Love Hurts

The Readings for the 7th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (A2)

Your heavenly Father… makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.


I wanted to talk today about the Curious change when Jesus quotes from Leviticus. For in Leviticus it says be holy as God is Holy. But Jesus says be perfect as God is perfect. In the Septuagint, the Greek in Leviticus uses the word agios which means holy, but in Matthew Jesus uses the word telos which doesn’t mean perfect (as in our English) so much as it means ordered to the right ends. As a budding Thomist-in-training, I would be terribly interested in that “ordered to the right ends”.

However, when I woke up this morning, the radio (as is often the case with analog tuning) had drifted from my Catholic radio station to a pop-music station. So instead of opening my eyes to the Sunday Angelus from Rome, I was greeted with the following lyric: “I had to hate you to love me.” it was a jarring way to wake up, let me tell you. And it’s highlighted to me the need to talk about love.

Evidently the artist had just broken up with her lover – in not a particularly abusive relationship – and had discovered that she had been pouring out herself and getting nothing in return. So she left him and moved on. This song is a part of her “healing”.

What’s missing, of course, from the pop-song is it they were not married and therefore it was an abusive situation. When there’s no commitment when there’s no arrangement when there’s no permanence to fall back on little foibles become the death of the people involved. Just having sex does not make a “relationship”. It is actually the promise, the commitment to stay together no matter what that makes the relationship. A relationship where there is sex is a contract. Sex outside of this context easily becomes abusive simply by virtue – if you’ll pardon the word – of the way sex wraps us up in each other, tears down our boundaries, and makes us vulnerable to each other and open to new life. Once sex begins if someone pulls back and says “this is just for me” it becomes abusive sex.

Love (agape), however, is not sex.

Now, Jesus says we are to love our enemies. Jesus used the Greek word agape which means not love your enemies like they’re your best friends but exactly pour yourself out to them in love regardless of what you get back from them. In fact especially if all you get back from your enemies is abuse you are to continue to pour yourself out to them in love.

When agape takes over, the other content steps aside. Eros (sexual attraction/action) is a form of love, of course, but as anyone who has ever engaged in sex – even in a marriage – can tell you, this waxes and wanes. Philia (friendship), another form of love, may be present in some relationships but it is not required. Likewise, storge (familial/marital love) is part of some relationships – but not all. Jesus wants us to make agape part of every relationship, even the negative ones.

I find myself second-guessing relationships all the time. I’ve never been able to read what we might call sexual signaling. Is this person coming on to me? Do I want them to? Is there an expectation of “something else”? So many times the answer was yes and I missed the point of hours of conversation. One woman informed me after 10 years after we shared a cup of coffee that we had been on a date (in her eyes) with the simple line, “You never called me.” But Jesus calls us to love.

To overcome all of these ways our relationships fail to be perfect (to be properly ordered… ah the Thomist gets back to his topic!) – Love is the answer. Not our “love for each other” or even “God’s love for all of us” for both of these are vague theological abstractions that must be made really present. To make them present we need active love in the first person for the other. Your active love for the other. Love, in the first person, directed to second and third persons everywhere. Agape, the Christian idea of love that is understood to be most like God’s love for us, is not, of course, one-directional, but it never requires two directions. Agape is to always be present, even when it is only one way – from the “I” to the “you”. Offering all our intended actions on the altar of agape weeds out selfishness, ego, manipulation, and passive aggression.

The noun, agape, comes from the same Greek root as the verb, agapao. The latter means to entertain or to show hospitality. That will give you an idea of what agape should be as a noun. To be a lover, an agape-er, is to show hospitality, to actively agapao, to be deeply concerned with the wellbeing, the safety, the honor of the guest. That person, that icon of God in front of you, is the guest. In the first person, we are always the host, it is the second person that is the guest: always. You are the guest, never me.

It’s interesting to weave hospitality into this discussion because some Bible scholars see the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a violation of hospitality. They often do this to get away (or avoid) the discussion of any sort of sex action in that story. Yet it is a valid reading: for the intended rape of the angels by the men of the city was exactly intended as a display of power, of destroying the rights of Lot’s guests to hospitality – a life or death matter in that culture and environment. This ethical, hospitality reading is also part of the traditional Jewish understanding of this text. There – as in the traditional Christian reading – the ethical point of hospitality must be woven in with the moral point about sex.

This hospitality, this agapao, is a function of the virtue of chastity. When all of our relationships are given their proper telos by including God’s love then we can entertain strangers often and, at times, entertain angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2), just like Lot in Sodom. The Epistle to the Hebrews uses other words for “entertain” there, but the point is well made: as we welcome and venerate the icon of God in those around us we enter into what the Byzantines call “the angelic life”. We move through the world in Love, not hindered by sex, certainly, but also not hindered by our demands on the other, our pride of place, our “rights”. Instead, in love we give way before the other, and offer veneration to God.

This is what it means to be holy as God is holy. This is what it means to be telos as God is telos: to love as God loves. To love both the just and the unjust, to pour gifts on the loving and the unloving, to be equally present and self-sacrificing to all, even if they want to kill you.

Certainly to engage in sexual sin is to have a broken relationship but all sins are intertwined. The loss of the virtue of chastity can be predicated on simple lust, but in our culture it’s woven into a huge fabric of inhospitable actions; the inhospitality of relationships not built on holiness, purity, health, truth, and honor at all times. To enter into a relationship with a guest for the purpose of getting something out of the relationship – a contract, a better job, a position in the choir, sex – this is equally the sin of Sodom.

So, to get back to the pop song at the top of this post: the artist says that she lost herself in this other person and that she had to learn to hate him in order to get herself back. The fact is she didn’t get herself back that way. Attract all she got back was an isolated and lonely cry. Makes a beautiful song but they’re disturbing words. They should not be an Anthem of self-love as it often is described but rather a descriptor of our entire culture.

Our entire culture is predicated on this odd idea that I have to be complete and full in myself alone. I must own my own things, I must do my own will, I must be me. In Christian terms, this is hell not love.

A Catechesis of Despair.


The Readings for  in the Week of Pentecost (B2)

Et offerebant illi parvulos ut tangeret illos. Discipuli autem comminabantur offerentibus.
And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. 

When Judgement Day comes many folks who are by human eyes judged as mortal sinners in recent votes in Ireland will be forgiven, I think.

It was not they who taught the people to kowtow to the wealthy Brits under Victoria, nor to support the Nazis in the Spanish Civil War. It was not the voters who abandoned the people to support the occupying powers (on both sides), or who fled when the scene got too hot. It was not the people who abused women and children outside of wedlock, nor was it children who abused the clergy.

Votes driven anger at what should be holy, and caring, loving, grace-filled, liberating and majestic, but was instead grubbing, lost, abusive, enslaving, and perverse may be, in the end, forgiven. For how can they know the truth if they have never heard it? How can they hear it if it is never preached to them? All they have been taught has led to despair.

The death of millions may lay on the hands of the Church.

Who is gonna keep you outta glory?


The Readings for Friday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)

Nolite ingemiscere, fratres, in alterutrum, ut non judicemini. Ecce judex ante januam assistit.
Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.

I heard a sermon earlier this week that struck home hard: paraphrasing the Lord’s Prayer, the priest says, “Lord, forgive me my sins as I forgive…” and he asked us to fill in the blank with our worst enemy, or the person who most easily makes us angry. I confess the latter category is my family, and I bring this up in confession often enough. This one I’m working on. But enemies? I had to struggle with this. I don’t really have enemies.

The Greek, though, and the Latin here, used by St James, is much stronger than Father’s homily: because it’s a weaker verb. It’s not who do I hate, or who makes me angry.  The Greek is στενάζω stenazo to groan or to sigh – specifically within oneself, unexpressed. Who, St James asks, makes you tense up and roll your eyes?

That’s the person that stands between you and salvation. How do you get passed that?

I don’t have any enemies (that I know of) but I have a lot of things that make my eyes roll, and a lot of things that make me sigh heavily. And when I say, “things” I mean people.

St James tells us not do do this with the brethren, but, of course, we know from Jesus not to do it at all. James calls us out for doing this to the brethren, thought. You always hurt the ones you love. Folks that don’t matter don’t mind. We can look at the crazy lady in the cash register line at the Piggly Wiggly and just say, “Bless her heart….” but when it comes to the crazy lady singing and off key and off tempo soprano in the pew behind us, Christian charity goes right out the door. The horrors of sex on the tv can be resolved by changing the channel with nary a blink, but someone wearing the wrong clothes in Mass deserves a bit of whispering.

The thing that kept me writing this post all day is how many times I wanted to put in true stories of people in Church who make me angry.

The same, I think, holds true at the office, no? And maybe the Piggly Wiggly?

But our Money says “In God We Trust…”


The Readings for Thursday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)

Ecce merces operariorum, qui messuerunt regiones vestras, quae fraudata est a vobis, clamat : et clamor eorum in aures Domini sabbaoth introivit. Epulati estis super terram, et in luxuriis enutristis corda vestra in die occisionis. 

Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 

James is certainly condemning the wealthy of Rome, here. They held an economic and cultural hegemony on the entire world at that point. Economic because all wealth flowed to Rome for consumption, but cultural as well, because anyone who pretended to be wealthy pretended to be Roman. And they exported their culture by force: tying their ideas about morality, freedom, politics, and economy to any process of local advancement: you want to be king in your country, make it Roman. So James is not only speaking of Romans, but also of Jews (and others) who pretended to wealth, aping the standards of Rome.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah will be familiar to you, if only because you have been exposed to the horror story version or the sexualized version in some movie or TV show. You may also know the Bible Version in Genesis 18 and 19. Americans (religious or not) are prone to taking brief passages of the Scripture to make their point and ignoring what comes first and follows after. It is, however, the context that makes the story – not the meaning we add to it. Sex is not the meaning. 

The Icon above is generally styled “The Holy Trinity” and it was painted by St Andrei Rublev (1360-1430). Done in 1425, the theme is more properly called “The Hospitality of Abraham” because it shows the three Angels visiting Abraham and Sarah, as recording in Genesis 18:1-8ff:

And the Lord appeared to him in the vale of Mambre as he was sitting at the door of his tent, in the very heat of the day. And when he had lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men standing near to him: and as soon as he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord, if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant. But I will fetch a little water, and wash ye your feet, and rest ye under the tree. And I will set a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart, afterwards you shall pass on: for therefore are you come aside to your servant. And they said: Do as thou hast spoken. Abraham made haste into the tent to Sara, and said to her: Make haste, temper together three measures of flour, and make cakes upon the hearth. And he himself ran to the herd, and took from thence a calf, very tender and very good, and gave it to a young man, who made haste and boiled it. He took also butter and milk, and the calf which he had boiled, and set before them: but he stood by them under the tree. 

This story of Hospitality is the prologue to the story Sodom. After a wonderful conversation where Sarah laughs at God, the three men get ready to go.

And when the men rose up from thence, they turned their eyes towards Sodom: and Abraham walked with them, bringing them on the way. And the Lord said: Can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do: Seeing he shall become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed? For I know that he will command his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, and do judgment and justice: that for Abraham’s sake, the Lord may bring to effect all the things he hath spoken unto him. And the Lord said: The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha is multiplied, and their sin is become exceedingly grievous. I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry that is come to me; or whether it be not so, that I may know.

Traditional, very conservative Jewish Biblical commentary is filled with many entirely non-sexual reasons for that cry that ascended to God: greed, abuse of slaves, injustice, pride; lack of care for the poor that was so extreme you could be punished for feeding the homeless  –  like in Fort Lauderdale and some twenty other locations in the USA. St James sees in Rome this exact pattern.

The Midrash tells two tales of righteous women who dared extend a helping hand to beggars and were put to death:

Two maidens of Sodom met at the well, where they had both gone to drink and fill up their water jugs. One girl asked her friend, “Why is your face so pale?” Her friend answered, “We have nothing to eat at home, and are dying of starvation.” Her compassionate friend filled her own jug with flour, and exchanged it for her friend’s jug of water. When the Sodomites found out about her act, they burnt her to death.

A second tale:

It was announced in Sodom, “Whoever will give bread to a poor person will be burnt at the stake.” 

Plotit, the daughter of Lot, who was married to a prominent Sodomite, once saw a poor man who was so hungry that he was unable to stand. She felt sorry for him. From then on, she made sure to pass him every day on her way to the well, and she would feed him some food that she had stashed in her water jug. 

People wondered how the man managed to live. Upon investigation, they discovered her act and prepared to burn her. Before she died, she turned to G‑d and cried, “Master of the world, carry out justice on my behalf!” Her cries pierced the heavens, and at that moment G‑d said, “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me.”

Moderns with a more liberal political agenda like to make much of such stories and say Sodom was destroyed for violations of the Desert Code of Hospitality. This is truth! The Synagogue lays the Hospitality of Abraham for the three angels specifically in sharp contrast to the lack of hospitality in Sodom. These texts are read every year together on the same Sabbath. We can learn much meditating on how Abraham (and, later, Lot) treats the Three Strangers, who happen to be the Holy Trinity in Christian typology and iconography, as compared to how all others in Sodom treat the same Three Strangers.

This understanding is good and true as far as it goes but, of course, words matter: when we moderns hear “hospitality” we do not hear “matter of life and death in the desert” but rather “Grandma was always a gracious hostess” or something about Waffle House, and a number of Yelp stars. No matter how many times it might be explained, the divine obligation of care for the stranger (regardless of culture or divinity) is totally lost as a social responsibility in today’s culture. In rejecting Syrian refugees, or Latin American children, in abandoning the poor, the homeless, the jobless youth, America becomes another Sodom. 

Such hospitality, in the better places, is relegated as an obligation to the state and forgotten by individuals and, God help us, even by Churches. In the worst places, like Sodom and Fort Lauderdale, it is outlawed all together. Even Churches in Fort Sodomdale fail to protest. The Churches in San Francisco which, for other – entirely wrong – reasons, is often compared to Sodom, are again failing the poor, as we have not only a Temp Mayor, but an entire crop of politicians who are literally sweeping the poor off our streets in the name of the Rich. In fact, some churches are playing along. Some are not, really. St Bonaventure’s has converted parts of their physical plant to care for the poor of the neighborhood, installing even showers in the church. Meanwhile, St Mary’s Cathedral has installed showers outside… But if all the faith leaders of SF were to ban together to protest the treatment of the poor, would the Catholic Mayor of SF listen? Or would he be swayed by the lamentations of the Rich, who are scared of the poor, who are discomfited by the poor, who need a safe space from the poor. 

Our treatment of the poor and the stranger is exactly – as in the case of Abraham – how we treat God.

America’s Sodomy goes even further. Our electronic devices, our clothing, even our food is the product of a virtual slavery in which we hold the entire world. Sometimes the slavery is not very virtual at all. There is nary a tomato sold out of season in the USA that is not the product of indentured servitude. Our clothes and all our cheap stuff we justify by saying “we are giving them jobs” when, in fact, they managed to get by for millennia without our jobs, but now need jobs because we have forced our economic system on them in the name of our security. 

So deep is our problem that I have to type this – and you have to read it – on the very products of our slavery. And we both have to feel good about it: because how else would we even communicate now? Most (all?) Catholic Apostolates make unquestioning use of electronics that are built, in the same way as our Christmas ornaments, by impoverished wage slaves in third world dictatorships held in place by our economic choices. How can that be that the Gospel should ride on the backs of slaves? San Francisco’s entire economy is built on this part of our hegemony. 

James is certainly condemning the wealthy of Rome, here. But James is condemning America as well. We hold an economic and cultural hegemony on the entire world at this point. Economic because all wealth flows to America for consumption, but cultural as well, because anyone who pretends to be wealthy pretends to be American. And we export our culture by force: tying our ideas about morality, freedom, politics, and economy to any gov’t charity. So James is not only speaking of Romans, but also of Americans who pretend to wealth – even Christians – and are aping the standards of Rome.