Our Idols Our Selves

JMJ

WHILE LISTENING to the most recent episode of Clerically Speaking, I was struck by Fr Harrison’s ruminating on his ADHD and his free will. If we make out a part of us to be “who I am” then everything is filtered through that. Father seemed to be asking if he’s created too much of a crutch, short-handing his entire life into the ADHD diagnosis. It was an internal conversation I recognized because of how we treat SSA. The claim that “this is who I am” is reinforced, over and over, through the process of coming out: each emotional hurdle – telling Mom and Dad, telling my siblings, telling my friends, telling my faith community, etc – involves a process of fear, courage, and eventual release of endorphins, that it might almost be called self-hypnosis. The individual formulates a self-image, then does a test-run and is affirmed in that image. Eventually even the negative reactions to that image become positive reinforcements.

We can do this with sexuality, medical or psychological diagnoses, with our job, our class, our social positions, etc. We create a self-image based on some tiny aspect of ourselves and then feed that image until it grows into sort of synecdoche for our entire person. But that image isn’t me: it is, essentially, an homunculus, a fake me that I put out there to let others see and interact with. The real me, deep inside my being, is not important. Who I am projecting to be now is the only thing that matters. I’ve made a new me out of this one thing.

There are a couple of moments in, of all things, Brideshead Revisited when the narrator recounts that either himself or another character (Rex Mottram) are “part of a man pretending to be the whole”. For Rex it is his political aspirations, which are so important that his politics change over and over: from far right to far left, from capitalist to socialist, he will do anything to be popular – even contradict his previous self-image. The Narrator does this as an artist: puts a self-image of Bohemian Creator out there and runs with it. Anthony Blanche busts him free of this, calling out his charade. It takes, however, a few more chapters before the narrator gets it. Rex never gets it at all.

This seems a species of Imposter Syndrome, projected outward. At the heart of this is a fear that I’m not good enough. I must fool you into thinking I am, though. If I show you a fragment of me, just the bits that are what are needed here, then I have some control over things. You will like me or I will make up a new me for you to like.

What struck me, working through this with my therapist and my spiritual director (two different guys), was that having an homunculus is a defensive habit that is hard to break. In the last 6 months I’ve caught myself making a new one out of my job and out of my vocation: a tiny little mini-me that has all the qualities of a deacon or a soup kitchen director, but none of the qualities of me. God can’t save a mini-me, only the real me, hiding in the background. I wondered how often we do this to ourselves: set up a defensive shield of something (my liturgical office, for example) and then hid behind it. For me it was my religious journey that, after a while, became the thing. I was looking for something but even when I found something it was never good enough. This makes sense, of course: if it’s not the Truth, how can it be good enough? But for a while, it was fun just being the “guy with a really cool journey”. It didn’t matter that I never got anywhere. Rootless trees don’t grow though: they are more properly called tumbleweeds.

The homunculus is, really, an idol: someone I’m pretending to be that is much more important than who I really am. Not, mind you, that the homunculus needs to be important: but it is more important than me. I have created this thing so you must deal with it. You must love or hate it not me. You must argue with or support it not me. I have put so much work into creating this that you must pretend not to notice me at all. This thing is who I am… fully responsible for all that happens, and never at fault. Eventually, I have no choice but to do the things that the homunculus would want for its own preservation. I become the thing itself. (Except that’s not really possible…)

When we have an idol (or a pantheon of them) we can comfort ourselves with the idea that people are relating to us. But no, they are not. They are only relating to the idol – the fake person created to pass for the whole. They sacrifice to the idol their love, their companionship, their time and worth. But they do not know they are doing so. Carrying the idol around, I know there’s an idol, but I dursn’t admit it: to do so would risk giving up the not-real connections I think I have. If I give up the idol, you might not like me. So I, too, begin to sacrifice to it on a regular basis. The idol becomes stronger than I am. Chapters 10-14 of CS Lewis’ Great Divorce have two stories of this issue: The Man with a Dragon (Chapter 11) and the Man with a Chain (Chapter 12). But, more subtly, there are other stories about holding on to self-image in lieu of self also in that chapter. We can make an idol out of everything and, eventually, the idol destroys us.

Tracking my own reactions, there are times when people break the homunculus, or when they shatter my self-identity unintentionally. If I’m doing something where (in my mind) I must be perceived as this thing then to do something that clearly is outside of the role I’m playing makes me wither in self-doubt. For another person to (by their actions) cause me to break character is to provoke a huge emotional response from me – usually anger, yes, but sometimes fear, self-loathing, or pouting. I know who I am pretending to be, but if you get a glimpse of the real me, I have to be defensive. I have to lash out in anger to not only fix the thing you broke, but to quickly cover up the rip you’ve made in my self-image.

As Lewis points out, the homunculus eventually takes over, like a parasite feeding on its creator’s life. Eventually there is nothing left except the homunculus. The thing is God can’t save the homunculus. God can only save a human soul. The Church can’t ordain an homunculus, even one that is liturgically perfect. An homunculus cannot love others, although it can be made to seem as if it is loving others. A choice must be made: do I keep feeding the homunculus, or do I let the real me out of the box? The risk is that the real me must now feel and make choices: to be liked or not, to get saved or not, to love other people or not. Taking risks can be dangerous.

That’s what life is about: be still and know. Life is coming to oneself which can only happen by God’s grace. And self we imagine we’ve found on our own is not really us. As with Abram and the Prodigal Son, God is the only one who can reveal our real self to us. There is no need for panic attacks, angry lashings out, or fearful idol worship. Be still, and know.

Patience is a Virtue

JMJ

The Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (A1)

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.

James 5:7 (NABRE)

WHY IS JAMES ASKING US to be patient? The notes to my Lectors’ Handbook suggest this is a reading looking to hope in the 2nd Coming of Messiah. But That seems odd if you read the whole pericope: what’s that bit about the farmer? And the complaining thing? What’s that? Indeed, as the notes in the Handbook seem to indicate, this reads rather like a bunch of random wisdom sayings strung together here that we might have some pithy quotes to lob about. But I don’t think so.

If you pull back just a bit in the Epistle of St James, there’s a longer argument going on here that starts in the previous chapter. I think the whole argument runs from 4:1 to 5:11. That’s a bit long to take in at Mass, or even for a 7 Minute Homily, but let me sketch out the argument:

4:1 Why are there fights in the Church?
4:2 – 4 Because you covet things other people have, you’re jealous about who has what position, power, etc. In fact, that just shows you’re still friends with the world rather than God. Then James calls us unfaithful wives (to God), repeating something the Prophets said about Israel all the time.
4:5-10 if we are, therefore, humble before God, he will fight for us against these temptations. Humble yourself before God and he will lift you up.
4:11-12 We have an example of pride now. Gossip. Remember, these temptations lead to fights in the Church so…. don’t speak evil of each other. No backstabbing gossip, etc. That would cut off most of Coffee Hour sometimes. If you speak evilly of a brother or sister in Christ it means you’re judging them. NOTICE PLEASE that St James doesn’t seem to care if your comments are right or wrong. He says we talk this way because of our own pride. Pride leads to covetousness. That causes fights in the Church. STOP HAVING FIGHTS IN THE CHURCH. See?
4:13-17 We have another example of pride now: we make boasts all the time. Look what I plan to do tomorrow. Watch me do this thing. Look, Ma! No hands! All such boasting is evil. (Side note: this would end most staff meetings and all advertising.)
5:1-6 James carries this into an example of the example: rich people, who tend to boast in their wealth, are, in fact, being unjust all over the place. God will get them. Don’t envy them, don’t covet their wealth. We see that covetousness is a sign of friendship with the world up in Chapter 4, and that’s what causes fights in the church…
Finally getting to our passage today.
5:7 THEREFORE BE PATIENT, waiting for the Lord to return. What has that to do with anything? Why is there a farmer?

Because God is doing something here. God is working on the rich. On the prideful. On the Gossips. On the unfaithful wife, the Church herself. God is doing something here and he – the faithful farmer – is willing to wait until the early rain (Baptism) and the latter rain (the Holy Spirit) fall on all us sinners and make us into a fruitful harvest. SO WE should also be patient with one another not judging each other – or even COMPLAINING about things as they are – because such judging (back to 4:1) arises from pride and covetousness. And causes fights in the Church. So…

Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Update: by way of application, this is about a lot of things. It reminds me of the old tshirt wisdom, “Be patient, God’s not finished with me yet.” Reading that as a prayer for humility on the part of the wearer and the reader is important. I’m a jackass, I know, but God is working on me…

This passage usually gets spun as a ugent advice along the lines of Sure, Jesus isn’t coming back now but wait some more. It seems rather to mean, Thankfully, Messiah hasn’t yet come back so we have some time to let him work on things in us.

Finally, to let God do that work in you (or in me) you have to be humble, don’t complain, bear with each other, and let God use the tools he has picked to do the job.

The Echo Here is Amazing

JMJ

YOUR HOST HAS NOTED elsewhere that in studying Hebrew at CitizenCafe Tel Aviv, he gets exposed to a lot of Israeli pop culture. Listening to modern, secular folks discuss Hebrew – or speak or sing in Hebrew – carries with it these echoes of the Tanakh. It cannot but just as much modern English carries echoes of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. However it’s rare that a pop song will explain a passage in King Lear or the Acts of the Apostles just by virtue of being in the same language. Even listening to the news broadcast in Hebrew, one can hear “Judea” and “Samaria” and have some strange flashbacks. But today’s email for the American’s in the crowd – talking about “Thanksgiving” – blew my mind. And then the mind of several people at work today.

The email offered to teach me:

Fun facts about “todah” which means “thanks” or, in Modern Israeli Hebrew, it’s used for “Thank you”. It linked to a blog post but here’s the mind blowing part:

Some of you may know the word Jewish or יהודים (yeh-huh-deem) comes from the name Judha or יהודה (ye-huh-dah). It is told in the book of Genesis, that after Leah gave birth to Judah, she gave thanks to God and praised him for her good fortune. The name comes from the verb לֵהוֹדוֹת (leh-hoh-doht) which means – to thank. However, it also means to confess or to admit something. It seems like in the bible, these two verbs were strongly related and sometimes even interchangeable.

You will not notice, perhaps, if you are not a Christian reading this, but “giving thanks” and “confessing” are two different Sacraments in the Christian tradition. To “Give Thanks” is the Eucharist or Mass, to confess one’s sins is the Sacrament of Confession. To read (even in this off-handed way) that they are the same word in Hebrew is quite the surprise. Not, mind you, that this was unknown to others, only to the present writer and everyone he’s spoken to so far. Yet here it is in the Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary, #3034:

yadah: to throw, cast
Original Word: יָדָה
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: yadah
Phonetic Spelling: (yaw-daw’)
Definition: to throw, cast

confess (10), confessed (3), confesses (1), confessing (2), gave (1), gave praise (1), give you thanks (5), give thanks (59), giving praise (1), giving thanks (3), glorify (1), hymns of thanksgiving (1), making confession (1), placed (1), praise (17), shoot (1), thank (5), thanksgiving (1), throw down (1).

A primitive root; used only as denominative from yad; literally, to use (i.e. Hold out) the hand; physically, to throw (a stone, an arrow) at or away; especially to revere or worship (with extended hands); intensively, to bemoan (by wringing the hands) — cast (out), (make) confess(-ion), praise, shoot, (give) thank(-ful, -s, -sgiving).

The linking of worship with extended hands and bemoaning with wringing of hands even adds the proper physical gestures for the two sacraments.

There’s so much more to go into between the “offering of thanks and praise” in the Mass and the Thanksgiving offering in the Temple; the Rite of Yom Kippur and the Sacrament of Confession…. there’s so much more. One random line in a blog post from my Hebrew School opened the Bible in an entirely new way for me today. Every word is an echo of the language used by the prophets.

I started my second semester on Monday.

Red in the Morning

Dawn over a foggy golden gate
The Readings for the 33rd Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)

Before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to rule the earth,
he will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98:9 (Responsorial)

FUN FACT: what the NABRE calls “Malachi 3:19” other translations call Malachi 4:1. NABRE has all the words, but only 3 chapters… Not really sure what that’s about. Makes it real hard to link to other translations. Anyway, furnace. We know the whole thing. The day of the Lord will hit the sinners like a fiery furnace. But wait, there’s more: the Just will see the Sun of Justice Rise.

So, for both Just and Unjust, the Day of the Lord means a fiery sunrise. The fire will burn for everyone. How will that day dawn for you?

We often make justice to mean “punishment” and mercy to mean “letting me off the hook”. These definitions are neither of them true, and they make God to be as petty as we are.

Mercy is God’s divine and infinite condescension to us in kindness and love. The first instance of this mercy, personally and for each of us, is the creation of the entire world. The second instance is the creation of your individual soul, an act of infinite love and creation in time that took place at the moment of your conception. All things – all blessings, all punishments, all teachings, all correction, all salvation, all purgation, all joys, and all sorrows – arise from this original mercy, or original blessing, as the former Dominican, Matthew Fox, called it. This is an act of Mercy because God has no need of you, no need of the universe, no need of creation at all. God’s love did this.

Then we want to think of human sin and its punishment. Yet we do not think of, even then, God’s constant mercy. For we know that sin is death. We know that we are cut off from the divine life by mortal sin (that’s why it’s called “mortal”) yet, in God’s mercy, we do not die, we are not “smote”. God lets us go on with an eye towards our repentance and restoration. Almost all of life, then, is a mercy. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions for that is part of the way the world functions: if you kill someone, they are really dead. You will grieve that action even if you are absolved. If you spread hate, you will suffer the social blowback from your actions even if you are able to grow towards love. If you commit sexual sin, there’s the possibility of a child, of disease, of re-writing the reward pathways in your brain towards an addiction. These are parts of the world in which we live and each sin means that we must deal with the actions. That’s not justice, though. It’s only the natural consequence. in some case the “really dead” or the “accidental child” my turn out to be a blessing or a curse, or even a cross, but it’s still not justice. No retribution is, of itself, justice. Eye for eye is not justice nor is, ironically, dropping things, walking away, forgetting…

God’s justice is a restoration of right relationship.

Imagine you are building a building as a contractor. The floor should be perfectly level. From that floor, at perfect 90° angles, should rise each of the walls – they are square. They stay straight, square with the floor all the way up, this means the walls are “plumb”. However, let us say that one wall begins to sag inwards. This wall will – eventually – make the adjoining walls weaker. They may begin to sag. And the roof could possibly collapse. So the owner calls you back and asks you to fix it – to make the wall square again. The process of returning the building to level, square, and plumb when projected on human relationships, is justice.

We want to think of Justice and Mercy in opposition, but, in fact, they are part and parcel of each other. Justice demands a right relationship. Mercy makes it mutually possible. Justice demands I share my surplus with the poor – not store it up in my new barns. Mercy (God’s kindness) allows me to have the grace to do it. It is not justice for the rich to hoard their wealth unless it is in order to more easily serve the poor. It is not mercy for us to say, “He can do whatever he wants with his stuff” for that leaves him in wrong relationship, leaves him in his sins. When we remind the rich man of his duty to justice and move him (through God’s grace) to restore a right relationship with the poor, that is mercy. When we use love to show someone walking away from God the right path, we are merciful: and that restores right relationship to God and others, that is justice.

They do not kiss together: they are the component parts of the same thing. Justice is the form of mercy. Mercy is the substance of justice.

Likewise the Sun of Justice and the Fiery Furnace. They are the same thing: it’s how we stand, if we’re level, square, and plumb. Or are are we sagging inwards, pulling down the whole structure? Do we want fixing or propping up? Do we need tearing down so that something good can be raised up instead? If we are falling apart, the fire will burn, but if we are solidly built in the faith, resting on the solid rock, rising like a tower, then the sunrise will show forth in the inviting colors of a new day.

God is a consuming fire. The only choice we have is shall we be consumed willingly or not.

Many Sons had Father Abraham

JMJ

GOD CALLS Abram to himself, then some things happen. He lies about his wife, God promises him a son, he lies about his wife again, there’s a son, finally, but not the promised one, and then some other things happen. The Wiki resources on this parashah are amazing. Here are some more. And yet more. God calls Abram to himself and then some things happen, among them are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: things 1, two, and III. The sons of Abram (later, Abraham) are, as the camp song said, “many”. A blessing for all nations, indeed.

Clicking through some of the resources, it’s interesting that fabricated backstories (outside of the Biblical material) look for reasons that Abram was qualified for this calling. He was righteous, or he was already worshipping God, or his family were all doing so. (For how many generations?) But God calls whom he will – righteous or not.

לֶךְ-לְךָ‎ Lech Lecha tells the beginning of Abram’s story, called out of Ur of the Chaldees to be a blessing for all people. Lech Lecha is a sort of verbal one-two punch because repeating the same word twice it means GO! YOU GO! But, as the Rabbis point out, it also means “go to yourself“. Abram had to find himself in order to understand God or, more to the point, had to come to God in order to find his true self. Yet as noted in an earlier post, this is remarkably echoed in Jesus story of the Prodigal Son who “comes to himself” (Luke 15:17) in a far distant land and has to come home to his Father.

I’m not suggesting that Jesus used the name of a Torah Portion as part of his teaching (although I wouldn’t put it past him) nor does Luke use the same Greek Phrase as the LXX. Luke 15:17: Εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθὼν. LXX Genesis 12:1 ἔξελθε ἐκ τῆς γῆς σου. These phrases don’t overlap at all except (possibly) in meaning. Is the Dominical Saying perhaps intended as an echo of the Torah though? Would Jesus have been trying to get his audience to say, “Hey… wait a minute. That makes me think of something else!”

Ambrose, Augustine, Bede, and others say the Elder Brother is the people of Israel while the prodigal is the Gentiles. Cyril of Alexandria disagrees but for markedly antisemitic reasons. I want to take the Elder as the Jewish People, but I want to note other implications.

God called Abram to come to himself – and through him all his children. Meaning that, by Meditation on God’s Teachings (including the later Torah), it was possible for the Jews to live structured lives according to God’s wisdom and thus to be a light to the Gentiles. A week before he was just another Pagan worshipping fire or whatever they did in Ur. Then God calls Abram out of the Chaos of the Pagan World into the light of the Divine Logos. This logos, though, is not limited. He is also spread throughout the world. There is no corner of being where the Divine Beingness is unknown, but only more or less hidden. To find your true self, your own logos, in its fullness you must go through God. To go on the quest for yourself is to – ultimately – go on a quest for God. You have to be called on that journey (like Abram) for it to go deep, but you can start out (by Grace) on your own.

The prodigal “coming to himself” in a distant is the Gentile Version of the Call of God to Abram. Then some things happen. His journey of repentance, the embrace of his father, the gift of his true identity (robe, sandals, and a ring) all happen after he is called to himself.

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8

JMJ

THIS PAST SABBATH (that is, Sat 22 Oct) marked the beginning of the annual reading of the Torah, the 1st Five Books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jewish tradition is to cycle through the whole Torah in a year in very predictable ways. Last Saturday was Shabbat Bereshit. This Saturday, the 29th, is Shabbat Noach. I’m no Torah Scholar, nor even an Old Testament expert, but I wanted to mark the passing this Sabbath by highlighting what seems a major difference between the way Christians read this passage and the way it is read in Synagogues. It’s something I’ve wrestled with a bit since a lot of Christians seem not even to recognize the difference exists.

The difference is at the point of Eve and Adam’s Sin. What happened?

First, I want to point out that where we are today in our discussions of Sin is only built on where they were in the days of Jesus, St Paul, and even Augustine. The Catechism of the Church calls original sin a mystery that we cannot fully understand (¶404) and it’s not something that can be parsed out fully, even in a blog post. But neither is it easily sorted out in internet soundbites: it’s not a mere legal issue. We’re not all guilty of the sin of our first parents- only Adam and Eve committed their sins. Yet we are all born somehow implicated in those sins.

Coincidently, I was wrestling with this nearly a year ago as well.

I prefer to think of it as a sort of Spiritual DNA: the human (spiritual) genome was mutated by our first parents. They cannot pass on what they do not have – everyone gets the mutated genes. These genes incline us toward sin the same way a psychological disorder inclines one to kleptomania or disordered sexuality. Likewise, each succeeding generation of humans cannot pass on anything they don’t have: in fact, it gets worse as we go on.

Yet even this genetic idea fails at several points: we are baptized “for the remission of sin” as if we have each committed some action that makes us guilty, even as babies. Each of us is somehow guilty at this point. Of what, though? I don’t know. Even so, we’re not taught the doctrine of Original Sin as if part of a system of plus and minus points. Rather we start out in an infinite deficit repairable only by Sacramental Grace.

Reading God and His Image by Fr Dominique Barthelemey, OP, I’ve come to a different sense of our First Parents and our Spiritual DNA.

The issue is not that we’re broken and keep sinning: it’s that we’re broken and can’t see God.

Adam and Eve experienced an intimacy with God that we’ll never know. Do you remember the old line, “Don’t do that to your face or it may freeze that way”? Barthelemey says that, basically: Eve and Adam imagined a different god (not the Creator God of Love) and their spirits froze that way. The act of hiding from God in the garden is the first fruit of this new and evil imagining. (My essay from last year has more on this.) Cain killing Abel is the next fruit. Humanity is created in God’s image but with the fall the mirror is distorted. Until we can see him at all, this isn’t going to work. God spends the next several millennia bringing humanity to a collective place where they can image him correctly. It’s not just with the Jews, either. As the Church Fathers say, God was preparing everyone: Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, and Lao Tzu. All cultures have seeds of the Logos in them, waiting for the Real Thing to arrive in Jesus and unfold the hidden meanings. But Israel gets the most (and the most direct) revelation pre-loaded. They are to be a light for the gentiles in their relationship with God. We are to follow them and younger brothers follow their elders’ lead to the Father.

Rabbinic Judaism as we see it now has no conception of this brokenness.

Yet it was somewhere present in the 2nd Temple Period: Paul comes up with “as in Adam all die” and “all creation groans” with nary even a hint of an apology. The problem arises for us now projecting our current Judaism (or our current Christianity) back on the 1st Century AD. There were multiple Judaisms at that time, one of which evolved into Christianity as we know it today in all its various forms. Another evolved into the Judaism we know today in all its various forms.

That said, there are multiple readings of the stories in the Bible and even the site I linked above says they are concerned with fundamentalist readings. Catholicism hardly qualifies, but I’m sure some would disagree. The Dominican Essay above is a Catholic reading of the Bible, it’s not the Catholic one. Former Evangelicals have a reading that, while Catholic, still sounds kinda Evangelical. The clergy over at Catholic Stuff podcast have another reading which I rather like.

No resolution is offered here, only noting that we do not read these passages the same way. It’s important to note that in deciding on the right reading (or family of readings) there’s no way to reconcile what now must become the wrong family of readings.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

One God and Father of All, who is over all, through all, and in all.

Ephesians 4:6

P AUL CONTINUES HIS Meditation on the Fatherhood of God. It’s important to note that Paul is speaking to Pagans (and some Jews) who are now followers of Jesus. It’s important because of the difference in theology. In the Greco-Roman world there were a few “crossbreeds” of divine (or semi-divine)+humans. Some of these even resulted in traced bloodlines: for example, Caesar was divine, but his children were not (unless someone should become Caesar). But the bloodline of Egypt was considered divine (even as it was petering out). Alexander was called a god, but those who came after him, not really. Although they played it up a bit.

Now, here’s a father who loves you. Who wants what is best for you and – at the same time – what is best for everyone.

Why say no? Well, to be honest… we all know the answer. Yes, sin but it’s not enough just to say, “I’ve sinned.” It’s the realization that this Father requires everything:

  • Certainly Submission to his will; but also
  • full reliance on him even when you don’t understand
  • even for the little things which he enjoys doing for you
  • trust (faith) even when the lights have all gone out and it’s time to move forward
  • accepting that what he knows is best might actually hurt
  • an active, ongoing participation in the relationship
  • ideally, asking him for help means letting him do it
  • not letting anyone else get in line ahead of him; and finally
  • he’s got a list of do’s and don’t’s to talk about and he’s serious. They are not the one’s you think. Yes, sure, don’t kill anyone, for example, but don’t get angry with them either.

This Father is more than Dad.

He’s God.

And we need to let him be God, or this isn’t going to work out.

But if we let him do things his way, “over all, through all, and in all” will make perfect sense to you as will St Paul’s other interesting line about God, “In whom we live and move and have our being”.

How can you refuse?

Pro Patria

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

From whom every family on earth is named.

Ephesians 3:15

THERE IS A WORDPLAY here: the Greek word for Family is the same as the word for Father. Patria. In Latin Patria does double-duty as Father and Country (as in Fatherland) although some countries are “mother” like Russia. Anyway, Lay aside any issues the reader may have with God picking his own pronouns and focus on what Paul is actually saying here. Paul is paralleling the relationships of a person with their natural father, on the one hand, with the relationship of a redeemed person (in Christ) with God the Father.

Through the Spirit (sent by the Father) may the Son dwell in your heart that you may know the fullness of God within you.

It’s one of my favorite Bible passages, with Paul waxing poetic (and mystical) about “the breadth and length and height and depth” with nary an object in sight. Some translations stick in the love of Christ here, so that we can know that love, but that’s not the point. We’re not comprehending the love of Christ at all. “The breadth and length and height and depth” refer to the fullness of God.

Christ’s love is there… to give us the strength… to bear up with our high calling as Sons of God on earth. That’s not a metaphor: you have an earthly father, and now you have a Heavenly One as well. St Francis and a few others would say instead.

We are called to live, on earth, participating in the fullness of the Trinitarian Fellowship. Members of the Body of Christ (again, not a metaphor, but a spiritual reality) offering continually the Son’s worship of the Father, as Sons in the Son, and the love between us is the Holy Spirit.

This is the Fire that Jesus sets on the earth, mentioned in the Gospel. And this fire does divide us from those around us: if it’s not doing so, something is horribly wrong.

Thing is: we are to invite others into the fire with us.

About Those Nine

From: Good News for Modern Man
The Readings for the 28th Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)

In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18 (Alleluia Verse)

ARE THE OTHER NINE Bad or ungrateful? There’s a clue in Jesus’ command, “Go show yourselves to the priests…” Lepers were completely ostracised. They had to enforce their own banishment by announcing that they were unclean in order to scare others away. Yes, Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers is important, but there’s more going on here than just a cure.

Reading in Leviticus 14 you’ll find a long process of returning the banished Leper to full communion in Jewish society. There’s an eight-day waiting period, some sacrifices, a full body examination, the whole body must be shaved, there’s a red cord… it’s quite a deal. The 9 are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do to the letter of the law. There’s a hitch though: the Samaritan rejects the temple priesthood. They are unable to document his status as “clean” or “unclean”. In fact, to their eyes, he’s just unclean, full stop, because he is a Samaritan. And he probably doesn’t feel much different about the priests, himself.

All ten of them found out their status had changed: they were no longer leprosy positive. Nine of them had a long legal process to go through before they could see their families or get back to life in any way. Might as well get that process started: according to their religion, they had to do that eight-day thing even before Jesus could talk to them again.

But not the Samaritan. He is free to come back, indeed he has nowhere else to go. Time for some Geography. To “go to the priest” the lepers would have to go to Jerusalem. Indeed, Jesus is already on his way to Jerusalem so he’s (basically) sending the Lepers in front of Him. And, since Jesus has already traveled through Samaria (verse 11) on his way to Jerusalem since the Samaritan had turned back from Jerusalem, he would have to cross paths with Jesus again: that’s how he needs to go to get home. What’s happening in the Gospel Story here is only the logical result of a social divide between Samaritans and Jews and Luke’s knowledge of geography: Jerusalem is one way, Samaria the other.

Again, I want to be clear: the nine religious Jews would need to be certified as clean by the priests before they could interact with anyone. They are following the rules correctly. Additionally, they are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do – go show yourselves to the priest – that is, Jesus told them to obey the Torah.

Jesus’ response is telling: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” First off, the foreigner is thanking Jesus (v. 16) so the “to God” is made to point at Jesus. (The Greek parallels it as “give Glory to God” and “giving thanks to Jesus“.)

Thus, there is some way in this story in which God and Jesus are the same and where “Giving thanks/glory” to God is more important to Jesus/God than following the Jewish Law.

Giving thanks is a hallmark of Christian piety. Pauls command that we give thanks in all things is just the direct form of the teaching. We give thanks for everything so much so that Prof John Koenig questions if we’re not cited in the Mishna (Berakhot 5:3) “one who recites: We give thanks, we give thanks twice, they silence him” because “we give thanks/we give thanks” is the form of the Eucharistic prayer over bread and wine. This makes it a Christian thing rather than Jewish, which latter tradition forms prayers as blessings rather than thanksgiving. “Blessed are you, Lord our God… for having done this thing.”

The Nine Lepers went off to Jerusalem to recite the prescribed Blessings while the Samaritan came to Jesus giving thanks.

There is something else going on here. Two somethings else, actually.

Thing 1: Thanksgiving implies (I think) a more personal relationship. We send thank you notes to persons – generally not to institutions or agencies. We say thank you to people doing good deeds (even officials doing them) but rarely – or only ironically – do we thank ATMs, Siri, Google, etc. We say “thank you” to someone who has given us something freely, as part of a very intimate (even if momentary) relationship. It’s a sign of communion. While uncommon in the Hebrew liturgy, it’s not entirely absent, of course. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95). But on the personal level, Blessing God is far more common. Even in modern Israeli Hebrew, where many Americans might say “Thank God!” (with no particular deity in mind…) an Israeli speaker will say “Baruch HaShem!” It is often translated as “Thank God” but means “Bless the name!”

A blessing can imply a subordinate relationship (a parent blessing a child, for example) but that’s not what is going on when we bless God. This article is rather interesting since it calls blessings a way to “draw God” into the world.

The Zohar explains that “blessing” G-d is not simply praising G-d as the source of blessings; rather, it is related to the word hamavrich (הַמַּבְרִיךְ) found in the Mishnah,5 which means to “draw down.” In this sense, the word baruch means to draw blessings from their source.

Thus, when we bless G-d, we are asking that He draw down His G-dly revelation into the world. For example, when we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who heals the sick,” we are requesting that G-d express His revelation by breaking the nature of this physical world and healing the sick. When we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who blesses the years” in the blessing for livelihood and produce, we request that G-dliness become revealed, causing rain to fall and vegetation to grow.

To draw an unwanted parallel, a blessing of God is a sort of sacrament. So it is like making Eucharist in a real, theological way.

Luke is generally seen as writing to a Gentile Audience – those evangelized by St Paul. Paul had many struggles with folks who really tried to make these Gentiles into Jews first (following the Torah rules). Luke seems to be asking his non-Jewish readers to bypass any Jewish tradition and just do the Gentile Believer thing of thanking Jesus. And he saying that’s ok: you don’t need to go through all those things if you’re making Eucharist (giving thanks) with Jesus. Further, though, the Samaritan giving thanks to Jesus is a way for the author to ask his few Jewish readers to realize that God’s Blessings Have Come into the World in this one Man. The power of God is active and present in a new – and permanent – way.

But Thing 2 is even more interesting: he’s sent the Nine Cleansed Lepers ahead of him to Jerusalem. They are apostles sent to the priests: here’s one last chance to get this right. Here’s the Good News if you’ll hear it. They won’t and don’t care. In fact, they get even more jealous at this point. But, there it is: Jesus has obeyed the law and sent them the cleansed Lepers. Rather than say, “Don’t tell anyone” he literally said, “Go tell the priest”.

They don’t listen.

Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

Other Brands Are Available

JMJ

This is an assignment for my Homiletics class. Randomly picks out of a hat, as it were, it’s a coincidence that these are the readings for last Sunday. Yes, these homily assignments are extremely on-brand for me.

The Readings for the 27th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you.

Luke 17:9-10a

THERE WERE SIX months when I tried my vocation as a Benedictine Monk, 8000 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. 11 inches of snow on May 1st, 2016 and our traditionalist monastic practice seemed to go on forever, like the snow. 

4:30 wake-up, Matins at 5. 45 mins for meditation. The offices of Lauds, and Prime, then a house meeting where we planned out the day. The 3rd hour was sung, then Mass. Then coffee. 

Father Abbot seemed happy for any pious excuse or extra devotion to maximize our liturgy. It kept growing longer.

One day as I was struggling, trying to pray through this telescoping dreamscape of liturgy, a thought came to me:

Remember: you’re a monk. What else do you have to do today?

That was the right idea! I relaxed into the deep end of liturgical traditionalism and began – anew – my monastic struggle in earnest.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The psalmist is not calling us to a beginning but rather into the middle of an ongoing story. The people of Israel are already on their journey. They have heard God’s voice several times.

If today you again hear his voice, harden not your hearts again. Nor tomorrow for that matter.

Jesus speaks of beginnings in our Gospel: Mustard seeds are tiny. Yet, elsewhere, Jesus says the mustard seed grows into the largest of trees and the birds of the air live in the branches.

But here? Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

When a servant finishes one chore, does the master say, “Good job! Come chill out with me!” No. When you’re done with that, the master says to you, here’s another thing to do. And another. There will be rest when I’m done with you.

If you’re married, is there any time you get to say, “For a few moments I shall pretend I’m not married…”

No. There is not.

When we first give our lives to the Lord, we can imagine a one-and-done deal. But the Christian life is not like that at all. There is no minimum for success.

Jesus wants to be the Lord of our entire lives: our sexuality, our piety, our emotions, our politics, our friendships, our social media, our reading, our media consumption, our clothing choices.

Not a day passes when at least once, or more often more than once, Jesus says, “Huw? You forgot to give me that bit over there.”  Yet, when I hear his voice, often my first response is O, now hold up a minute God…

Jesus reminds us today that – like marriage – there is no time in the Christian life when you can pretend you’re not called to holiness,  no time to pretend you’re not in a deeply personal relationship with your Lord; no time to pretend you’re not a Christian. 

We all can recognize when such pretending happens: it’s called sin. We harden our hearts like that all the time. Rejecting his call. Refusing his love. Refusing to share his love with others.

Don’t.  If you hear his voice do not harden your heart!

Jesus reminds us of beginnings, but if a mere seed of faith can move blueberries, imagine how much more power there is when the tree is fully grown and providing shade and home for birds! Even then, Jesus reminds us to say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.”

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

In today’s 2nd Reading, Paul calls Timothy – and us – to “stir into flame the gift of God.” We must – by faith – stir our cooling embers back to full flame. Ask God what is needed and he will show you where to gently puff on the coals, where to stir, where to rake back the ashes.

And when you ask, don’t turn away from what God has for you next! It’s always your salvation. It’s always for your healing. He’s always calling us forward to holiness and sainthood. But, it is work!

Give yourself – entirely – to Jesus again. Invite him at Communion Time to be the Lord of your whole Life again.

Plant your mustard seed then let it grow.

Remember. You’re a Christian. What else do you have to do today?