Asleep in the Light


This may have come up before, but the EF Gospel and the OF Gospel for Year A (which we always use when there are catechumens) are the same pericope: the Transfiguration account from Matthew. In this passage, after the terror of the divine vision, Jesus touches the Apostles and says,
Ἐγέρθητε καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε.
Egerthete kai me phobeisthe
Surgite, et nolite timere.
Arise and be not afraid.

Matthew uses a form of this word, “Arise”, 36 times. While the other three Gospels use it a grand total of 50 times between them. I don’t want to project meaning where there is none, but I usually think of Matthew’s Gospel as very staid, very humdrum. Suddenly is Mark’s word, Mysticism is John’s thing. Luke is warm and fuzzy homespun stuff. Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount and a representation of the Torah. Yet just now, I’m hearing him yelling, ARISE!

Arise from your sleep. “Jesus rose from the grave,” sang Keith Green. “And you can’t even get out of bed.”

Arise from the comfort. The Coronapanic has reminded me that Christians were not afraid of disease when we didn’t know what caused it. We marched out on the hillsides of ancient Rome and brought home the sick and the dying that had been discarded by their families, along with the newborn babies who were thrown away. Germs were no less dangerous when we didn’t understand them, but we brought these germ-factories home and nursed them back to health or helped them die in peace. A friend of mine, a retired nurse from Tennessee, suggests this proto-hospital and proto-hospice work helped the Christian communities develop a sort of herd immunity to diseases that terrified and decimated the rest of Rome. We may have died in the process, but it was a death of love.

We’re willing to sleep through that now, it seems.

Arise from your passive acceptance of the world. The economic situation today has reminded me that Christians are radicals: our very presence in Rome terrified the powers that were. We didn’t accept their definitions of what it was to be human, we rejected their ideas of “rights” and “justice” because those ideas were blasphemous: they denied the image of God present in the human beings around us. Instead, we were willing to die to say the roots of love demanded morality, the roots of justice demanded truth, and that truth himself had become incarnate in a carpenter from the trailer park of the Roman World. And he had been arrested and put to death and forgave everyone.

Arise from your hate. The political situation today has reminded me that Christians are revolutionaries: because of that forgiveness, we have no political enemies at all. It takes demons to lead humans away from God’s light: and we have to pray the demons away, engage in spiritual warfare to free the souls of those trapped around us. The first – indeed the only – weapon of this warfare is love.

Arise and DO NOT FEAR. While love is the cure for hate, the enemy of Love is not hate but rather fear. Love casts out fear. We are called to “Arise and fear not.” What were the Apostles afraid of in this passage? God himself, and also humanity shining, in Jesus, as we were always intended to shine. We all are afraid of who we are supposed to be: afraid to be the men and women of God, the saints we are created to be, the light we are commanded to be in the world. Jesus says he is the light of the world – but because we are members of the body of Christ he also says we are the light of the world! The Risen Lord means all of humanity is transfigured in him.

But we would rather hide, stay away, keep safe. Germs are not supposed to scare us.

Arise! Shine! For your Light has come! The Glory of the Lord has risen upon you!

God’s Bearhugging Boy


The Readings for Saturday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

Erant autem appropinquantes ei publicani, et peccatores ut audirent illum. Et murmurabant pharisaei, et scribae, dicentes : Quia hic peccatores recipit, et manducat cum illis. Et ait ad illos parabolam istam.
Now the publicans and sinners drew near unto him to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spoke to them this parable. 

There are actually three parables in response to this complaint about receiving sinners and eating with them.

The first is about the man with 100 sheep but one goes missing.

The second is about the woman with 10 coins, but one goes missing.
The third is this one, today’s reading, about the man with two sons – and one goes missing.

In all of these the story is about something that was lost, that was marked as terribly important, that was returned at risk. But the prodigal son is different: for the Father doesn’t go looking for the Prodigal, but rather waits patiently for him to come home. That is also a risk. But I think we need to look at all three episodes as a package: there’s a difference between a sheep, a coin, and a son. 

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

A sheep is a (somewhat domesticated) animal. They are a bit stupid – they can float away if the water gets too deep around them while they are eating. They tend to follow the being in front of them. They can get caught in briars like some sort of gigantic, four-legged, bleating, velcrosaurus. (One of these was caught earlier this week as a replacement for Isaac.) You do have to go looking for them. You never know what might have happened.

As for a coin, an inanimate object, we know this is here in the house somewhere. I’ve only just forgot where I put it. This will drive me crazy until I find it. I must have dropped it and… yes, here it is under the fridge. It could also be between the cushions on the sofa. I love sofa cushion searches after a party! In the Fraternity House at NYU this was practically a fund-raising function. 

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. 

Well, yeah. And Jesus replies, “If you lost a sheep, you’d go looking for it, right? If you lost a coin, wouldn’t you go looking for it as well? And you’d have a party either way (at least inside)… right? A wayward child is very different.”

Brothers and Sisters, we are neither sheep nor coins in three individual stories: we are the lost child in the final episode of one long tale. We are generally not stupid like sheep nor inanimate like coins. We are willful, wayward, well-loved, and welcomed home.

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

The Prodigal a long way off is not yet fully reconciled to the ways of his father. He hasn’t yet been through even his planned confession: certainly not recognized the fullness of the wrongs he’s committed. He’s a long way off – and the Father runs to meet him. Jesus welcomes us home. In fact, nearly the moment we turn to him, he’s at our side guiding and guarding. The saints would go further: before we turn to him he’s there as well. How can this be, given the doctrine of Free Will? Imagine you are on a river in a rowboat: you can easily row against the current and go anywhere you want. You can also ride the current. The analogy breaks if you press it too hard, but it works well enough. The Holy Spirit is always there (“everywhere present and filling all things” as the Byzantine rite has it). We’re unable to escape. But we’re always able to ignore.

In se autem reversus, returning to himself. The Greek says “having come to himself”. The things of this world that attract us (sex, drugs, rock and roll, or just a good job, a home, a white picket fence, a spouse, some kids, and a couple of dogs) are not us. Each us us, even the most faithful spouse and parent, the most efficient worker, and/or the hardest partier, are  all able to do these things but not to be them. This is not us: our actions are not who we are. Our actions help form us, yes, but they are not who we are. We wake up one day and say, how did I get here?  Then you have begun the real journey home.

Quis, Deus, similis tui, qui aufers iniquitatem, et transis peccatum reliquiarum haereditatis tuae? Non immittet ultra furorem suum, quoniam volens misericordiam est.
Who is a God like to thee, who takest away iniquity, and passest by the sin of the remnant of thy inheritance? he will send his fury in no more, because he delighteth in mercy. 

The publicans and sinners begin to “draw near” and Jesus runs out, grabs them with both hands in a huge carpenter’s arms bearhug and says, “Hey! I got some food here to share…”

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Jesus reply is essentially, “These are not sheep, these are not lost coins. These are people whom my Father made and with whom I am honored to eat. And over food, I may draw them ever closer the one loves them and calls them home…”

Go and do thou likewise.

No pain. No gain.


The Readings for Friday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

Dixit ergo Judas fratribus suis : Quid nobis prodest si occiderimus fratrem nostrum, et celaverimus sanguinem ipsius? Melius est ut venundetur Ismaelitis, et manus nostrae non polluantur : frater enim et caro nostra est. Acquieverunt fratres sermonibus illius.

And Juda said to his brethren: What will it profit us to kill our brother, and conceal his blood? It is better that he be sold to the Ismaelites, and that our hands be not defiled: for he is our brother and our flesh. His brethren agreed to his words. 

Almost three thousand years after this text was written, “Ishmaelite” was another term for a follower of Mohammed, but at the time of this story, the Ishmaelites are just another clan of the same family. Remember that Ishmael was the other (older) son of Abraham. Isaac, his younger brother, was the father of Jacob and the grandfather of Joseph and his brothers. The Ishmaelites are merely the cousins from another part of the country. They seem to be doing well for themselves, as traders. Nu? We should give them something to trade.

To recap, Israel begins with Abraham running away from his city to a foreign land. His son is nearly slain in child sacrifice. His grandsons fight over their birthright, and his great grandsons engage in child trafficking. We’re off to a good start. 

Joseph is seen by the Church as a prophetic foreshadowing of Christ. His story is read in both the Eastern and Western rites of the Church in the “middle weeks” of Lent; in the west this is so in both lectionaries, for the “New Mass” and the traditional rite. Joseph, as foreshadow, is important because he is sold into slavery and, as we shall see, overcomes temptation and sin, yet is a wise prophet and, in the end, liberator of his people. And he gets one of the most famous lines in all of prophecy.

But for me, today, it’s important to note that we’re selling the boy to our cousins.  All parts of Abraham’s family were connected and, so, without playing on the family politics, it seems to me that more than just the brothers must be seen as acting here. With brothers like this, who needs bullies?

God uses crap like this. 

When we turn this over to God, he uses it. If you know the rest of the Joseph Story (closer to Easter) you know that Joseph eventually says, forgiving his brothers, you thought you were doing me an evil deed but God used it for good. That’s the best line ever.

Did Joseph feel that way early this morning, wandering out to the brothers in the fields and getting kidnapped? I really doubt it. In fact, I doubt he felt that way ever. But he must have been praying and trying to grow in righteousness until he realized that was what was up.

That’s what we’re called to do when stuff is breaking around us. We are called to pray and do righteous things. Wisdom will grow with patience until in the end the meaning is clear.

The same stone which the builders refused 
 is become the head-stone in the corner.
  This is the Lord’s doing 
 and it is marvellous in our eyes.

What is true of Jesus is true of all of us: the weakest link is God’s point of access. Whilst bad, yes, the stuff that’s happening around us is for our salvation – and the salvation of others as well. And it seems the place we are weakest is the place we can be made the strongest by God’s grace. All the pain makes a strong cornerstone: all the weight is supported there.

In the end we will see: it’s all been marvellous.

PS: Around the internet, looking for a nice pic of that “marvellous in our eyes” text, I’m so surprised at the number of folks who credit to Queen Elizabeth I without noting that she was quoting the Psalms. Around SF there are posters just now citing a Gospel text as if it were spoken by Abe Lincoln. I find that amusing as well.

My Own Private Lazarus


The Readings for Thursday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

St David of Wales

Homo quidam erat dives…
There was a certain rich man…

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco. 
The problem is we have a huge, wealthy population that’s scared of homeless people.
They are scared that property values might fall.
They are scared that job candidates might get turned off.
They are scared that poor people might cause crimes.
They are scared that someone might say something uncomfortable-making to them on the street.
They are scared that some people smell.
They are scared that some people are not on meds.
They are scared that living in tents make us look bad as a city.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we don’t remember them.
We don’t remember that the second set of shoes we have belongs to the poor – not to the consignment store.
We don’t remember that the extra clothes we have belong to the naked – not to Goodwill.
We don’t remember that the extra food in our fridge belongs to the hungry – not to the dog or compost.
We don’t remember that the extra anything we have belongs to the poor – or else we are stealing it.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we tend to trust gov’t blindly without calling it to account for failure.
If we manage to elect persons of all colors, genders, and sexual orientations we feel good about ourselves – even though they are as unjust to the poor as anyone else. 
If we manage to elect only one party (we really only have one party in SF) we feel good about ourselves – even if they are just as beholden to big corporations, property developers, and the wealthy as the party we don’t have. 
If we manage to elect people who actually try to do something we pass ballot measures that undo their good works.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is we ask too many questions.
How did he get that way?
Did he do drugs?
Is she abusing the system?
If I give her money will she just buy drugs?
Is that even any of my business?

If I give money to that organization how much of it goes for wages?
Won’t the gov’t support them so  that if I give them money, it’s  just double.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we nullify any moral teaching that might make us feel obligated.
We are obligated to charity in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hindusm, and several others. We prefer instead an odd combo of Prosperity Gospel and Newage, Neognostic Victim Blaming that allows us to imagine no deity will hold us responsible as long as we feel good about things.
This coupled with an entitled NIMBYism means that no one is obligated to care if they don’t feel like it and those that do care can be called to the carpet for making the rest of us feel guilty.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
It has nothing to do with homeless folks.
It has nothing to do with the govt.
It has everything to do with the rest of us.

And in the end, we will find ourselves beyond Abraham’s bosom on the wrong side of the great abyss. The Fathers are not kind here:

AMBROSE; From this we learn then, that we are not ourselves the masters, but rather the stewards of the property of others.
THEOPHYLACT. Next, that when we exercise not the management of our wealth according to our Lord’s pleasure, but abuse our trust to our own pleasures, we are guilty stewards. 
CYRIL. This discourse concerning the rich man and Lazarus was written after the manner of a comparison in a parable, to declare that they who abound in earthly riches, unless they will relieve the necessities of the poor, shall meet with a heavy condemnation.
AMBROSE. But the insolence and pride of the wealthy is manifested afterwards by the clearest tokens, for it follows, and no one gave to him. For so unmindful are they of the condition of mankind, that as if placed above nature they derive from the wretchedness of the poor an incitement to their own pleasure, they laugh at the destitute, they mock the needy, and rob those whom they ought to pity. 
AUGUSTINE. For the covetousness of the rich is insatiable, it neither fears God nor regards man, spares not a father, keeps not its fealty to a friend, oppresses the widow, attacks the property of a ward.
Pope GREGORY. Moreover the poor man saw the rich as he went forth surrounded by flatterers, while he himself lay in sickness and want, visited by no one. For that no one came to visit him, the dogs witness, who fearlessly licked his sores, for it follows, moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. By one thing Almighty God displayed two judgments. He permitted Lazarus to lie before the rich man’s gate, both that the wicked rich man might increase the vengeance of his condemnation, and the poor man by his trials enhance his reward; the one saw daily him on whom he should show mercy, the other that for which he might be approved.
 CHRYSOSTOM. He died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before. For he did none of the works of the soul. All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body. But not because he was rich was he tormented, but because he was not merciful.
Pope GREGORY. We may gather from this, with what torments he will be punished who robs another, if he is smitten with the condemnation to hell, who does not distribute what is his own. 

In San Francisco, each one of us has the nearly unique opportunity to be Dives to our own private Lazarus. I think, though, most of us would rather banquet in linen and purple robes. We’re doomed.

Can we? Yes we can!


The Readings for Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

Ecce ascendimus Jerosolymam, et Filius hominis tradetur principibus sacerdotum, et scribis, et condemnabunt eum morte, et tradent eum gentibus ad illudendum, et flagellandum, et crucifigendum…
Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified…

Jesus says, “all these bad things will happen to me” and then Mrs Zebedee says, “Take my boys with you.” But she doesn’t do it like Hannah does in the Old Testament – offereing her son unreservedly to God; nor does she do it like Solomonia does it in Maccabees – urging her sons to martyrdom. Rather, Mrs Zebedee says, “After all these bad things happen, let my boys come and sit with you in your kingdom.” Something ain’t right.

But Jesus takes pains to set it right, offering a way out: Can you, he asks, drink the same cup as I? Yes, we can! OK, then you shall… but I can’t give those seats away to anyone. That is my Father’s job. This is, pardon my pun, crucial. Jesus does offer us rewards, yes: but he asks of us everything and offers no shortcuts.

One huge purpose of Lent is to learn to give up things. That we want them at all is a reason to give them up.  Such wanting, such or constant craving, is an offense against our human freedom. We are  divinely appointed as free to make choices: our first choice being to submit even our freedom to God’s will. Cravings, desires, lusts, all impinge on our freedom. They impinge upon what is properly our only desire: union with God. Anything that comes prior to that desire is out of its proper order. It is disordered.

So we give up things which are otherwise good to learn to say no to our body’s desires. Simply wanting something is no reason to just get up and get it. We give up sinful things all the time, right?  But we train up our wills, slowly, by saying no to silly things (like meat, or fish, dairy, eggs, oil, etc)  so that eventually we can give up big things like disordered choices and sins that run amok aka the passions

Jesus wants us to drink the cup of his passion. Full stop. Even though he can’t promise the seats on his right and his left, he can promise us crosses just like his and penance tailored to fit. 


Might have beens


The Readings for Tuesday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

Projicite a vobis omnes praevaricationes vestras in quibus praevaricati estis, et facite vobis cor novum, et spiritum novum.
Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart, and a new spirit.

Forgiveness, absolution, is not a sign that things never happened. Make yourselves a new heart – but the damage has been done.

I had a boss once who was, shall we say, not the nicest of persons. He was a good coworker, but when he wanted to be a boss, he was a bad one of those. And he would yell and scream and all the things that one doesn’t want at work. So one day I yelled back. Which ended the conversation, and let us all retreat to our corners. But when I reached out to apologize for “my 50%” as they say, the response was “words can’t be unsaid… we can both apologize but the event happened.”

For us who believe in confession and absolution, we know it’s not like this at all, but some like to imagine it is: I can do anything I want and, as long as I go to confession, it’s ok! IN reality, even the smallest of sins changes things.

In the Byzantine rite, on the Sunday before Lent begins, there is a service called Forgiveness Vespers. During this service everyone from the Parish Priest on down to the youngest child asks forgiveness of everyone else in the parish with each person making prostrations to each. What should one do, you might wonder, if one has done nothing to ask forgiveness for? This is where Byzantine teaching underscores that all sin is communal. Even the sin I commit in private affects you in ways you don’t know. If I commit a sin at work that leaves me angry and hurt, maybe I bring that feeling to church with me. In turn, that feeling infects you in a discussion we had or rubs off on your spouse at coffee hour. When you and your spouse get into the car a fight ensues and fills out your car ride home with expletives and hurt feelings. You may never even know that it was my grumpy work emotions that got transferred to you by human sin.

Even if I have gone to confession for whatever happened at my job, the shockwaves of my sin, if you will, continue to ricochet off the walls of space and time. We are left needing to confess to each other  and ask each the other’s forgiveness. The things we have done hover like a small cloud in the pattern woven about us. Even if I go to confession I may never know how many folks I triggered.

Casting away all your transgressions as this Pre-Gospel antiphon asks of us may suddenly seem insurmountable. Things done have actually been done and even though the grace of confession is like the grace of a second baptism, washing away all the linked and balancing patterns may require far more effort on our parts that just saying I’m sorry. To borrow images from my D&D days, our new heart has rather a good few more experience points than the old one. We can be forgiven for Original Sin, but we actually have the Experience of Good and Evil in our life patterns. That cannot be undone.

So it is grace both to be able to move on as if nothing had happened, and yet to know something has happened – and to be able to take the good away. What can we learn?

Getting a new heart does not undo the way the old heart broke. Being forgiven our sins does not mean that we can backtrack and fix them.

Who am I to Judge?


The Readings for Monday, the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

Nolite judicare, et non judicabimini
Judge not, and you shall not be judged

Thomas Aquinas, in his Catena Aurea (The Golden Chain) notes the following comments from the Fathers on this verse:

Ambrose: The Lord added, that we must not readily judge others, lest when conscious of guilt yourself, you should be compelled to pass sentence upon another.

Chrysostom: Judge not your superior, that is, you a disciple must not judge your master; nor a sinner the innocent. You must not blame them, but advise and correct with love; neither must we pass judgment in doubtful and indifferent matters, which bear no resemblance to sin, or which are not serious or forbidden.

Cyril: He here expresses that worst inclination of our thoughts or hearts, which is the first beginning and origin of a proud disdain. For although it becomes men to look into themselves and walk after God, this they do not, but look into the things of others, and while they forget their own passions, behold the infirmities of some, and make them a subject of reproach. 
Chrysostom: You will not easily find any one, whether a father of a family or an inhabitant of the cloister, free from this error. But these are the wiles of the tempter. For he who severely sifts the fault of others, will never obtain acquittal for his own. Hence it follows And you shall not be judged. For as the merciful and meek man dispels the rage of sinners, so the harsh and cruel adds to his own crimes. 
Gregory of Nyssa: Be not then rash to judge harshly of your servants, lest you suffer the like. For passing judgment calls down a heavier condemnation; as it follows, Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. For he does not forbid judgment with pardon. 

The Church Fathers go quite far in this teaching. St Maximus the Confessor says, “Interior freedom is not yet possessed by anyone who cannot close his eyes to the fault of a friend, whether real or apparent.”

Fr Olivier Clement, commenting on the above, says “‘Agapeic’ love is not aa sentimental whim or a physical attraction, both of which are doomed to fade away quickly, and anyway do not come at will. No. It is the awareness of God’s love for another person.” St Isaac of Nineveh adds “Spread you cloak over anyone who walks into sin and shield him.”

When the image of God is present before us (as it is in all persons) there is an easy way to not Judge: say to yourself, that person there is the image of God. I know this.  This person – me – is a sinner. I know this as well. I know that I am, as St Paul says, the foremost of sinners. That person, there, is the image of God. Venerate them.

I fail in this all the time, still: I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ to me.
Bishop Robert Barron blogged this about a year ago

When you read the great evangelizing texts of the New Testament—the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the book of Revelation, etc.—you don’t get the impression that what their authors wanted you primarily to understand is sexual morality. Rather, they wanted you to know that the great story of Israel had come to its highpoint and that God, in the person of the crucified and risen Messiah, had come to reign as king of the world. God, redemption, the cross, the resurrection, Jesus the Lord, telling the Good News—these are the master themes of the New Testament. Again, please don’t misunderstand me: God impinges upon all aspects of life and therefore placing our sex lives under the Lordship of Jesus matters. But I fear that for so many people in the secular world today, religion is reduced to the policing of sexual behavior, and this is massively unfortunate.

To be fair, much of the secular world is involved, as well, in policing sexual behavior, albeit in other ways that Christians would. “Pelvic issues” and one’s attitude to them are a prime marker in our society and, as the Bishop comments, “this preoccupation with ‘the pelvic issues’ has served to undermine the work of evangelization.”

When Jesus says, “Do not judge” we are inclined, as a culture, to think of pelvic issues and she me want to say God doesn’t care who has sex with whom. But Jesus’ idea of non-judging cuts into the very core of our culture which judges all the time.

It is ok, say those on the right, to judge folks for their supposed sexual sins, or their lack of traditional morality. It is ok, say those on the left, to judge folks for their supposed hate or their lack of charity. It is ok, say those on the right, to judge folks for being “libtards”. It is ok, say those on the left, to judge folks for being “deplorables”.  To this all the Christian must say, “It’s not ok to Judge.” It is no less ok to judge for one’s sexual choices (which can, in the eyes of the Church, be a deal breaker) than it is to judge for one’s political choices (which also can, in the eyes of the Church, be a deal breaker).

The Greek word rendered as “judge” in English, and “judicare” in Latin means to “Cut off” or to separate. When we judge we cut ourselves off from the other person. We say, I have no part in her. And we send her away. A judgement is a spiritual boycott. But I speak the truth here: the cut goes both ways. I have cut you off, but I have cut myself off as well. If my salvation comes from communion, by excommunicating you, we are both lost.
Agape never fails. 
But this is not some wishy-washy “do whatever you want and I’ll still love you” love. Agape can see sin. Agape always wills the good of the other: that means always will the other to leave behind sin. But Agape means that the way out of sin is less a momentary decision and more a bunny hop line dance; less a life changer and more a continual progression. 
Agape leads by example not by condemnation. This is not a quid pro quo. This is a thermometer. As you do not judge so you will not be judged. That is not a case of if you do this thing you will be saved, but rather, as you progress in this path so you will near perfection. You can see how far you are along the path of salvation by how well you do not judge others. 
The awareness of sin comes from within: not from without. The Holy Spirit loosens our spiritual joints, like an oil can on a tin man until we can move freely. But we were beginning to be fine from the minute it started working. I am only beginning to be aware of how much God loves you, my reader. And it is only through that awareness that I can become aware of how much God loves me.

If someone is moving along that path, who am I to judge?



The Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (B2)

Non pepercisti unigenito filio tuo propter me.

Thou hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake. 
There is so much pain in this story. The Lent that I was at the Monastery, I couldn’t even read this outloud at Matins, I was so overcome with emotion. Father Prior excused me saying, “I think we know the story.” What about the small boy, I kept wondering; what was Isaac feeling? Yes, I’m sure Abraham felt something too. But what about the boy?
I attended a Mass of Thanksgiving last year, celebrated by a newly ordained priest. After Mass he gave his mother the cloth that had wrapped his hands after they were anointed in his Rite of Ordination. To his father he gave the stole he wore when he heard his first confession. They were to be buried with these items, he said, to show that they had given up a son to the Church. There was not a dry eye in the place.
In her letters, St Catherine of Siena spends a lot of time counselling parents of kids who have joined the church as clergy or religious that they have not abandoned their parents and run away. Rather they have come to their true Mother, the Church, and their true Father, God. From within the loving embrace of their true Mother and Father, they can, from there, to more good for their natural families than they could ever do otherwise, by simply getting a business and raising more kids. If we love only for natural reasons, (who will take care of me, who will carry on the business) then we are not actually loving, but a special breed of blinded selfishness. It is in loving God that all other loves are practiced. We do for the poor, not because doing for the poor is, per se, good but because God loves everyone. So we should love everyone. The deep, intimate bond is between the Lover (God) and the beloved, you. All other loving actions flow from that, or so St Catherine would have us see. 
Jesus says, elsewhere, if you do not love him more than your family, you are not worthy of the Kingdom.
All rightly-ordered love is a reflection of our love for God And so, in a real way, we are all called to sacrifice our families on the altar. Daily. And, really, our selves as well: which of us has not lost something we thought precious in our service?
But what about the boy?
I heard a homily once where the preacher said this text “proved” the Israelites once practiced human sacrifice like so much of the Ancient world. And you can imagine that if you want as Isaac says, “were is the sacrifice?” and Abraham says, “God will provide” and snickers behind his hand…
Or you can imagine Abraham being angry with YHVH, being just like all the other local deities, finally revealing himself as just another baby murderer. 
Or then, there’s the possibility that the story is true as we have it. That God tested, and Abraham trusted. Israel triumphed.
The Church Fathers see here a foreshadow of God not sparing even his own son in his love for us.
But what about the boy? What was he thinking, bound up, laying on the altar?
I have no answer. This story makes me cry. This is one of those places where God heals and does not reveal: for clearly Isaac grew up and trusted God rather a lot – a LOT – in the rest of his story, even though it was hard work. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger, I guess? Perhaps that is for us the best lesson here. Trusting this God is hella hard.
God provides.
But there’s some deep, hard questions here. Our faith is not a broad, smooth road.

God’s Family Servants.

The Holy Family Window, St Joseph, a young Jesus, and the BVM.

Today’s readings:

The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12

Continuing from yesterday, where Lust is the fruit of Pride, we have today’s reading on humility. Yes, the whole Father-Teacher-Master package is about humility. And it could be about “titles” and the claim that we should have none as Christians, but this is not true. From the earliest, Paul spoke of himself as his disciples’ Father – and even allowing that they may have many fathers, but he was their Father in the spirit. The Church has always had titles and offices, functions within the community. I may disagree with you about what those titles mean but you will agree with me that we’ve always had titles: Presbyteros, Episkopos, Dulos, Apostolos, etc. Our community functions in an hierarchy: which doesn’t mean “some are better than/more important than others” but rather “rule” (archy) “of priests” (hieros). Yet Jesus says: the greatest must serve. Jesus embodies this, washing our feet. Jesus calls us to this service.

How, mindful, again, of lust and pride, does this work for us?  Let’s look at the next three prayers from the Angelic Warfare Confraternity:

For our imagination, that we may be preserved from any fantasies that defile us, that all impure images may vanish, and that we may be protected from all the assaults of demons. 

For our memory, that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord may touch and heal us through hope for a better future. 

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

If we read carefully, these three prayers are about the future, the past, and the present, respectively.  We ask God not to let us be troubled with the future, not to let us be haunted by the past, and – most importantly – not to be tripped up in the present. You know, we have all sinned in the past. The future doesn’t exist. The question is where will you be now? What are you doing, now?

Pride plans the future. Pride exults in the past. Pride is not having a conversation – pride is planning a rebuttal. Pride is not listening in the present: pride is grinding the past down to counter attack in the future.

Yet our sins are only in the present.

Mindful what I said yesterday about pride denying intimacy and creating a passionate addiction, here’s the method: yes we sinned in the past, wasn’t that fun? Let’s plan something interesting in the future! (And I can tell you how often those plans do NOT come to fruition.) But what does happen is something by the way, the sex of happenstance, in the present: a hookup app or a personal ad. And Boom. Our plans waylaid, our memories hijacked, we sin only in the present. Yet consent was given to that sin in our planning and our ruminating. Our pride has given birth to something way less exciting than we had imagined. Yet if we recap the story around the watercooler – or even in our diary – wow how awesome!

Who would be first, must be servant to all.

We cannot be a servant if we’re planning to have sex, or to get a promotion, or to get something else “out of” them. It can even seem to be very innocent. It may only be a crush, but if it’s not what it supposed to be – chastity, love, service – then something’s going wrong. Wash away our sins with justice: which, in this case, is service, humility, redressing the wrongs done.

Some folks have asked me about coming into the Catholic Church at a time such as now, when there is seeming chaos. Of course I laugh: I’ve been around enough blocks to know that there is chaos everywhere. If it’s not the Papal Monarchy, it’s the constant infighting and simony of the petty city states of Orthodoxy, or the chaotically heretical, Everyone’s a Pope world of Protestantism.  If I didn’t believe that the Holy Spirit is running the Church I’d be off in the mountains someplace, hiding, or else learning the I Ching and being Shinto (actually, that’s probably more like it).

Pope Francis (whose four year anniversary was yesterday) has struck me since the very beginning, as worthy of his Patron Saint. So, to be honest, have Popes Benedict and St John Paul II. I’ve never known the possibility that the leader of such an empire could be so humble.  And yet I’ve seen it three times in my lifetime.  Yes, Francis can go off-topic sometimes and cause toes to curl, but he’s no Medici. Yes, he can raise a few eyebrows, but he’s no Avignon Papacy. I’m not worried.Benedict XVI is the scholar of that tradition, John Paul had a gift for bringing that scholarship to the masses. Francis has a gift for going to the masses. God sends the Church what she needs when she needs it. These three servants of the servants of God have been blessings to the world since St John Paul was elected in October 1978.

These men, of course, are not the only ones – such leaders are not found only in the Catholic Church or even only in Christianity. Yet, they seem to be always found in the religious world: never among the “spiritual but not religious” nor among the secular. Humility (like chastity) is not a value highly sought in the world.  We would do well to learn from these men what it means to be humble – even with great power; what it means to be a servant, – even when a leader.

If we tie our memories down, if we sacrifice our dreams: if we live only in the present, then we can be humble servants, like our Lady and St Joseph. Then we can be servants at their table, of all their guests.

Don’t judge me, bro.

Today’s Readings:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Luke 6:36-37a

This verse can be thrown in our faces at times. Anytime a comment about morality is made it can turn into a “Don’t judge me, bro” sort of conversation. Yet the Greek word rendered “Judge” can mean more like dividing the grain from the chaff. In fact, Jesus – who often made moral statements regarding sex, anger, finance, etc, – told several parables in keeping with this idea of division. We’re not to cut off people except as a very last resort. That avoidance of division would include making moral judgements about persons, certainly, but it doesn’t mean not making moral judgements at all.

So I posted on Facebook on Saturday night:

I believe that people should be free, that traditional morality was invented by people and we should be free to make new morals now that we know more. We can come up with anything we want. We can invent ourselves anew, we can ignore cultural norms and expectations, we can pass laws we like and ignore the ones we don’t like. Every one should be free to paint their pictures anyway they want.
Except Donald Trump.

My point was not that I believe that crap (obviously) nor that anyone does, but usually at some point in a conversation on morals it will come down to that and “don’t judge me, bro.” Especially around sex. But even there, as I pointed out on FB, we are not at all judgement free – ask anyone about the President’s locker-room talk, and there’s going to be a lot of judgement.

A priest mentioned a “throwaway” line in a book he had been reading, “Lust is the result/fruit/punishment of/for pride.” I’ve googled several permutation of that with no avail, but it’s kept me thinking for a while. Lust is the fruit of pride: for pride puts me before everyone and makes me want to have others serve my needs. At the same time pride denies me the intimacy that can come from real love, and I’m left not caring for people with whom I crave contact, sharing, human warmth. The end result is that sex works for everyone – you don’t need to worry if I’m a nice guy, just boink’n’bye. In turn, that level of disconnect, of misuse of the divine gift of our bodies, results in a passionate addiction. And so lust blossoms. It doesn’t matter if that’s a lot of activity with other persons, or with one person, or with oneself. Its root is pride, its symptoms are narcissism and a lack of intimacy, and the result is lust.

Or, to read it differently, the prideful person put himself before others, judging himself (dividing himself off) from them. And because he has judge them (divided them) off from himself, he can no longer be intimate with them. If you divide off others – you’ve really only divided off yourself. This is why the heretic, the one who teaches heresy, is not “kicked out of the church” but rather excommunicates himself: you cannot hold on to someone who doesn’t want to be held. Women feel judged by people who are opposed to abortion. Men who have sex with other men feel judged by people opposed to same sex marriage laws. These two statements can be true – that people feel judged – even when nothing but love has been expressed; when no division has happened. This is their own conscience speaking against their actions: calling them to repentance. That’s rather different than judgement. (Don’t get me wrong as I know the latter happens, too, but it’s different.)

Yet, at the same time, Jesus says we are to be merciful. That reminds me of a ditty from a book on word play that I read in High School:

The Lord makes it
to rain On the Just
and the unjust fellow
But mostly on the Just
For the unjust steals
The just’s umbrella.

We are to be merciful. God waits, wounded by our sins, waiting for us to come to him and ask for healing. God waits, pierced by the nails of our anger, for us to love him. God waits, not judging us – not dividing us off from himself – even though we have divided ourselves off from him. And we must aspire to do the same, to be perfect as our father is perfect:

We must be constant in the aspiring to the perfection of holy love, in order that love may be perfect; for the love which seeks anything less than perfection cannot fail to be less than perfect.
– St Francis de Sales