You want fries with that?

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 3rd Week of Lent (B2)

Nolite putare quoniam veni solvere legem, aut prophetas : non veni solvere, sed adimplere.
Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 

It’s Lent, so I’m thinking about food. If Jesus is not destroying the law, why are we not keeping Kosher? This is a good question. It begs others – like Kosher according to whom? or what time period? Even in settled days the definitions of kosher were evolving.  Jesus would have been able to drink a milkshake with his burgers. 

It is a commonplace, sadly, to say that Jesus ended the Jewish law, aka the Covenant of Moses.  Jesus himself says he did not come to destroy, but to fulfill the law and, if you think we’re freed from the law, read down a few verses where he says “You’ve been taught do not kill – but I say don’t even get angry. You’ve been taught, don’t commit sexual sin, but I say don’t even imagine it.” Jesus doesn’t have easy rules to replace the old ones. His rules are, actually, harder. Today’s reading stops short of the threat, Dico enim vobis, quia nisi abundaverit justitia vestra plus quam scribarum, et pharisaeorum…Unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees you’re not getting into heaven.

Yes, Jesus takes away our sins, but that doesn’t mean we should keep on sinning.  So, you may ask, why do we eat shrimp scampi in Lent?

The best way to phrase that question – in order to come to a good answer – is by whose authority to do we eat Shrimp Scampi in Lent? 

In Acts 15:28-29 we find the authority. The Apostles meet as the Church and come to a decision. They are discussing what part of the Law should apply to Gentiles who want to follow Christ: 

Visum est enim Spiritui Sancto, et nobis nihil ultra imponere vobis oneris quam haec necessaria : ut abstineatis vos ab immolatis simulacrorum, et sanguine, et suffocato, et fornicatione, a quibus custodientes vos, bene agetis.

For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things: That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which things keeping yourselves, you shall do well. 

It seemed good to God and to us… The Holy Spirit guides the Church, or so Catholics believe. You can, if you wish, decide otherwise. But to do so is to embark on a long and tortuous road. You can find folks who say God told them to ordain women, the Church says no; God told them XYZ used to be wrong, but now it’s right, the Church says no. You can find folks who say any number of things contrary to the Church. Some even say we should still avoid work on Friday night and Saturday and still keep a kosher house. They fail to realize that Jesus would have been able to eat Cheeseburgers. Shrimp Scampi is right out, though. To that the Church says no.

So, by whose authority do we eat Shrimp Scampi? If you are Catholic, yes you follow the Church, but the Church has it on God’s own authority.

You you feel otherwise you make other choices.

it is an act of faith to say this is God’s authority. It is no more an act of faith now, when the Catholic Church is the largest religious organization in the world than it was in the 1st century, when the Catholic Church was about 5,000 people or even earlier when it was 12.

It is a claim you must either take to heart or reject. Rejecting it opens up a whole world of possibilities. Taking that claim to heart opens up a whole lot more.


Merely Survived

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 3rd Week of Lent (B2)

Ut possimus invenire misericordiam tuam, sed in animo contrito, et spiritu humilitatis suscipiamur. Sicut in holocausto arietum, et taurorum, et sicut in millibus agnorum pinguium, sic fiat sacrificium nostrum in conspectu tuo hodie, ut placeat tibi, quoniam non est confusio confidentibus in te. Et nunc sequimur te in toto corde; et timemus te, et quaerimus faciem tuam.
That we may find thy mercy: nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted. As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee: for there is no confusion to them that trust in thee. And now we follow thee with all our heart, and we fear thee, and seek thy face.

The Prayer of Azariah was edited out of the Protestant text of the Bible, although it was included in the 1611 text of the Authorised Version, known among US Christians as the “King James Version”. It recounts the prayer of the Three Young Men in the fiery furnace, heated so hot that it killed the Babylonians who were standing around. It contains a number of important concepts for traditional Christian piety, but today’s reading does not get to those. It’s worth a read in its entirety, although you may find the RSV version easier!


Today’s text gets to the heart of Lent, if you ask me. Standing in the middle of the fire Azaria prays not to get out, but that he and his companions will be accepted as a sacrifice.


Azariah’s logic is impeccable: 

  • God’s in charge.
  • This is happening.
  • Ergo this is on the list of things needed in God’s plan.
  • Let’s pray it gets done right.

You’ll remember that Azariah got there by not worshipping an idol. Azariah has been kidnapped and enslaved – albeit treated very well in the King’s own house. He has refused to eat food sacrificed to idols – becoming instead a vegetarian and a teetotaler.  Even though it made things rather difficult, he has rejected all the cultural impositions of his oppressors and, when push has come to shove, is willing to die rather than give in. The epic plot twist is twofold: the King and his higher officials were impressed at the piety of the Hebrews. But that very reaction made others jealous and in their envy, they moved the king (who, fearful of public opinion, was far weaker than the Hebrews) to take action against his slaves.

So, it’s not just an unjust ruler taking it out on an oppressed minority, it’s an egotistical ruler with an easily-bruised self-image being driven by unseen enemies behind the scenes to do things to people who, hitherto, he had accounted friends. The situation doesn’t sound familiar at all.


The path of Christianity in America has been very different: we (Catholic, Protestant, and Sundry) have generally played up to the culture, retreating from tradition in the name of respectability rather than attempting to hold our own against the culture. If you think otherwise, you’re not paying attention. I’m not talking about attempts to change the laws (or not). Take, for example, prayer in schools: it’s one thing to say they don’t belong in public schools, supported by tax dollars. But why are some Catholic schools taking statues out of the hallways to “not be offensive”? No Catholic School I know requires Daily Mass any more… Or issues of sexual morality, again: I’m ok with whatever the state deems moral being taught as such in state schools. But why are religious schools following? It’s all about respectability. The Amish are a noted exception, but most of us think they’re hella cool.


Note please that both Azariah’s approach and the current tack seem to end up in the same place for the world, the flesh, and the devil ever push back against the Truth. One seems to build a stronger resistance, though.


And standing in the middle of the fire, would I have the grace to pray for acceptance as a sacrifice, or would I cave in and be respectable? I think, just now, the latter.

Lent, though, is intended as training for the former.

Now, that’s Lent.

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 3rd Week f Lent (B2)

Et multi leprosi erant in Israel sub Elisaeo propheta : et nemo eorum mundatus est nisi Naaman Syrus.
And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian. 

Look, says, Jesus: God can do anything he wants. Don’t take comfort in your status as “chosen” unless you are actually doing the works of the chosen.

He references two events in the life of Israel. Both involve blessings given to Gentiles rather than Jews. In the case of the Widow of Sidon, she is faithful to God’s commands when a princess of her own people (Jezebel) is destroying the faith in Israel. Jezebel is chasing Elijah around – and he goes (by the direction of God) to hide with her own people! God showed Elijah that even there among Gentiles there is faithfulness. 

But Jesus question about Naaman is even worse: for in that situation nothing was wrong in Israel. And Naaman came to get healed and was healed. But then the Prophet’s own servant took advantage of the situation and got a reward from Naaman. The prophet cursed the servant – and his whole family – with the leprosy that had been on the Gentile. 

So both stories reference not just blessings given to faithful Gentiles, but also curses given to unfaithful Israelites. These should not be, in any way, comforting to us, even though the Church is almost all Gentiles today.

The other day on a certain part of the internet that has an “e” in the name, someone decided to launch an attack on a bunch of Catholic converts because they were doing it wrong. Look, they said, come to a Catholic country like Ireland and see how many real Catholics are concerned with fasting or “giving up something for Lent”. Now, anyone who visits Ireland will know there are lots of faithful Catholics in that country who freely engage in penances that make mine look like I gave up penance for Lent. (Crawling on one’s knees up Croagh Patrick, anyone? In the snow?) And anyone who knows American Catholics will know that there are many many faithful – convert or cradle notwithstanding. Still, the reality is that a large number of folks – not only in Ireland, but also in the US and other places – and, again, convert or cradle notwithstanding – treat the rules of the Church as if they were entirely optional: be they rules of fasting, sex, holy day masses, whatever. I can’t judge the hearts of those who do so because my sins are greater. It is a real thing.

It is not just a Catholic problem: the same is true among the Orthodox. It’s the outsiders coming in, the converts, the people who don’t live in Orthodox countries, that want to follow all the rules. The so-called “cradle” folks often don’t care. In many cases this also split further along sex lines: men are following fewer rules than women. The whole family may go to Church on Sunday, but even in Panama, the menfolk (who were not converts) were outside smoking cigarettes and talking to each other in the language of the Old Country. The women and children were inside praying with the converts. If you are scandalized by Catholic Politicians voting contrary to Church teachings, the Orthodox have them as well. In like manner, after decades of blasé, suburban values ruining mainline Protestant churches in America, it was missionaries from Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific that began bringing historic Christianity back to American churches, and encouraging the faithful remnants in these denominations.

One of the converts on line replied, “Let us Europeans show you silly Americans how to properly empty your churches…”

Elsewhere Jesus says, “Let your good deeds shine that others may see them and praise your Father in heaven.” Do we have have good deeds to show in any of the three categories of Lent (Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving)? Is it possible that our blessings will be taken away?

None other Gods

JMJ

The Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (B2)

Non habebis deos alienos coram me.
Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. 

There are spoilers in this essay relating to the plot line of a very good book. But the book was published 100 years ago, so it should be ok. 

There are those who say that there is proof in the Old Testament for other gods. Even God himself acknowledges other gods. Of course there are other gods – only a fool would not realize that. If reality exists, there must be fakes as well. But the other elohim are not gods like YHVH, even if they are gods in our heart. The Exodus text in Hebrew uses the word “Elohim” for “gods” here. But in the book of Genesis, it is the Elohim, same word, translated usually as “God” that, in the very first verse of the Bible, is the creator of heaven and earth. It is this same word, used one verse earlier, when God describes himself. “I am YHVH your Elohim.” There are gods and there are antigods. There are positive things we put up to distract us from God and there are negative ones as well. We can worship an idol – a false god – or we can claim to disprove God and so not worship any gods… but anything that distracts us from truth is an idol. It takes the place of God: it is a false one.

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson wrote a wonderful piece of fiction called None other Gods. It is perhaps my favourite work of religions fiction, actually. I don’t mean that it’s better than fictions by CS Lewis (which are allegories) or Tolkien (which have religious philosophy behind them). I mean it’s religious fiction. There is a story to tell and religion is part of it. It’s not allegorized, it’s solid. The main character – Frank – becomes Roman Catholic, is disowned by his family, deserted and betrayed by his friends, expelled from school… and dies praying a rosary after being beat up by the pimp of a prostitute he’s just liberated.

It takes place at a time in the early 20th Century when it was perfectly legal to be Roman Catholic in the UK. But it was not something nice people did. Benson did it as well and so did his hero, (now Blessed) John Henry Cardinal Newman. But Frank did it in the book and it instantly cost him everything he had. He was homeless by page 7. 

This is what God means by “Thou shalt have no strange gods.” We are surrounded by them. The god of Society, the god of Politics, the god of Don’t Judge Me, the god of Relativism, the god of Scientism, the god of Money, the god of Guns, the god of Nationalism, the god of Atheism, the god of Acceptability, the god of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll, the god of White Picket Fences and 2.4 kids.  We have so many gods that we can place before God.

Frank spends the most part of the book wandering from town to town as a Tramp, as it was called, although he also spends time in Prison for a crime committed by someone else, and he forgives everyone. And he does, as noted, free a woman from her pimp, returning her to her family,  only to get killed for it. Frank did all of this rather than go back on the promises he made to a Roman Catholic Priest one afternoon, having discovered that there was a Real, Absolute, and Irrefutable Truth. His name is Jesus and his Body is the Unam Sanctam, Catholicam, et Apostolicam Ecclesiam. 

And Frank would have no other gods from that point on.

Christ is a stumbling block to both Jews and Gentiles. The former because they ignored all the signs and the latter because how can a political criminal from a 3rd world country be the creator and ruler of all things? Admittedly, most of the modern world doesn’t care about the signs and they ask, essentially, the same question: how can a dead guy from 2000 years ago in a poverty-ridden corner of imperial repression mean anything to us today?

If you find the answer, you may be like Frank. Jesus will enter your heart with cords and drive out every one of those other gods as with a whip. There will be no corner where you can hide and continue your worship of Ba’al or Diana, of Trump or Bernie, of Abortion or Condoms, of Money or Drugs, of any other god. And – I speak from solid, repeated experience here – when you try to sneak them back in the glaring light of reality is so bright that you look at them and say, “What was I thinking?”

In the propers for the office of Vespers for pastors (read on the feast of certain bishops like Basil the Great or Francis de Sales) there is a line from  the intercessions that makes me gasp every time I hear it.

You yourself are the only visible possession of our holy pastors. The Latin, Qui pastórum sanctórum ipse posséssio exstitísti, seems to read more like “You are the only existing possession…” You, Christ, are the only possession of our pastors… why is that not true of all of us?

Fer’im R Agin’im?


Today’s readings:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Qui non est mecum, contra me est: et qui non colligit mecum, dispergit.
Luke 11:23

This verse is often contrasted with Luke 9:50, which seems to say the reverse:

Whoever is not against you is for you.
Qui enim non est adversum vos, pro vobis est.
Luke 9:50 (or Mark 9:40)

I used to wrestle with this, but it seems to me tonight to be two parts of the same teaching – not two contradictory statements.  Jesus never says “Whoever is not against me is for me.”  He says, about himself, whoever is not with me is against me. It’s notable that he’s speaking of Satan in this passage as “not with me”.  But he’s speaking of the Church in “Whoever is not against you” (which pronoun is plural and so should be translated “against all y’all”).

What this means to my eyes is that we cannot call Christians those who hold only lukewarm ideas of Christ: if they are not with him, they are against him. But the Church can call these same people friends or Ecclesial Communities, if they don’t hinder us in our evangelism. They can work with the Church in our outreach, our social ministry. But we cannot afford to confuse common, if you will, political goals, with our God-revealed telos or right-ending.  The purpose of our actions must always be ad astra, or to the stars. The purpose of our politics is not earthly: the Church does nothing that cannot be for the salvation of others.

Jesus, being God, reveals the telos, the end point of all creation in time. Jesus, being man, reveals the telos of human nature in divinity. Whoever is not with him – fully, wholeheartedly,  committedly – is against him. If you’re not willing to give all and die, go home.  By the same token, if you’re willing to put up with us, with our insanity, with our prolife marches, our teachings on sex, our insistence that there is one right way upwards, then come to the party! Even if you think we’re making all the stuff up, you’re welcome. But if you just want us to pretend to be a social organization, a political club, or some kind of fancy-dress cheerleading squad for your partisan politics, we will have to decline.

70×7=Eternity

From CatholicLink

Today Readings:

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
Dicit illi Jesus: Non dico tibi usque septies: sed usque septuagies septies.
Matthew 18:22

Forgiveness is one of the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. The full list is at the end of the posting. I don’t find these easier (or more difficult) than the Corporal (Bodily) Works of Mercy (also listed at the end of the post). I think because I’m not very merciful, all of these things are hard for me except praying for the dead, although I think that’s more my own superstition than my own act of mercy.

At Church we’ve been meditating on these words of Mercy for a while. They were doing the Corporal one in the Fall of last year – wrapping up just as I got by to SF. We started on the Spiritual works at the end of January and I’ve been participating in a small group discussing these every Monday morning. By “coincidence” we began discussing forgiveness this week.

This is fresh and so four stories come to mind:

Three of bullies in school (one in grade school, two in high school) and of my wonky journey trying to find a vocation in God’s Church. These stories come up because I can tell them as if they happened yesterday, and as if someone actually set out to cause me harm.

That was what came to me yesterday morning, meditation with my group: it’s rather easy to forgive if you realize most things that hurt you are not done to you, personally. The driver who made stupid errors on the highway as you were leaving work tonight did not set out to ruin your day, to cause you damage. Even the bullies only failed because they objectify their victims: they are not hurting persons, they are hurting objects.

There are, I’m sure, people who hurt people knowingly and willingly, although I cannot mention them without invoking Godwin’s law. But even these people failed to see their victims as people.

Forgiveness comes when we see the other as person.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
Egressus autem servus ille invenit unum de conservis suis, qui debebat ei centum denarios: et tenens suffocavit eum, dicens: Redde quod debes.
Matthew 18:28

But the other thing that gives rise to forgiveness is awareness of our own sinfulness, of our own weakness. Knowing how much one has sinned helps in letting go of the sins of others. That is, after all, the name of the game, is it not: forgive my sins as I forgive others. forget all the things I’ve done in exactly the same way I forget all the things done to me.

In that light, I’m in so much trouble! See: I may never have been personally harmed. But grudges are personal. I’m embarrassed to say I know the names of bullies. I look them up from time to time on Facebook to see how messy their lives are. (As if mine wasn’t also messy.) It is our pride – our wounded worldly pride – that hold on to these moments.

But what about other moments? The forgiveness of people who only indirectly harmed one (and again, not personally) may be even harder. I lost a job once to an embezzlement, the thief didn’t set out to steal my job, as such, but she did – and the jobs of many of my friends.  Her story can make me feel I need a few belts of whiskey. What about your “political enemies”? Do they even know you – you, personally – exist? Do they know that their actions are hurting you? Do you imagine they sit up at night and say, “How shall I hurt her tomorrow?” Can you forgive them anyway?

Here, too, it is our wounded pride that holds on to these things. Here, too, it is our humility, and our desire to emulate Jesus that will save us.

These questions are not terribly important in a world where one has power. One can forget to forgive in a world where one comes home at night and comfortably rests in a high-backed arm chair watching drivel on Netflix.  But how important to our salvation would it be to forgive those who take away our tax exempt status because of our teachings on sex? How important is it for us to pray here and now for the forgiveness of those who – not knowing any of us personally – would still lead us off into concentration camps or unemployment, or worse.

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I said at group on Monday that we need to come to a place where our forgiveness of our enemies is a massive evangelism. “Off with her head!” ‘I forgive you.’ “Off with his head!” ‘I forgive you.’, “Off with their heads!” ‘I forgive you.’ Seventy times Seven we must do that or, at least, one more time beyond our own head on the block.

If we don’t get there, we may all be doomed – along with those we damn by our lack of living the Gospel.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • To instruct the ignorant.
  • To counsel the doubtful.
  • To admonish sinners.
  • To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  • To forgive offenses.
  • To console the afflicted.
  • To pray for the living and the dead.

The Corporal Works of Mercy

  • To feed the hungry.
  • To give water to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To shelter the homeless.
  • To visit the sick.
  • To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  • To bury the dead.

Her Englightenment


Today’s readings:

Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”
Dicit ei Jesus: Ego sum, qui loquor te.
John 4:26

You’ll be happy to know this never happened.  Well, something like this may have happened, you know; but this, this event, never happened. Jesus never made any claims about his messiah-ness or his divinity.  So this talk where Jesus seems to “magically” know what this woman was doing and where he uses the Divine Name (“I AM”) and claims to be the Messiah of Israel – this never happened.

It was learning that this never happened, sitting in a sermon (and later a Bible Class) in an Episcopal Church that made me lose my faith and leave the church for good.

Leave, that is, a group that claimed that this never happened. I gave up my faith in those who try to be Christians by denying Christ. The whole “Jesus never XYZ” crap.

I left all the shystery, shenanigans, and shell games (and bullshit) that deny not only 2000 years of Christian teachings but also denies the 4000 years of Jewish prophecies fulfilled by those teachings as well as millennia of human expectations those prophecies manifests.

I lost my faith. But found the Faith At the same time, but by a much slower process, I began to realize that it was not just my faith I need to lose.  For our modern, liberal shell game can confirm us in a lot of shit, too. We have to get rid of that…

This woman standing at the well seems to know a lot about Jesus. Have you noticed that? She, too, is a Biblical Scholar: not of the sort that denies the Bible, but of the sort that reads it in faith. She sits down at night and worries about her five husbands and the one that’s not her husband. Even as she lays down next to the latter and says her prayers.

What would I do, she wonders, if Messiah were to come?

These are the thoughts she has even as she goes to the well in the noonday sun alone, not at early morning when all the neighbor ladies go together: she can’t take their hypocritical gossip and snark. It strikes too close to home, first off; and secondly they’ve known her all her life.

The first husband was Dad’s fault. She should never have been betrothed when she was eight, but Dad wanted the property next door. The boy didn’t love her, and, truth be told, it would have been stupid for him to say otherwise. No one in town was surprised when he put her away and found someone his own age.

The second husband was love. He loved her and she loved him. And he loved her despite the lies her first husband had to to utter to get out of the marriage. She loved him all the more for that love that made her feel clean again, and like dancing in the spring. And when the Roman Army drafted him off to some “troubles” in Egypt she wept and waited… and would still be waiting, to be honest, if he hadn’t gotten her pregnant. And raising a young child alone, even on Dad’s income from the property… this wasn’t happening in that town. And after five years of no word, the Rabbi let her get married again. To someone who wanted the property and loved her as much as the first one did.

But he did love the daughter. A little too much as it happened. And she put him away and had to give up her property at the same time.

The Rabbi arranged the fourth one: a widower and her. It made perfect sense, and while it wasn’t love, it was firm. He had two grown sons – who did not begrudge his new wife caring for their aging father so they didn’t have to. And when he died, she mourned truly. Her daughter finally had an dowry, and she, too, was safe. And when her daughter’s husband moved into the house, they built her a cottage with a garden. It was a family, finally.

And then this young man showed up.  And things happened, and the family smiled because she was happy, but he was a gentile drifter, and he would come and go. But he always came back. And so… People talked – because they knew. And she didn’t care, really… but they could talk painfully in her presence, and they didn’t know, with their normal life story, that sometimes, life can suck.

And yet, here was a man claiming to be what? A prophet? No, the messiah? No, God! This man was using the Divine Name… and standing right in front of me and if you couldn’t feel the Love standing right there you were dead… no, she finally decided, even if one were dead you’d feel the Love.

And then a new affair began: but this was forever Love. And he loved her around all the corners, not despite the the mess, but through it. She realized that love – real love – was what everyone was looking for. Some human relationships mirror that quest better than others, but all of them are attempts at it. Here, however was real love that demanded all her relationships line up with it. Here was love that wouldn’t let her settle for just earthly happiness – even the good stuff. And certainly not the bad stuff. Here was Love that wanted to lift her out of mere living into Life.

If you go to a church of the Enlightened Sort where this never happened, you should count your lucky stars.

They’re all you’ve got.