Now with 20% Less Mercy

John J McNeill – in need of a corrective.


The Readings for Saturday in the 6th Week of Easter:

Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.

Took him aside and explained… we nearly never do that these days. We go looking for “constructive feedback” or at worst something called a “Sh*t Sandwich” which is bad stuff sandwiched between two bits of praise. We get offended not only when people tell us we’re wrong but also when people imply that we are wrong, even when people hint there might be a right way (that’s not the way we did it). 

Telling someone they’re mistaken and bringing them to the truth of the fullness of the faith is 3 of the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, and 3 of the 17 Works of Mercy all together, about 20 percent of all mercy is showing someone their missteps. 

Of the Works of Mercy we have:
  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish the sinners.
  4. To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  5. To forgive offenses.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.
  8. To feed the hungry.
  9. To give water to the thirsty.
  10. To clothe the naked.
  11. To shelter the homeless.
  12. To visit the sick.
  13. To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  14. To bury the dead.
The second 7 are seen as “Corporal” in that they deal with the body, whilst the first batch are the “Spiritual” works of mercy. It does us no good to pit them against each other; to decide one is more important than the other. The body and the soul are, together, one being. The corporal may be seen as easier, or the spiritual as more important, but that’s not the case. It’s a matter of qualifications: I can dig graves, but I am terrible at bearing patiently with those who wrong me. I might not be the right person to lead a retreat on forgiveness. Praying for the dead, though, I’m good at. And, to be honest, 25 years in customer service has totally prepped me for finding a compassionate, gentle way to say, “You’re so very wrong, Bucko.” Such as: 

While a number of different settings on this device are possible, we have found that these settings listed in this help center article work best for our device and also your hi fi reciever. Other settings, while possible, are not supported although you’re of course free to use them if you wish. 

It has also prepped me for pulling out all the stops and saying, “I know you’re looking for a different answer here, but I have to tell you again, you’re very wrong, Bucko.”

As Bishop Barron has noted, while we’re very willing to let someone tell us how best to play golf, or make a pumpkin muffin, we seem to be horribly unwilling to let someone tell us that in matters of religion. We go looking for agreement in the first person: You might say that, but I can’t agree with what you’re saying. It’s not merciful to let that person off the hook. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of mercy. Letting someone give up their soul because you feel uncomfortable correcting them (or because they feel uncomfortable if you do so) is decidedly not merciful. Parents fail in this all the time.

But we also fail in other ways: Priscilla took Apollos aside. They didn’t open up a series of Facebook Posts or a long tweetstorm. They did not engage in those wonderful, modern practices: a whisper campaign or character assassination. Elsewhere we are advised to talk to someone in error one on one, then, failing that, maybe two on one. If that fails, we might even try a larger intervention. If all else fails, then we can ignore them and allow them to go their own way.

We like to come on strong because it makes us feel good to do so: self-righteous may be too uncharitable, but there’s something enjoyable about pitching corrective so fast and so furious that the party ducks and runs for cover. We did our best, right? but the wouldn’t listen, eh?  So… next project.

This is not mercy either. It’s mercy if we gain our brother back. Yet if we drive them away, we’re both lost.

We are surrounded on all sides, both inside and outside of the church, with those who are perishing for lack of mercy. How do we do mercy in the way that Priscilla and Aquilla did? Can we gently offer correctives without losing the souls of those we’re trying to save; without, as a friend of mine used to say, “Shattering the Crystal”?

To bestow mercy we must first be “under the mercy” ourselves. Are you? Am I? Do we submit – daily – to the Church’s teaching even (especially) when we find it at odds with our life experience and desires? How’s our prayer lives? Are we engaged in a living and regular (ongoing) conversation with God? Do we exercise ourselves daily in charity and humility? Can we say the truth in ways that do not sound like “look what I found” but rather reflect the Church’s magisterium and God’s love?

We need to know each our own strengths and weaknesses so that we don’t overstep our own callings. Let me bury the dead. Someone else can take on apologetics or forgiving others. Right? None of us need to preach alone or at all for we’re all in this together let’s pool our resources and see what we can do. Let’s be 100% merciful 100% of the time. 

Paul gets all up in the Pagan Air

No, no! That’s the wrong Damon…


The Readings for Wednesday in the 6th week of Easter (C1)

I see that in every respect you are very religious…
Paul’s word for “religious” is δεισιδαιμονεστέρους deisidaimonesteros. This is the only place in the Greek scriptures where it is used. It means “fearful of the gods” or the “daimons” (which are not “Demons”.) Nowadays we say “Religion is a fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a group of people. These set of beliefs concern the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, and involve devotional and ritual observances.” And, “Religious, besides meaning “having to do with religion,” can also mean “acting as if something is a religion.” We think in terms of “organized” religion vrs “spirituality” where the latter means more along the lines of something a la carte: I get to make it up as I go along. I get to decide what and where to worship, in fact, I may not even worship, in the accepted sense of the term.
Paul, however, did not mean “religious” the same way we do. In fact, he meant “Spiritual” almost exactly as we mean it. deisidaimonésteros (from deidō, “to dread” and daimōn, “a deity”) – properly, religious (superstitious) fear, driven by a confused concept of God – producing “sincere” but very misdirected religion. Indeed, this is the mark of heathenism. (word study.) One pagan might not care at all what Venus says, but Diana of the Ephesians would be all the rave. However, we don’t want to offend Venus either, so we won’t disrespect her.
More importantly, Paul’s use of deisidaimonesteros fits nearly everyone in our modern, Western world, hung up in our culture of “offense” and “scientism”: we are superstitious about both. We have created daimonic energies around everything from sex and identity to political movements and slogans. We are fearful of offending all the daimons – the powers of the air, as Paul says elsewhere, the powers and principalities that run things. Again, these are not “demons” in the Exorcist sense. These are entirely human things. You might think of these as Cultural Constructs properly understood as “when enough people think something is true, it is.” 
We are surrounded by cultural constructs today: ideologies that function enough like traditional religion that they compete with or meld with traditional religion for the same cultural real estate. They get a victory either way. What is “MAGA” but a pseudo-religious mantra that either overrules all Christian morality or else invades and colonizes it?  Feminism can either drive out religion or become melded with it. We have Christian feminists and we have secular feminists who are “recovering Christians”. We have racialist ideologies that manifest inside traditional religious communities: Byzantine, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic. Yet we also have racists who reject “traditional religion” which they say is destroying “racial identity”. Economics become religions when people use “the invisible hand” or state power to overrule the God of Christianity and Judaism on the one hand or on the other to attack and destroy him. Scientism can be used to denude the spiritual content of progressive Christianity or to deny the importance of anything that sounds religious (or even philosophical) at all. We let the construct take the center stage and then try to dress it up in our various religions – instead of letting the religion dictate the direction and everything else better try and hold on. Or else we retreat from it.
Paul would know us today. These things – and many many others – all fill up the gaps in our culture created by the abandoning of the Areopagus by the Church. I know some say we’ve been forced out, but that’s only because we’ve let it happen: we’re afraid not only to speak the Gospel in public but also to model it. We don’t want to be seen as Catholics qua Catholics. We have a fear, not of having to “speak up” on a controversial topic, but rather of being asked to explain ourselves. “Behold, how these Christians love one another!” said Tertullian. We’d rather not go to the park because people might talk about us. The Church has not been driven out of the public square, she has ceded it whole cloth. She’s afraid of losing her tax status, or her safety nets, she is worried about what people might think of her, or what sins might get uncovered. Hiding in the corner is safer. The Church – compared to which not even the Gates of Hell are stronger – is worried about daimons.
Paul would challenge us to learn his language: to take the deisidaimonesteros of the culture and redirect it to God, as St Paul did when he invaded the Hill of Mars and took the field of Battle for Jesus. Preaching in public… here on of my favourite stories about John Wesley:

In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.” 

He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.” 

Afterward, 12 men received Christ. 

Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.” 

Would that we could be so eloquent with our lives and our actions. Would that our lives spoke the Gospel in places where we might gather such oysters.



The Readings for Tuesday in the 6th week of Easter (C1)

(Who proceeds from the Father…) I will send him to you.

I’m not going to defend the Filioque clause with this essay except by accident. I’m continually asked why I left Orthodoxy for Catholicism traveling from east to west, so I thought I should finally answer clearly online. I’ve done so in private conversations, but I’ll try to lay it out here.

As has been documented in many places, I left the Episcopal Church because the threads of orthodox, traditional Christianity that I found there were entirely optional. That they were becoming fewer and further between was a sign that I needed to leave. Staying where I could pick and choose doctrine was a sign that I wasn’t under Authority so much as I was in a religious shopping center. It’s important to say that at the top of this essay.

When I left the Episcopal Church, I had it in my mind that Orthodoxy and Catholicism were the only places I could go but the Roman Church was, in 2002, going through the “Boston” sex scandal which was turning into a much wider issue. There were prochoice Nuns arguing for women’s ordination, there were clown masses, and there were Catholic politicians who couldn’t tell doctrine from dog poop.  Having been in the Episcopal Church where all of that had led directly (in less than 20 years) to the “Thing I was Leaving” I didn’t want to do it again. Rome was not going to work for me. So I became Orthodox.

If you’ve followed my blog at all you know everything that happened there, from my crazy convert phase to my ultraliberal “indy” phase. You know I went to a monastery at the end, meeting there the Western Rite Orthodox community of Denver and the surrounding area as well as from other parts of the country. When you’re in a monastery (I was only there for 6 months) you suddenly discover you’re plugged into all the gossip in the church. You hear literally everything going on, even in the furthers corners of the ecclesiosphere.

At the monastery during a long talk with my brother, Nicholas, I wrestled with the idea of being a monastic who lived at 7500 feet above sea level, who never had to “serve” anyone unless they drove 3 hours out from Denver to ask for my help. Nicholas said to me, “You want to be a friar. Orthodoxy doesn’t have friar.” Discernment continues…

What I discovered between 2002 and 2016 was that everything I had run away from in Rome was also present in Orthodoxy: financial scandals (primates who rack up credit card debt, monasteries that get re-possessed, chancellors who steal money, parishes & missions that go into debt because they build for 500 when they have 4 families), political infighting (the OCA and ROCOR basically exist because two wealthy Russian families had a fight in the midwest in the 1920s, currently the Greeks and the Russians are out of communion with each other, and don’t ask how many Bishops engage in simony), and sex scandals (from Bishops molesting women and diddling seminarians to having relationships with clergy, monastics raping each other). There are liturgical messes (between the modernizations of the GOA and the AOCANA, altar girls, and other shenanigans) and high-placed liberals (with all the same sexual and moral collapse that we have come to expect in the west, and politicians who flaunt their faith for votes even as they totally ignore the teachings of the same, and clergy who get all swept up in the awe of knowing senators or mayors). The a la carte nature of the Church is just the same as well: Orthodoxy in America, like the Roman Church, is filled with “conservatives” who get hung up on moral conformity, as long as they can keep their wallets and political choices out of the arena. Vote against gay marriage and abortion, but vote to keep the minimum wage down and taxes low, and whatever you do keep the aliens outside the borders. Libertarian Orthodox are as annoying as Libertarian Catholics. The Racist Orthodox are as evil as Racist Catholics. The hideaway from evangelism Catholics are just as tiresome as the hideaway from evangelism Orthodox.

In short, the main difference between the two bodies was one of size: the media doesn’t care what the Orthodox churches do because they are tiny (at least in America). Not enough readers would care if there was a sex party at an Orthodox seminary. (Orthodox? What are they, Jewish?) For every one Orthodox parish I could reach I could find 20 or so Catholic Churches within spitting distance. I have to walk by three to get to St Dominic’s on Sunday.

There’s a huge mess right here, and an equally huge mess much further away, why waste all that gas?

Rome had the one advantage of insisting that both Orthodoxy and Catholicism are equally the Church, whilst Orthodoxy says she alone is that thing – although the way the Russians treat Catholic Clergy (and Laity) coming into Orthodoxy says rather a bit more.

Both lungs of the Church for all that they are filled with signs of age and too much smoking are also filled with life, pure air, and the circulating Blood of Christ. If I were in Russia, I’d still be Orthodox. Alexy II has expensive watches, political alliances with Putin, imperialist eyeballs on the Ukraine, and no shortage of Russian Neo-Nazis beating folks up with crosses made of 2x4s. But Orthodoxy is the Church there. There are sinners everywhere. I don’t want a pure church: I want the true one.

I’m here, in the West, where the Patriarch of Rome is in charge and all the same problems. I’ll stick with him. Sure, he insists that John 15:26 needs to be linked up with John 16:7. I’m ok with that.

Neither fish nor fowl.

The Heavenly Banquet?


The Readings for 6th Sunday of Easter (C1)

The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.

If you paid any attention to the passage from Revelation – which probably went uncommented at your Mass so, you had to listen to the readings – there was one sentence that I’ve never noticed before: “The sea was no more.”  It’s been there all along, really, but that sentence lept out at me with all its implications: there are no fish, dolphins, etc. in heaven. Now, I have known a long where there are no animals in heaven, but there are those who make a living on the sentimental image of being reunited with all our pets in the afterlife. If heaven is just more of the same, who cares?

But there are no whales in heaven.

Today’s passage says there is no sun – which we all knew. But that means there’s no wind. So… no birds either.

Look: it’s a tough message for a Sunday, but animals don’t have rational souls like humans do. They merit neither eternal life nor eternal damnation. I’m not here to argue it: I’m here to point out our emotional investment in a sentimental image of the afterlife. The shenanigans with “When we die we become angels” and “harps” and dogs running through the clouds to meet us… is because we’re terrified of what “heaven” really is. It’s nothing but God in and through all things in union with us and in union with each other. I don’t have other words for it because I’m no mystic, but heaven is unadulterated communion.

I think that terrifies us more than just a little.

In the abstract, God knowing everything about me is conceivable. It’s more than a little discomfiting (because I know what happens when the lights go out) but it’s conceivable. We say God is omniscient, after all. But you, dear reader, will also know everything about me. And I will know everything about you. Multiply that by billions.

I think heaven makes us a wee bit squeamish, to be honest.

Today’s Gospel doesn’t help: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. If you’ve “received the Lord Jesus into your heart” then you’ve got the Father and the Holy Spirit in there as well. Jesus says if you love me you will keep… Ok the NABRE has it as “word” and others as “commandments” but in Greek, it’s “Logos”.  If you agape me (says Jesus) you will guard my logos.  That is, you will hold his very self. His self becomes yourself – as it does in communion. this, more and more, day by day, will make us ready.  God, the Holy Trinity, will come to make a dwelling in us. Communion: infinite, unshielded communion.

Sometimes after Mass, I need to run out and commit a mortal sin just to shut that open door in my heart. What would it be like in eternity with that?

So we picture animals in heaven, and a chance to go fishing. We imagine climbing mountains without danger and no longer needing to sit down and take a breather. This is much more comforting but, already asked: if heaven is just more of the same, why bother? Billy Graham once said that perfect happiness (in heaven) would require his beloved dog to be there… and I think Billy might have been worshipping a different God than the one I hope to find in heaven (and in Church, and in my heart).

We’re not yet ready for all that love, not yet ready for eternity.

Filling All Things with Light


The Readings for Solemnity of the Ascension (B2)

Propter quod dicit : Ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem : dedit dona hominibus. Quod autem ascendit, quid est, nisi quia et descendit primum in inferiores partes terrae? Qui descendit, ipse est et qui ascendit super omnes caelos, ut impleret omnia.
Wherefore he saith: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men. Now that he ascended, what is it, but because he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

This is how the Byzantine rite praises Christ at Easter: 

In the tomb with the body 
and in Hades with the soul, 
in Paradise with the thief and 
on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, 
were You, O boundless Christ 

filling all things.

Today’s feast raises Christ again, from Earth to Heaven – and now with us as well. From this morning’s Matins in the EF, a Sermon from Pope St Leo the Great:

After the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein the Divine Power raised up in three days the true Temple of God which, in their impiety the Leaders of the peoples of Israel and Rome had destroyed (namely the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ), God was pleased to ordain, by His Most Sacred Will, and in His Providence for our instruction and the profit of our souls, a season of forty days which season, dearly beloved brethren, doth end on this day. During that season the bodily Presence of the Lord still lingered on earth, that the reality of the fact of His having risen again from the dead might be armed with all needful proofs. The death of Christ had troubled the hearts of many of His disciples their thoughts were sad when they remembered His agony upon the Cross, His giving up of the Ghost, and the laying in the grave of His lifeless Body, and a sort of hesitation had begun to weigh on them.

Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been fearful at the finishing on the Cross, and doubtful of the trustworthiness of the rising again, were so strengthened by the clear demonstration of the fact, that, when they saw the Lord going up into the height of heaven, they sorrowed not, nay they were even filled with great joy And, in all verity, it was a great an unspeakable cause for joy to see the Manhood, in the presence of that the multitude of believers, exalted above all creatures even heavenly, rising above the ranks of the angelic armies and speeding Its glorious way where the most noble of the Archangels lie far behind, to rest no lower than that place where high above all principality and power, It taketh Its seat at the right hand of the Eternal Father, Sharer of His throne, and Partaker of His glory, and still of the very man’s nature which the Son hath taken upon Him.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us also rejoice with worthy joy, for the Ascension of Christ is exaltation for us, and whither the glory of the Head of the Church is passed in, thither is the hope of the body of the Church called on to follow. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy, and give God glad thanks. This day is not only the possession of Paradise made sure unto us, but in the Person of our Head we are actually begun to enter into the heavenly mansions above. Through the unspeakable goodness of Christ we have gained more than ever we lost by the envy of the devil. We, whom our venomous enemy thrust from our first happy home, we, being made of one body with the Son of God, have by Him been given a place at the right hand of the Father with Whom He liveth and reigneth, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

– Emphasis added. This is how important Our Lord’s Ascension is: it is the Crown of our Salvation. For now, not only are we saved from our sins and ransomed from death, but are we also welcomed to Heaven, raised higher than even the angels and united to the Godhead in the person of the Christ; who is of one substance with the Father and with us. 

Paul on the Hill of Athens

Today’s Readings:

{The Spirit} will guide you to all truth. John 16:13
What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. Acts 16:23

I love that these two readings are a set, coming as we ramp up to Pentecost. The entire mystery of Passover is about to be revealed to the entire world: What was for the Jews the “Liberation from Egypt” was only a sign, a type of liberation for all the world. What happened in Holy Week broke that open like a sealed scroll and handed it on to all the world, no longer revealed only to initiates, but common to all. What was, at Pentecost, the giving of the Law to those same initiates, prepared now to evangelize the world, becomes the Keys of Heaven for whole world. God’s farmers, God’s shepherds, God’s workmen sent out into the Vineyard to gather all in. And what do they find – Peter, Paul, John, and the other Apostles – when they get out into the world?
They find that God has been sowing seeds in all cultures, in all places: not only Israel, but all places are prepared for the Gospel! Athens, Rome, India, all are ready to be freed in the Liberation from Demons by the world’s Passover; brought out of Egypt, with the law inscribed on their hearts, to the Glory of a land flowing with milk and honey.
Pope St Gregory the Great realized this, as did so many others: the Jesuits in China, the Franciscans in the Americas, the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac… we stand not in a world empty of God, but in a world made by God, through His Logos. Jesus is the very warp and weft of the universe. We will never go anywhere he has not been first.
Not even grief, or joy:
Imagine the man you call “Daddy” died and you get to see him, finally, in heaven… and Jesus has done that.  Our Lord has done even that: lost a parent, and been reunited with him. And I can’t but imagine  how much more heaven must have been filled with Joy at that meeting. When Jesus says, “Daddy.”
Anything that is, is for us now: for our salvation, for our uncovering, for the Passover of God has redeemed it all.
Still we push it back into darkness sometimes.
And in fear we hide from it, we slay children in the womb and on the street, we bomb music venues, we bomb villages. Islam has done nowhere half as much damage to the world as Wal*Mart, and for every girl kidnapped and freed by Boko Haram, there are 11,575 children enslaved in China making our t-shirts and electronics.
We struggle to hide in a darkness of our own making from the very light God uses to make everything.
And yet God cries out: what you worship unknowingly, I proclaim to you. Hear me and I will guide you into all Truth: the only truth that is or can ever be. Jesus.


Today’s Readings:

He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
Acts 16:33b-34
The Jailer (like Lydia yesterday) swings into service without asking questions. In fact, he does so before he’s baptized. His whole family converts and then they all celebrate.

A friend asked me what I was doing each morning at Church (Mass, a Rosary, Morning Office) and seemed a little taken aback at my practice but I had no justification for it. Another friend, doing the same things, asked for his own information “what am I doing this for?” and I said, “It’s only two hours. It’s a tithe. Not even.” And suddenly it all made sense.  To the God who asks for your all, you can, at least, give 10%? The Sabbath day, alone, in the old law would be 15%. If you’re worried about burn out, maybe you’re thinking about it wrong: burning out is not as bad as burning up.

But seriously think about how many thing you would devote 2 hours a day to: classes, work, watching TV, clicking on the internets, pr0n, Baseball, a good day at the mall would be 6-8 hours in my youth. I’ll sit in the park for 3 or 4 hours doing nothing. Hobbies get a whole lot of time.

Why not God? Why are we worried about “burnout” in the one place that should be giving us more joy over and over?


Today’s readings:

After Lydia and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home.” 
Acts 16:15a

What’s the first thing the new believer wants to do?


The natural sense of the clergy is to wait a bit… the text says she had to work at getting them to come stay with her. They know the problem of burn-out, but she also knows the best way to learn it all is to have the clergy come over and stay with her. Sure, it’s a couple of extra mouths to feed, a bit more cleaning, and, finally, it’s that sense of “always ‘on'” when there’s someone in the house. My Grandfather had a saying that guests, like fish, start to smell after 3 or 4 days. But for St Lydia and St Paul – for anyone in their day – hospitality was a commitment. As long as the guest was there, the host was there as well. St Paul may have had people over for prayer and counselling. He may have used Lydia’s house as the Temple for the community growing there. Still, Lydia put herself forward for service, not knowing what it might have entailed.

Alternatively (at least for us) the New Believer can go on the Internet and find out how to do it all right. I did that when I became Orthodox. There are so many ways to be right! And most of them hate the other ways (or at least think the other ways are not good enough). Also, none of them have anything to do with the reality of even the writer. I was shocked to learn from my priest that the author of one of the most Archly Trad Orthodox websites was a member of what his own website would have called a “Modernist” New-Calendar parish in a “Modernist” jurisdiction that even lets women preach!

What St Lydia knows is that it is in the the Face-to-Face, in the Relationship that one finds the Christian Life. Sure, there are facts to learn. I had to learn how to say a thing or two, several months of classes, and had to put a phrase (well, two really) back into the Creed. I don’t know why, but the Byzantine Creed doesn’t say “God from God, Light from light, very God from very God.”  The Byz Rite says only, “Light of Light, true God of true God.”  But all those facts and all those words are meaningless without my Monday Morning 6AM faith sharing group: five of my Brothers in Christ, and myself, praying our way through parts of the Scriptures. That group has become one of three hinges on which my faith swings.(the other two being daily mass and the daily office) and it is the one with the most face-to-face time. And the most dialogue. It’s the one where my faith is shaping up into something.

Our time online also holds no one accountable for the stupidity we accumulate: least of of all, ourselves. We end up collecting things we like and judging others for not liking the same things. Being in relationship with others is messy, but we are constantly held accountable, held in check.

What Lydia gets in exchange for heroic service (and I’m sure that Paul stopped at her place whenever, as, most likely, did any other passing brethren) is an on-going dialogue with her spiritual elder(s), a continuing education project that is worth far more than any list of facts, or book of texts, or – for us – any Google. This, alone, prevents her burnout: that she can turn to the Apostle who brought her into the faith to continue her growth in Christ. It’s ironic that our Google-God-Facts time takes away from the thing we really need to grow. But the Evil One will work that way, cutting us off from the very people we need.

Remember: no one is saved alone.

Sanctify in Y’all’s Hearts.

Today’s Readings:

Dominum autem Christum sanctificate in cordibus vestris, parati semper ad satisfactionem omni poscenti vos rationem de ea, quæ in vobis est, spe. Sed cum modestia, et timore, conscientiam habentes bonam.
Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience.
1 Peter 3:15-16a

Whenever this verse was quoted to me, it was always part “B”: “being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you” but you can’t be ready always without part “A”, that “Sanctify the Lord Christ” portion.  I’m not sure why the KJV says “Sanctify the Lord God” when the Greek says “Sanctify the Lord Christ” but a number of more recent translations seem to hearken back to the nearly-arian reading of the KJV. No: Peter tells us to sanctify Christ.  That’s important. Now, forgive me a little of what, in my deep Protestant past, used to be called a “Word Study”.

That word “Sanctify” at the beginning of verse 15 has an interesting context for Judaism.  It references a practice in Hebrew Liturgy, “to Sanctify the Name” and it goes back to a prayer in Aramaic (still in the Synagogue liturgy) called the “Kaddish”.  That this word in the Greek NT is that same Kaddish (at least in the mind of a Jewish writer – St Peter – to other Jews) is easy to trace through the OT, using the LXX. In Greek the word is ἁγιάζω and we find it all over the LXX, including in the book of Sirach 36:3 (LXX) or 36:4 (in the Vulgate and translations that follow it) we find it in a text called “The Canticle of Sirach”.  ἁγιάζω is rendered into the same Latin word sanctificate/sanctificatus

Sicut enim in conspectu eorum sanctificatus es in nobis, sic in conspectu nostro magnificaberis in eis:
For as thou hast been sanctified in us in their sight, so thou shalt be magnified among them in our presence…

The “Sanctification of the Name” in our Hearts, the Aramaic prayer begins:

יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא
Yitgaddal veyitqaddash shmeh rabba
May his great name be exalted and sanctified.

So: how do we Sanctify the Lord Christ in our Hearts? And how does this get us to having a good answer for those who ask us about our faith? It’s right there in the Gospel:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.

We sanctify Jesus in our hearts by the keeping of his commandments.  Which are only love. My failures in this area arise always when I forget that I am not the first person to Love God.  The function of the Church is to draw the boundaries of love as surely as our vows draw the boundaries of marriage. I imagine that I can love Christ in the abstract – that his body is not the Church, that his voice is private and not corporate, that I am the first person he’s ever spoken to and so I can feel my way through to new things, new ideas, discarding ones that don’t feel good, “to me”.

That’s not sanctifying Jesus in my heart.

The secret to the Gospel and nearly all of the Epistles is to read them in – as written in the Greek – in the Second Person plural.  I cannot – I must not – read the Gospel this way:

If Huw loves me, Huw will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give Huw another Advocate to be with Huw always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But Huw knows him, because he remains with Huw,
and will be in Huw.

(My name rhymes really well there – but put you’re name in instead!)

The real text is this:

If y’all love me, all y’all will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give y’all another Advocate to be with y’all always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But y’all know him, because he remains with y’all,
and will be in all y’all.

It’s not me. It’s us.  It’s not “my feelings”, it’s The Church – Christ himself.  In playing within the bounds described by the Church for 2,000 years we sanctify Christ in our hearts.

Modern Culture wants us to practice a sort of Cafeteria Consumption of everything. We get to pick and choose. The problem, of course, is that picking a bit from here and a bit from there, some of my feelings, some random bits of CHinese mysticism, some Marxist political theory, and some new junk invented in a “Consciousness Raising” coffee klach, c. 1967, only gives us an incoherent pile of junk. The Church’s teaching, God’s revelation, is a seamless garment, a unified whole. We cannot give an answer for the “hope that’s in us” (if we have any) if we insist on using a Toss Salad to embody our “logic”.

We sanctify Christ in our hearts when we limit our diet, and exercise custody of our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds. And, when we have grown strong on that diet, we can begin to see the other patterns in the world, not as true in themselves, but because they reflect Christ – the only Truth there is. We can give an answer for the hope that is in us using the language of the culture around us, only then: when Christ becomes the filter through which we view everything. When the Spirit opens our eyes, we see Christ the Logos – the logic God has woven into everything. Then we can show him to others.