The Readings for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
The Readings for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
The Readings for Thursday in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Memorial of St Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr
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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The Readings for in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
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?
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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The Readings for Thursday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
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.
The Readings for Wednesday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
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.
The Readings for Tuesday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
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.
- 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.”
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.
The Readings for Friday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
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.
The Readings for Wednesday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
The Readings for Friday in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)
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.
The Readings for the 5th Sunday of Easter (B2)
Among the Dominicans, The Feast of St Catherine of Siena