Surgens autem quidam in concilio pharisaeus, nomine Gamaliel, legisdoctor, honorabilis universae plebi, jussit foras ad breve homines fieri, dixitque ad illos… But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while. And he said to them… The Church’s tradition, celebrated especially among the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, is that Gamaliel and his son were converts and the former, at least, is a saint. The translation of his relics is celebrated on 2 August. The Church’s tradition is that Gamaliel buried St Stephen on his own estate after the latter was stoned. In a lot of ways, Acts is really the story of St Paul with this long intro. We tend to forget: Gamaliel was St Paul’s teacher. So, somewhere in this room of angry men, yelling for blood and demanding the death of the Prince of the Apostles… somewhere here is one Sha’ul of Tarsus. How else do we know these words at all? The “good guys” are out of the room. Paul is here, listening, and hearing the words of his Teacher speaking here, maybe taking notes, a transcription, as it were. Later it is Paul who tells these words to Luke. And so, deeply tonight as I was thinking about this, I was struck by the image of St Gamaliel praying for his student… as he stomps off angrily to Damascus. If you’ve seen the movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ, there’s a lot of violence: the movie makes much of St Paul’s blood-lust directed at these odd followers of this Jesus. In Acts, the Latin says spirans minarum, et caedis, breathing out threatenings and slaughter… and as I write I’m seeing Gamaliel kneeling in prayer for his student’s conversion. And praying in all righteousness that God would show the light to this angry young man, Sha’ul.
Do you ever think of prayer as the first weapon of Evangelism? If you love someone so much you want to win them for Christ, how can you not pray for them – by name, not in the Abstract. Not all of us are called to be Evangelists: that is one of the gifts of the spirit, yes, but some are called to it and others are not. But all of us are called to go and make Disciples. Discipleship starts way before evangelism. Before the evangelism, before the preaching, before the Romans’ Road to Salvation, have you prayed for that soul? Have you got down and begged God to show his light to someone, or are you trying to elbow you way through the crowd to beat God to the punch? St Gamaliel, pray for… who would you name here?
Ite, et stantes loquimini in templo plebi omnia verba vitae hujus. Go, and standing speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. What are omnia verba vitae hujus? What are all the words of this life? Is this the idea you have of a corner evangelist? When you hear such do you hear him speaking the words of this life? In Greek the phrase is ῥήματα τῆς Ζωῆς ταύτης rhemata tes Zoes tautes… the phrase is used elsewhere, in John. When, after explaining the Eucharist, all the folks get disgusted because Jesus really says “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood”. And folks leave. And Jesus says to the 12, “Are you going to leave too?” and they say “you have the ῥήματα ζωῆς, the rhemata Zoes, the words of life”. That’s not an accidental parallel for there are other Greek words that mean “life” or even “Way of Life” and there are other Greek words for “word”. Rhemata means “teaching” rather than a literal word. Zoe, in the scriptures, is the divine life, given to us by Grace. It’s very different from the life of simply “breathing”. That life ends. Zoe is the life of God which never dies. The whole purpose of the Christian Way is to replace mere breathing with actual living, with Zoe. The Rhemata Zoes. Go into the temple and speak all the Rhemata Zoes to the people. Jesus has the words of Zoe in John, but the Apostles are commanded to speak about this Zoe… and since we’ve just been hearing in the preceding chapter about the Christian Community’s patterns of living together, holding all things in common, of praying and making Eucharist together, this is this Zoe. This community acting this way is the Christian life: not a sinner’s prayer and hope to see you next week, nor a come to mass and go home alone sort of thing at all. But live together, sharing all things, doing in Jesus’ name all the things that get done. That is this life. It is shared, from the get go. Pope Francis said, in the Apostolic Exhortation released recently: We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. The pope continues,
14. To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.
15. Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life (cf. Gal 5:22-23). When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better”. In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scripture, the sacraments, holy places, living communities, the witness of the saints and a multifaceted beauty that proceeds from God’s love, “like a bride bedecked with jewels” (Is 61:10).
16. This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures. Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.
This life of Holiness, the Rhemata Zoes… it continues. We should speak it always and everywhere.
Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos. For neither was there any one needy among them. They will know we are Christians by our love, y’all. So where are there needy folks sitting in the pew next to you, or on the bus next to you, wait: I bet you drive to work. You don’t notice unless they ask for money at the exit ramp, I bet. By a blessing of liturgics we get the same lesson from Acts as we had on Sunday. Even if you think the idea of “holding all things in common” is anachronistic, surely this idea of “no one needy among them” must be a good and moral end, right? Yet the poor you will always have with you will be quoted by some wag. The wags who quote the poor you will always have with you you will always have with you. And while he’s rattling off scripture he’s damning his own soul. Our oddly American fascination with my stuff is a moral infection with multiple vectors. We labor for money to buy stuff: this is not wrong. But the infection arises when the labor is not for its proper end (provision for the family, the church, and the needed, together with the expiation of sin [qv: Adam and Eve]) and, instead, made as a means to get even more stuff, as is done with Marketing and all the other tools of late-model capitalism. Our desires wake and the acquisition of stuff for the sake of stuff, to appear wealthy, to match our neighbors, etc) takes over. We need more stuff to “feel safe” to be “secure”. We hoard our money and our stuff. We want to buy stuff at the best value. The end result is foreign labor making cheap stuff which is good value in the short term, but bad value in the long term. We are happy buying a $3 gadget at WalMart instead of a $10 gadget somewhere else, even though it won’t last, was made overseas by slave labor (or robots keeping even the slaves unemployed). The end results are social injustice and junk in landfills. The exception to this being electronics where we are happy to pay top dollar because it feels better and looks better. Ironically it was made by the same slave labor and the electronics companies are getting rich of your band consciousness. And poor workers are no better off working on things we pay $5k for than they are working on things we pay $5 for. Do I want a new $10 off-market watch that tells time, or do I want a $400 apple watch made by the same folks for the same environmental damage? That’s an easy one: I work in tech so I know which one I’d pick! We’ve made our money and we’ve bought our stuff, certainly it stops there? Sadly: no. For there is always more stuff to have. Children raised by parents who said “no” – because they were too poor to say “yes” – very often want to say “yes” to their own kids all the time. Curiously, anyone raised by parents who always said “yes” suffers from the same problem. Our homes fill with stuff as quickly as a hoarder’s shed or a meth addict’s mobile home. Meanwhile, the needy are sitting right next to us on the bus, in the pew, or in front of our office. Lending to people who can repay the loan and the favor is not charity. Think it through: how much is it costing you to read these words? Electricity, internet, Google’s data sponge, the device you are using, with it’s own data sponges, the social cost (unless you’re really alone, there is an icon of God, a human being next to you whom you’re ignoring, even on the bus. All this is only the beginning. There was no needy person among them. How do we get there as a Church? While this may seem abstract for you know, just one of Huw’s political rants, I firmly believe this will be a crucial question for us in the near future. How do we get to a place where they know we are Christians by our Love, by our Love?
These co-ops could acquire housing, build out and save, and, in time, take care of others. As singles marry, bringing other folks into the co-op, they stay in the community, raising their children as Catholics among other Catholics. These growing communities sharing all things in common, could care for the elderly in the parish, the sick, the homeless. They could form the front lines in Catholic Social Outreach. Singles come in all ages, not just young adults, but also the divorced, the widowed, the single parents, the same-sex attracted trying to live (as all these singles) chastely. This is a healthy mix that would prevent these communities from becoming speed dating societies (as many young adult ministries do). These would require true Christian charity often missing from our world. These would call us to actively live our baptismal vows with our Sisters and Brothers to the end that we could even live in Love and Charity with our neighbors. They will know we are Christians by our Love. Could we do it?
Nec quisquam eorum quae possidebat, aliquid suum esse dicebat, sed erant illis omnia communia. Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos: Dividebatur autem singulis prout cuique opus erat. No one said that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them. For neither was there any one needy among them: distribution was made to every one, according as he had need. This is one of those idyllic scenes in the New Testament that gets either ignored or latched on to, with no context. It is usually ignored by a class of persons we shall, today, call conservative capitalists. They choose to ignore huge swatches of Catholic Social Teaching in favor of a cross between Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan, tempered with a piety circumscribed by denial of human causes of Climate Change, the Latin Mass, and protests at Abortion Clinics; giving lip service to social doctrines whilst shopping at Amazon. This is latched on to by a class of persons we shall, today, call liberal capitalists. They choose to ignore huge swatches of Catholic Social Teaching in favor of a cross between Marx and Bernie Sanders, tempered with a piety circumscribed by devotion to the Democratic Party, Taize meditation, and pronouncing foreign names as if they were native speakers of those foreign languages; giving lip service to moral doctrines whilst shopping at Amazon. But both classes of persons fail to note that here – and everywhere else in the Bible, Old and New, Greek and Hebrew, the primary teaching about stuff is it’s not yours, it’s God’s. The secondary teaching about stuff is When you have God’s stuff you’re supposed to act like God does, and just keep giving it away. I remember a speech given by a former president, reminding folks that none of the jobs in this country could be performed, none of the wealth accumulated save for the work done on roads, electrical wires, water pipes, etc. Even the people who build roads, hang wires, and lay pipes rely on the work done by others. It truly takes a village to do literally anything at all. We don’t own our success. We don’t own anything, really, from a theological point of view. Although we can own stuff from the world’s point of view. We also own stuff from a moral and ethical point of view. If we didn’t own it we couldn’t give it away, morally or ethically. Yet, precisely because it is God’s Stuff we are supposed to act with it as God would act with it. Not as we might want to act, not as we might even will to act. We are obligated by Catholic Social Teachings to build a just society – and that includes a just sharing of resources. It’s the sharing that’s hard. Not only for us: but for much of our political communities. Most of us are out for justice for me. When do I get my fair share? All I want is what I have coming to me. Sure, when I get that, I’ll be happy to fight for you as well. But me first. Most Americans are, globally considered, not poor. Compared to the vast majority of persons in God’s image, all of us are swimming in squandered wealth and resources. Although often hindered by police injustice and political machinations, our poor have available to them vast resources undreamed of by the populations of many countries. Although our medical system is nearly barbaric as far a resource distribution goes, the content of our system is quiet amazing. The existence of our grocery stores, our corner bodegas, our veggie stands, and farmers’ markets just astounds anyone visiting our country. We are surrounded by food and payday should mean “let me go buy everything I can and give it to the poor” and, instead, payday usually means I can have a few extra beers. Although I was moved by the Occupy protests of a few years ago, and continue to be inspired by young people who takes risks in caring for the poor, the truth is that most of us (including me) have more money invested in the electronics that keep us connected to the internet 24/7 than we give away to the poor. And most of us (including me) have arguments for why that is so: I made up six while I typed this sentence, one for each homeless person sleeping on the street I will pass on my way to 6:30 Mass tomorrow. The early Church held all things in common and we know they also shared them not only with themselves, but with others outside of the Church community. They cared not only for themselves, but for others who came to them, for babies, the elderly, and the sick all abandoned on hillsides and in forests whom they brought in and nursed back to health. (One Catholic writer opined that this constant exposure to germs and illnesses made the Christians, overall, healthier than the pagans, and so, less likely to die when epidemics struck, etc.) The wealthy Christians opened their homes to their brothers and sisters. These house churches became the loci for communities that put down historical roots. Some are still major churches in Rome 2,000 years later. But we do like our stuff. And we do like our myth of self-creation. And we love the story of self-made wealth. And in the end we love self more than other. But we’re happy to put a $20 in the plate every now and then as we put motion-activated water sprouts in our Cathedral doorways to prevent the indigent from sleeping there. Happy Divine Mercy Sunday. 3
First off I suck at this. I try to get better. But I suck at it.
This is my brief meditation today: The Martyrs of England are a better model for us today than any other category of martyr, saint, or blessed. Why? Because their killers thought they were being Christian. I don’t think we have to worry about the Gov’t ending all Churches. I’m not worried about the army showing up (yet, anyway) at the door of my Church and saying “we’re here to shoot your priest.”
But, in England, a group of people bought into the Political Fads of the day and also bought into new moralities, new cultural forms, and new religions. Then they killed off all the ones that disagreed. The nominalists did, that is, killing off the Catholics. Killing may be out of the question for the time being. But, face it, a long, slow, painful defeat is much harder to withstand. Anyone can be a martyr if they will but kill you fast enough.
The Martyrs of England followed the law of the land until they could not follow it any more. Most of them died praying for their Queen and her salvation. And she was still their Queen. But they also had a higher calling, one that couldn’t cave into current fads or moralities even though thos fads had the political upper hand. They said their Mass in secret, but they didn’t hide away, going about their daily lives, keeping the faith alive in a land and time full of hate. And they obeyed the law of God rather than of men (or of a woman, in this case).
That’s it. My #PaschaOption for today: a devotion to the Martyrs of England.
For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:17-18 (Douay)
This sounds like Jesus is speaking riddles, doesn’t it? Or even contradicting himself within a few words: God didn’t send Jesus into the world to Judge, but if you reject Jesus you’re already judged. There is subtle world play going on in the Greek as well – so don’t worry. Set that over there and we’ll get back to it.
We know the world is broken. If you don’t think the world is broken, step away from the computer: you’re not going to get much out of this posting. But if you do think it’s broken – or, maybe, even a just a bit too messy, read on. You don’t have to be a Christian, or religious, or even a theist to see this. The world is broken. There are wars and greed and violence, injustice, evil everywhere. I don’t really care what your theological point on this might be, all we need to do is admit the brokenness.
To Christians, this is sin and it is evidence of humanity’s participation in sin that – seemingly – no matter what we do to try and fix it, we mess it up more. Gypsy moths and kudzu are both wonderful examples of this: we brought Kudzu to the USA from Japan to keep soil in place during a severe drought in the early 20th Century. Now – it covers the South better than veils cover a bride. We accidentally brought it to a place where it had no predators (bugs and animals) nor were Americans ready to start eating it as they do in Japan; and it came to a perfect temperature/humidity for growth. Boom. Kudzu everywhere. We did the same thing to Gypsy moths: bringing them here to cross-breed with our native silk producers in the 19th Century, but they escaped… and boom. They eat everything now. (I remember walking through the forest once, in High School. All you could hear was the munching of leaves – a very spooky sound!) In Byzantine piety (Catholic and Orthodox) there are prayers that we say asking God to forgive us our sins “voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance.” It’s important to realize: just being here, doing something… things happen.
The world is broken. This is where the word play comes in! You’ll need to know two Greek words. Forgive the lesson:
κρίνω (krino) “to judge” or “to divide”. You krino the chaff from the grain.
σῴζω (sozo) “to save” or “to make whole”. Jesus always says “your faith has made you whole” which equally means “your faith has saved you”.
Now, our verse might make a little more sense if we parse the scary words like this:
For God sent not his Son into the world, to break the world apart, but that the world may be made whole by him… He that doth not believe, is already broken apart…
What it means is “If you’re not working with Jesus for the Healing of the World, you’re participating in the breaking apart of it. You’re already on the wrong side of the equation. Jesus doesn’t have to condemn you – to cut you off. You’ve already done so to yourself.”
There is, really, several more layers of theology there to go though (indeed, in Hebrew, Jesus’ name is the same as the Greek Sozo: healer, whole-maker, savior). To be broken most apart is eternal hell. Yet this is enough for now: to know that God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world (break it apart) but that the world through him by be saved (made whole).
This is the #PaschaOption for us today then: to participate in that healing. I know that there are reasons to worry about the state of the world. But I am not convinced we can run away. There are those who don’t want to hear about Jesus. There are those who don’t want to know about sexual morality, about economic justice, about welcoming the stranger, but the Church needs to be out there doing it anyway. There are those who feel threatened by pro life activities like food distribution, opposing unjust war, ending the death penalty, ending abortion – but the Church must do it anyway. She cannot, however, do it by force – and that includes enacting laws. She must do it like Jesus: by sozo. Indeed, that’s how she did it in the Roman Empire. It was our way of life that won the day. “See how these Christians love one another.”
What can you do to live the #PaschaOption? There is a tradition among all denominations of Judaism called “Tikkun Olam” – the repair of the world. I was surprised to find it the subject of a Children’s song – from Sesame Street no less! It well makes the point: any act of mercy, of kindness, of love is a participation in that process of healing. Again, I’ll not bet on universalism – a wager I’d lose because of free will – but I will wager on this quote from Robert Kennedy:
“Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.” These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. “If Athens shall appear great to you,” said Pericles, “consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty.” That is the source of all greatness in all societies, and it is the key to progress in our time.
I don’t think we can (or should) try to “rebuild Christendom”. But I will settle for taking that moment of the Mass when heaven strikes earth and God is here, now, and bringing it with me to work. If we each did that, just once, for each Mass, once for each Divine Liturgy, one point of Sozo in the midst of all the krino, by God’s grace we could change everything.
Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith.
1 Peter 5:8
These words are the opening of Benedictine Compline (and the traditional Roman Compline), an office I sang for a long time before entering the Monastery using the English text in the Monastic Diurnal from Lancelot Andrewes Press. In the Latin in the video below, it’s the brief chant right after the loud “Amen!”
Fratres : Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte : quia adversárius vester diábolus tamquam leo rúgiens círcuit, qućrens quem dévoret : cui resístite fortes in fide. Tu autem, Dómine, miserére nobis.
R. Deo grátias.
It’s so important to be both sober and vigilant! What the Latin does in four word, Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte, the Greek does in two: Νήψατε γρηγορήσατε. The first word, “nepsate”, caries with it the general idea of “don’t be drunk” but, in the context of hellenic thinking, that “drunkenness” can come from the passions, from the weaknesses and faults that we carry in our very being. A glutton who will eat anything is the last person you want to ask about tasty food. A drunkard is the last person to recommend a tasty liqueur. A sinner will be full of ideas about how to keep sinning – but not about stopping. When the first papal encyclical letter says “Be Sober” what it means is, “be untainted by the world, the flesh, and the devil.” And that last is so important: because he is a person, and crafty. He can use the other two against you.
Once we are sober (detached from our sinful pleasures and desires), then and only then are we ready to begin our night watch. I think of how many times drunkenness has lead to sin on my part, but even exhaustion, “letting my guard down”. It’s such a commonplace that it can be shorthanded in scripts: an imagine of a couple walking into a bar… and then waking up together the next day. A few empty beer cans on the beach, and a pile of clothes. We all know what it means… most of us have been there now.
One of the things I found so very interesting coming into the Catholic Church is the idea of the “well-formed conscience”: one that is trained up in the mind of the church. This idea is found in Orthodoxy too, but it often comes attached to some spookiness. This is the sober and watchful mind. This is the brain that is alert to the wiles of him who like “roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour.” And we are counselled to “resist, steadfast in the faith.”
We have our own lion: St Mark, whose feast is today, and he will intercede for us. His is the shortest Gospel, and the easiest to navigate. He is known as the abridger of St Matthew – often times telling the same story, sometimes with the very same words – but in a shorter, more succinct mode. I’ve been told that St Mark more often uses the word “immediately.” As in “When that had happened, immediately this other thing happened.” St Mark is a good Gospel to keep on hand for reading spurts (like standing in line at the bank or riding the train to work). It does well in short chunks, easy to digest: unlike St John’s Gospel or even the Epistles. St Mark is almost intended for “Snippets” that you can then take away and chew on. This is the best way to begin well-forming a conscience: meditation on the scriptures in a slow and daily practice Snippets. It could take 3 or 4 months to get through St Mark’s, done right. Maybe by journaling.
It’s the only way to resist Satan. So that’s my challenge today, brothers and sisters: pick up St Mark and meditate your way through it. You’ll find no where suggesting that we’re supposed to hide, by the way. When Satan’s out there roaming around, we’re supposed to resist – not hide.
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness… Acts 4:29
At this time there were about 3,000 Christians in the whole world. Some Protestants would have us imagine that, essentially, those 3,000 would be the entire population of Heaven. I’m not going to wager a Universalism that I won’t win because of free will, but I will wager the divine economy is a bit more lenient that some want to imagine. Those 3,000 Christians had a job to do: to witness to the Kingdom of Jesus and as they set about their business they met little opposition. Yet what they met was real enough. So they prayed one kick-butt prayer:
Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them, you said by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of our father David, your servant: Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly? The kings of the earth took their stand and the princes gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed. Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do what your hand and your will had long ago planned to take place. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
The Douay is even better:
Lord, thou art he that didst make heaven and earth, the sea and all things that are in them. Who, by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, hast said: Why did the Gentiles rage: and the people meditate vain things? The kings of the earth stood up: and the princes assembled together against the Lord and his Christ. For of a truth there assembled together in this city against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants that with all confidence they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thy hand to cures and signs and wonders, to be done by the name of thy holy Son, Jesus.
There are two things that I find awesome about this prayer: first although they recount the history of Jesus’ passion, there is no blame. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews all conspired To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. Everything was sucky, yes: but it was only what God wanted. In fact, in God’s mercy, that’s all that ever really happens. (All things work for the good of those who love the Lord.) So, the Church prays, “Here in Jerusalem everyone assembled against Jesus to do exactly what you planned anyway. Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, even mighty Augustus obeys God’s plans.” Now that the local authorities, though, are getting wise – and telling the Church to stop being the Church – the reaction is praising God.
How different is that from us today? On the one hand some act as if we cannot do the work the Church is called to do if the law does not allow us to. Some are afraid of losing tax benefits, or other practicalities. Some are convinced that the very end of Christianity in America is upon us. And some who have us hide away, to protect ourselves from the world: locked in a perpetual Upper Room Option, for fear of the world.
To this cringing, the Early Church – all 3,000 of them – who are about to change the spiritual, sexual, relational, financial, and political shape of the known world, all say: fiddlesticks. This is them saying fiddlesticks:
That’s the second thing that’s awesome about this prayer – all in verse 29 – “Take note of their threats and give us the cojones to not care.” (It’s in the Greek…ok, maybe not.) Most importantly, and actually in the Greek, the Church asks for the grace to proclaim God’s Logos. That’s Jesus, brothers and sisters: the logic by which all of everything is understood and, without whom you may have all the facts in the world, but not the Truth.
Being told “Don’t do anything in the name of Jesus ever again” the Church did not run away and hide but rather trusted in God’s divine mercy and said, “God’s got this and we’re just going to keep going.” This, my friends, is the Pascha Option. Life has won. #GodWins It doesn’t matter how the state changes definitions, or how far the world goes to kill us off. In fact, we know that when the world does that, we’re doing something right! When the Church kneels down and says, “Just give us the grace to do what you told us to do…” God’s divine Boo-yah! shakes the house.
I know I’m preaching to the choir, so I will just admit how I fail all the time. I’m scared a lot. I need this prayer every moment of the day. I need to remember the Pascha Option. It’s deceptively simple: We’re a mess. God came – himself – to fix us and transformed the very fabric of the universe. Now, even the sucky things are God restoring us to his glory. The Jesus Psalter would have us pray “Jesus, send me here my purgatory.” Send me here all the tribulations and pains I can handle to prune off my pride, my impatience, my lack of charity, my lust. That way I can be more-fit for the society of angels. Send me here the pains I deserve, the sharp corners I must turn. Put me here in the rock tumbler and make me into the Christian you want me to be.
John Donne prays:
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due, Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end; Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain, But am betroth’d unto your enemy; Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
None of those pains are designed to make me shut up proclaiming the divine Logos: rather, in grace, I have to breath deep of the Divine Light and shout, all the louder, from the root-top.