True Pastor, True Mercy, True Food


The Readings for Saturday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et ait illis : Venite seorsum in desertum locum, et requiescite pusillum. Erant enim qui veniebant et redibant multi : et nec spatium manducandi habebant. 
And he said to them: Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little. For there were many coming and going: and they had not so much as time to eat. .

Jesus is being pastoral: here and later when he sees the crowd and has pity on them for being like sheep without a shepherd. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make a pun. Jesu, bone pastor, miserere nobis. Jesus, Good Shepherd, have mercy on us. 

What is so very hard about life is the comings and goings, with no time to eat. Work makes our days’ stress. Family make our evenings tight. And, in the end, the alone time we get (in the bathroom?) is spent on the internet. I can tell when I’ve had a bad week (such I have had) because it’s easy to just slump on the sofa and look off into space. It’s easy to not pray, to let the brain get filled with darkness, and in the end, sleep. But you wake up numb and it starts all over again. Jesu, magni consilii Angele, miserere nobis. Jesus, Angel of Great Counsel, have mercy on us.

So Jesus says, “Let’s go to the desert…” (You wanted dessert, I know.) and you wonder, what do you mean, Jesus? Is not this bad enough? There you are, trapped, alone – even in the middle of a crowd – and he wants to take you deeper into the alone place.

Even as I sat down to type, my alarm went off for Compline and I couldn’t quite get myself together to stand up and pray. Forever. And when I finally did, I couldn’t concentrate the whole week rushing on me and around me. And me in the Alone Place. But… suddenly… not on my own. I had been to Holy Mass earlier for blessing of candles and the sacrament. And I remember the peace that came upon me there which had, in fact, settled on me from that time until just after lunch. So much of the day spent in that peace, that comfort zone, And then some things happened and I found myself not quite in the zone. But I realized, finally, I had only been “out of the zone” for a few hours. Jesu, lux vera, Deus pacis, miserere nobis. Jesus, true light, God of peace, have mercy on us.

And someplace in the darkness a light was kindled. The realization that even if everything fails, it is Jesus who is in control, not me. And that peace that passes understanding flows in.

Knowing that one’s real work is salvation, that paying for things per se is secondary is neither comforting, nor uplifting. But it is life affirming.

And this Darkness passes. It’s the light that stays. Sunrise in the desert is very beautiful.

We can be like so many sheep without a shepherd. But Jesus is there – is here – to teach us so many things, and to show us so many kindnesses, if we will but let him. Jesu, fili Dei vivi, miserere nobis. Jesus, son of the Living God, have mercy on us.

BONE pastor, panis vere,
Iesu, nostri miserere:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuere:
Tu nos bona fac videre
In terra viventium.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales;
Qui nos pascis hic mortales;
Tuos ibi commensales,
Coheredes et sodales

Fac sanctorum civium. Amen.

VERY BREAD, good Shepherd, tend us

Jesu, of Thy love befriend us,
Thou refresh us, Thou defend us,
Thine eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see.

Thou who all things canst and knowest,
Who on earth such food bestowest,
Grant us with Thy Saints, though lowest,
Where the heavenly feast Thou shewest,

Fellow-heirs and guests to be. Amen.


Solomon, Boxcar Willie, & Gran’pa


The Readings for Thursday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

ἰσχύσεις καὶ ἔσῃ εἰς ἄνδρα
confortare, et esto vir
וְחָזַקְתָּ֖ וְהָיִ֥יתָֽ לְאִֽיש
Take Courage and show yourself a man.

This is one of those places where the Greek of the LXX, the Masoretic Hebrew, the Latin of Jerome and the English all line up. Take courage and be a man.

Life is like a mountain railroad,
With an engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful,
From the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

I can imagine Solomon coming to his Father’s deathbed… 

In those last days of the 20th Century whenever there was a cheap, last minute fare from San Francisco to Atlanta, I would book a flight on Tuesday and be at SFO Friday, after work. Most times it was a redeye. Mom would meet me at Hartsfield in Atlanta, and we’d be at Grandpa’s house before Lunch. (Sometimes we’d stop at the Varsity and surprise Grandpa and his wife with chili dogs and fried peach pies. I would be in San Francisco by 10AM on Monday, just a bit late for work. 

Grandpa had been unable to do much, but to get up and move from the Bedroom to the Living room for most of two years. There had been some trips out, yes. And, for a while, he had welcomed guests, sitting around the living room. Even then, meals usually happened without him present at the table. At Thanksgiving or his Birthday we might gather around him for grace, but I usually led grace because his breathing was bad. In the final months there was an oxygen tank to move. So, often, staying in bed was easier.

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach the blissful shore,
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

I was able to get home a couple of times after 9/11 on this plan, before Amurica Muscled Up her security and made travel far less free than it had been previously. And I was there for time between Christmas and New Years. But leaving there, that morning in January of 2002, Grandpa had not gotten out of bed, so we went to his bedroom to say our goodbyes. And he hugged Mom and said she should drive safe: she didn’t like his new beard. He hugged me really close and whispered into my ear. “Live a good life”.  

I held myself together walking to the car, but Mom and I were both crying as we drove away, because I would never see him again. It’s one of those moments…

Solomon is standing there, not sure what to say to this man who fathered him, who killed a giant, whom God picked, who ran from the king, who lost his son, his father, and his best friend in rebellions; a poet to whom God spoke as to a dear Friend, bypassing prophets and priests unless they were needed to make a point. Were Solomon to know that even today this man’s poetry is read 4-9 times daily by every priest, by every Monk it would make it all the more terrifying, I think. Even were Solomon to know the impression he would make on History, it’s this man, passing away now, that made that possible.

What do you say? And sure there were tears.

You will roll up grades of trial;
You will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor
On this lightning train of life;
Always mindful of obstruction,
Do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

ἰσχύσεις καὶ ἔσῃ εἰς ἄνδρα
confortare, et esto vir
וְחָזַקְתָּ֖ וְהָיִ֥יתָֽ לְאִֽיש

Take Courage and show yourself a man.

And keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and observe his ceremonies, and his precepts, and judgments, and testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses: that thou mayest understand all thou dost, and whithersoever thou shalt turn thyself: 

Live a good life.

Walk in his ways so that thou mayest understand all thou dost.

Here, the Greek, the Hebrew, and the Latin go someplace (together) that no English bible other than the Douay follows. They all say that following the ways of the Lord will bring you a better sense of what you’re doing. (The Greek says “kata” you’ll be doing things according to the way they should be done…) It only becomes “Prosper” in English, as if the Prophet David were in the Prosperity Gospel. But, no, he tells Solomon to follow the laws of the Lord because then he’ll be doing things right. Live a good life and this will all make sense. Maybe not now.. but then wait. Do your job. Say your prayers. 

That’s all we have to do: pick up the cross, follow Jesus. take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in your belts. Do your job, say your prayers. Live a good life. 

You will often find obstructions,
Look for storms and wind and rain;
On a fill, or curve, or trestle
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus,
Never falter, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

Grandpa was dead by Epiphany. Delta broke every new rule in the book to get me there for the funeral. And I sang the song that is part of this post at his request: life is like a mountain railway. Only he and I would get it: for I learned my rootless ways from him, the man who had ridden the rails as a hobo, who had journeyed to the Panama Canal when it was freshly dug, and who had served his country keeping the Wrong Boats from going up the canal.. and then, later, as an armed guard on an Army Train taking Comstock Silver from San Francisco to the mint in Denver. This song was like Grandpa’s last note to me. Beyond live a good life… it was this.

And recounting even that much, maybe you learn about me too: for he was the only Father I really ever had.  Even though Mom remarried I never bothered to pay much attention to my stepdad until Grandpa passed away.

Solomon, resting on David’s bed, heard lead a good life. It’s hard to breath… and there was time for poets to fill it in later. Follow God’s commands and you will understand it all. Same for Grandpa, he got to pick the poet, though.

As you roll across the trestle,
Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,
You behold the Union Depot
Into which your train will glide;
There you’ll meet the Sup’rintendent,
God the Father, God the Son,
Welcome good and faithful servant,
Weary pilgrim, welcome home!”

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach the blissful shore,
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

Look: you gotta go say goodbye. And you love them. You do gotta say it. It makes all the difference. All of it.

The Prison of Our Minds


The Readings for the Memorial of St John Bosco

Wednesday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et non poterat ibi virtutem ullam facere, nisi paucos infirmos impositis manibus curavit, et mirabatur propter incredulitatem eorum.
And he could not do any miracles there, only that he cured a few that were sick, laying his hands upon them. And he wondered because of their unbelief. 

What do you make of this? It sounds, does it not, like I might hinder God if I refuse to believe in him. “God is not there, so I don’t have to worry about him” is the Credo sine qua non of the current aeon. I know those who would argue that it is a non-credo, but it is a credo. You have to believe there is no God, for you cannot use scientific methods to prove it irrefutably.

It will not surprise you (if you read along) to know that the Greek has a different tone than the Latin. But in this case, it’s very subtle. For, in fact, the Greek word, ἀπιστία, apistia, means unbelief. The Latin is correct in rendering it as incredulitatem. We might today say incredulity or a lack of gullibility. But that Greek word, apistia is, again, our friend the a- suffix meaning “not”, and that Greek word, pisteo, meaning “Trust”.  The word, in a literal rendition, means a lack of trust, or not-trusting. So, yes, it is a lack of credulity, but it means a lack of trust.

We have a marvelous example of this in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. I won’t give too many spoilers, but by way of set up, the Good Guys and the Bad Guys are fighting and the Dwarves have decided they are not going to pick a side. “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs” is their motto. So they sit on the sidelines of the last battle until they are captured and thrown through a door to certain death (so it is assumed).  In fact, the door is the gateway to Paradise. And all others who enter the door find themselves in a garden with Aslan himself; the Good Lion, the Messiah figure. But the Dwarfs are all trapped in darkness, sitting on the ground grumbling. Finally Aslan agrees to do something even though he knows it won’t work.

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’
‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

That’s the folks in Nazareth. Jesus is unable to help them because they won’t let him do so. It’s not that their lack of faith takes away Jesus’ magic power: rather their unwillingness to cooperate makes it impossible for Jesus to act at all.

Think of how many other stories involve people coming to Jesus, or people asking for something, or people being brought to him (even against their will). In the traditional understanding of the Church this action is called synergia, or synergy: we must act with God. God is playing the music, but we must dance… often out in space where there are no visible means of support. And we must do so full in the Trust that God’s got this.

For each of us, our prison is only in our own minds, yet we really are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in by others that we can not be taken out of our prison by hook or by crook. Failure to let ourselves out dancing leads to even the music fading. Doing so makes the music stronger and more present each time. 

God says to each one of us (over and over), May I have this dance? God wants to be present through you with your friends, in your family life. God wants to be present through you at work and at your Church, but – although he can easily find someone else to do the work, no one would come to the tasks with your gifts, with your skills and memories, with your relationships in time and space. God can find someone else’s gifts and use them. But he’d really like yours.

What say you, will you sing and dance to Jesus lead?

Of Bessie’s Butterscotch Pudding and Scriptural Inspiration.


The Readings for Tuesday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

(Jesu) dixit dari illi manducare.
(Jesus) commanded that something should be given her to eat. 

My late grandmother made this amazing butterscotch pudding. I will ask Jesus for some when I get to the other side. I hope he won’t make her cook it, but.. We can’t find the recipe. When Grandma died on Columbus Day (as it then was), 1984, the pudding passed out of living memory. I’ve tried several internet recipes. I know it involved a double boiler, and a LOT of cooking. I think it may have involved cooking flour, but it may have involved gelatin. Grandma owned a restaurant, that served travellers to her father’s gas station in Edenville, MI (pictured above). That leads me to imagine the gelatin may have been involved – it’s very easy to make for a crowd that way. But Mom says, No, to that. So, research will continue apace.

When someone dies, the line of Oral Tradition is broken. Things get lost. The breathing stops and we have to pick up the story at a later time.

The word εὐθς euthys Immediately occurs 87 times in the New Testament. 46 times are outside of the Gospel of Mark. The other 41 times are used by Mark in his descriptions of just about everything. We get the word four times in our passage today (there are only five uses of it in all of the fifth chapter) although the NABRE doesn’t convey it very well. 

The woman is healed immediately.
And immediately Jesus realizes something has happened.
The little girl immediately gets up
And immediately all are amazed.

Add to that that this story is really one miracle story inside another miracle story: like “Hey this happened, but oh yeah that happened too, and this happened along as well.” It’s an odd turn for a religious text: it’s not very orderly, it’s not very sensible. You should tell one miracle story. You move on to the next. 

Some folks have theorized we can hear the “Marcan community” talking here: that this is someone taking almost literal dictation of a bunch of folks trying to remember Jesus, trying to get it all written down before the elders die off and we lose these stories of this guy we like so much. They don’t need these stories to get lost like Grandma’s butterscotch pudding.

And so the date of composition of the Gospels becomes terribly important: was the Gospel written by witnesses? By someone interviewing witnesses? By someone recalling stories they heard from witnesses? Or was it even further back?

To a Christian these questions are meaningless. We have to believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Church: the Church is called the ground and the pillar of the Truth. If we don’t believe the Holy Spirit could have (and did) protect the stories within his bosom until they were written down, then what are we even doing here?

The scriptural texts were written to make points (some spiritual, some political). Yes.
The communities that produced the texts seem to have disagreed on some points. Yes.
We know that oral tradition and human memory are failable. Yes.
Therefore the scriptures are, at best, historically suspect if not highly so. No.

St Paul says all scripture is God breathed. He said so at a time when he was writing scripture! (Did he or did he not know he was is another issue.) But if you claim to believe in an all powerful God who can do anything… why can’t he keep the right stories intact, even calling different stories from different communities? Why cannot this all powerful God move his Church to make the right choices in this context?

We’re not talking Grandma Bessie Mae’s butterscotch pudding, here, nor even the guessing about the Founders’ intent in writing the 2nd Amendment. We’re talking the boundary between Salvation and Death. Coming from another tradition, you may not think that is so: but for a Christian it must be so.

This is not a plea for inerrancy, or reading the Bible as a science or even history text. This is a plea for not ditching or even dissing the text because of Oral Histories and human weakness. Either the Holy Spirit works through the Church, or he does not. If he doesn’t, all those assumptions are still on the table. If he does, though, work through the Church, then you have come to the text asking why is this here and what does it mean? Not how does this get here and can I ignore it? It is this latter question that many are asking, either covertly or overtly. They want to ignore the scripture (or some part of them) as the Product only of humans and our biases. We can’t point to culture, either: oh, well, that’s just a cultural bias and Jesus wouldn’t have done anything else. So Jesus is not God then? Jesus, who is about to toss out swathes of the Mosaic code and Rabbinic teachings, is bound by culture?

Raising such claims, in order to discount the Bible’s text, is a dogpile of three different heresies: 1) Arianism, that taught Jesus was not God; 2) Marcianism that taught the Old Testament was written by the wrong God; and, 3) Pneumatomachianism, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The braid of all three is woven through with the Heresy of Modernism, and the assumption of Chronological Arrogance; that we in these latter days, finally, know what was really going on.

In a Bible as literature class, or in a textual discussion of the contents, all bets are off: but that’s not the Church. Did Grandma use gelatin or flour? Was the butterscotch all made in one batch or over time? Does this recipe in a wartime cookbook come close? Is the Joy of Cooking better? How about this modern one with a crockpot and sweetened condensed milk? It’s not the way to liturgically read the Bible, though. Nor is it the way to teach it in Church. An historical debate about pudding will not get dessert on the table. The Bible must be read through the Church’s eyes and with the Church’s heart because it is, cover to cover, the Church’s book and she knows what it means. She put it together, she canonized it – even that portion we call the Old Testament: for she has kept certain parts that are not used in the Jewish Community and reads all of it in ways that are different.

Mark’s Gospel is quite possibly a compilation of many stories, remembered by members of his community and, perhaps, edited together with an over-zealous use of the word Euthys in the way a child would tell a story about the day at school. That in nowise makes it less inspired, or less God breathed. The breathing has never stopped. In fact, it is in our weakness that God’s strength is made known. 

It is our trust in that breathing that is the sign of the Church in the world but not of it. Without that breathing we build a bridge from heaven to earth, and, crossing over to earth, we burn it behind ourselves so that no one can get back across.

Tao of Paul 2


The Readings for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Volo autem vos sine sollicitudine esse.
I would have you to be without solicitude.

This picks up where the Tao of Paul left us last Sunday. I don’t think the Latin does as well with the Greek, though.  Sollicitudine… to solicit: as if one were doing charity work.  The Greek says St Paul wants us to be ἀμερίμνους amerimnousIn Greek the prefix “a” means simply “without” so we have a-merimnous or, without-merimnous. This word, merimnous, is verrry interesting, both in its meanings and its use in the New Testament.

Werry Intewesting.
Jesus says we’re not to be this about what to eat or what to wear because we’re worth more than sparrows or lilies. We’re not supposed to be this about tomorrow at all: it’s going to have it’s own troubles there anyway. Martha was this while her sister sat with Jesus. We’re not supposed to be this if the authorities arrest us. Doing this will not make us taller or let us live longer. Paul says, in Philippians that we’re not to be this over anything. But it gets used, as a word, the most times in this 7th Chapter of I Corinthians: 6 times in three verses the “merimn” root gets used.

Now, what’s it mean? Divided. Broken up into little bits.  Paul wants our mind focused on one thing: the Lord Jesus. Paul wants us to have single minds – not divided up into little compartments. In the Tao of Paul, Christian spiritual practice is about unity. Unity of the Mind, unity of the Mind and Heart, unity of Husband and Wife, unity of the Church, unity of the Church with Christ, Unity of Christ with us and the Father. Continual unity and reconciliation until God is all in all.

St Paul says elsewhere, do everything as unto the Lord: even your menial tasks and daily chores. All for Jesus. Loving your wife? All for Jesus. Teaching your children to play baseball? All for Jesus. Taking court stenography classes? All for Jesus.

And do not be anxious (divided) in your mind: Jesus gave you this task to do and it is he who will see you through it.

Do not be afraid, as we said yesterday: God’s got this.

All of our actions will flow out from this unity of mind, of being with Jesus, who is the Great I Am. This is the etymological root of “Authority” by the way: ek (out of) eimi (being, or am-ness). Since Jesus is the Great I Am incarnate, very being himself, in our unity with him we begin to share in his authority. This is not magic or anything like that. Our will, too, becomes subject to his. But St Catherine, for example, could command kings and the pope, himself! Calling herself a worthless servant, the servant of God’s servants, little daughter, or little sister, she could, at the same time, say to the Pope, “I command…” and no one thought it odd: because of her deep, mystical union, in mind and heart, with Our Lord. This is teaching with Authority. It only comes from one place.