A Trick of the Tongue

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 7th Week of Easter:

Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees.

St Paul is a seed of dissension in the Sanhedrin rather than a source of unity. Jesus said of himself, “I came to bring a sword rather than peace… to kindle a fire on the Earth.” It sounds as if St Paul is taking this role upon himself in this trial. See: when you preach the gospel, when you spread the kingdom, the entire purpose of your life is to do your mission. Other things must become tools for that purpose, means to that end. Paul speaks here not only the truth, but the truth in such exactly a way that it causes tension. Yes, he’s on trial for the resurrection of the dead, but he’s here about the Resurrection of Jesus, not the general resurrection. What we have here is pronoun trouble. This is one of my favorite scenes in all of the New Testament! 

With that trick of the tongue, that double entendre, a violent, sectarian argument breaks out and Paul is suddenly whisked away to safety, leaving the elders to argue amongst themselves in an argument that continues until this very day. It’s funny: This playing of the Pharisees against the Saduccees is how the Gospel is spread. In the safety of his cell, Paul is given the mission for the rest of his life:

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

In Rome as well, standing before Nero, Paul’s entire modus operandi is not to score courtly or rhetorical points with Caesar, but rather to spread the Gospel. By the time Paul dies there are Christians in Nero’s own house. The seeds were planted for the final victory – but that looks nothing like what the world thinks of as “victory”.

St Paul played one half of the system against the other half. Why? To spread the Gospel. This was acceptable. St Paul then turns the Roman system on its head to spread the Gospel further. St Paul claims his Roman citizenship to keep himself from being killed so that he can preach the Gospel. In the end, St Paul takes advantage of his Roman citizenship to bring the Gospel to Rome. Glory to God for all things. 

Jesus told us to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. This is what he means. This world game, this world’s rules, this world’s entire system is set up like a three-card Monte table that only the Church can beat. Everybody else will lose if they try: everybody else will lose their souls. If the Church stands up and takes the system by the reins she can steer the whole thing to heaven. They won’t like it. That’s their problem. They mightn’t like the process too much, but they will love the ending. 

St Paul shows us what should be the Christian’s attitude towards politics – both secular politics and religious politics. When dealing with unbelievers or a secular State the outcome is irrelevant in terms of worldly victory. The entire purpose is to spread the Gospel. We can never lose sight of this end: Preach the Gospel to all gentiles. That’s the only purpose of our life! We can have as much fun with the system as we care to have since the world’s system there for our purposes and not for their vainly imagined purposes. In the Incarnation, God changed the rules of play without changing the field of play. The way to eternal life, to love, to peace, lies exactly in what the world, the flesh, and the devil thought of as the Path to Destruction. Now we die to live and we sacrifice to have.

The purpose of the secular state is to keep the peace. Why? For the spread of the Gospel. The purpose of the king, the president, the congress, the state house, the mayor, the city council, the Peoples’ Soviet, the Duce is to keep order. Why? For the spread of the Gospel. The entire purpose of the secular law (in God’s plan) is to spread the Gospel. It has nothing to do with rights and nothing to do with freedom. The content of the law is unimportant. It has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with anything that this world thinks of as important. The entire purpose of the secular order is to hold the world in peaceful stasis in order to leave the Church alone to do her work spreading the Kingdom of God.

(We must be careful in the system called “Democracy”: for what we think of as “the Christian vote” often comes at the price of “The Christian Soul”. The world system is not there to do our work for us. We cannot legislate (or elect) the Kingdom. I would honestly rather live under a dictatorship than to go even once more through the sort of electoral choices we’ve had since my childhood. It would probably be better for the Church’s mission, too. That’s my own opinion, but I think the strength of the faith coming out of formerly Soviet Russia, compared to the faith in the “free” West will hold up my point. Even thus, some may call me “unChristian” because I’m being “Unamerican.”)

There is a flipside to this. The men of the world play this game for pointless markers: political victories, secular power, money. The Church plays this game for the salvation of souls and must pay with the lives of her people. We are configured to die like Jesus did. It’s possible the only way to get your neighbors into heaven is to let them see you give your life in love for your spouse and children. It’s possible the only way to raise your children in the faith is to stay at home, cut the family income in half so that they can be properly raised in the faith. We have to give up on all the counters of the world’s success. When we do that, we win. This is the flip side of Tertullian’s recognition that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The world’s system is the plaything of the church: even when it thinks it’s doing us harm, by God’s grace we win. When science-ists lash out at Bishops on YouTube, people have to go listen to the Bishops’ videos. When Senator Kamala Harris said that the Knights of Columbus were a rabid fringe organization she sparked hundreds if not thousands of men – including your host – had to go look into the Knights.

This is how we have to make choices in the world. As long as we direct our lives to the End assigned to us by God, the other things will fall into place. As the Psalmist says “I have never seen the children of the just begging for bread.” Of course, you’ve often seen people begging and one must assume that some of them are Christians, right? However, the Psalmist means that God takes care of us. “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord,” says St. Paul elsewhere. And again, “Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.”  

The whole point of this is that where Jesus is we may also be… and we want, pray, and work to bring as many others with us to that point with us as we can.

Are you a hacker?

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 7th Week of Easter:

What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.

Have you heard about “hypermiling”? These are folks who learn every possible trick to play with their car to get the most gas mileage possible. They go into neutral (or even turn off the car) when they go down a hill. They ride close behind large trucks on the highway so that they can take advantage of the lowered wind resistance. This was a huge thing in the early part of this century, but it requires a standard transmission and, even better, standard brakes and steering.  Every part of your car that is automated, they say, takes away control from you and prevents you from hacking it for better mileage.  For these folks, it is the mileage that is important rather than the travel. Longer trips are better for mileage, and the drive is important, sorta… but it’s the mileage that is the thing. What’s the data from the tank?

We are all aware that we are going to die. Each of us in varying degrees has this awareness. The degree is not one or presence vrs absence; rather some of us are able to say with more or less certainty, “I’m not going to die soon.” Yet all of us know death is out there somewhere. We may be more or less fatalistic about it: I will die when it comes, so until then I shall do everything I can. I have no control over when I shall day. Or there are those who try to take control and live forever. Jack at Twitter seems to be one of these, “lifehacking” everything from how often he sleeps to how little he eats in an obsessive drive, seemingly, to keep living life more. What could be wrong with that? 

All of Silicon Valley Culture seems to be currently obsessed with this, to be honest. As a people, we’re hung up on data (rather than persons or individuals) and we need to see the highest possible return on the data… we seem rather to not care that there are people involved. We want to approach everything with a “scientific” outlook, by which we mean we don’t care about any subjective content, only quantifiable data that can be plotted (up and to the right, please). Jack’s attempt to plot life using data and hacking the code is only the same drive on a different level. 

This is to be expected of a culture built largely by people who live in code. Trust me on this, we try even to hack religion. I’m quite used to us, even as I need to, daily, deprogram myself, to remind myself that my relationships with persons are not data-based. My conversation with you (even via the written word) is with someone created in the image and likeness of our Father, God.

What has either of these to do with St Paul?

St Paul’s awareness of his mortality is living, active, and present. He knows from day to day that he lives only at God’s pleasure. His desire is not to get every possible thing out of this life, but rather only to finish his course and to finish the ministry God has given to him. Those are the same thing: he’s going to die before God is through with him. God’s not going to “kill him” before he’s done with his work. The work and the life are coterminous. The surest sign that God is not through with him is that he is still breathing. If he were to focus on his life, qua life, instead of on the ministry, it would be like Adam and Eve grabbing for knowledge on their own terms instead of waiting for God to bestow it.

This is our primary choice in the world. I was going to add “in the world today” but the reality is that it has been our choice since the garden. Do we do what  God asks or do we grab things on own terms? Do we hack? Do we try to “get the most” out of things instead of holding them and thanking God for them and letting them go? The signs are probably different for each of us, but recent indications that I have been hacking things have included how I edit these posts for fear that someone might read them for “hate speech” and mess up “my life”. First off, it’s not mine. Secondly, if I’m speaking Truth then it’s not hate but I do have fear like that. I have fear, also, of bad medical news, so I don’t go to the doctor when I don’t want to know. Avoiding pain, avoiding fear: these are signs I’m trying to hack life.

Paul knows God wants him in Jerusalem – and Paul knows that his life is going to change drastically when he gets to Jerusalem. He replies only that he’s going to Jerusalem – although he sets things in order, telling the elders what to do when he leaves. He wants only to finish the race before him. Jerusalem is not the end of the race – in fact Paul will take preaching the Gospel to new levels: reaching even to Nero and his household. Nero’s not sane enough to hear truth, but his people are so over the insanity, that they are willing to hear about this new Kyrios who won’t ruin their souls.

Paul brings to close the quest for “more life” by realizing that as long as he does what God wants he will live as long as God needs him to – not one minute more. We cannot hypermile all the way through this life, holding on to control to get the most out it. Jack’s going to die just like the rest of us. So the question is not “How do I live more?” but rather “What would God have me do now?” If God has something new for me to do then it’s up to him to keep me alive. If God wants me to do or act or say – then it’s up to God to bring out of that “thought, word, or deed” whatever it is he needs. It’s only up to me to do the thing, to say the word. To lifehack and to be fearful are both strange forms of practical atheism.  

With St Ignatius we say:

LORD Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish Thou hast given me. I surrender it all to be guided by Thy will. Thy grace and Thy love are wealth enough for me. Give me these Lord Jesus and I ask for nothing more. Amen.

Even when death comes, that is time only to meet God. We are so fearful of that prospect, that this other prayer seems pure insanity:

O Lord my God, I now, from this moment do I accept from Thy hands, with burning love and sincere contrition, with a calm and willing disposition, whatsoever death Thou shalt choose to send me, with its pains and griefs. Amen.

This is why St Paul says to take all things and make Eucharist (Thanksgiving) with them: as long as we’re not grabbing for more, then each thing that comes our way is what God would have for us at that time. We turn it to heaven and ask that we may make of it the best use God would have us make for his plan.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done.


JMJ

The Readings for Saint Charles Lwanga & Companions, Martyrs
Monday in the 7th Week of Easter:

It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.

The feast of these martyrs is well placed in June, for they were martyred for refusing to hold on to their honored places in the court of the king of Uganda, in exchange for accepting his sexual advances. Instead of simply removing them from court sending them away in shame, he was enraged and had them killed: like the seven Maccabee brothers in our reading today, they elected to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors. As he was being burnt at the stake, Lwanga said, “It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me.” It reminds me of St Laurence saying “I’m done on this side, turn me over…”

Would that we had such courage today – we don’t often have it. We are afraid for our jobs, or our place in the community. We worry about being “deplatformed” on social media or about losing our businesses, etc.  I do not deny that these are important things, but what would the martyrs have said in our places? 

My inner voice tells me they would have not cared to be homeless, but they would not have denied the faith to stay housed.  They would not welcome being ostracised from their communities, but they would not have traded the truth for popularity. 

I’m not better at knowing this than anyone I could presume to criticize. I only hope I get more courage before they light fires.

Image and Likeness

JMJ

Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension:

…so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one…I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.
When I was a kid – like age 3 or 4 – I lived with my grandparents. Grandma had a gold hand mirror that hung on the wall in the bathroom. I loved to play with this mirror: I would lay it on the floor (it was about 2 times the size of my head at that point so it seemed “yuge”) and I would position myself so I could not see myself in the mirror. Then I would look through the looking glass at the living room around me. This could go on for quite a long time as I tried to imagine what it was like in there. The other room was a perfect reflection of the one I was in but it somehow seemed more real. Additionally, unlike the room I was in, this room was viewed through a sort of telescope whereby eyes could focus on one thing without having to look at the rest of the room – which was “off screen” at that point. By adjusting the location of my head and the distance to the mirror I could zoom in on one thing on the knickknack shelves, or look at one part of the ceiling. Viewed through the mirror on the floor the mirrors on the walls became doubly magic portals and I strained to see what was in them.

These two rooms, reflecting each the other… one real, one equally real but in another sense…

This is God and Humanity viewing each other. The analogy breaks down because our side of the looking glass, intended to be the perfect reflection, is filled with sin and corruption. Our reflection is imperfect, broken, disordered. And God gazes with sadness on what has happened. Again, both sides of the glass are real. Humanity is a reflection of God – but we are broken.

The incarnation is God entering our world. He becomes one of us, perfecting the reflection in his flesh. He can now gaze at the Father from human eyes and see infinity. We, becoming members of his body, can also see this. And we become the perfect reflection of God ourselves, maybe not now, maybe not in this lifetime, but we are all walking to heaven and Jesus is the way to heaven and the life we live to get there. Jesus is heaven itself. Even after we sin, we are struggling to return… and that is the path to heaven itself.

The goal of this struggle is to bring us to perfect unity in Christ, and through him, with God the Father. The saints are those folks who have done so while here on earth, whose lives have become the life of Christ lived in the world. They are living in heaven even while on earth and are helping the rest of us do so more and more.

Christ’s ascension shatters the looking glass, uniting the reality and the reflection. Christ is one with us making us one with God. The reflection is restored to a superfluity of perfection by becoming fully realized.

This is the ongoing ascension of us.