Back in the 80s there was this woman who was alway protesting in Midtown Manhattan, usually in the middle of the day when folks were about for their lunch. I did see her sometimes durning the morning rush hour. She was always around Grand Central Station, on the 42nd Street side, although sometimes as far up as 2nd Avenue near the Daily News building. Her message was simple: Porn is Violence against women. She had a sign or two that said this. And she had a petition. You could hear her yelling a block or so away, always the same two sentences:
PORN IS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN and SIGN THE PETITION, WOMEN! (She didn’t want men’s signatures, I have one friend who tried.)
Nowadays “feminisim” tends to treat NSFW content as “liberation”. I wonder whatever happened to the woman who stood in her business suit inviting office workers to “Sign the petition”.
This is a continuation of the themes (but not a second part) to a post from back in February called Igotchu Babe. There are serious adult themes in this post, but I think it’s important. Proceed with that warning in mind. I ask your prayers for me. (Click the number 2 to keep going.)
Seven Deadly Sins, the Gifts of the Spirit, the Evangelical Counsels, Chastity, Catching Foxes, Celibacy and Bachelorhood, AKA, a blog post on sex and religion.
Two months ago over lunch a friend and I talked about how many clergy we knew who were bachelors, but who were not celibate. These follow the rules but something seems off. Then, using those same words, a Dominican priest posted it on FB. It seems that often it is religious (those in communities, like Dominicans and Franciscans) who are celibates. Often it is diocesan clergy who are not living in community (some are!) who are “only” bachelors. Meditating on the difference between bachelor and celibate has had this topic in my head for seven or eight weeks. I have been wrestling with this topic (Chastity) for a while as there’s been a book in process for a year on same-sex attraction and chastity. (For news and updates about this project, support my writing on my Patreon page.) Of course, the content of that book and of this blog have hovered around the topic of sex and religion since before I even became Orthodox in 2002. In addition to the book, I have an essay to write on clerical celibacy in the Deaconate. And hanging around with Catholics all the time brings it up. What? You don’t talk about Chastity with your friends? Then, last night, Gomer and Luke blew my mind with their Episode on Chastity, the sort of Capstone on this whole topic. What follows is only the meditation on all that: I also had a long talk with Fr Isaiah this morning to help me clarify this.
There are seven deadly sins. Most Catholics and some others are familiar with the list: Pride, Lust, Envy, Anger, Acedia, Gluttony, and Avarice. It’s ok to see these sins as a breaking of the rules because they are, but look at the image above. The tree makes it clear that they are all tied together with a whole series of vices, not just sins, per se, but a whole collection of bad habits. Mortal sins, venial sins, practices, bad thoughts, pitfalls we can make. It’s more than breaking the rules. In fact, the spiritual powers that seek to win our souls don’t need you to climb up the tree and eat its seven deadly fruit: it’s enough for you to rest against the trunk of the tree and sleep in the shade.
After the Seven Deadly Sins, what? The same author has given us a Tree of Virtues which I’ve added below, but that does not grow in the same orchard, if you will, as the Tree of Vice. There’s a journey from one to the other. What is this? While there are lists of “seven” virtues floating around, these are not generally given a one-to-one pairing with the vices. That’s because they are thought of differently. The four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude are shared with all the world. These are the primary state of the human soul, if you will. They are common to all humanity as our tools for fighting against vice. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle brought them into focus for the pagans as the Jewish Prophets brought them into focus for us. Christians inherit them from both sides of our family tree.
To the four cardinal virtues, which may be pictured around us like the four points of the compass, Christians add three Theological Virtues for a total of seven, aligning with the traditional seven directions of ancient cosmology: Hope beneath us, Faith above us, and at the center, Charity, from which all the other arise in their proper ordering for human prosperity.
Notice please that Chastity is not on this list. Why not? Would not you put Chastity opposite Lust? Bishop Barron does and it makes perfect sense if all of this is about rules: Chastity is obeying all the rules of the Church and lust is the temptation to break them, right? What if that is wrong? Gomer and Luke in the podcast above tap dance around this: it’s not about rules, it’s not about rules, it’s not about rules. We beat kids up about “following the rules” but that’s not the real issue. What is it, if it’s not rules? Certainly, there are rules. Clearly we cannot break them. But: it’s not about the keeping of them. We are not made whole by keeping rules.
The virtues as seven points on a sphere (including the center) are the key: properly ordered life, arising from Charity, built on Hope, striving in Faith, and protected by Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. We move through the world with this spherical map as our guide. The virtues are acquired though, like an ancient warrior on a vision quest, we must seek to blend each of these into our lives. A virtue is a habit of doing good. We know habits! I don’t mean the way you have to touch your hair when you get nervous. I mean the way you put on shoes without thinking or the exact muscle memory that lets you walk forward, raise a hand, grab a doorknob, turn the knob with your hand and push while still walking through the door, open the door, and close (slightly turned) the door behind you while still walking forward. You learned all of that as a child. You don’t think about it normally. It’s not even a process: it just happens. That’s the virtue of opening the door, if you will. The seven virtues must be acquired to the same degree of expertise, the same unthinking level of habit.
But how? We still don’t have chastity listed here.
The Christian has the Holy Spirit for the acquisition of Virtues. The Holy Spirit is God dwelling in us as the Body of Christ. We get the Holy Spirit at Baptism and from this arise (in differing degrees for each of us) the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
Fear of the Lord
Yes: right there, Fortitude shows up. It’s a gift and a virtue. Courage (aka the virtue of Fortitude) is the power to run into the fire and rescue people. It’s why we honor the First Responders from 9/11. The Holy Spirit brings those same cojones to your religious faith. These are not rules, nor are they indicative of keeping rules. Rather they are about relationship – our relationship with God.
From the fear of the Lord and piety arise all the others: for God imparts them to us as we need. Christians say all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). These come to us as whispers and dreams, as words spoken by our friends, from wise priests laughing in the confessional, and from random posters on the street. These gifts of the Spirit are sealed in us in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
From these arise the nine Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Love (one of the virtues) is a fruit of the Spirit. These, you’ll notice, are about our Relationships with Others. Even that last one – Self-Control – which is the most important, is about how we relate to others. These fruit are how the Gifts of the Spirit and the process of the acquisition of virtues work together in and through us in the Church.
Here is where we sin mostly – if we are honest. Our relationships with each other fail to be holy, healthy, and honorable at all times because we lose track of these fruit of the spirit.
We continue to move through this process, but we’re not “there” yet in that there’s no Chastity. What the heck?
All men and women in religious orders make three vows: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. These are called the Three Evangelical Counsels. Different religious orders understand these differently – according to their own ministries and gifts – but the reason they are common to all religious orders is that they are the common marks of all Christian life, lay, ordained, and vowed religious. All Christians are called to poverty, chastity, and obedience each according to their state in life. Here, suddenly – outside of the vices, virtues, gifts, and fruits, we hit the real thing: the Christian life!
Christain life is about virtues, certainly, and there are rules, yes, but Christian life is primarily (if not only) about manifesting in the world salvation as witnessed by a personal relationship with God in the body of his Son, the Church. See how those Christians love one another? I’m afraid most folks don’t right now. Our lives do not shine like a light on a lampstand, like a city on a hilltop. We hold aloft our rules – even try to make laws to enforce our rules on others – while having none of the virtues. And we forget that laws do not make us virtuous: rather they protect our virtue.
It helps me to know God has a rule about “do not commit adultery”, but I can go through my whole life and never commit adultery without ever reaching God. And yet, if I search for God honestly, faithfully, deeply and truly, I will discover that I should avoid adultery in my love for the God I seek – even if I never find him. The rule does not bring me to him and, ironically, if I get stuck on the rule, get judgy about it, yell and scream to protect the rule it can actually keep me from God.
How we move through the world (on our seven points of the compass) guided by the Spirit’s gifts, manifesting the Spirit’s fruit, creates the presence of the Evangelical Counsels to the world in all their aspects. These are our Good Deeds which will shine before men and they will praise our Father in Heaven.
Now, to the earlier point: Bachelors and Celibates. Celibacy is a Charism, a gift given to the Church for the sharing of her ministry in the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that
There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit.”53 Whatever their character – sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues – charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.
We go from seven to nine to three to more than twenty! 23 of the identified supernatural Christian Charisms are: Administration, Celibacy, Craftsmanship, Discernment of Spirits, Encouragement, Evangelism, Faith, Giving, Healing, Helps, Hospitality, Intercessory Prayer, Knowledge, Leadership, Mercy, Missionary, Music, Pastoring, Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Voluntary Poverty, Wisdom, Writing. Celibacy is one of these. The relationship of Charisms to the rest of Christian life is not hierarchical, they are not better one than the other. (This list is alphabetical.) Nor is it lateral: there’s not a line from Love to Chastity and then to Celibacy. They are gifts for the whole church, given to the whole church. They are manifest how and when the Spirit decides. They are relational, of course, in that they deal with the whole body of Christ. But they are not the result of any action or virtue on our part. They are given to us and, in fact, if we ignore them they can trip us up.
Why, I asked the priest, if you say I have the Charism of Celibacy, have I spent so much of my life having sex? The response was that where there is the greatest gift there also can be the greatest fall. These gifts can also be taken away if they are needed for another reason, or if they are misused. But they – also – are not about rules. Having the Charism of Celibacy does not mean you follow all the rules, but you can rely on that Charism – once discovered – to lead you into the acquisition of the virtues, to lead you to manifest chastity as appropriate to your state in life. Again, the follow the rules, yet I think bachelors are only failing to lean in.
I’ll end here… I’m feeling like I’ve said enough right now. In sum:
There are vices that lead to deadly sins but the demons don’t need deadly sins every day to keep us going to hell. They only need to keep us from walking in another direction, using our moral compass of the four cardinal virtues plus the three theological ones. It’s not rules but relationships. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts for relationship to God and in our lives – relating to each other – manifests fruits. In the relational body of the Church, we live and move. God may confer Charisms or not, yet all of us manifest (as the Church) the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience that the world may come to the light of Christ and be saved.
Sitting outside the coffee shop about a week ago, I was approached by a man who asked if he could join me and sit at my table. It’s a small coffee shop: there are three tables and strangers always sit together. I said sure. He sat down and immediately begin to talk. This was annoying, slightly, because I had my computer open and I was in fact working. Actually, as I was only looking for a particular font on graphic design, I wasn’t completely engrossed. Then at one point, he said, “Sorry! Do you have time for a conversation?” I explained that I was only looking for a particular font and if he would give me a moment I would be with him. A few moments later I closed my computer and we begin to chat.
He was working in a substance addiction program. This is work experience that I have as well. He was studying substance addiction at college. This is something I really wish I had done, but his next comment was even more engrossing: what I’m really interested in, he said, is internet addiction. And I acknowledge that I worked for a tech company, but that I also had worked in recovery and was interested in internet addiction. I excused myself and got a refill on my coffee. When I returned to the table the woman next to us joined our conversation, “I too work in recovery.” This is the sort of thing that happens all the time in San Francisco. I love this town!
My conversation partner acknowledged that as it was already nearly noon and that he had just gotten out of the house: he had been up late watching YouTube videos. He’s one of several folks who admitted to me that they stay up at night watching YouTube, clip after clip. I said I once had sort of the same problem, but my internet now turned off at 10 PM. He asked me to walk him through this – first wanting to know how to do it for himself and then wanting to know the thought process that led me to this choice.
Probing, personal conversations with total strangers is also something that happens in SF. At this point, we exchanged (first) names.
My own story does not begin with an addiction to adult content. Immediately after 9/11 I found that I was almost obsessively saving news photos of the tragedy. Photos of people waiting in airports. Photos of people running away from The Towers. Photos of people jumping. I have thousands of images of that day. Why? Was merely hunting and gathering what was this about? It was three years or more before I could bring myself to throw those photos away. I never printed them. I’m not sure that I ever went back and looked at them. But I had them. It was my way of processing grief, I think. When I later begin to collect adult content though, I recognized the same pattern. And I recognize the same pattern in other places around the internet. This didn’t strike me as a healthy process. Even now, late at night I will find myself switching between Facebook Twitter and my email as if something new could have happened. This is why things turn off at 10 pm.
He shared that in his research he had discovered that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms use the same algorithm as a prominent adult content company. I asked him for more information. He said that this adult content company (aka TornNub) used a certain algorithm to decide when to display content you seen and liked versus content that was only sort of what you liked versus content you wouldn’t like it all. The idea was to get you to click more. It didn’t matter what you clicked on – only that you clicked. So when you find yourself in an endless scroll on Facebook, or Twitter looking for something to like but not really caring about anything you see you’re doing the exact same thing that TornNub gets you to do. Amazon also uses this same stochastic rewards system to get you to keep scrolling through their endless shopping lists. They sell adult content there, too: only you are not on trhe right track to find it. One day I found myself looking wood floor tiling: I have never owned my own living space. Amazon fed me floor tile that is removable, and useful for apartments. I clicked through just as easily Baby Yoda did when his parents left the house.
An old commercial used to say it’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Children Are? If they’re on the internet they could be home. But their brains could be anywhere at all including, most likely shut down, zombified as they scroll. He shared that his exploration of the stochastic process had caused him to discover it on Netflix and other content sites as well. Anywhere a service says, you might also like… All of these sites use TornNub’s same process to keep you clicking, to get you addicted to their content.
To struggle with an addiction is often disheartening: knowing that failure only means more struggle, more work. Yet, one can forget that one is sick: morality plays a part in early choices that lead to addiction, but culpability fades as the actual mental illness grows and develops, become stronger. I have been taking my addiction to confession for literally two decades. Sometimes it was worse sometimes it was better but always it was constant. A couple of months ago having heard my confession my spiritual director asked me if I wanted anointing.
When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be God’s will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is no physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacramento is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives theHoly Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age. The Holy Spirit renews our faith in God and helps us withstand the temptations of the Evil One to be discouraged and despairing in the face of suffering and death. Also, a sick person’s sins are forgiven if he or she was not able to go to Confession prior to the celebration of the Sacrament of the anointing of the Sick.
Another effect of this Sacrament is union with the Passion of Christ. By uniting ourselves more closely with the sufferings of Our Lord, we receive the grace of sharing in the saving work of Christ. In this way, our suffering, joined to the Cross of Christ, contributes to building up the people of God.
I said yes to his invite and receive the sacrament, for the first time, that day in the office. In the Orthodox church although the sacrament of anointing is offered it really is only offered for the terribly sick. I’d only seen it twice: once for my priest when he had cancer and once for a child who had a tumor. In some places, this sacrament is offered to everyone on the first Wednesday of Lent. In the Catholic church, it’s part of what used to be called the Last Rites. All images of it from history show old, sick people in bed, their priests holding oil while loved ones are around praying and weeping. At st. Dominic’s you can receive the sacrament anytime you wish if you ask for it. And monthly there is a mass of healing where all the sick come forward and are anointed. I have since received this Sacrament at this Mass: once a month going forward with all the sick and the infirm, to receive the holy oil on my hands and my forehead. As a priest said this last weekend, no one will “check your sick card” if you present yourself for this. No one asks why I’m there. And so this Saturday I presented myself for inviting.
The priest lays his hand upon your head and silently, or perhaps verbally, says a prayer for you. Then, signing your forehead and each hand with the holy oil (blessed by the Bishop), the priest says, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”
This is literally Jesus touching you.
It is impossible to describe how the sacrament feels. In fact, it is impossible to describe how any Sacrament feels. St Thomas says the sacraments cause Grace. But at the same time, they are something so deep, so intimate, so dark, so cthonic, and so personal that it is impossible to give them words. A Sacrament is what God whispers to you on Sunday morning in dawn’s light, as you both lie in bed looking deeply into each other’s eyes across the pillow. There are no words for that.
The monthly “booster shot” seems to work where no other action has. A priest in confession once told me that all of our sins can cause deep wounds and in those wounds demons hide in the darkness. This priest gave me a blessing, an exorcism of sorts, to set about cleansing these wounds. We go to confession for the restoration of our relationship with God so that the healing can begin. The Anointing of the Sick is for the healing of these wounds. Healing is what is needed, the next step in the process. The Saints call us not towards a life devoid of health, but to a life filled with the goodness of the Holy Spirit raising us up. This sacrament is that process.
In light of what my new friend shared about the way that internet media draws Us in and keeps us, it seems we may all be suffering from an addiction of sorts. It’s not adult content, but an addiction doesn’t have to be morally objectionable to destroy our freedom and wreck our lives: only addicting.
We are each gifted with a personal identity in the image of God our Father. We are an icon of God.
We are marred by our human tendency to sin, our concupiscence.
We are each born with weaknesses and even as we grow up we may be marked with wounds and scars that further those weaknesses.
At the same time these wounds and scars make us stronger, prepare us for life with others, and help us grow in God’s image. In our weakness God’s grace can supply our needs.
These needs, also determine our susceptibility to temptations, those directions in which we can more easily fall.
All of these are human processes; we are fallen, but nothing prior to this can be called our fault or our choice. This is all the environment, and our pre-mature interactions.
We become what we learn, though.
Those weaknesses become the ways in which we might self-medicate, self-soothe, hide from things we don’t like, and defend ourselves from both abusive interactions and also troublesome but necessary ones.
At this point we start to make choices: do I lash out when I get threatened? Do I retreat into isolation and find ways to imagine revenge? Do I create an interesting cover story to make up for an absence? Do I obscure my intentions for my actions?
At this point, also, temptations begin: yes, you should lash out. Yes, you should break off interactions. Yes, you should tell that lie. Yes, you can do that… it’s easy. These ideas do not come from within you but from outside.
It is here the sword and shield of spiritual warfare must become involved.
The scars and wounds which allow one to be more susceptible to one kind of temptation than another are not our fault. The temptation itself is likewise not our fault. But the choice to act on it at all is a fault.
A demonic voice can only lie, telling you what is a wound is no wound, telling you what is a lie is actually “your truth”. The voice can obscure reality but cannot trigger action: this last step is yours.
We need spiritual warfare at every point here
Some sins lead us only away from God. Some sins draw us deeper into themselves. They become repeating patterns of their own. The demonic no longer needs to trigger these steps for you trigger them yourself. You no longer need to make choices, for the choice was made long ago and you are only continuing to follow it.
The deeper and more and meshed in the lie you become, the more it becomes your reality. You begin to think this is you, this unmade, continually repeating choice. Eventually you invest so much in this artificial reality that your own self gets lost.
You are alone. People no longer relate to you but rather relate to this lie, this artificial reality. You’re not relating to them anymore for they too are covered in artificial realities. The lie has isolated you.
When you come before God, if you do at all, you are convinced that even then you are this lie. Until you are not relating to him he struggles to relate to you. He loves you.
If it were possible you would cease to be you. Your identity as an icon of the Living God would be entirely lost. But that’s not possible. You’re still there. You may be covered by layers of repeated actions. You may be distorted by layers of lacquer and paint. These were not on the original icon and they’re not part of you. Removing them will feel painful.
Yet removing them is exactly what needs to be done. You cannot do this. You must submit to God to have this done. Only the original painter can restore his work.
The voices will tell you this really is you. The idea of pain will run through your head at every moment. Fear will make you stop. You must hear your inner heartbeat. You must see the glow that comes from the original image shining from beneath the lacquer. These things are not you.
You know this. You have always known this. The reality is being yourself is much more work than being this lie. You want to be yourself, but it’s a lot of work. This is where spiritual warfare is necessary.
At every turn cry out to your father. At every turn cry out to the Son and the Holy Spirit. At every turn cry out to our lady and all the Saints. At every turn cry out to Saint Michael the Archangel to defend you in battle. At every turn laugh at Satan. At every turn strive for Holiness. At every turn it is you resting in God never alone, never again.
I am a member of Courage, and while I find their ministry in my life a great blessing, I’m struggling with my presence there. I have trouble with the 12 Step Model when we’re not trying to address an addiction (there is some overlap with the SA groups in town). It does provide a forum for folks, but not much teaching. I fidget a lot when someone doubts the teachings of the church and no one is allowed to offer advice or correction.
The Church’s teaching function is important here: setting it aside is not pastoral at all. I don’t need therapy: I need podvig, ascesis, jihad. I need the holy struggle for sainthood. And so I also struggle with this therapeutic model as there’s no spirituality there. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity addresses the missing spirituality aspect very much, but members of the AWC tend to be in isolation. One thing missing from both of these is the idea of a “sponsor” you can call and ask for help when you’re struggling in a tight spot right now. Where is this group? I was a sexually active man and I was having a lot of fun. I saw my fun was hurting others all the time. When I looked deeper, I saw it was hurting me too. Looking deeper still, I saw others were using my fun as an excuse for their own hurts, their own hurting of others. At the same time we were all hurting the faith – our faith and the faith of others.
Then I saw the Church, grace-filled and merciful, forgiving us and offering a way out of that: literally, out. (Not a cure… don’t get me wrong)
Where is a group that will help me live into the Church and her way of being and when I say “ouch” the group will give me a nice neck rub or else a good slap and say, “but you know this is the best thing for you… get back in there and keep fighting.” I didn’t wake up one day and hate being gay. I just realized this not my being, there had to be a real way to be. There was the Church. And I need help: friends, co-strugglers, fellow travelers.
This Vita is read liturgically during the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete at Matins on the Thursday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It’s a long text. Reading the Canon makes this one of the the Longest Services of the Byzantine Liturgical Year.
It is also one of my two favourites.
The last time I was appointed to read a portion of the Vita, written by St Sophronius, I was unable to finish when, reading this paragraph, I was overcome:
Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, `Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not find me superfluous.’ I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once. How shall I relate to you what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even against their own will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls.
My friend, Fr A, had to step in and finish reading for me while I went to the corner and mourned my sins. Look, it’s a long text. I’m not going to torture you with it. But I suggest you read The life of our holy mother, Mary of Egypt nonetheless. Bookmark it. It might take a while. Prayerfully move through it. You may find some portion of your journey there. Or you may not. I don’t care what orientation you feel you have, or what your life looks like even now. If you find yourself somewhere in the middle of her story and crave, deeply, to also find yourself in the end of her story, reach out. Let’s see what we can do to help each other.
Pray for me at least.
I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter. I’ve been on gmail so long my email address is my [first initial][last name] at gmail dot com.
(Notes: Irony of a Prayer Fellowship named after a hermitess…)
The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12
Continuing from yesterday, where Lust is the fruit of Pride, we have today’s reading on humility. Yes, the whole Father-Teacher-Master package is about humility. And it could be about “titles” and the claim that we should have none as Christians, but this is not true. From the earliest, Paul spoke of himself as his disciples’ Father – and even allowing that they may have many fathers, but he was their Father in the spirit. The Church has always had titles and offices, functions within the community. I may disagree with you about what those titles mean but you will agree with me that we’ve always had titles: Presbyteros, Episkopos, Dulos, Apostolos, etc. Our community functions in an hierarchy: which doesn’t mean “some are better than/more important than others” but rather “rule” (archy) “of priests” (hieros). Yet Jesus says: the greatest must serve. Jesus embodies this, washing our feet. Jesus calls us to this service.
How, mindful, again, of lust and pride, does this work for us? Let’s look at the next three prayers from the Angelic Warfare Confraternity:
For our imagination, that we may be preserved from any fantasies that defile us, that all impure images may vanish, and that we may be protected from all the assaults of demons.
For our memory, that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord may touch and heal us through hope for a better future.
For our estimation, that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them, that we may never turn away from higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods for the sake of sinful self-indulgence.
If we read carefully, these three prayers are about the future, the past, and the present, respectively. We ask God not to let us be troubled with the future, not to let us be haunted by the past, and – most importantly – not to be tripped up in the present. You know, we have all sinned in the past. The future doesn’t exist. The question is where will you be now? What are you doing, now?
Pride plans the future. Pride exults in the past. Pride is not having a conversation – pride is planning a rebuttal. Pride is not listening in the present: pride is grinding the past down to counter attack in the future.
Yet our sins are only in the present.
Mindful what I said yesterday about pride denying intimacy and creating a passionate addiction, here’s the method: yes we sinned in the past, wasn’t that fun? Let’s plan something interesting in the future! (And I can tell you how often those plans do NOT come to fruition.) But what does happen is something by the way, the sex of happenstance, in the present: a hookup app or a personal ad. And Boom. Our plans waylaid, our memories hijacked, we sin only in the present. Yet consent was given to that sin in our planning and our ruminating. Our pride has given birth to something way less exciting than we had imagined. Yet if we recap the story around the watercooler – or even in our diary – wow how awesome!
Who would be first, must be servant to all.
We cannot be a servant if we’re planning to have sex, or to get a promotion, or to get something else “out of” them. It can even seem to be very innocent. It may only be a crush, but if it’s not what it supposed to be – chastity, love, service – then something’s going wrong. Wash away our sins with justice: which, in this case, is service, humility, redressing the wrongs done.
Some folks have asked me about coming into the Catholic Church at a time such as now, when there is seeming chaos. Of course I laugh: I’ve been around enough blocks to know that there is chaos everywhere. If it’s not the Papal Monarchy, it’s the constant infighting and simony of the petty city states of Orthodoxy, or the chaotically heretical, Everyone’s a Pope world of Protestantism. If I didn’t believe that the Holy Spirit is running the Church I’d be off in the mountains someplace, hiding, or else learning the I Ching and being Shinto (actually, that’s probably more like it).
Pope Francis (whose four year anniversary was yesterday) has struck me since the very beginning, as worthy of his Patron Saint. So, to be honest, have Popes Benedict and St John Paul II. I’ve never known the possibility that the leader of such an empire could be so humble. And yet I’ve seen it three times in my lifetime. Yes, Francis can go off-topic sometimes and cause toes to curl, but he’s no Medici. Yes, he can raise a few eyebrows, but he’s no Avignon Papacy. I’m not worried.Benedict XVI is the scholar of that tradition, John Paul had a gift for bringing that scholarship to the masses. Francis has a gift for going to the masses. God sends the Church what she needs when she needs it. These three servants of the servants of God have been blessings to the world since St John Paul was elected in October 1978.
These men, of course, are not the only ones – such leaders are not found only in the Catholic Church or even only in Christianity. Yet, they seem to be always found in the religious world: never among the “spiritual but not religious” nor among the secular. Humility (like chastity) is not a value highly sought in the world. We would do well to learn from these men what it means to be humble – even with great power; what it means to be a servant, – even when a leader.
If we tie our memories down, if we sacrifice our dreams: if we live only in the present, then we can be humble servants, like our Lady and St Joseph. Then we can be servants at their table, of all their guests.
I was sitting in the second seat on a bus taking notes. Someone was in the first seat. The bus was stopped in a parking lot.
The driver got off the bus and the buss started to roll forward. I was not scared: the bus would stop from the little rise in front of us. But it didn’t. It crested the rise and rolled down the hill in front of us. I thought, that guy in the first seat should get up and stop the bus. But he did not.
Near the bottom of the hill was a curb or ledge of stone. I thought the bus will stop at that curb. We should brace for impact.
It broke the curb and left the road we had been on. And kept going. I should get up I thought, and hit the brakes. But I did not: I saw, ahead some train tracks and I thought we’d hit those and lose momentum. So I sat tight. We did not stop: instead we hit the tracks and turned to ride them! Now we were going quite fast. Ahead there was a fork in the track – and I was suddenly aware of a train behind us as well. We took the left fork, as the gold and white metro-liner veered right and sped off into the distance.
The left spur dead-ended in water and we splashed into it… floating down river.
I woke and instantly realized this is how temptations, especially lust, pornography and self-abuse, all work.
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE together with other Mass texts.
You were not to be like Cain, who took his character from the evil one, and murdered his brother. Why did he murder him? Because his own life was evil, and his brother’s life was acceptable to God. No, brethren, do not be surprised that the world should hate you. 1 John 3:12-13 (Knox)
Murder for one’s faith is not very common in the USA, especially if one is a Christian. Apart from some social ostracization we’re not likely to experience anything much at all, yet.
Recently there has been a revival of the Sanctuary Movement. As the Wiki notes, “The Sanctuary Movement was a religious and political campaign in the United States that began in the early 1980s to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict. It responded to federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans.” And, since part of the stated mindsets of the incoming administration as well as its supporters has been opposition to immigration, registering, and deportation, Sanctuary seems perfect for a movement of Churches and Christians concerned about justice. This will, of course, cause them to be reviled by the Administration, but one would imagine this would make them a friend to others.
Yeah, not so much.
A friend (not of the Church-going sort) posted on his Facebook about the revival of the Sanctuaries and instantly he was given a reply: since churches are involved it will only be heterosexual immigrants that they care for. The mainline, liberal denominations are already lumped in with other, more traditional sorts, in the popular mindset, despite 60+ years of caving in to “relevance”. In fact, as the Episcopal Church was moving forward as one of the most gay-friendly of communities, I had a fight with fellow students at NYU when a local parish posted the words of John the Baptist on their reader board, “Make straight in the desert a highway,” etc. This was in 1985 when ECUSA was setting up AIDS ministries and whatall. In NYC where the then-bishop had been most outspoken about his support for gays. Didn’t matter: once you hate Christians it doesn’t matter what sort of Christians you have.
Today’s verses then should not come as a surprise for us. If you’ve committed to live your life being acceptable to God you will be contrary to social norms. My fear has never been of the political sorts in our country, to be honest, but of the religious sorts who are caving in to societal norms all over the place. I think, at some point, we may see a political power play where the more mainline folks turn over confessing Christians in order to keep their tax exemptions and their access to the corridors of power. It has ever been this way, in Germany, in Communist countries, in other totalitarian dictatorships, so it’s easy to imagine it here. The power may be leftist with Episcopalians, or rightist with Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Either way confessing Christians with their social actions, their sacraments, and their sexual morals won’t fit in.
So the first of the 15 Aves in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity has us pray with this intention:
For our social and cultural climate, that it may be purified of everything contrary to chastity, and that we may have the strength to resist the pressures of prevailing ideologies.
Chastity is about sexual purity, yes, and much of our culture is tuned to the contrary frequency. However chastity is not only pressured by sexual ideologies: educational ones, commercials, political parties, a general cultural opposition to responsibility, a bias toward hedonism, a loss of joy, a philosophical embrace of nihilistic darkness; these all conspire against this virtue. Privatizing religion helps us towards a less chaste culture as well: religion that has no place in the public sphere, that has nothing to say about public ethics. Literature that glorifies sexual “exploration” even within marriage, or ideas about sex that have only the goal of “satisfaction” in mind all pressure us to discard this virtue. Mindful that Chastity includes the virtue of procreation and the proper use of the sexual gift, think of how many ways even married couples are tempted. In our modern culture almost all non-Catholic religions support the use of birth control. Even traditional ones, like Eastern Orthodoxy, allow it with a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy.
Shielding against this the prayer calls on the Virgin Mother of God for aid that we might resist these challenges, but also that our culture may be purified. And St John adds, Filioli mei, non diligamus verbo neque lingua, sed opere et veritate. (1 John 3:18) Msgr Knox renders this as, “My little children, let us shew our love by the true test of action, not by taking phrases on our lips.” The “love” there is the verbal form of Agape, that divine love that is God. Here is this love in action on our hands. Let us act-out-love not only in the uttering of phrases.
In a culture so dead set against true love, what is our action? How do we find a way to make real love present in the world?
It starts with prayer and the reformation of our own lives. Let us see where it takes us.
In hoc manifesti sunt filii Dei, et filii diaboli. Omnis qui non est justus, non est ex Deo, et qui non diligit fratrem suum: This, then, is how God’s children and the devil’s children are known apart. A man cannot trace his origin from God if he does not live right, if he does not love his brethren. 1 John 3:10 (Knox)
St John says he who does not poion dikaiosynen is not of God. He was does not live right is not on the path. The Apostolic epistles of like this idea of “living right”. It is beyond important – it is the center of Christian spirituality. It’s here, I think, in the use of this word ποιέω poieo– do or make. It’s the same word from whence we get “poet”. Hold that thought. It’s about doing, about a way of action it is, in some obvious respects, exactly “works righteousness” that so many Protestants want us to avoid. There is something to do here.
(Side note, this “poieo” word occurs 572 times in the NT. There’s a word study worth doing!)
That word δικαιοσύνη dikaiosyne means justice. In the LXX it’s the Greek word used for the Hebrew tzadek צֶדֶק. It’s how one describes straight paths, just balances, or fair laws. You, my dear Christian heart, are expected to live that way. We are called to do justice (see footnote, re: Micah 6:8), to be Poets of Justice. Justice does not mean, “do whatever you want and we will write laws to defend you in your selfishness.” Justice, rather, means walking along God’s straight and narrow path. If it’s not found there, it’s not justice at all. It maybe what you want, crave, or are addicted to – but it’s not just for you to have it nor for someone else to provide it or permit you.
The other side of that coin – of course – is that the works do not make us righteous. They are the sign of our righteousness, of our walking with God. You can’t just say “I believe” here and let it all pass. You have to be doing something or nothing is happening. But we don’t do these works of ourselves, more on that later.
St John ties living right in with loving our brother. As I posted a few days ago, that’s not philia, it’s not friendship with our brother it’s agape: that divine love that moves us all to perfection. This is not the apathetic, bland tolerance that passes for “non-judgemental love” today, leaving us in our sins and our weaknesses. This love calls, pushes, jabs, and dances us forward. As for this verse to be living right is loving our brother then to be this poet of justice is to move our brothers and sisters into that justice too.
Truly poetic justice semper reformare me est – is always reforming me – but not only me. If this music is singing out it should move all around me into the divine Dance of self-emptying.
Lately I’ve been praying the prayers of The Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Those of you who know me will know this is a needed discipline for me. There are two prayers (one asking for the intercession of St Thomas Aquinas and one written by him) then one says 15 Aves a day for specific intentions. As time and the assigned readings permit over the coming 6 weeks or so prior to Lent I want to look at these prayers and intentions. This is where I find this Poetic Justice singing out in my life just now.
For today, then, a look at the first of the prayers. This one, written by Thomas Aquinas, will give us a hint about the poetic justice of this passage from St John.
Dear Jesus, I know that every perfect gift, and especially that of chastity, depends on the power of Your providence. Without You a mere creature can do nothing. Therefore, I beg You to defend by Your grace the chastity and purity of my body and soul. And if I have ever imagined or felt anything that could stain my chastity and purity, blot it out, Supreme Lord of my powers, that I may advance with a pure heart in Your love and service, offering myself on the most pure altar of Your divinity all the days of my life. Amen.
Every perfect gift depends on the providence of God: we have no virtue of ourselves, without God’s grace. This poetry is not written on themes of our own devising. Forgive me, but there is no Jazz here. There is, however, unfolding, an exploration of themes or leitmotifs as in a great opera. What we here God saying to us we say in our own lives by his grace. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is about chastity and sexual purity. Yet, the concept applies for all the virtues: they arise and grow within us from God’s gift. We must offer ourselves for it, in order to “advance with a pure heart in God’s love and service.”
We must become poets by learning from the first (and only) Poet. We become just at the very fount of justice. We become chaste praying to the very author of chastity. And as we acquire that salvation, so too those around us will share in it.
By way of footnote: this is not, as I expected, the same phrase that’s used in Micah 6:8 – “do Justice”. there is a translation of the Hebrew implying “make good judgements in court”. That’s a different concept than tzadek or dikaiosyne.