A few twists and you’re good to go.

JMJ

The Readings for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Libenter igitur gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis, ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi.
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 

Paul reports having a “thorn in the flesh”, some secret skate key that Satan can crank on to send Paul coasting; a way that Satan knew he could get to Paul. And Paul kept praying that God would take it away. And God said, No.

What was this thorn? The KJV makes it sound kinda like a sickness of some sort. Think like maybe the Ague, or the Dropsy, or Lumbago: some kind of old-timey illness that we might cure nowadays with a shot, but back then was just annoying. The Greek, though, says it’s more like a “pointy thing in my flesh” using the Greek word for the actual body, sarx ,the physical thing itself rather than a complex metaphor. This is something that bothers or hurts his body. The Latin of St Jerome renders this as “stimulus carnis meae” an irritation or even a “stimulus” of my flesh, in my sarx, my physical self. Paul has something rather more like a case of scabies,  physical scabies with spiritual implications.

I have a fear, a deep seated fear that rises from this verse. But also from an obscure, fringey (and admittedly heretical) teaching in Russian Orthodoxy called the Toll Houses.  This is like the idea of Purgatory, but with no way out: after we die, as we journey to the heavenly throne, the demons will be allowed to tempt us with our sins and we must rely on God’s Grace. Yes, I know this sounds rather more like the Hungry Ghosts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead or some other Pagan parasite on Christian truth. But I have a fear that after death I will be just as distracted as I am now by certain temptations of the flesh. And even though these cannot be fulfilled by the dark ghostly powers, they can be spuriously proffered. And what it I give in? And I am so afraid, that even at the last, a tautly flexed curve or a husky growl will doom me. 

Look… here is my weakness. Yes, I have other sins, but here is where God’s grace must be my sufficiency. What was Paul’s? I do not know. But here is stimulus carnis meae. For some it may be power, or wealth, or some other form of pleasure. But for me, just now, this is it.

Sufficit tibi gratia mea. This whispered promise, this trumpeted grace, these softly spoken words of my divine lover are the anchor of my hope against that fear I described. There is my weakest point and even so, there is the grace the strongest.

And I don’t know who you are who are reading this… but we are all taught to fight, to struggle, to reform, to build up, yet I think right here (or right there, where it is for you) that is the place to keep calm and pray. It’s not right to say, “Ah, well, God’s gonna fix it” because what if he doesn’t? What if “fixing” is not the point? What if the whole point is to give God the glory for rescuing even someone as messed up as me? Yes, we are to fight, to struggle, to semper reformada oursleves more and more into conformity with the Cross of Christ. But here, where the base material is least supported, where the foundation stones are the weakest, where the ice is thinnest… God’s glory comes from us saying, “You better got this. Cuz I do NOT got this.”

St Paul says that pro me autem nihil gloriabor nisi in infirmitatibus meis. As for myself, I will glory in nothing but my infirmities.  I will glory in nothing, myself, but these very things that God’s got for me. I can do nothing else… the actual reality that I am standing here (or sitting here) on a Saturday night typing at all and not, right now, chirruping up some bloke in bar is not an act of self control, but rather an act of prayer.

That’s not some holier than thou condescension, as you have no idea at all how easy it is to turn that skate key, to stand me on top of some hill in San Francisco and just give a shove. 

It is for the grace to pray at that point, when the skate key starts turning, that I beg God for each day. The three times to pray for this are morning, noon, and night, for all the ways that key might be turned are subtle, covert, and gentle. One does not need more than a lyft ride and a chatty fellow passenger, or an extrovert rider on the bus. There are so many affectations that need repair, so many coded idioms that need to be overcome. And in the end, the issue is only this: one doesn’t fight alone. This is a tag team match. And I’m not the main partner.

God’s grace is sufficient and, to paraphrase an old movie, the power of Christ indwells me.

This is God’s glory, not my own. We can dance in the fiery furnace not because we’re skilled in fending off hot coals but rather because God makes the flames throw dew. There is nothing sweeter than the breeze on a summer’s evening when it is carrying God’s grace from the furnace heated seven times and even killing those who stoked the fire. But here there is healing, mercy, peace.

A Hymn to God the Father

BY JOHN DONNE

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, 
         Which was my sin, though it were done before? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run, 
         And do run still, though still I do deplore? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won 
         Others to sin, and made my sin their door? 
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun 
         A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score? 
                When thou hast done, thou hast not done, 
                        For I have more. 
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun 
         My last thread, I shall perish on the shore; 
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son 
         Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore; 
                And, having done that, thou hast done; 
                        I fear no more. 



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Lord I’ve Done Some Yuge Things Here.


JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Memorial of St Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr

Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum caelorum. 
Not all who say to me, Lord! Lord! will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Don’t let anyone tell you that all you need to do is “believe in Jesus” for Jesus himself says in this passage (and many others) that there’s some doing that has to be done.  We have to do the will of Jesus’ Father in Heaven. And we have to hear Jesus’ words and do them. And the doing is not about miracles or other forms of wooji-wooji. Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo prophetavimus, et in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus, et in nomine tuo virtutes multas fecimus? Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? That’s not doing the will of God. Speaking in tongues is not either.

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them.  Jesus has just finished telling us that bad trees give us bad fruit. And will get cut down and thrown into the fire. And here he seems to be saying that “Lord, Lord” is not the password into heaven.

Looking into the Old Testament reading today is, at first glance, no comfort. The siege of Jerusalem, the loss of the temple which was the Glory of Israel, the deportation of the King and his court, the loss of an entire religious and artistic culture, and the appointment of an alien king are all the sort of thing that happens when you don’t follow God. And, to make this clear, the alien king changes his name to “Zedekiah” which means the Justice or Righteousness of Yahweh. Seen that way this is all just so much suck. And, in fact, the loss of the Temple on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, is mourned each year with a day of Fasting. (This year that begins at nightfall on the Gregorian date of 21 July.)

And yet.. and yet…

The author of the 2nd Book of Kings knows that this is happening because of the sins of the King and the people. The people are carried off – but not slaughtered. The people are in exile, but not forever. God will bring them back and, in the course of their exile, God will raise up prophets like Daniel and Jeremiah. There will be signs and wonders and even King Nebuchadnezzar who seems like a bad guy today will be shown to be a tool in God’s hands. God is doing something with Israel, and, in the end, with all of us. This exile will end, ultimately, with Messiah. This is all a sign of Zedekiah, of God’s Justice, which doesn’t mean “God’s snarky anger” but rather, “God’s sorting out of all things back to their original intent.” Babylon is a perfect sign of purgation.

So what does it mean to hear Jesus’ words and to do them?

We are familiar with the command to love, and with the ten commandments. The precepts of the Church are well understood. But I think this reading today, especially with the Tag Line of Zedekiah, is about humility. We can come before Jesus on Judgment day bragging about all the things we did “in his name” or we can stand, as the king of Judah did, before his humiliation. We can take what is coming as a gift from God, and let God’s purpose work itself out. That acceptance of God’s Justice, of Zedekiah, is also throwing oneself, in humility, on God’s mercy.

Not all who say to me Lord Lord… but yet all who say to me “Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

_____

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This needn’t ever have happened.

JMJ

The Readings for  in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Omnis arbor, quae non facit fructum bonum, excidetur, et in ignem mittetur. 
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

I’m having trouble finding it. It was this year’s “It’s Easter, let’s run a story slamming the Bible” story. Ancient carvings had been discovered that “proved” ancient Israel was pagan, polytheistic, and not at all like your Preacher wants you to imagine. In fact, it was such a mess that we might as well say there were no Jews in that period. I can’t find it, I think, because that part of the News Cycle has blown over. We’ve moved on. There will be other blasphemies.


Except anyone who reads the Bible can tell you that most of the history of the Israelites looks like this: 

God: Don’t eat shrimp.
Random person: Let’s try worshiping these trees, they say it’s ok to eat shrimp.
Everyone: Shrimp sounds good.
God: Send a gentile army in to snap them out of their idolatry.
Israel: Grf. We’re sorry! We’ve sinned! Forgive us!
God: Ok. Send the goyim back defeated.
Israel: They tried to kill us. We won. Now let’s eat.
Random person: Shrimp?
Repeat.

The entire context of the story is ignored as anyone will tell you every holiday is, “They tried to kill us. We won. Now let’s eat.” They leave off the “we were schmucks, and God was opening a can of Righteous Whoopass” parts.

And so, today’s passage from the Old Testament is one of my favourite stories of the kings of Judah, ever since I first heard it cited by Joseph Campbell in his Masks of God series. Our assigned reading abbreviates it and leaves off the good parts. But it catalogues quite a huge housecleaning. Grab a Bible and read through 2 Kings 2 and 3. As you read through it, notice how many things are actually in the Temple of Solomon, hanging out in the place built for worship of the Most High alone.

Then the king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, his assistant priests, and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the objects that had been made for Baal, Asherah, and the whole host of heaven. These he burned outside Jerusalem on the slopes of the Kidron; their ashes were carried to Bethel. He also put an end to the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the vicinity of Jerusalem, as well as those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, moon, and signs of the zodiac, and to the whole host of heaven. From the house of the LORD he also removed the Asherah to the Wadi Kidron, outside Jerusalem; he burned it and beat it to dust, in the Wadi Kidron, and scattered its dust over the graveyard of the people of the land. He tore down the apartments of the cult prostitutes in the house of the LORD, where the women wove garments for the Asherah. He brought in all the priests from the cities of Judah, and then defiled, from Geba to Beer-sheba, the high places where they had offered incense. He also tore down the high places of the gates, which were at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua, governor of the city, north of the city gate. The king also defiled Topheth in the Valley of Ben-hinnom, so that there would no longer be any immolation of sons or daughters by fire in honor of Molech. He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun; these were at the entrance of the house of the LORD, near the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the large building. The chariots of the sun he destroyed by fire. He also demolished the altars made by the kings of Judah on the roof (the roof terrace of Ahaz), and the altars made by Manasseh in the two courts of the LORD’s house. He pulverized them and threw the dust into the Wadi Kidron. The king defiled the high places east of Jerusalem, south of the Mount of the Destroyer, which Solomon, king of Israel, had built in honor of Astarte, the Sidonian horror, of Chemosh, the Moabite horror, and of Milcom, the Ammonites’ abomination. He broke to pieces the pillars, cut down the asherahs, and filled the places where they had been with human bones. Likewise the altar which was at Bethel, the high place built by Jeroboam, son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin—this same altar and high place he tore down and burned, grinding the high place to powder and burning the asherah…Josiah also removed all the temples on the high places in the cities of Samaria which the kings of Israel had built, provoking the LORD; he did the very same to them as he had done in Bethel. He slaughtered upon the altars all the priests of the high places that were there, and burned human bones upon them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.

Indeed, trees that do no bear good fruit are cut down.

Yesterday I suggested that the “narrow gate” of righteousness and the “broad gate” to destruction are both in the same Church. I suggested a lot of ways it’s possible to go down the dirt road to destruction just “doing church things” and forgetting about the Gospel. Today’s reading backs me up.


Think of the Temple as the human soul and realize that we need to be on guard at all times. Solomon was led astray by love for his wives, each asking for her own temple, and him caving in just to keep peace in his house. How many times do we do that, find a way to keep the peace by not keeping the faith? How many idols are in your temple? Where is your sun chariot, or your asheras, your altars to the signs of the Zodiac or your version of “Astarte, the Sidonian horror, of Chemosh, the Moabite horror, and of Milcom, the Ammonites’ abomination”?


Israel wasn’t paying attention. As we discover in the same passage there hasn’t been a Passover observed at all in generations! Things just got out of hand. All that was needed was someone to mind the fort a little more tightly. Someone needed to go right to the police at the first sign of trouble. And if your orchard starts bearing bad fruit, it’s time to chop some trees down just to keep the bad stuff from cross pollinating with the good stuff.


_____

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But our Money says “In God We Trust…”

JMJ

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.

Deus Vult!

JMJ

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

Si Dominus voluerit. Et : Si vixerimus, faciemus hoc, aut illud. 
 If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that. 

I watched the Pope Francis movie last Saturday. One of the things it did was provide a huge amount of context for some of the Liberal Press’ favourite Francis quotes. The one that got me in the solar plexus was a rather loaded question about “the gay lobby” in the Church. It was presented on the airplane in rather oleaginous manner by an obsequious woman who felt she had to ask “permission to ask a question about a very delicate matter…” and then asked His Holiness how he was going to “confront the gay lobby in the church”. In the days of my political activism, having heard many such questions, I would have said “hater”. In this case, I won’t say that because being close to power makes us all very odd – as does being a journalist. Every journalist wants the Power to Say Something and to get kudos from their fellows for getting a good quote.

When confronted by such a disingenuous question the Pope let fly. The question, which, for all that it was well-oiled and fully pumped up with big words, really should be translated as, “Will you tell gay people to get out of the church?” The reply – now well known – was sound bitten as “who am I to judge?” Yet in full context the reply was a reminder to the journalist, to everyone on the flight, and to the rest of us, that God calls us all to holiness. There were quotes from the catechism, and a good bit of puffing from the Holy Father. It doesn’t matter where you start the walk, or how long it takes to get there, it’s where you end that’s important. And the Pope was asking in reply that if someone who identifies as Gay is sincerely seeking the Lord, who is he (or any of us) to judge? There are a lot of folks in the Church – gay and straight – who are not seeking the Lord at all. We have more to worry about. Yes, who am I to judge, but also, who are you to judge? 

Within the last couple of days Pope Francis has said something that has been reported as “God makes some people gay.”  I’ve been asked what I thought about it and, since I don’t believe in ontological differences based on sexual desire, I think it’s a fair question for me. And, coincidentally, here comes today’s reading from St James:

Behold, now you that say: Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year, and will traffic, and make our gain. Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that.

This passage reminds me that we don’t get to pick the events in our lives. We only get to pick the way we react to them. There is a line used by the Orthodox to discuss both the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks and also the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia: these God allowed to happen to the Church “because of our sins”.  Oddly this same line is never used to discuss the sack of Constantinople by the Latins which can be traced exactly to a political power play inside the Byzantine world that resulted in a bunch of Angry Latins. Does God allow political falls or not? Am I who I am because God made me this way? Does such formation happen at such an early age that it’s not possible to answer such a question?

It God wills and we live, we shall…

We are not trapped into our choices: but we are not in control of events. Does God make your parents get divorced? Or does God allow it to happen? Is some part of the “what makes me gay” having been raised by a single mother? Or having been abandoned by her? The divine pattern is not what makes us: it is the matrix in which we are made by our choices and our dance. 

In the larger context of Catholic teaching the Pope has said nothing new. God made me. God loves me. Because I have been raised by Christian parents in a Christian context this is not news to me. Even though my family and my churches growing up had some messed up ways of showing that love, they inculcated that knowledge in me. The older I get, the more I realize that my identity, my sense of self, my actions must all be in response to that primordial knowledge. God made me. God loves me. While I have some seriously rough places of selfishness, of dysfunction, of brokenness, of scars from my past – caused by others and by my own bad choices – I have a daily choice: do I act from those places, or do I act from the knowledge that God made me and God loves me? 

I can freely decide to make any corner of my being the very center and prime directive of my life. Or if God wills and we shall live,  I can act from that knowledge that God made me and God loves me.

I’m with the Pope on this one.

Cheating on my Husband.

JMJ

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

Adulteri, nescitis quia amicitia hujus mundi inimica est Dei? quicumque ergo voluerit amicus esse saeculi hujus, inimicus Dei constituitur.
Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God. 

When James uses the word “adulterers” here, he means we are not being faithful to our relationship with God. We may think we’re being polyamorous but God wants us all to himself. We’re cheating on him.

I never know how to navigate this. Look sex I can handle. Racism, Ecology, Peace, Justice… this I can handle. But when someone asks me where I want to be in 5 years time, the answer has always been “closer to heaven”. In as much as I’ve always wanted to be a priest, I don’t have any map for success, or any idea of what it would look like. Increasingly, though, as that goal seems less and less likely, I’ve listened to my friend, Steve Robinson: 

  • I need to be an adult: 
    • pay my bills, 
    • say my prayers, 
    • support my parish, 
    • and love my parents. 
In as much as the Church’s preferential option must be for the poor, my every breath must be exhausted defending them, supporting them, sacrificing for them. Since I am a single man with no family to support I have more of an obligation to do so than someone with kids and the added vocational direction of supporting his family.

But every paycheck that comes in means I can buy more toys, or save for my future. Every meeting with a manager is a chance to succeed, every business deal with a deal worth making.

And I don’t know what counts as friend of this world in this context. When I sit in my own apartment not only do I feel alone most nights, I also feel like I’m wasting money. The question for me is not should I be living in a community and donating more money and time to the mission of the Church but rather how can I make this happen?

This is the part is that is most painful for me: the part that feels like a failure. I’ve become successful and so as much as I thank God for this success, I also feel like a hypocrite in doing so. It’s not an ambivalent relationship to worldly success but rather a train wreck of an illicit affair. Back in September I posted all that follows: it’s a way to not be an adulterer. It starts with a quite from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

The thing that I see there, that is the most important, is that Blessed John Henry doesn’t send you out on some Vocational Discernment Weekend, nor does he say you need to go hide in the desert until some vision strikes you: only, I shall be a angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling,  by which last he means “in my daily work”.

Elsewhere in this same book, (Meditations and Devotions) he offers a very simple rule of life – as quoted by the Catholic Gentleman – to direct us all on the way to Sainthood. Not nominal, least-common denominator mushiness, mind you, but full-on sainthood:
  • Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
  • give your first thoughts to God;
  • make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
  • say the Angelus devoutly;
  • eat and drink to God’s glory;
  • say the Rosary well;
  • be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
  • make your evening meditation well;
  • examine yourself daily;
  • go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

To this I would add this simple rule, offered by Alexander Schmemann in his journals (Mindul that he was writing privately, yes, but to a hypothetical reader who – like me – was craving monastic obedience as the magic panacea for whatever it is that ails you):

  • get a job, if possible the simplest one, without creativity (for example as a cashier in a bank);
  • while working, pray and seek inner peace; do no get angry; do not think of yourself (rights, fairness, etc.). Accept everyone (coworkers, clients) as someone sent to you; pray for them;
  • after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations;
  • always go to the same church and there try to be a real helper, not by lecturing about spiritual life or icons, not by teaching but with a “dust rag” (cf. St Seraphim of Sarov). Keep at that kind of service and be–in church matters–totally obedient to the parish priest.
  • do not thrust yourself and your service on anyone; do not be sad that your talents are not being used; be helpful; serve where needed and not where you think you are needed;
  • read and learn as much as you can; do not read only monastic literature, but broadly (this point needs more precise definition);
  • if friends and acquaintances invite you because they are close to you–go; but not too often, and within reason. Never stay more than one and a half or two hours. After that the friendliest atmosphere becomes harmful;
  • dress like everybody else, but modestly, and without visible signs of a special spiritual life;
  • be always simple, light, joyous. Do not teach. Avoid like the plague any “spiritual” conversations and any religious or churchly idle talk. If you act that way, everything will be to your benefit;
  • do not seek a spiritual elder or guide. If he is needed, God will send him, and will send him when needed;
  • having worked and served this way for ten years–no less–ask God whether you should continue to live this way, or whether change is needed. And wait for an answer: it will come; the signs will be “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”
You can grow and use all your gifts this way. 


And if you can’t then try again. Be faithful in piety and love, God will give you ways to use your gifts and you will always see them and fulfill them.


Now: I fail in this daily, but I don’t feel like a “failure” in this. All I need is more folks to join me.

No. Boys always say, “I love you *too*”

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)

Dicit ei tertio : Simon Joannis, amas me? Contristatus est Petrus, quia dixit ei tertio : Amas me? 
He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me?

This is the Bible reading that made me first get excited about learning Biblical Greek: there is so much word play here! In English, in this passage Jesus asks St Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times Peter respond, “Lord, you know I love you.” That’s how it’s translated in English. In fact, that’s how it’s read in every language except Greek and Latin. In Greek and Latin, Jesus asks two very different questions. He asks the first one twice, and when Peter demurs twice, Jesus asks the second question. This is why St. Peter is sad the third time.

The first two times Jesus asks Peter, do you Agape me. Agape is that divine, all-inclusive, all-embracing love that God has for us. Jesus asks Peter if he has this kind of love for his Lord. In fact, the first time, Jesus asks if Peter as more of this love than any of the other Apostles. It’s not, “Peter do you love me?” Rather it’s “Peter are you the best lover I have?”

But Peter twice says in response, Lord you know I Philia you. Philia is that sort of love that friends have one for another. The interlinear Bible renders it as “has affection for”.  So Jesus says, “Do you love me with a all-embracing, all-controlling, mad, passionate, Divine love?” And Peter responds by putting Jesus in the friend zone.

The third time, then, Jesus comes down to Peter’s level. Jesus asks do you Philia me? Are you my friend? And this time Peter is sad. Because he sees that he’s missed an opportunity to fall in love with Jesus. And yet again Peter’s response is Lord you know I Philia you. What is this? Three weeks after the resurrection? Peter has not yet figured it out. In fact, this scene is the end of a very disturbing passage. Peter wakes up one day and says, “I’m going fishing”. In other words, he’s going back to his old life. The other apostles follow their leader dutifully, but Jesus doesn’t want them fishing for fishes. Still, as this passage continues beyond today’s assigned verses, Peter turns to look at John and says, “What about him?” as if to say, “HE loves you… why are you bothering me?” Dude! When will you finally get it?

What we see here is St Peter struggling to understand Jesus, to figure out what all this means, to understand how he is the Rock, and how to love this messiah. But, more importantly Jesus says to Peter all three times, I don’t care if you’re my friend or if you are in love with me: feed my sheep. Jesus has only one command for Peter and it’s not “go back to fishing.” And Jesus has only one command for any of us, the friends of Jesus or mad, passionate, insanely in love with Jesus people. Our one duty is to feed each other.

St Paul tells us elsewhere that we are to build up the body of Christ, that we are to encourage one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. St Paul tells us to make all things into Eucharist and to think only on the good things and honorable things. So much of our life today and centered on anger, on hate, on violence. We focus on individual rights. Jesus tells us to be concerned with other people rather than with ourselves. The Church makes even our sins to be about other people rather than about ourselves. We are not to scandalize other people with our liberties. We are not to wound other people with our actions. Everything we do is to be in service to other people. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “A life not lived for others is not a life.”

Jesus asks you do you Agape me? Even if your answer is for now is only, I can be your friend, Jesus, He has only one command for you: Feed my sheep.

May not be a Bruce Lee quote. But it’s true.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)

Non rogo ut tollas eos de mundo, sed ut serves eos a malo.
I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil. 

There’s this great line in St Catherine’s writings, asking God not to take a temptation away from her, but rather to give her the victory over it. Of course, there’s also the line in the Our Father asking that we not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. 

We sometimes want an easy ride. We want a sermon that’s all jokes, we want a recipe that’s all hamburger helper. We want a religion that’s light and quick. How may Americans confuse Christianity with Mayberry, RFD? How many westerners are happy to call themselves Buddhists, but only on their own terms? (There are Dharma Punx who parallel the Orthodox Children of the Apocalypse in their serious rejection of Western values in the name of a deeper religious calling.) To be fair, before Americans got into the act, a lot of other people confused religion with “our culture”. God even calls out the People of Israel for doing that to Judaism in the Old Testament: creating an easy to get along, cultural thing that had little or no resemblance to the faith taught by the prophets – and a lot of resemblance to the practices of everyone else in the region. Everyone likes an easy religion.

Thing is, most religions are not intended to be easy. Classical Paganism was filled with rules, taboos, stipulations, food regulations… it took late 20th century writers to create a feel-good religion out of all that, a lackluster, Presbyterian sort of paganism for American bookstores. Oprah and Madonna turned the highest levels of Jewish Mysticism into something you could study with friends over a Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Anyone promulgating a traditionally stringent form of paganism gets accused of being a right-wing religious nut just like any other religious conservative.

Jesus’ prayer is a reminder that not even God himself thought this would be easy. St Mary of Egypt struggled for 40 Years in the Jordanian desert. If you don’t think the story is factual, remember it was told by Monks who, thus, at least acknowledged that theirs was a long struggle, a lifelong struggle. So is ours.

Along with Jesus, St Catherine and St Mary both know that without the struggle, the faith is meaningless. It’s ok to make choices, but doing away with temptation, doing away with evil, per se, is not the way to make disciples. 

Taking the easy way out is never the right way.

I’m wrestling with the virtue of fortitude and also with follow-through. It’s easier to run away. 

So, about this wall…

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)

Vos autem dixi amicos : quia omnia quaecumque audivi a Patre meo, nota feci vobis. 
I have called you friends: because all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you. 

One thing I often heard in dating relationships was that I have “bad boundaries”. After many years in failed relationships I finally learned what these were in the course of two conversations divided by 5 years. In one, a friend was telling me about a certain “Creepy” sort of person who one might meet who wants to become close friends as a result of a sexual encounter. In another conversation, a different friend, was telling me he was never that sort of person. He always had “good boundaries”. Both of these folks wondered why anyone wanted to be emotionally intimate just because sex had happened. I realized I was the person they were speaking about: the one that thinks sex must imply some sort of connection.

In The Lost Language of Cranes the protagonist, Philip Benjamin, has a falling out with his romantic partner who tells him “you need me too much. Half way across this city in the middle of the day I can feel you needing me.” Or words to that effect. I saw this once when it was on PBS in the early 90s, so I may not have the worlds right, but that scene stuck with me. Haunted me. In fact in my memory it’s the only words I can remember from the movie. But exactly what’s wrong with needing someone? Decades later when relationships were ending I’d still say I don’t get it… what’s wrong with needing someone? 


I have called you friends because whatever I’ve learned from my father I’ve made known to you.

As a hopeless romantic, I always had bad boundaries. And I have often wondered why that was (even before I had the terms down). Why did I “fall in love” or become emotionally attached? What if, however, these terms are intentionally in divine logic? What if what is generally seen as an enjoyable biological function is, in fact, a deeply spiritual and kenotic act of self-destruction? Would it not be natural for there to be no boundaries after it?

Jesus shares literally all of himself with us: body, blood, soul, and divinity. He shares with us all that the Father has given him and names us as friends, using a Greek word (philos) that implies non-sexual relationships based on common experience. The implication that there is a huge amount of intimacy, of union, that comes long, long before physical intimacy happens. Letting sex come first (which does happen from time to time) and yet denying the rest of intimacy: that is the odd choice. As Robert Anton Wilson makes clear in the Illuminatus trilogy, as well as in Schrodinger’s Cat: the Universe Next Door, sex is the ultimate breaking down of the boundaries, the end of the division, the unitive wholeness of humanity. Saying, at that point, “you need me too much” is like the river saying it shouldn’t need water. Having opened that door, slamming it shut again is the real bad boundary. 

At the end of this Gospel reading, Jesus says we should love one another, using a different Greek word now: agape. Unlike philia which is based on common experience, Agape is an act of will, and it is not something we can do alone: it is possible only by God’s love through us. Our love tends to be about gratification and validation. God’s love is about self-pouring out – into us, to overflowing and then out of us into others.

The intimacy offered to us in friendship, or even in the sexual union, is only a foretaste of the intimacy made available to us in the act of Eucharistic Communion. Here the divine fire of heaven enters our spiritual and physical bodies to destroy all that is not of the same divine origin. Uniting us fully and finally to the source and summit of that fire. The act of communion is the sacramental union of your soul with the divine dance at the end of Dante’s Paradiso XXXIII

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l vellesì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle. (Par. 33.143-45)

but my desire and will were moved already—like a wheel revolving uniformly—bythe Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

A final note. When Dante reaches the end of his vision and is granted the sight of the universe bound together in one volume, what entrances him is not plain Oneness but all that multiplicity somehow contained and unified. His heart is set on seeing and knowing that multiplicity, an otherness that is still stubbornly present in the poem’s penultimate word. God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars: “l’amor che move ’l sole e l’altre stelle”.
Much has been written about the transcendent stelle with which the Commedia ends; let us give due weight as well to the adjective that modifies those stars, the poem’s penultimate word, altre. Dante believes in a transcendent One, but his One is indelibly characterized by the multiplicity, difference, and sheer otherness embodied in the “altre stelle”—an otherness by which he is still unrepentantly captivated in his poem’s last breath. (Source)

We, dear sisters and brothers, are to be those altre stelle, the other stars moving in God’s light. The act of theosis will burn down all the walls left. We move from friends to lovers of the Divine source of Love. Heaven is an infinite dance without boundaries. 

I in you.


JMJ

The Readings for  the 5th Sunday of Easter (B2)
Among the Dominicans, The Feast of St Catherine of Siena

Ut credamus in nomine Filii ehe Catechism Tjus Jesu Christi : et diligamus alterutrum…
We should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ: and love one another…

Believe and Love. The words in Greek are  and πιστεύω pisteuo and ἀγαπάω agapao. To Trust in the name of Jesus and to Love, which, as Strong’s puts it, “to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of” another. The Catechism ❡1766 cites St Thomas who, in turn, is citing Aristotle: amare est velle alicui bonum. To love is to wish good to someone. In Italian today, one would use “ti voglio bene”, literally, “I will you good” to say “I love you” to anyone in a non-romantic, non-sexual way. 

Trust in the Name of Jesus and will the good of others. That’s such an easy… such a hard thing to do. 

But the Gospel gives us the meaning, the essence, if you will, behind these Johannine accidents. 

Dixit Iesus: Ego sum vitis, vos palmites : qui manet in me, et ego in eo, hic fert fructum multum, quia sine me nihil potestis facere.
Jesus says: I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.  

We can do nothing at all without Jesus. In fact, agape – that divine sort of love – is Jesus loving in us and through us. We can’t do that at all. Our human nature won’t let us open up to that sort of self sacrifice, that sort of self-emptying. We want to put ourselves front and center. I love you. ME. This is me loving you. Love me back. 

That’s not agape: that’s a new species of selfish.

I recently finished Corrie Ten Boome’s The Hiding Place and I’ve started on the sequel, Tramp for the Lord. Listening to Corrie struggle with loving is so educational. She knows she is supposed to love the Nazis, supposed to love the person beating her up, but she can’t. So she prays to Jesus to love through her. Suddenly she’s winning a soul for Christ, leading them to Salvation. 

That’s love. Bringing another closer to Christ is the only good there is: if I open my heart to Christ, he can Love you through me. And if I do my job right, the person being loved won’t even see me, but only Christ.

When we draw near to the Sacrament, it’s not for something that we should ask. We should be there to unite ourselves to Christ. All the other things will fall into place if we are there to unite ourselves to Christ. And Love (which is God) will be the natural outgrowth of that action; disinterested, unselfish, agape.  The Eucharist, bearing the accidents of bread and wine, but the essence of Christ, make us into itself: bearing the accidents of our presence in the world, but in essence Christ himself. We are the Body of Christ… if we let our ego out of the way.

Trust in Jesus – like Corrie did – and let him Agape through you to win souls for his Kingdom.