The Hunger Games

Westin St Francis Hotel in SF, 1904

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Tuesday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras

Nemo cum tentatur, dicat quoniam a Deo tentatur : Deus enim intentator malorum est : ipse autem neminem tentat.
Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man. 

The Apostle, St James, points out here the oldest bugaboo: Original Sin or, as the Byzantines call it, Ancestral Sin. It’s a weakness – not a “mark” on the soul, but more like that shopping cart that has one wheel that’s wonky and always pulls to the right as you make the first left  at the end of the bakery aisle in Ingles. The cart just will not drive the way you want it. God does not tempt us, nor did God make the wheel go wobbly wobbly to the right at the end of the aisle.  

For the Mediaeval philosophers, it was the eyes that led the soul astray: the eyes are the windows of the soul! Temptation comes in (like rocks thrown in from outside) when we see something we might want – be that a physical thing, or a thing to do, or a person, the idea is first cast in through the eyes.  Our temptations are not of God, nor are they a call from God to indulge. Maybe you really do want more stuff in the bakery aisle. Unusquisque vero tentatur a concupiscentia sua abstractus, et illectus. Every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured.  You are tempted to get the Red Velvet Cake…

This is the patience we began talking about yesterday. Beatus vir qui suffert tentationem. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation. Temptation is not pretty. It’s boring usually. It’s the same thing, over and over, working against the will: one thought pestering you until you swear you will go mad if it doesn’t stop or you don’t give in.

In CS Lewis’ Perelandra there is this most frightening of scenes which I’ve referenced before. In this scene, Dr Ransom, the protagonist, is tempted by Dr Weston, the antagonist (who is possessed by the devil). In the absolute darkness of a night with no artificial light and no stars, the Devil calls out Dr Ransom’s name.

Ransom.
What?
Silence.

Ransom.
What?
Silence.


Ransom.
(Obstinate refusal to reply)
Ransom.

Ransom.
Ransom.

What?
Silence.


This repeats all night long. When Dr Ransom gets used to ignoring the voice, the voice changes: and becomes a woman’s voice in horror, or a child’s voice, or a growl to frighten him.

Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.

I swear to you this is the scariest scene I have ever read in a book! Scary, because it is so real. It takes patience and perseverance to get through that. And giving in to your desires is not the answer. This is the patience we were talking about yesterday. To sit there, asking for help, while something inside is calling out your name, over and over. And over. Again. That power to call out your name does not mean it is you.

In fact, the concept of Original Sin means we don’t have the ability to self-diagnose in these areas. Quite the contrary: we are most susceptible to this Weston Effect in those places where we feel most secure, where we are mostly blind to the possibility of error. (This is true of things that might be called “evil” as well as things that might be called “good”! Is that call to marriage really what God wants for you? What about that call to ordination? This is why we have father confessors, spiritual directors, and processes of discernment in the Church: to weed out Weston.)

So what are you giving up for Lent? A reminder, by the way: in the West the traditional fast is still to say “Carnivale” today. To give up meat from now to Easter. It’s ok if you want to substitute another sort of penance: but meatlessness seems to scare a lot of folks.

In both the East and the West it is traditional to Fast – meaning to give up some part of your food. Until about 60 years ago, the fasting rules were rather more extreme than just “no meat on Friday”. 

From the Key of Heaven, a Roman Catholic book of prayers and piety. Published in 1901


Read that! No meat all Lent (except Sundays) and one meal a day plus one side salad. My understanding is that by the mid 20th century the only change was “two side salads”. At the Monastery we kept the 1 side salad rule.

In the East, Lent is, essentially, Vegan. No fish is allowed, nor dairy, nor eggs (this even on Sundays). There is no alcohol allowed either, although some folks bend the rule for beer. 

The purpose of any of these fasts was not because food was bad, but because we tend to over indulge all the time. This is increasingly true: we eat most meals as if we were feasting (when compared to the rest of the world). The function of saying no to things we want is to train the will to say no to other things we might want as well. Avoiding hamburgers and milkshakes for 40 days does not save one or make one pious. It makes one stronger willed. And with that will, then, to avoid the Weston Affectus, the simple responding to each call of one’s name by the desires within. Giving up something for Lent is not intended to make one holy. But it is intended to give one a tool for becoming holy. 

So what are you giving up tomorrow? If it’s something easy, maybe it’s time to think about something else. As long as you realize your not doing itYou’re the shopping cart and, even with a wobbly wheel, God will get you to the Feast of Pascha. God will give you the strength to compete in this game as long as you rely on him. 

Ransom.

(Obstinate refusal to reply)

Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom….




























































Ransom.

I’ve got the joy joy joy joy….

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Monday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Omne gaudium existimate fratres mei, cum in tentationes varias incideritis : scientes quod probatio fidei vestrae patientiam operatur. Patientia autem opus perfectum habet : ut sitis perfecti et integri in nullo deficientes.
My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing. 

In short, the Apostle is saying here, “Remember how Jesus just submitted to all the bad stuff done to him? That’s your job too. Bear it up in patience and that patience works on you and it will make you perfect.”

There is this traditional morning prayer in the Liturgical West. It’s found in the 1962 Missal, in the St Ambrose Prayerbook, in the Key of Heaven (my copy comes from the 1920s) and I can find online versions of it back into the early 1800s. It says, 

Adorable Jesus! Divine Pattern of that perfection to which we should all aspire, I will endeavor this day to follow Thine example: to be mild, humble, chaste, zealous, patient, charitable and resigned. Incline my heart to keep Thy commandments. I am resolved to watch over myself with the greatest diligence, and to live soberly, justly and piously, for the time to come. I will take care of my words, that I may not offend with my tongue. I will turn away my eyes, that they may not see vanity; and I will be particularly attentive not to relapse this day into my accustomed failings, but to struggle against them with Thy gracious assistance. Enlighten my mind, purify my heart, and guide my steps, that I may pass all my life in Thy divine service. Amen. 

It pairs well with the morning use of the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus which refers to Jesus a “meek and humble of heart” and also “most obedient” and “most patient”.  Obedience to God’s will means realizing that nothing can happen to you without God’s allowing it and he must be allowing it for your salvation, so your job is to wait, patiently, until the tides change.

And all of it is joy.

Patience has never been a strong suit for me. By patience I don’t mean waiting for the Senex and Anucella in front of me at the store or the smiling while the family of four folds their clothes, one piece at a time coming from the dryer. Totally some good things to practice on, but not the sort of patience we are talking about here. A good and saintly (and humorous) example of patience comes from St Laurence who, whilst being roasted on a gridiron, rather famously said, “I’m done on this side. Turn me over.” Or all the Martyrs of England who so elegantly prayed for their Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth I, even as she sent them to the hurdles and gallows.

Count it all joy when crap happens to you.

In the Gospel today Jesus says this generation demands a sign but no sign shall be given to it. We want what we want when we want it. When we don’t get it we huff away sad. Jesus said, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” And then he was brutally tortured and killed. And silent the whole way down his path. It’s a sign: but it’s not the sign we want to see, so we can’t see it.  But it is our salvation.

In our world today we are more likely to seethe with rage, or rant online, to complain, to whine, to binge drink, or to go postal. Passive aggression is not patience. Finding out an employee has plotted for a long time to quit “suddenly” just before the Holiday Insane Season is not the sort of thing that makes one give good references. 

Work can be that way, but we’ll do it for anything: avoiding conflict in the face to face, but convinced we’re being oppressed in the worst way. We function in what you could call the bite or bide reflexes, sit here and bide my time until it’s time to bite. 


This is not patience. It is, however, madness. How do we get the spirit of Patience that St James is talking about? How do we find the time to bear as in joy all the things that come to us?

There’s this other prayer, written by Pope St Pius X, that is filled with ideas about work but is equally applicable to the line at the grocery store, the laundromat, the freeway. Anything in our life that seems to be sucking the life blood out… if we treat it as a joy… will be for our salvation.

O Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my watch-word in life and in death. Amen.

That’s the key to joy: to move forward (in whatever process we’re talking about here) mindful of the call of duty above my natural inclinations.  No one wants to be roasted on a gridiron. But it can be joyful.

Soft hands are important…

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

…et tangens eum…
…and touching him…

Lepers in ancient Israel were untouchable. We are told in Leviticus that they had to not only avoid other people, but also they had to scare other people away. It’s a sad story. But it is not the last time that this story could be told. By the time of Jesus lepers were still untouchable. The leper in today’s Gospel comes to find Jesus, and asks only to be made clean. But Jesus touches him and this is a revolution as well as a revelation.

In May of 1983 my friend, Fr Mills, an Episcopal Priest, was diagnosed with AIDS and, in those days, that was a death sentence. We didn’t know anything about the disease itself, and we didn’t know anything about where it came from, how you got it, or how to help. All we knew, or thought we knew, was that most men who had it died quickly. 

During his first stay in the hospital, back in the days when they sealed off these rooms with plastic, and nurses would not go in them, visitors had to wear gloves and masks and suit up in plastic things. My friend, a hospital chaplain and seminary professor, took me to see Fr Mills. We suited up outside in the hallway, and parted the plastic sheets, and walked inside. Then my friend did something revolutionary and revelatory, she took off her plastic gloves and her hat and her mask and told me to do the same thing. I, unquestioning, did so. Then we kissed Father Mills on the cheeks.

Later, as the Bishop of New York was on television saying we cannot ostracize people with AIDS he was also – almost at the same moment – removing Fr Mills from his parish. So great was the panic. If we only knew then what we knew even a few years later, that Mills  had the HIV virus for some time long before his first illness. He had been just has “dangerous” to us his entire time with us.

But panic is real. And I asked Fr Mills once for a sip of his coffee and he reminded me that was forbidden. Never again to say Mass with others. Never again to hug and bless… June of 84, he was dead.

Today though, in another matter,  we have pills, although I never hear about getting the homeless druggies on PrEP: just giving them free needless. The homeless don’t look like you want them to. They are scary and smelly. In our oddly anti-humanist social justice world, it’s not abnormal to hear even political activists wish the homeless were less visible. It’s, sadly, always been this way: even in the 80s, we didn’t want to know that the Homeless had AIDS and other issues. We didn’t want to know what high percentages of them were kicked out of their homes for reaching different conclusions about sexual morality than their parents.

We wanted nice, liberal San Francisco to be clean.

One night in 1987, running down Second Ave, late for a lecture by Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme, a man asked me for money, which I hadn’t. He began to jog beside me! He asked me if I could buy him some food. This was in the days before ATMs were everywhere, so I still couldn’t. Then he offered to buy me a beer if I would only stop and chat with him. I couldn’t do that because I was late for this lecture. He engaged me on the political angle of the lecture and we came quickly to an agreement. He hugged me (he smelled so very clean) and using a name I was only called by kids in my cabin at summer camp in Connecticut, he said, “Way to go, Mongo”. And as I walked away and realized what he said, I turned around to look again, and he was gone…

Who are these homeless folks asking for money? I gave an old woman on a stoop all my change one night (she reminded me so much of my late grandmother, sitting there) and it might have been $8 or $9 of quarters and such… and as I walked away she called after me, “Never forget that tonight you touched the Virgin Mary.”  (150 years ago today Mary appeared in a garbage dump in France and overturned the New Secular Order that was ruining that country.)

And I met the Archangel Michael once as well. The world is filled with mysteries of revolution and revelation.

Giving money, or anything else, to a friend or family memeber we always make it a point to touch. Hug. But not when giving alms. Yes, some people can be smelly. Some people can be unwashed.  But that, right there, is Jesus. He’s deranged. (He can give you scabies, as my friend Kelley shared on Good Friday last year.) He’s in need, he’s lost, and he really wants human contact. He is the Body of Christ placed in your hand as you give away your worldly goods, entrusting them all into the hands of the poor. In their safekeeping those goods will become your stairway to heaven. 

In short, redistributing your own wealth is a revolution against the kingdoms of this world and a revelation of the Kingdom of God.

Oddly, although we learned about people with AIDS and how to deal with HIV and all the medical choices we could find, we still have not learned, in several millennia, how to deal with the poor. Jesus shows us, over and over, that it is touch, the restoration of communion, the return of that person to the community, that is important.

Paul says we are to do everything we do as unto the Lord. In the case of the poor we are literally doing it to Jesus. No: I don’t want to give you money, you’ll probably just do drugs with it, Jesus.  Just add his name to your judgements and see how it goes… Jesus doesn’t need my help. Jesus chose to live like that. The Government will give Jesus housing, why should I care?  

Or… in the case of one flyer recently posted up around a local Trump Tent Town, “We will pound you, burn you, beat you, Jesus…if you are within a 100 yards of this park starting after sundown tonight, we are coming for you, Jesus.

Yes, this takes an act of God, because we are all lepers of one sort or another. We are all in need. Some of us are more acceptable because we have ideas about bathing more in sync with our neighbors, but that is NOT what this is about. Every homeless family ignored on the street, even if they are only goldbrickers, will pass into heaven long before I do. They’ve had purgatory enough. Asking them to pray for me when I give them the money is probably a good idea.

They are not there to be judged any more than the people with AIDS: say nothing about where or how one gets sick. The servant of Christ is obligated to serve the sick, the weak, the lost. And not to judge. Take off your hat, your mask, your gloves, your creepy plastic suit, and kiss Fr Mills Jesus on the cheek.

That’s Jesus in action.