Put your Hand to the Plough

In our modern, rootless and cosmopolitan world, we need to be rootless to serve the God we follow, we are following Jesus.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 25th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Nihil tuleritis in via, neque virgam, neque peram, neque panem, neque pecuniam, neque duas tunicas habeatis.
Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.

It’s easy to write this passage off: Jesus wasn’t talking to our modern times; or at least we’re not apostles like, say, bishops. I don’t think we can get away with that. We may have been able to do so for a long time, but this option would have been a luxury in the times pre-Constantine, and I think it’s a luxury for us now as well, to think we can ignore this. The literal meaning may not make sense in this day and age, but I think that’s important. How unwilling would most of us be to give up the physical props we have, the luggage, the food we have in our cabinets, the money in the bank or even our extra clothing? We’re as attached to these things as we can be, I believe, both in general (as a culture) and in particular as individuals. I love having meat in the freezer for me to take out. As I type right now (at about noon) I know there is liver thawing out in my fridge at home. I took it out of the freezer before I left for work. And the freezer was quite full.

Take nothin with you along the way, nihil tuleritis in via. In Greek, Μηδὲν αἴρετε εἰς τὴν ὁδόν, Meden airete eis ton odon. Nothing take for the way. The Greek “τὴν ὁδόν” ton odon is the same phrase used to describe Christianity: “The Way”. That’s important since the Gospels were written for followers on τὴν ὁδόν, not for outsiders. Take nothing with you for The Way. Don’t miss that echo, that hyperlink in the text. We can’t write off this passage: this is Jesus telling us what we need to follow him.

First off, the Way is a path, a journey. It’s not a homecoming. Everything about what Jesus taught assumes apostolicity: his disciples being sent out. This is not limited to the 12 Apostles, it’s all of us. In our modern, rootless and cosmopolitan world, we need to be rootless to serve the God we follow, we are following Jesus. We put our hands to the plough and we don’t look back.

As we walk the Way we don’t need a walking stick: we carry our cross, and the lean on Christ (and so, each other) we don’t need an aid: what kind of support do we use? Politics, ideologies, economics, patriotism, these and all things we use to cover our lack of faith. We carry nothing with us so we don’t need a sack, and we bring no food with us: for Christ is our daily bread, but we rely on our addictions, our jobs, our greed, and our culture for food. Before long we need a sack. We bring no money for we have no need of the goods of this world. What we need is Christ and he provides all things. We do not even bring a change of clothes for we have put on Christ.

The Way is Christ, our support is Christ, our food is Christ, our supply is Christ, and we have put on Christ. Alleluia. What Jesus is saying here, to those who are sent out (that is, all of us) is that when we go (which is always) we are to go only with him.

I realize that some of us are obligated to provide for our families. St Paul says the married man is concerned with the things of married life and this is all well and good. But the rest of us, the single men and women, are to be concerned with the things of the Lord. Jesus adds, “Seek ye first the kingdom God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” So while I am single (which is to say forever) and if you as well, then, while you are too, we should walk this way.

We are coming to times when this will be needed more: we will need to, more and more, trust God and not look back, to step out and not look down, to just keep walking the Way. The Russian Church had to do this for 70+ years. The Chinese Church is still doing it. I think it will be our turn soon. Shall we be witnesses? Shall we walk the way together with Christ?

What shall we do when the going gets tough if we have not had a chance to toughen ourselves?

What’s love got to do with it?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Vincent de Paul
Thursday ihthe 25th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Deus, qui sacrae legis omnia constituta in tua et proximi dilectione posuisti…
O God, whou founded all the commands of your sacred Law upon love of you and of our neighbor…

As I’ve mentioned before Dom Mark advises preachers to “preach the propers”. I’ve been wrestling with this idea all week and it finally hit me when I saw that the memorial of St Vincent de Paul was upon us. The name of St Vincent de Paul is probably most often connected in our minds with one of the most active charities in all the world, which, itself, is part of the Largest Charity Organization in the world, in all history.
No Christian can even claim the name if there is no active charity in their life. we do this each to our ability and our calling: in his latter days my grandfather gave away literally the entire family inheritance to a Church in his tiny town in north Georgia. The blessings of that action still rebound to our family. God gave us stuffonly to give it away, to share with others, with those who have nothing. Even when I think I have nothing, I always meet someone who has less. Our charity, though, is not our love.
Fr Z notesthat this prayer came into the Roman mass via an ancient Italian liturgical tradition and he sites a passage in St Matthew which seems to be the source of this prayer:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 22:34-40).

And there’s this citation from St Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on the passage:

When man is loved, God is loved, since man is the image of God.

So what is love?

St Thomas has us there, as well: To love is to will the good of another.

Good, also: is very well defined. God is good. God is the ultimate good. Yes, charity and acts of service are important, but God is the final and and goal of all being: if you’re not willing someone else to God-wards, you are not acting in love.

As Fr Z points out, “All of the Law is summed up in Jesus’ two-fold command of love of God and neighbor. The first part of the two-fold law is about unconditional love of God. The second follows as its consequence. We must cultivate our different loves in their proper order. God comes first, always. Always.”

We have it in our mushy liberal hearts that “love” has something to do with “don’t judge me”. We have set up the idea that God wants us to open the doors and let everyone in, like a 24/7 Denny’s. Love is not a “second hand emotion” but rather the driving force that created the universe. It sends us to hell and back in service to another person. It will not settle for second best. It weeps over the addict anddraws her away from her addiction. It can be gentle, nearly passive; or love can be tough to the point of self-destruction in the name of rescuing another.

We cannot love another by simply saying, “Do what ever makes you happy”. For our end and ultimate Good is God. And to walk away from God in any way is not to be acting to one’s own Good.

But how do you will the good of another and yet woo them? How do you notcondemn and yet not condone? How do you call someone Godward without pushing them away?

Poets of the Logos

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 25th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Mater mea et fratres mei hi sunt, qui verbum Dei audiunt et faciunt.
My Mother and Brothers are those who are hearing and doing the Word of God.

Jesus, like his brother, James, makes much of those who Hear AND Do. James and Jesus both link up the same Greek words for this (James 1:22 and here in Luke 8:21). Although the English wants a pronoun as an object here, neither the Greek nor the Latin have one: the Latin says “Who the Word of God hear and do” and the Greek says “who the word of God are hearing and doing.” (I Stand to be corrected on the tenses there, but I think I read aright.)

This is important because the Greek word that Luke (and James) picked here for “word” is not the usual one that means “teaching” but rather “Logos” which means far more. One might say the “Mind of God”, or even the “Organizing Principle of God”. The very pattern of God woven into all of Creation. This Logos is so important that it is, in fact, a title of Jesus, who is called the Logos incarnate. Through Luke, Jesus (and also St James) are inviting us to hear-and-do the Logos using a Greek word (poieo) meaning “maker” or “creator”. They are inviting us to become poets of the Logos.

This theme runs through Jesus’s teachings in so many ways: not burying your talents, not hiding your light under a bushel, not stepping out of God’s moral plan for you life. Hearing-and-doing the Logos makes so much more sense than “Following your bliss”. St James said on Sunday, “You ask but you do not receive because you ask to satisfy your passions”. The primary message of the Cross is that your life is not about you. You don’t get to do anything you want. You get to do what you were born to do which is to serve as God served when he lived among us.

We don’t like that. Americans far prefer rebels, as I noted about yesterday’s readings. Even though she spent her entire life in humble obedience to the Church – even kicking out a cofounder who wanted to get married after his divorce – Dorothy Day is remembered as a Rebel. Double Ditto for St Francis. Faithful children of the church are not welcomed models for us today. We don’t like to think of Dorothy as a “supporter of patriarchy” nor Francis of Assisi writing pained letters about sloppy liturgics. We want hippies and uppity women to make our history. Jesus wants poets who can dance within the pattern laid down by God, his Father and ours.


Jesus says that hearing-and-doing makes one his Mother and his Brother. James, his brother, says the same thing. And Mary, his mother (but James’ stepmother) would know full well what dancing with the Logos can mean. But James and Jesus, now, they get this from Mary’s Husband, Joseph the Craftsman. He knew how to work with wood like a poet. He knew how to work with the grain of wood, how to make beauty in tune with nature. And yet, because he worked with his hands, he would have been part of an underclass in both Jewish and Roman cultures.

The true artisan knows that about his craft, bread-baking, wood working, wordsmithing, iron mongery, gardening, child-rearing, music, stained glass… we all participate that way in the Divine Nature as we mirror the Divine Craftsman. Jesus calls us to participate in that ongoing creative process as that image of God in us is our salvation.

Go be poets of the logos. Work out your salvation.

Think Different

Good Ol’ Uncle Al

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 25th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ne aemuleris hominem injustum, nec imiteris vias ejus. 
Envy not the unjust man, and do not follow his ways.


America has a problem with rebels. We started with the violent overthrow of our lawful king. We used advanced wordplay to justify what only a couple of generations before would have been a sin. Indeed our whole Anglophone culture is based on the same sort of thing, really. For what was the English schism if not the overthrow of a lawful authority?

We like rebels. But we fail to recognize that all rebels are the same: the essential argument is always, “I will do what I will. This shall be the whole of my law.” This non-argument is used to justify even contradictory ideas: like belief in evolution and also in non-reproductive sex. We rebel against any form of authority including our own. And we envy the folks who do it best: we want to emulate them.

Why can’t I inherit, we ask, all of my money from my parents, ruin every business I touch, cheat on several of my spouses, be emotionally abusive, lie, cheat, gamble, and still be President and a hero to millions?

America has a problem with rebels. All of our movies (even the good ones) are about rebels: what is It’s A Wonderful Life about if not fiscal rebellion? Gone With The Wind is not just about “The Rebel South” but also about a woman rebelling against social norms and running her own life. The Korean war was about a Rebel General. MASH is commentary about rebels in the Vietnam War disguised as a story about rebels in the Korean War. We think the Rebellion in Star Wars is the Good Guys. In our mythology, Jesus was a rebel. We pay no attention to the fact that he adhered to rather traditional Jewish teachings on many front and that even some of his more “rebellious” lines are from one or another Jewish rabbinical tradition. Jesus is not a rebel, but he does have peculiar opinions.

We see this play out in the Church as well: as the entire America Church is filled with Rebels of one sort or another. Yes, there are the liberal sorts who toss off moral strictures, but there are the conservative sorts who align themselves with Steve Bannon and stick up for political leaders who abuse women. These are all our Rebels against the Pope. There are in Orthodoxy white supremacists who won’t even let their women dress in traditional, Orthodox ways because it looks “too Muslim.”

We like rebels – even the ones we say we don’t like.

The problem is that this leads us to some awkward places in our moral life. If we elevate these folks so high on our cultural ranking, where does that leave us, faithful Catholics, who try to adhere to the moral order propounded by our Church exactly because it is the moral order propounded by our Church? Yeah, sure, there’s an element of “rebel” in it because in today’s world looking like Davey and Goliath, or Ward and June Cleaver (or even the Brady Bunch) is a rebellion of a sort. But it is an acquiescence to an authority as well. There is no such thing as a Christian Anarchist.

Unless you’re a rebel.

The Lord will uphold my Life.

JMJ

The Readings for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Videamus ergo si sermones illius veri sint, et tentemus quae ventura sunt illi, et sciemus quae erunt novissima illius. Si enim est verus filius Dei, suscipiet illum, et liberabit eum de manibus contrariorum… Erit enim ei respectus ex sermonibus illius.

Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries… According to what he says, he will be protected.


You want to see something funny? In 1970 when the Russian Communists wanted allies in the USA, they made the Russian Orthodox Church give what’s called “Autocephaly” or Self-governance to the Orthodox Church in America. This instantly created a weak, but real money funnel to the USSR via the Church. There were spies (US and USSR) on all sides. It was a fun political move that had nothing to do with the maturity of the American Church and for the longest time it even caused a rupture of governance: for many of the other self-governing Orthodox Churches refused to recognize the action that Moscow had done without talking to anyone (save the Soviets). Last I paid any attention the Patriarch of Constantinople still doesn’t officially recognize it.

Now the Moscow Patriarchate, using the same ploys under Putin, is mucking about in the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine and Constantinople wants to give Autocephaly to the Church there to protect it from Russia. Russia sees this as against her political goals (of slowly invading the Ukraine by attrition) and so the Russian Church is threatening to break off communion with anyone who dares contravene them in this dispute. Pot, this is the Kettle. You’re black.

Meanwhile… the Catholic Church is having a scandal of global proportions over gay sex happening in seminaries and clergy molesting folks of all ages. Some folks are accusing Francis of participating in the cover-up, which I can see. But some huge portion of this scandal’s rooted strength is part of Christians forgetting what “upholds my life” means. We started to think it meant cultural relevancy. We started to think it means communion for the divorced and remarried, for blessing gay couples, for allowing birth control when it was “my conscience” leading me. We started to think it means blending in to the culture instead of standing out. We’ve even convinced ourselves that “Standing out” is just some sort of prideful, Pharisaical anti-Christian action. Don’t judge me.

Both lungs of the Church are breathing the same bad air. It’s amusing to hear Istanbul and Moscow accuse each other of trying to be “pope” whilst Rome has the most un-papal Pope in recent memory. Yes, the Pope rules a small city state, and yes the Patriarch of Constantinople runs a smaller one, but still, it is one. Meanwhile the Patriarch of Moscow runs the liturgical ministry of Putin’s government. In America, a la carte, most of us just make up our own as we go – and both sides of the Political Spectrum are trying to subvert as many churches as possible into being the American form of Putin’s Commissars. Omnes Habent Papae.

Jesus turns to us and says “What were you arguing about on the way?”

There is this sense, I think – not only among Non-Christians, but also among a certain subset of Christians – that the Christian life is supposed to be a good and blessed life. There’s the prosperity folks, of course. There’s the “God has a plan for your life” people. There are the Calvinists – who taught us that if God is blessing you (with the goods of this world) then you’re among the righteous. This led, quickly to nearly everyonedeciding to work hard so that they would have the goods of this world and, therefore, be evidently righteous in God’s sight. These all gave rise to the non-Christian folks who believe this is what Christianity is about. They ask (rightly, by this theology) why is it that there are so many poor folks? Why is it that evil exists? Why is it that believers fall under the evident curses of the modern age, War, STDs, and the Internet, just as easily as anyone else? Also those who clearly believe this lie are the statisticians who set out to discover if either religious people are happier than others or if they are unhappier. Equally believing this are those who cite those studies as backing them up as either believers or non-believers.

To this the orthodox Christian has to reply, “Blessing, Schmessing. God said I’d end up dead just like him.”

The Apostles themselves fell for this prosperity-power stuff: that’s why they were arguing on the Road. They thought “Whoa, if Jesus is King, who do I get to be?” I think I’ve even heard preachers say this today: You’re a prince or princess, live like it!

We have our ideas of success and we want to live up to them. It’s no wonder that’s what folks think the Gospel really is.

The Lord will uphold my life (as the Psalm for today teaches). He will uphold my cause. He will defend me from the ungodly who seek my life. But my success is not God’s purpose. God’s purpose is my salvation – my wholeness in his own divine life, Zoe; not my adherence to the standards of success or prosperity or even secular ideas of legality and justice. My only telos or purpose is my living with God for eternity and my living with you in love, here and now; the operative part being In Love. God is love. If I can learn to love you now, to love others, to love all… then when the eternal fires of God’s very being encompass me I’ll be fine.

When I say, The Lord upholds my life, you might think I mean “I’ll get what’s due me”. And you might want to sit back and see if I get rich as Croesus, or powerful as Putin. Will I no longer be tortured by the law or oppressed by haters? Nope… The Lord upholds my life means my life becomes one with his. In fact, if those things happen to me (wealth, power, or having my head cut off) that’s God saving me. That’s what it means to “uphold my life”: to take even the means of torture and failure (in the eyes of the world) and turn them into the gate of heaven.

The Lord upholds my life means that even if I do follow him, I can still make bad choices, bad business decisions, bad relationship choices. I can still be killed, tortured, nailed to a stick and left to die in the sun, shoved in a borrowed tomb and prevented from even defending myself. But that’s God saving me.

More importantly, the folks who “hate my life” who are the “ungodly” are not other Earthlings: for God wants to save them too – as do I. The only enemy I have are the demons. When a human attacks my faith, or undermines my position; when I or others sin and detract from the faith, regardless of any human culpability, the actors are the demons who seek to destroy everything God has made. Man is foremost on that list: if we can forget love for a few moments and kill each other over some political squabble, the demons have won.

The bad air in the Church’s lungs, east and west, is demon-scented. It’s filled with notes of pride, and mammon-power. It’s wafted with compromise and temptation. It all comes from hell. It’s only the skillful application of filters that keep us from smelling the sulfur. We take each other to court, break off communion, lead each other into sin; we deck our halls with balls of folly and hate each other for naming them so. Keep the Christians at each other’s throats. The demons have done their work well.

We must turn to each other in Love.
We must be little children – of no account, no power, seen and not heard.
Then we must draw each other into that Fire that is God’s purpose for us.

If we do not do it, he will do it for us. He will turn this Church right around and take us home. That’ won’t be pretty. It will hurt. But we will deserve it.

This is not an interfaith dialogue.

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JMJ

Today’s Readings:

Et nunc magnificabitur Christus in corpore meo, sive per vitam, sive per mortem. Mihi enim vivere Christus est, et mori lucrum.
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Philippians 1:20c-21
To live is Christ. The Greek uses the verb form of the noun, “Zoe,” which is the divine life of God. τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς, “To Zen Christos.” To Zen is Christ. No apologies, I love it! In Galatians, Paul says he is crucified with Christ, and yet he (Paul) Zens because Christ Zens in him.

What does it mean to live Christ? How can it be that we live him? Is it possible that in my flesh, and in my everyday life, I am Christ? That is too new agey. Is it possible that somehow all the things I do everyday, good and bad, safe and unsafe are all Christ? No that would be silly. Since I am a baptized Christian, should I say that everything I do, or everything I want to do is Christ? That would be delusional. That would deny the reality of sin. So what does it mean, to live is Christ?

Reading CS Lewis I am often made aware of traditional Christian Anthropology. We are here as God’s creation to do God’s work; we are here as reflections of God’s presence in the world. We are never more ourselves than when we are letting God work through us. All of our gifts, all of our talents, all of our very being and purpose are here only for this very service. When God loves and heals me it is often through the actions of some human. When I serve and heal someone else truly as God loves them, it is God loving them through me. To live is Christ may also mean Christ living through my presence. To make that happen though, I have to get out of the way. All the things that only seem to be me, but that are actually destroying me need to go away. We are never less our selves then when we are insisting on our own way, demanding our own space, insisting that God to get out of the way and let us be us.

To Zen Christ, then, is to let all those things die. We think those things are us, but really those things are keeping us from being who God created us to be. Those things are keeping us from salvation, those things are keeping us from theosis.

For each of us those things are some things different. It may be pride in our artwork. It may be skill that somehow has glossed over into gluttony. It could be lust. It could be love of something which otherwise would be fine, but now is a distortion. It could be a desire for peace and quite that keeps us out of Church. Each of us must be honest about what those things are and we must crucify them; so that Christ can live us.

Do you see? We are crucifying the us we think we are so that Christ whom we really are can live us. We are each giving up what we think is life, what we vainly imagine life to be, so that Christ (who is life) can live us.

In the Gospel today, the parable of the vineyard and the workers, we see what happens when we fail to live as Christ, fail to let Christ live us. You know that if this Parable were lived out today, the first groups of workers would form a union and would protest outside the vineyard demanding just wages and better compensation. I am not even sure who the Church would side with. Who are the deplorables in this story? Are they ones complaining about poor treatment – even though they got exactly what they were offered? Or are the deplorables the ones who are lazy and laying about all day and still manage to take a day’s wages for the briefest of work? While the protests are gearing up, and the picket lines form outside the vineyard the owner and the workers who came at the last hour will shut the gates like so many wise virgins and there would be a party inside. So used are we to demanding our rights, our privileges, our just desserts that we fail to live Christ.

I have been reading Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. I have never read it, and I am enjoying it greatly. Perhaps this is because I have just become Roman Catholic and Merton’s journey seems much like my own. I did not know before he was a Trappist monk he considered becoming a Franciscan. He’s so linked with Trappist silence in my mind – and in popular presentation – that I was surprised to read this. His decision to not become a Franciscan was based on the realization that it would be no sacrifice at all for him to be in the Franciscan order. Even giving up all he owned, and, after being a novice for a while, he would still be himself. All of his faults and foibles would still be present, with nothing to challenge them, nothing to break them. I wonder if I should not be judging my life on that same, strict standard. What if something that I want is not a sign from God? In fact what if my wanting it is exactly the sign I should seek and pray to not want it? What does God want? For me to praise and serve him. Is that always the same thing I want? No! In fact wanting something by itself may be the sign of me seeking to justify things as they are.

And yet, Grace builds on nature. What we are is what we are. What we become is Christ if we let it happen. We are not destroyed, we become who we were meant to be. We die. And Christ lives.

We are all called to do the work Christ has given us to do. And all of us who do that work as we are called to do it, will be paid exactly the same thing: we will live. It is in our cultural nature, our fallen nature, our sinful nature to demand something more, anything more than the other guy. But God says do this and live. That’s all we’re promised. Sainthood.

Oh, and we are promised that everyone will hate us if we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Saint up.

And stop complaining.