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.

Sola Scriptura Anonymous

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in Easter Week (B2)

Tunc aperuit illis sensum ut intelligerent Scripturas
Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. 

The first three classes of my (original) RCIA group, meeting in Columbus, GA, were spent addressing the Church’s teaching on the Bible. Since we were in the Bible Belt, talking about how Catholics talk about the Bible is crucial. We don’t think the thing fell down from heaven, highlighted passages in red and yellow, ready to go. And nearly every discussion in that class, no matter what the question was, usually ended up with the asker saying something like “But the Bible says…” and Fr Brian would have to bring them gently back to “but the Church says…” sometimes over a couple of discussions.


So today’s passage from St Luke – wherein Jesus has to enlighten the Apostles so that they understand the scriptures – might be especially troublesome to such a one, or to anyone who thinks they can divine the sense of Scripture just by reading it. There are other such passages after the Resurrection, such as yesterday’s reading when Jesus was at Emmaus. St Paul and Jesus rarely say anything in the first person singular. It is to the whole Church, to All Y’all, that the Spirit is given.

I attend a weekly meeting of a bunch of Catholics.  I’m not there every week, but I try to be. In fact I will go tonight! I hope it’s there tonight, but I may not be. Some Thursdays around holidays it gets a little hard to schedule. But anyway, there’s a member of the group who talks about Bible as if he were a Fundamentalist. From time to time we have a heated discussion where I’m happy to cite from my religious journey, but he is only willing to say “go read the Bible, that’s not in there…” A couple of weeks ago he wanted to quote “Vatican 2” to me, but that at least, I was ready for! (Thanks, Fr Brian!)

You really might like to read the document,  Dei Verbum (18 November 1965). But I’ve got the important passage below. I’ve added emphasis.


8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.
The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).
9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.
10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on,  has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.


It is to this that I assented when I entered the Roman Catholic Church a year ago: I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. If this is not so, why would I bother? The idea that I can still make it up as I go along haunts me though. I’ve read the Bible. I know what that passage really means. I can do what I feel is right here. I’ve been doing things my way for so long (even in the Orthodox Church) that I want to do more of the same now. One Orthodox publisher asked me over pizza once why the Catholics didn’t buy his books. Well, because your stuff isn’t approved. But that didn’t dawn on him because most of the clergy he knew didn’t function that way. 


Closing with one more passage from Dei VerbumIt is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

One cannot stand without the others.

There needs to be a 12 Step Program for Sola Scripturas.