The Readings for Thursday in the 31st week of Ordinary Time (B2)
But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Is there a way to safely look at all of life that went before Jesus and recognize it has no value? Literally, none.
What once was the very meaning of success. What once was the end goal and target of political aspirations, of angry yelling and screaming in the halls of power… is now anathema. And what once was the assumed end goal is now out of reach.
What was once a stumbling block, is now the focal point. What was once the hated enemy is now home. What was once a bastion of oppression has become the greatest liberty, the greatest joy, the richest dreams, the most potent strength.
What was once the easiest thing to get
Is now the last thing, least, unimportant thing.
What was love turns out to be nothing.
What was everything turns out to be lost.
And what was never on my mind at all
Is always there, always pushing forward, always driving homeward.
How at 20 could one be so blind?
And how at 50 could so much light still only be the smallest portion possible?
How is Light never at 100% finally?
How is there always more love?
How can Truth ever unfold into more?
Once nearly everything was freudian and sexual.
Now it’s deadly serious.
And filled with Joy.
And this, they say is only the beginning.
And pains and white water all serve to sever connections. Loss and loves all bend to one direction. Even the joys of life like sunrises and winter chills only point one way. And it is foolish to kick against the goads.
One day I will wake up and drop this all and won’t care to do so. One day the light will turn up so bright that it will burn and I won’t mind. One day the love will pierce through like steal in my hands, my feet, my head, my side…. my heart.
And I will will finally know as I am known.
And only the grace by which I stand…
will be left at all.
Please, be it so.
The Readings for Tuesday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)
The Readings for Monday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia, nec nominetur in vobis, sicut decet sanctos : aut turpitudo, aut stultiloquium, aut scurrilitas, quae ad rem non pertinet : sed magis gratiarum actio.
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks.
The NABRE takes a dodge here… it says “Immorality or any impurity or greed” which is not what the Latin says, nor is it what the Greek says. The Latin refers to “Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia”. That first word is fornication. We’re not talking about “immorality” in general but about sexual sins. The Greek is even more direct. The word used there is πορνεία porneia. It is the origin for our word “pornography” but its meaning is derived from the verb “to sell off”. We trade off our sexual morals for other things – money, yes, but also acceptance, entertainment, self-gratification. This is made even more clear by the words selected in the next verse (which are not so obscured by the NABRE) obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility make it all very clear, and also eliminate about 80% of the internet and 95% of comedic content since WW2.
Why is St Paul so opposed to us having fun?
Matushka Frederica Matthews has this great line in one of her books, I honestly forget which one, discussing our cultural abuse of irony and making everything funny, she says, “Can we stop smiling now? My face hurts.” As a culture we make a joke of literally everything. This has gotten worse in successive generations – what was once sacred is now ribald humor. And as this area gets burned over, we move on to the next one… we can now joke about literally anything religious, because no one cares about it – and those who do don’t deserve our sensitivity. Only in jest can we talk about such things.
Paul is warning us against doing that to one of the most sacred acts God has given for humans to do – to participate in God’s creative generation of space and time by bringing a new human soul, enfleshed, into the world. Making jokes about this cheapen it.
But there is a second reason as well. We are spiritual athletes. We are in training. There is a time and place for everything. Yet there is never a place for baseness, or scurrility. We have no reason to “keep in practice” for the things we used to do.
A friend of mine called me out for using as a self description a word which has become synonymous with a sexual subculture. I hadn’t realized how important that word had become to me. I may not use “gay” to describe myself, but I have a “totem animal” anyway, right? Why? Do I need that? Do I still need that word to be part of me? Do I still need to get all those in jokes? Those brain cells might better be left from something else, I think.
Chrysostom reads both of these meanings…
Have no witticisms, no obscenities, either in word or in deed, and thou wilt quench the flame—“let them not even be named,” saith he, “among you,” that is, let them not anywhere even make their appearance. This he says also in writing to the Corinthians. “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Cor. v. 1.); as much as to say, Be ye all pure. For words are the way to acts. Then, that he may not appear a forbidding kind of person and austere, and a destroyer of playfulness, he goes on to add the reason, by saying, “which are not befitting,” which have nothing to do with us—“but rather giving of thanks.” What good is there in uttering a witticism? thou only raisest a laugh. Tell me, will the shoemaker ever busy himself about anything which does not belong to or befit his trade? or will he purchase any tool of that kind? No, never. Because the things we do not need, are nothing to us.
Moral. Let there not be one idle word; for from idle words we fall also into foul words. The present is no season of loose merriment, but of mourning, of tribulation, and lamentation: and dost thou play the jester? What wrestler on entering the ring neglects the struggle with his adversary, and utters witticisms? The devil stands hard at hand, “he is going about roaring” (1 Pet. v. 8.) to catch thee, he is moving everything, and turning everything against thy life, and is scheming to force thee from thy retreat, he is grinding his teeth and bellowing, he is breathing fire against thy salvation; and dost thou sit uttering witticisms, and “talking folly,” and uttering things “which are not befitting.” Full nobly then wilt thou be able to overcome him! We are in sport, beloved.
There is a counter point, I think. One that is important for us in this age – that was not so important for Paul. While everything is funny – because it’s meaningless – everything is also taken far too seriously. CS Lewis and others have noted this tendency in our media, to stir up excitement for things that happen hundred and thousands of miles away while ignoring the things right out side. We get anxious over meaningless things about which we can do nothing, and then make light of things that are actually important.
So what would life look like if we took everything only as serious as it warranted, and yet took everything exactly as serious as is needed? What would life look like if one lived as if one’s salvation in Christ was the most important thing? Mindful that St Paul says that salvation entails a lot of things: obedience, humility, civic responsibility, passivity before abuse, charity, etc. What would life be like to live in that way?
The Readings for Thursday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)
In caritate radicati, et fundati, ut possitis comprehendere cum omnibus sanctis, quae sit latitudo, et longitudo, et sublimitas, et profundum : scire etiam supereminentem scientiae caritatem Christi, ut impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei.
That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.
The Readings for Tuesday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Quoniam per ipsum habemus accessum ambo in uno Spiritu ad Patrem. Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenae : sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei.
For by him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God.
We’re so very used to our modern “classless” society that we tend to think the idea of class is bad. As we play that assumption we forget to note that class is a very real part of our world: it is only the obligations of class that we have done away with. Rich and poor are treated equally before the law as is proper in things criminal, but in things civil there was a notion of noblesse oblige, the idea that one’s higher position required an assumption of charity, of noble largess to those in a lower station. We still have classes of folks in America, we’ve just done away with the idea of an obligation entailed by participation in that structure.
When the Vanderbilt family moved to Asheville, NC, in the 1880s, they built a huge estate… railroad money, you know… but that was not all that they did: they reforested much of several counties that had been greedily logged after the Civil War and left barren. This actually became the seed (root?) for the first national forest, the Pisgah National Forest. They imported experts to decorate the house… whom they hired to teach the locals how to be artisans. They built housing for their growing family and, in the area known as Biltmore Village, they even built a church.
This is noblesse oblige.
In a similar situation today – if someone owned say a Palace or a Casino, or a Tower with their name on it – these folks would all be thought of as “employees” and may not even get them health insurance or a living wage. It’s not just folks who have the trump card in the economic world, either. At one time a single man of my paygrade would have employed a valet and a cook, quite possibly a maid as well. And these would have invested in my success as much as anyone: for my success was theirs as well. Today I do my own laundry and turn out my own lights.
We’d call that a smart business decision. The Vanderbilts would call it greed, sin, and would think it beneath their station to act is such a way.
Why this lecture of the cultural morals of another time?
Because it was the same in St Paul’s time. Because to be a wealthy member of the society in which Paul lived was to have servants and one could judge the quality of the person by they way they treated their servants or those less fortunate who lived around them. This was true in the Roman world just as a matter of culture, but in the Jewish world it was a matter of God’s law. The latter dictated how the wealthy were to leave the corners of the field for strangers to harvest for free, how temple sacrifices were shared with the poor, how an entire society was built around property and yet sharing at the same time.
All this to explain when St Paul uses one Greek word οἰκεῖος ekeios to describe the position of Gentiles and Jews united together. On the one hand it means “members of the same household”, but on the other hand it’s the same word used for what we would call today, The Family, and The Help. Folks upstairs and down are equally part of the same οἰκεῖος.
Paul is using this word on purpose to show that there is no difference between classes of people in the Household of God, for we are all one people. All one household – no matter what our classes are “in the world”. In this household we are all together and all servants. Even our Lord and God washes our feet. So much so should we to each other. Rich and poor, Jew or Greek, in the household of God we are all there, all with our parts to play, all with our obligations to each other fully in place. None of us can claim to be above the other, for we are all in need in someway, all rich in some way, and all called to share in humility in all ways.
The Readings for Monday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)
The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.
Jesus asks, “Who made me the judge (literally, the divider) over this?”
In the first person singular and plural the Gospel offers no justice at all. In talking to Christians the only thing we’re promised is hate and eventually death. However we are to do justice – by which the Biblical writers do not mean “pass laws, march in the street, fix things”. We have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn’t have time to care about our political squabbles.
The Readings for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
This came up last night at St Dominic’s. It was a surprise to realize, but the Apostles – in fact James and John, two of the “Big Three” insiders – were making a secular power grab here. Could have been one of the Borgia Popes for this moment. And so they thought that Jesus was going to be a secular king… and these Fishermen and sons of a fisherman, wanted to be on either side of the throne. Just not getting it: God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way. Fr James, the preacher, used it to point out that the Church has been dealing with sinners in leadership roles from the very beginning.
They want their share. You know, Jesus doesn’t yell at them. This is not like when Peter said, “Don’t go to the cross”. They are mistaken – but only in some part of the equation. Jesus is a king. And he will drink a cup. And they, too, will drink it… They will get their share.
So… I want to suggest something: that being wrong in the application may not be as bad as taking the cross out entirely. James and John don’t get the same response as Peter.
There are those who think their faith requires them to make political actions and movements. There are those who feel their faith urges them to take out civic power. Jesus has some hope for them that, in fact, they will drink his cup with him. James, you know, dies a martyr’s death. John lives a long life of martyrdom, caring for Jesus’ mother, going to prison, exile… but he dies an old man praising Jesus.
And when the others hear about it, they get all uppity and in each other’s faces. Jesus has to shut them up with a teaching moment: You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
This was also true among the Jews as well in Jesus time: for they had several generations of Maccabees who were a Theocracy – where the king was also the high priest. Then they had client kings who were Jewish at least by birth, but had no sense at all of stewardship or shepherding over the people. The Herods were the most recent of these kings, Jewish in name only and despised by the people.
Christian leadership requires the Cross. This leader is there not as a pusher and mover, not a cowboy with a cattle prod. A Christian leader has to woo, has to call by name, has to give his life for the sheep. Leadership in this role is about sacrifice. It’s about self-emptying. It may be next to impossible to be a Christian Civil Servant, but it’s not forbidden.
In some cases a Crown worn right has made a King a Saint.
But there are those who take the cross out of Christianity. Peter said the cross wouldn’t sell. They don’t mind the politics (as long as they agree) but they don’t want any, you know, sacrifice or conversion. Penance doesn’t play in Peoria. It doesn’t pay well in DC. There are those who ignore the cross even as they use it as a label for their own purposes. They too, don’t want any conversion or sacrifice. They want prosperity and “justice” rather than kenosis. Their politics leads to victory for “us” and an end to “them”. The Cross is for all – or else it is for none. These would not drink the cup of Jesus if they had a choice. It has no meaning, in fact, it may be opposed to all they stand for.
The Readings for the memorial of St Theresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
But Paul is making this argument to say Christians are not under the law…
One, however, would be a fool if one imagined that Paul is saying there are no rules for Christians. I’ve been a fool like that. My freshman year in College was spent at a small, evangelical Christian school in down-state New York. We had a pledge we had to sign, saying we’d not drink, dance, smoke, join secretive oath-bound organizations, or use traditional playing cards. (Those were the words… clearly playing poker with Tarot cards was fine… and while we were not allowed to join Greek-Letter fraternities, the number of professors/alumni/administrators who were Freemasons was actually astonishing.) So, we had this pledge. And in October of my freshman year I wrote a long letter to the student paper referencing – among other passages – this bit from Galatians to say we didn’t need to follow any rules.
I made the classic mistake of confusing Liberty in Christ for License to sin.
Sin is actually slavery. We are trapped in our own brains, in our own lusts, in our own desires. We cannot be the self-giving, the self-slaying, the self-sacrificing images of God that we’re intended to be. We are set free…
We are only free if we flow in the will of God. This is what Paul is saying. For the covenant of Sinai was the will of God – but no more. Paul invites his readers to move into the new covenant of freedom in the will of God. But not “there are no rules”.
Our modern Secularizers are telling us this. That religious rules that impact “freedom” (by which they mean license) must be done away with. They are seeking to enslave us to the world, the flesh, and the devil while calling evil things good, things of darkness as things of light.
The Men of Nineveh – who heard a few whispers from Jonah and repented – will rise up and condemn us, for we hear the preaching of God himself, and yet persist in our sins and even demand that the Church change to accommodate us.
The Readings for Saturday in the 27th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
This is not a passage about social justice.
At all. Forgive me that I have, often, fallen into this as well.
Every day a devout Jewish Man would wake and say these three blessings (among many others):
Here St Paul turns those blessings on their head. He says everyone who has been baptized into Christ has put on Christ… and that all divisions have ceased.
If Christ be the Son of God, and thou hast put on Him, thou who hast the Son within thee, and art fashioned after His pattern, hast been brought into one kindred and nature with Him… he does not stop there, but tries to find something more exact, which may serve to convey a still closer oneness with Christ. Having said, “ye have put on Christ,” even this does not suffice Him, but by way of penetrating more deeply into this union, he comments on it thus: “Ye are all One in Christ Jesus,” that is, ye have all one form and one mould, even Christ’s. What can be more awful than these words! He that was a Greek, or Jew, or bond-man yesterday, carries about with him the form, not of an Angel or Archangel, but of the Lord of all, yea displays in his own person the Christ. Source
Those who are initiated by those holy waters into Christ “display in their own person the Christ” and all those other bits are mere labels we add to ourselves are only so much mammon to be tossed out, ignored.