Don’t Look Back

YOUR HOST IS ATTEMPTING To navigate between two parishes, one Latin and one Byzantine, with the latter using the Julian Calendar no less. (Most Byzantine Catholic places, in the US at least, use the Gregorian Calendar.) This year’s Gregorian and Julian Easters are one week apart. Next year they are five weeks apart! This year was kind of easy: when we reached Saturday evening in my breviary, I flipped back to the beginning of week Five of Lent. I’ll get to Palm Sunday this week and get to Holy Week next week. Then I’ll drop back into sync with the West after the week-long Sunday of the Easter Octave. ANYWAY… all this as prelude to the fact that this morning I read (again) the passage for Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent. It ends with St Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews 3:19. So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. They, here, is the People of Israel, and entering in is the Promised Land.

Backstory: when the people first got to the Promised Land, they sent 12 spies into the land to see what manner of land it was, what people were there, and what their prospects were. Two of the spies came back and said, “Wow. God is about to deliver on his promises, big time!” The other ten, however, were naysayers who said there were giants in the land and we (the people of Israel) were doomed if we went ahead. The vast majority of the people believed the 10, and wept for fear. God was angry and said they would all die rather than enter into his promised land.

Today, instead of hearing Hebrews 3:19 as a punishment from God, I heard it as it was written: their own unbelief kept them from entering the land. Even if there were giants there, even if the land was crawling with scorpions and aliens with laser guns… if the people had trusted God and walked in, everything would have been as he said. But their own lack of faith prevented them from taking God at his word. Their own fear became their own death. Their own failure became the judgment against them. It would not have mattered if God had tried to coax them forward. They were terrified.

So they did not enter into his rest.

Perfect love drives out all fear.

Mary becomes the mother of God by saying yes and never turning back. Lot’s wife failed because she looked back. Judas realized his mistake, threw the money back at the priests, but chickened out and hung himself. Peter realized his mistake and repented, and returned to the Lord. (Hear the Homily from Fr Michael Hurley, OP. Open your heart to the Lord and allow him to draw you close.)

Anyone who puts their hand to the plough, says Our Lord, but then looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Don’t look back.

Croquet in Eqypt.


The Readings for Tuesday in Passion Week (B2)

Cur eduxisti nos de Aegypto, ut moreremur in solitudine?

Why didst thou bring us out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness?

In the Fathers, Egypt is seen as a symbol of our human bondage to sin. The Passover is a glorious sign of liberation, a foreshadowing of  Jesus work. The Red Sea is baptism (our initiation into Jesus work) and the Promised Land is the final consummation of that work in this life/in the next life. The Forty Years though (and, by extension the 40 Days of Lent) usually get assigned to catechesis. Yet, while all the other signs are in order, this one is not. Would it not make more sense to view the 40 years of Wandering in the Wilderness as a true mark of the Christian Life?  Easter is Passover. The Baptism in the Red Sea. Pentecost is the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and the giving of the Spirit to the Church in Confirmation. The wandering comes after Passover, after Pentecost.

The newly Baptized is freed from sin and then left (not alone, but still left) to Wander in the World. For, about, 40 years…

If that description “clicks” at all for you, then the passage we have today will make sense.

How many times does one say to oneself over morning coffee alone (or over Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevensies, Lunch, Tea, Dinner, Supper, or grocery shopping, or maybe in the shower, or cleaning the litter box…) Why did I ever leave Egypt?

Even though the very Idea of Egypt, often, makes us nauseous when we are sane, in these moments of insanity, when it’s enough to remember the food was good, or mercy, but a swim in the Nile felt good on a hot evening. There are no Niles in this desert. There are Oases, sure, and miracles and daily manna from heaven, but we’ll spend all day on our feet in the hot sun and every day its manna bread and the morning and tiny birds at night. There were games in Egypt, and pastimes that could while away the hours on those Sunday afternoons while the Bottomless Mimosas wear off, the long dark Brunch Hangovers of the Soul. Let’s go!

This is why God’s serpents don’t seem to rough to me: but rather merciful. When I am sane, I know that a return to what was killing my soul and warping the reward pathways in my brain would be beyond foolish. But in my insanity, nearly nothing can distract me from committing spiritual suicide. My cat has taken to jumping on my lap and clawing my hands. A serpent seems merciful. (The Fathers say God allows death because it keeps us from continuing to sin…)

Monday afternoon on the 38R Geary Rapid bus, I hesitated to cross myself as we passed the Cathedral because someone might see and I yelled at myself because, What are you going to do, date someone on this bus? Egypt is so real.

The 40 Years are a perfect sign of the Christian journey from Pentecost to Death. Stay in the tribe, daily Manna from Heaven (Mass), be the Church in place, Keep a can of Whoopin’ Spray on hand for the Amalekites,  rejoice when God stomps your enemies, mourn when your people fall, get wowed by the occasional miracle, put up with things happening, and stop complaining about wanting to go back to Egypt, diddle darn it all: Hush!


Sacramentum Oboedientiae


The Readings for Passion Sunday (B2)

Nunc anima mea turbata est. Et quid dicam? Pater, salvifica me ex hac hora. Sed propterea veni in horam hanc : Pater, clarifica nomen tuum. 

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause I came unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.

The title of this post is the “Sacrament of Obedience”. In the Pagan Roman world, the “Sacramentum” is the Oath one makes giving oneself to the gods in military service. The oath made on sacer or sacred. This use of “sacramentum” is carried into Christian thinking around Baptism: which Tertullian said in De Corona was the only sacramentum a Christian should swear. Sacrament gets linked to the Greek “Mysterion” or “Mystery” in the “Mystery Religions”. Another title might be Mysterium Oboedientiae, as long as one isn’t thinking about a Detective Story! 

At a few points in the Gospels either Jesus or the Narrator will say that Jesus “hour had not yet come”. Then, suddenly, here in verse 23, Jesus says, Venit hora, The Hour is Come ut clarificetur Filius hominis. And then, almost the very next thought, Nunc anima mea turbata est. Now my soul is troubled. Jesus can see ahead: this story takes place after Palm Sunday, it’s maybe Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week. Death is literally just beyond the next bend in the Space-Time continuum. Jesus admits this is causing some concern. “My soul is seriously churned up about this…” is more like the Greek and the Latin than “troubled”. 

I have panic attacks when I’m not paying attention. The cycle runs something like a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. You know the young woman in the fuzzy white sweater will die… because that fuzzy white sweater needs blood on it. But when? When will she die? Around and around the house with the lights out, listening for a sound that maybe shouldn’t be there. And then not even a proper scream, just a bloody sweater. Except a panic attack can last days. You know what? Now is my soul troubled resonates with me. It helps me to know that Jesus can feel this, that God, himself, can feel this. I say, “When I’m not paying attention” because panic attacks seem to be triggered by the illusion that I’m in control. When I’m not paying attention, it’s easy to convince me that I should be in control. Panic follows shortly when I honestly admit I’m not – although, says the illusion, I should be.

Jesus’ solution, though, is rather different than mine. Jesus knows that nothing can come at him or to him which is not sent by God. Jesus trusts in that fully. He abandons his own will surrendering himself into the will of the Father. His soul is troubled, but he is at peace. Now, my solution is let the grinding rocks in my soul keep me up at night, passing from one mental space to the other and then back again, until none of this makes any sense. How much better is Jesus’ way! In this Jesus is modeling what should be the approach of all Christians. Yeah, this bothers me, but God be glorified in my life.

Paying attention here, is opening one’s eyes to God’s leading in the dance. One does not have to be in control. One need only to follow the next step in God’s lead. How to do that, though? How to dance and guard your inner peace?

In the Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales said that, “To be perfect in our vocation is nothing else than to fulfill the duties which our state of life obliges us to perform, and to accomplish them well, and only for the honor and love of God.” Each of us, in our state of life, have different duties. Notice he says duties, not choices that make us feel happy, or following our bliss, or our passions. He says, “perform your obligations.” At the same time, he does not give out new ones. Francis, a Bishop, is writing to Jane de Chantal, a widow who is seriously overworked! He lays no new obligation on her: only that she do what needs to be done in the course of her daily life, to do it in love for God and in prayer. This little way she follows until her death, “Asking nothing and refusing nothing”; only abandoning herself to God’s will more and more in the course of her life. 

This, then, is our dance, following Christ as he is submitting to God’s will in his own sacrificial death. He is Lord of the Dance, showing us the way to do the same. This is the Sacrament, the Mystery of Obedience: the act of obedience that is, itself, making us sacred to God. It’s not easy. It can be troubling. But it is the way to heaven.

For support in this practice, I commend to your use, the Litany of Divine Providence. I’ve only just begun using this at night, before reading Night Prayer.