers.” James was talking to a church that cared for the poor, that fed the hungry. James’ church was known for her charity. James was speaking in hyperbole to a church that would never leave a homeless person hungry on the street. He was saying… look, Faith without works? You might as well say “Sorry, no change, but here’s my thoughts and prayers…”

I can almost imagine the Christians laughing. 

Who would do such a thing?
James was saying, “look you would never do this… so why on earth would you think that believing was enough?”

Their children. That’s who would do this… we would do this. We make a mental masturbation out of the faith when we confess doctrines that have no power. When we can claim to follow Jesus but still give in to our sexual whims or anti-Christian ideas adopted from the cultures around us. When we say the things of Jesus, but do the things of the world we scribble on the toe tag of the faith.


Jesus says “take up your cross”.

The last thing any of us want to do.

Do something, damn it.
Peter says “Don’t do that.”
Jesus you have to do something.
Peter says,”You do enough already… and if they kill you, what will they do to us?”
Jesus says, “You’re Satan”.
The vocations director says “Discernment is an Action Verb”.
My spiritual director says, “You’re a writer? What are you going to do about it?”
My diet doesn’t run itself.
But my inner demon says, just sit here. Stop. You’ll be fine.
It’s not enough to want to be chaste.
You have to do it.
You can’t just believe in the virtues.
You have to acquire them.
Read your office.
Pray hard.
Now get up, get out, and do.
No pain
No gain.
And lots of Satan.


Jesus says “Take up your cross” most of us tend to simply want to wear it like a fashion item.
Jesus say “Sacrifice everything” and most of us think of  football and sneakers.

Our ancestors look at us fighting over sex and money scandals.
They see us in a continual, long, defeatist action of compromise.

Half the Church feeds the homeless but has no sexual morals. All this “pharisee” talk is distracting us from climate issues.
The other doesn’t give two flies about the homeless but can’t wait to purge the liberals out. 
Where’s the church that loves the poor and calls the sinner to repent? Where’s the church that preaches the holy mysteries of the Gospel and calls all the world into 

Where’s the church of faith and works?

Thoughts. And prayers. And Works.

Where’s the church that calls us to charitable actions of repentance and reparation? Where’s the prayer that leads to action? Where’s the weights to be lifted by hands energized (or wearied) by too much prayer?

Jesus, raise us from the dead.

All Teh Feelz

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JMJ

Today’s readings:

Dixit Jesus, “Cui ergo similes dicam homines generationis hujus? et cui similes sunt? Similes sunt pueris sedentibus in foro, et loquentibus ad invicem, et dicentibus: Cantavimus vobis tibiis, et non saltastis: lamentavimus, et non plorastis.”
Jesus said, “To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.'”

Luke 7:31-32
The first time ever I wrestled with this description I think I imaged that Jesus liked “the people of this generation”, or at least pitied them. Pity, in a way, may be a good word, but like is not. In fact Jesus is calling them fools. He’s also saying they are foolish for all their feelings.  Over and over, it seems to me today’s generation(s) are more intune with Jesus’ time than we like to admit. 
I recently re-read Calvin Miller’s wonderful retelling of the New Testament story, The Singer Trilogy. Chapter 13 opens with this verse:

No person ever is so helpless as
the man in whom joy and misery
sleep comfortably together. 

No physician can give health and
happiness to the man who enjoys
his affliction. For such a man
health and happiness are always
contradictory.

It goes on to tell the story of a man with a maimed hand and arm. The Jesus character (called “The Singer”) offers to heal the man fully if he “will just desire it whole and believe it can be.” The man cannot do so, for his whole being is subsumed in the pain, almost as though to be healed would be to rob him of his being. In response to repeated offers to heal him, the man says only, “Stop your mocking. I am a sick old man whom life has cheated of a hand.” In the end the Singer leaves the man alone and in pain waiting “for the Singer to join him in his pity.”
So many of our stories today are about people who don’t want healing, they want mutual pity. They don’t want a way out, they want to be trapped in their pain, confusion, and lament – and to trap all of us there with them. Their anger forms walls around their pride, their self-definition is generated by negation: I am not-that. Our affirmation of even the possibility of truth causes pain. I wrote yesterday that to save those around us, “The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.” Someone who has been there might have to thread the labyrinth again and slay the Minotaur. 
But who would do that? Who has been there… and wants to go back in? I think Jesus calls each of us to that task. We are, each of us, skilled at some labyrinth somewhere. Go get a ball of thread.

Enculturated


Today’s readings:

Suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate. Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?
He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God?
1 Timothy 3:4-5
It sounds odd to our ears to read this for three reasons. One: since the 70s, at least, these have been shared duties – in theory. Two: for the 200 years or so prior to that, although the man was the “head of the house” the woman was the manager. We see this in such bizarre images as the 50s housewife, and the Grand Dames of Downton Abbey. Even downstairs, Carson may be the muckety muck, but it is Mrs Hughes that actual runs all things – even Carson.
The third reason this sounds odd: no one does adulting any more. Managing a house? Blergh.
Jesus raising from the dead the son of the widow of Nain is often seen as an act of cultural compassion. The woman had no man to fend for her, she was to become an outcast. By restoring her son to her, he gives her household a head. So it seems. 
Neither Jesus nor Paul waste a lot energy critiquing the culture in which they find themselves.  Paul makes comments about the sexual morals of the gentiles, Jesus makes comments about the religious liberals of his day being “whited sepulchers”, but in the end, neither says “boo” about the Roman power structure, or the ways different groups of people are treated in the society.  Jesus doesn’t question Pilot’s authority over him, Paul blatantly appeals to Caesar in an attempt to get away from his own people. 
Paul appeals to the family structure of the time. Jesus uses the political, ethnic, and religious forces in his homeland to God’s greater glory.
Does this mean “God approves these things” and “cultures at variance are to be considered sinful”? 
What about rather, at minimum: God uses what’s there. God starts where people are and moves them to where they need to be. God leaves none of us unchanged, sinful, alone. But God gets to us where we are.
I’ve been thinking about the Story of St Mary of Egypt a lot recently. Very brief, Mary enjoyed sex. A lot. In fact, she did a lot of things just to have sex – or to have time to have the sex she wanted to have. She’s very clear: she didn’t sell her body for money. She was doing this because she enjoyed doing it. One day she saw a bunch of young men waiting for a boat and, flirting with them, she discovered they were going to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Places and attend the Elevation of the Holy Cross – a feast we celebrated last week. She decided that all these youths on a boat was too much fun to pass up and when they said “you need money to get on the boat” she said, “Take me with you, you’ll not find me superfluous”. And they all had sex all that time…
When she got to Jerusalem, some invisible, spiritual force kept her from entering the Church.
Realizing this “force” is her own sin, she prays before an Image of the Virgin and asks for grace to venerate the cross… which she does… and then she begins 40 years of struggle to get back to purity.
God got her.
God used her own addictions to pull her to him.
And then got her. Grace builds on nature. It is our weakness that lets God take the lead.
What if God does that even to cultures? 
A slow process of meditative, prayerful change brought out of the death-happy world of Rome (where the Father of the House could expose a child or an older person on the hillside just to improve the economics) a Christian culture of life where abortion, euthanasia, political murder, even war itself was seen as sinful. How did that happen? And where did it go?
Today we struggle with the same sort of Questions. How do we engage the culture without becoming contaminated by it? How do we dance the Gospel in the world without becoming part of that world ourselves? Can we use the internet for evangelization? Is there a place for technology? What do we do with all this sex?
Rome has come back with a vengeance.
Can we walk alongside the culture and find the good things, and let grace build on nature? The Salvation of many depends on the answer. The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.

May G-d Bless & Keep the Tzar…

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JMJ

Today’s Readings:

Obsecro igitur primum omnium fieri obsecrationes, orationes, postulationes, gratiarum actiones, pro omnibus hominibus: pro regibus, et omnibus qui in sublimitate sunt, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate: hoc enim bonum est, et acceptum coram Salvatore nostro Deo, qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri, et ad agnitionem veritatis venire.
First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

St Paul, writing to St Timothy, says Christians should pray for all in authority. The emperor Paul wants us to pray for, here, is Nero. This is important. Why? Because I don’t think we have a choice. No choice at all: our duty is to be in the world as the soul is in the body, as leaven is in flour. We have a job to do.

What this means is we need to praying hard for President Trump.

And what should we be praying for, what are we commanded to pray for? That he will keep the peace long enough to let the Church be the Church, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate, in all piety and chastity, to use a bad English rendering of Jerome’s word choice here. The Greek includes elements of dignity, probity, and purity. Gravitas might have been a better Latin word (building on the Pagan Roman virtues as understood then). Translation always leads to simplifications. Castitate includes emotional and physical elements that can be understood to include modesty, will, the affections, and all the senses, also our interactions with our memories, fantasies, conscience, etc. “Chastity” however, sounds like a code word for “not having sex”. So, ok, the NABRE goes for “dignity”.  I prefer Courage to Dignity, as the former is more Catholic. But I see where the NABRE was going with it, anyway.

That’s it, really. I think there’s nothing wrong with writing letters to the Emperor to say, “You did a bad thing”, but the whole point is to get the gov’t to let the Church be the Church. To let Christians get about, quietly and unmolested, being Christians at each other and the world. We don’t need an assist from any of the political parties. Our job is not to force the gov’t to be Christian (although if Christians get into Gov’t that is *exactly* their job). But rather, our job is to subvert the order: keep things quite out there, we’re saving the world.

Our job is not to overthrow the unjust, nor to change the laws. Our job is to ignore them, subvert them, live as if they didn’t exist. Can the Church decide that someone has to go? Yes, the Pope’s the Vicar of Christ. But until then, pray for peace and do the Kingdom’s work in the vast expanse of interstitial space-time. Do it even if the Emperor isn’t doing his job at keeping the peace.

Take as your example all those first century protests, barricades, bottle rockets, picket lines, and letter writing campaigns. They didn’t make saints then… they won’t do it now.

Pray, and do.

I’ll close with Merton, from the Seven Storey Mountain.