The Flock is Scattered.

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Et suscitabo super eos pastores, et pascent eos : non formidabunt ultra, et non pavebunt, et nullus quaeretur ex numero
I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing.

It’s hard to be Catholic. Each of us knows this: there is something asked, something demanded of us – each of us has this thing and we know it. But, if we’re doing it all wrong, we can see someone over there doing exactly the same thing with seeming impunity. It’s so easy to judge that person over there for doing it. And then we are tripped up, ourselves, and it must be ok, right? So it is with the sex scandal. All in high places in the Catholic Church have always been sinners (we are all sinners) but some of them spectacularly so. A google of “bad popes” or “Irish nuns” will bring all kinds of stories. And no few news stories today – even within the last few weeks – will be found without much clicking.

No one has asked me about why I became Catholic in the light of the continuing sex scandal. But friends of mine have been asked that. Being Catholic is hard and the sex scandal is huge. It might have broken earlier, to be honest, if there had been electronic media in the 9th century. It might have broken in another church if the Soviets had been on their game. It might have broken in ECUSA if our clergy had not been married – because an abusive husband is surely just as bad as a pedophile, right? But society ignores that sin in a different way. And a married man who has sex outside of his marriage is pretty normal stuff even if it is with another man. Most of us never got around to talking about relationships of power-imbalance until it was too late. Ever wonder why a given ECUSA Bishop had to retire early?

And after hearing (in some cases, daily) preachers who say “don’t do this”, we discover that some were doing it quite often. Why should I bother refraining, right? Because I, at least, am not an abuser but rather a lover. I can see that over there is a huge sin. What is mine? And yet…

Each of us is a shepherd, really. The entire body of Christ, the entire Body of the Good Shepherd: we are all shepherds.  The flock you lead is your family, your friends, your coworkers. The people you see daily on the subway. God expects you – demands of you – the same love, the same care, the same purity of life and doctrine, the same self sacrifice and death from you on their behalf as God demands of his other priests in their place and time. We are all shepherds and when the shepherd falls, the flock is scattered.

When our sins are so small, you know what else is worrisome? Yes, I’m a Christian, but not like that. I have made some different choices, and it’s all ok. And a few more sheep are lost… thinking either we are all hypocrites or else we’re all liars. Or worse, they think they can continue in their sin as well. We try to be all modern and relevant and stuff but become pharisees who gain an convert and make him to be worse than he was before.

We are all shepherds. This is what the name “little Christ” means here. We are all priests, prophets, kings, and shepherds.

We must look out, and as Christ was coming back from retreat with his Apostles, we must be moved with compassion. For all around us are like sheep without shepherds. And we have been sent.

Kneeling in Church just before the communion last night, our cantor began one of those songs that “everyone knows” as far as Church goes. I didn’t know it cuz I’m new here.

I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near
I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light
Come and rest in Me

As I was near the front of the Church I had received the Precious Body and was waiting from the Chalice to come as the first refrain began.

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

Hearing these words for the first time as one is drinking the Very Blood of God was overpowering. I was standing less than two yards from the Cantor as he sang them.

But then I knelt in my pew to say my thanksgiving for the gift of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, given to me, an unworthy sinner, a man with a past. And as Jeffrey finished each verse the congregation, slowly receiving their communion and filling in behind me, softly took up the refrain. More and more sang each time. until the song was a soft but insistent thunder of Love around me.

I am strength for all the despairing
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free
And all will know My name 

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine
 

I am the Word that leads all to freedom
I am the peace the world cannot give
I will call your name, embracing all your pain
Stand up, now, walk, and live 

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

Surrounded by my fellow sheep echoing the words of our Shepherd, I knew that I had come home, that I was surround by – yes, Sinners – who were in love with the same Shepherd. We are all growing into his likeness. Some of us fall… daily some of us fall daily. Yet we reach out, we raise up, we commune, we grow more and more.


But that’s not all, comforting as it is. If we are not thus moved to be better shepherds, better Christs living in the world leading our little flocks to his, then we have failed. We are not failing as fabulously as a Medici Pope, and no one will file a lawsuit against us for malpractice over our personal impious peccadilloes, but we will lose some sheep. And God will have to say to us each, You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.

Yet God will bring them home. 




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The Subversion of Might

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 15th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Non veni pacem mittere, sed gladium.
I came not to send peace, but the sword. 

How very strange this sounds to our ears, who are so used to thinking of Jesus as some sort of Zen Anarchist Hippie. We want to apologize for bad translations. However, to someone expecting Messiah to overturn the Roman Occupation of Israel, this must have sounded rather logical, even so obvious as to be platitude. Jesus had other things in mind though.

We always want Jesus to fit into our political molds – we can be Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Communist, we can be right wing or left wing, we can even be an anarchist.  If you’re an American Voter or political activist, I’m willing to bet you, dear reader, or someone close to you can make an argument that Jesus supports your choices. Or, if you’re not used to thinking in Christian terms, from what you know about this ancient carpenter/philosopher, dead now 2,000 years, I bet you can come up with the arguments yourself. I’ve heard/read arguments that imagine Jesus speaking for and against abortion, for and against same-sex unions, for and against divorce, for and against “the oldest profession”. I’ve heard arguments that Jesus would have been for or against various immigration policies, for or against medical pot, for or against nuclear arms. If you’re old enough you’ve heard arguments that Jesus would be for or against Nazis, as well as slavery, inter-racial marriage, and segregation. 

We are so certain of Jesus’ political choices that many anti-Christian arguments begin from an assumption of doctrine and say “you can’t support that, you’re a Christian”. This is as painful for me to hear when it’s coming from someone I support as when it’s coming from someone I feel is wrong. Sure, Jesus says Love Everyone, but his teaching about what love means is far more complex than your political slogan writing skills. He also asserted, in the middle of the Pax Romana, that he came not to bring peace but a sword.

Jesus says he’s here to divide parents from children, to cut whole households down the middle. One’s own family will be one’s worst enemies. For Jesus even his closest friends betrayed him.  Yet we’re supposed to walk bravely forward into this gauntlet as Jesus, finally, walked bravely forward to his death, carrying his own cross. This last is so very important, because it gives the lie to political choice: in the face of what was clearly trumped up charges, cronyism, political poison, abusive clericalism, and friendly betrayal God himself said, “OK, bring it.”

And told us to do the same.

Carrying the cross is the one aspect we are all told to replicate. Jesus didn’t say, “Go get scourged like me” or “have all your friends run away”. He said if you don’t carry your cross, though, then you’re not following me. Far from fighting for reform or any sense of political justice, if you’re not taking up and celebrating the very method of torture that the secular world assigns to you then you’re not following Jesus. Jesus’ sword cuts us off from the world, but not to our detriment. It makes the very means of the world into steps of grace for us. Jesus takes the Roman method of capital punishment – used only on slaves and non-Romans – and subverts it into a pathway to life.

Paul will continue this subversion: taking cultures where they are and tuning them to Christ by using their very institutions against them. He will take Roman pagan marriage and urge Christians to adhere to the institution, but change the content. He’ll do the same for slavery and for childcare and seniorcare. Paul’s spiritual children will undermine even the Roman Army with these methods. This subversion will be so complete that, in the end, Anti-Christian historians will rightly blame Christians for emasculating the Roman Ideas of virtue so fully that it resulted in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  The author, Edward Gibbons, whose image heads up this post, said of us, “It is always easy, as well as agreeable, for the the inferior ranks of mankind to claim a merit from the contempt of that pomp and pleasure, which fortune has placed beyond their reach.” This is right as far as it goes, as certainly and rightly as Friedrich Nietzsche will blame us for practicing as “slave’s religion”. 

We see it differently, however. When Jesus says he will divide us off from even our families and spouses, he means that because we no longer will see anything in the same way as the world ever again we’re pretty much as good as enemies to everyone in the world – even our nearest and dearest. 

In a world gone totally and utterly mad, it is only the sane who are considered abnormal.

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Fright or Fop?

JMJ

The Readings for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Qui benedixit nos in omni benedictione spirituali in caelestibus in Christo,

Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places 

It comes to me from time to time, walking up to communion, this ancient prayer of the English Martyrs. Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me (a) Jesus!  (…hoc est salvator, that is saviour…) The name of Jesus in Hebrew – the same as Joshua – means “savior”. Here, in Ephesians, is St Paul saying that in Jesus all blessings are given to us.

We’re usually confronted with a Jesus who is either a fright or a fop. We are often (usually by judgmental family members) introduced to a frightening Jesus who will send us to hell for stepping over the imagined lines of morality offered by the family members or their pastor. But we can also be offered a Jesus who seems more concerned with hair care and beard balms than with actual truth and morality. Neither of those sound like “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” so we rightly walk away. Who needs that?

Esto mihi Iesu.

We want – we need – the Jesus described by St Paul (and the other Apostles): Every spiritual blessing, God’s grace bestowed on us, the way God accomplished all things, the summing up of all Creation, everything recapitulated in him. That’s what we want. That’s what we need. Instead we get either ranty raving lunatic of a hellfire preacher, or else some tripped out hipster dude who couldn’t – literally would not be strong enough or able to – hurt anyone.  Trust me: this is the fault of … us, the Church. 

We most often only offer two modes and neither of them quite match this wonderful image of Jesus as the origin and goal of all that is or will ever be.

Esto mihi Iesu.

Let us try to abandon all things (as the Gospel suggests) – hat, staff, extra shoes, money, extra clothes – so that the Jesus we offer and teach to those around us will be the Jesus that is everything; the Jesus that is the one thing needful; the Jesus that is a Jesus.

At the end of the most dangerous action a Christian can make – the action of Communion – I find myself praying this in the pew repeatedly.

Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 

I have received not only a morsel of bread and a sip of win, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. This is the meal that consumes us: either to our damnation or to our divination. We are either condemned by the action we take in consuming this food, or else we are elevated beyond the realms of mortality into the Godhead.

For this last to happen, Jesus must be neither hippie nor hothead, but rather truly himself: God the Son of God, the divinely appointed judge of all the world, and the son of Mary, the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low. Jesus must be the God of dirty diapers and bloody nails; the God of friends and of failures. Jesus must be nothing less than the creator of all things killed as a common criminal.

Esto mihi Iesu.

Ultimately, if Jesus is Jesus, then we die. We are crucified with Christ. The life we live in the flesh is the life of Christ – no longer our own, for we are bought with a price too dear for us to pay. He feeds us himself, so we become him, and then we die like the martyrs at Tyburn who wrote this prayer we say. 

Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 
Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 
Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 




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Being a Local Guide

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam.The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

In my “work” as a Google Guide, answering questions about businesses on Google Maps, I’m asked the same sort of questions over and over about local shops, restaurants, bars, and events. One of my favourite questions is “Is this place easy to spot from a vehicle in normal traffic?” Since I walk a lot, I don’t usually think of that, and in this day of GPS and “catch a Lyft right to the street address” it’s not something that bothers me.  But I do think about it for gMaps.  In fact, on SF streets where the speed limit is 25 mph but most folks do 45 unless you know where you’re going, you’re going to end up somewhere else. It’s not an issue in my current house of worship (see the photo above). I usually tell the Lyft driver, “turn left and you’ll see the front door…” I would make a comment about “most” Catholic churches, but the 70s kinda ruined it. A bishop once said of my former Catholic parish (in Georgia), “Is this a Church or a Pizza Hut?”

I was asked on Sunday why I had become Russian Orthodox (the subtle difference between the OCA and ROCOR is a bit hard to convey) and I told the story of how, even though I lived within walking distance of an Antiochian Parish, they had no sign outside with a service schedule, they had no Yellow Pages ad (this was in the early 00s), they had no voicemail (churches used to put their service schedule on their voicemail), and they had no website. Father Victor, memory eternal, the dean of the OCA cathedral, had not only a website, but one that was often updated by either himself or by his eldest son who is now the dean of the Cathedral. Fr Victor was committed to evangelism as was his assistant, Fr David – and as is the new Dean, Fr Kyrill.  A neighbor of the Antiochian parish tells me they still don’t have service times posted. SInce he had never seen what we call the Orthoburka, he thought maybe they were Muslims.


Since a lot of us are on the road somewhere, having visible churches is important. But walk-in or drive-by traffic is not the best source for new folks. Getting most folks into church still requires an invite.

When I was younger, I would hear our Lord in today’s passage talking about “laborers” and think “ordained ministry”. That’s not a very Catholic idea at all. In fact, there are places the non-ordained can go and things we can do that are too difficult for clergy and, sometimes, even for the non-ordained members of religious orders. Sure: a friar looks cool, but he sure does stand out in a crowd!

A former boss, an Episcopal Priest, once shared this with me: Every member of the People of God (Greek, “Laos” which means “people” gives us the English “Laity” More on that in a minute)… every member of the People of God is called to be an Evangelist, an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. All of us Evangelists are called to the Eucharistic Table for strength, solace, and empowerment by God’s Spirit. Some of us, however, don’t do quite so good as Evangelists, so we give them other duties. We make them waiters around the table. Some don’t do so good, even so. We still have a function for them. We make them each a maître d’ and give them a staff of waiters. 

Now, the Eucharistic community of Evangelists (with our waiters and maître d’s) is often in trouble. So we’ll take a maître d’ every once in a while, maybe one that’s past his prime, and we’ll let him serve in a new function. We’ll dress him up in fancy robes and a big hat, and put him out in front of the community to draw fire, as sort of a decoy. This way, the whole community, of Evangelists, waiters, maître d’s and decoys can do the work of spreading God’s Kingdom, each in their own role and function.

It’s not quite what you might think of the ordained ministry, but it makes a point I’ve heard over and over in the Catholic Church: it’s our job, as the Laity, to do this work. The ordained ministry is there to support us in this work and call ups to deeper holiness (which is the internalized version of this work). We turn the whole structure on its head when we forget that the point of our hierarchy is service: the higher up you go, the more folks you have to serve. The Pope is called “The servant of the servants of God”.  

So when we pray for more laborers, we don’t mean more clergy (although we need more Priests in America, at least). What we mean is more folks in the Laos. I heard an Evangelical – whom I rather like – say that there should be no division between the “laity” and the “clergy” (fair). He then said “Laity” comes from the Greek word for “nobodies”.  In fact, quite the reverse: in the Greek Old Testament which Jesus would have used, “Laos” is used for Am Israel, the people of God, but not for the Gentiles (the Goyim). The People is an “us” term. It’s not a nobody, it’s a member of and worker for the Kingdom.

That’s us, the Evangelizing people of God.

Can someone see your Parish from the road in normal traffic? If not, why are you not standing in the traffic directing folks into your spacious parking lot? You are the best local guide going. But you gotta work it.
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Math is hard.


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et sponsabo te mihi in sempiternum; et sponsabo te mihi in justitia, et judicio, et in misericordia, et in miserationibus. Et sponsabo te mihi in fide; et scies quia ego Dominus.
And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. 

Zaphod Beeblebrox, the former president of the galaxy, was once condemned to a form of torture so cruel that no species was known to survive it. The Total Perspective Vortex showed the condemned being their true place in the universe by showing the entire universe and they, themselves in it. As this was the universe created by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker trilogy, there was a humorous point, of course: but it was driven home. We’re nothing.

Dr Sagan tried to make this same point in a different way, using an image of earth taken from beyond the reaches of our solar system and sent back. It’s more complex than Zaphod’s experience, but the message is much the same…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Through an odd literary conceit, Beeblebrox was not destroyed in the torture. I think Adams was on to something far more Christian that the self-described Atheist would ever know.

These verses today from Hosea are part of the blessing recited daily by pious Jewish men as they wrap their arm with the Tefillin. Specifically the bit about betrothal is added as the finger on the left hand is wrapped three times, as if it were a wedding ring.

I found this image in the wild,
but memory tells me this is Daniel Sieradski

The Tefillin are a sign of the wedding between God and Israel, the covenant struck at Sinai. This marriage, in turn, is a prefiguring of the restored union between God and all mankind, lost in paradise but restored in the last days.

God has bound us to himself in love by becoming one of us, by entering into this world as it’s creator, living and dying in it as its subject, and rising from the tomb as the conqueror of death and the Lord of all.

Wrestling thus with this passage I began to wonder at two things: the gender bending in that it is only men who wear Tefillin according to tradition, and yet it is men who speak as being betrothed (as bride) to God. And, in what way might this be personalized? Could one speak of himself as personally the Bride, in the Church or in the New Israel? Certainly the Tefillin are done individually, a sign, a connection, a sacramental, if you will, of the covenant itself between God and his people. But can that be seen as “one’s personal relationship”?

As Zaphod is exposed to infinity he discovers that he is, in fact, the center of the universe. It takes a while (in the books) to figure out why, but when I first read that it made perfect sense, at least in a mathematical sense. What is the center of infinity? Some, today, would want to say infinity means we are nothing. This is a sort of tyranny of gigantic numbers. The large wins, the small is lost. But in God’s economy, it is the proud that is lost. The humble wins. And, as Dr Sagan noted, these infinities leave us humble.

In God’s creation, as close to infinity as we can imagine, and God himself, who is an infinity of Love, what is the center of infinity? The math is clear: the center is you. The identifiable center of the infinite ocean of Love flowing from the Eternal, Radiant Is… is you. In a circle whose circumference is infinite, the center is everywhere. Far from being destroyed by the perspective of infinity, we are blessed to realize that it is one, in the first person, who is betrothed to the Eternal One, blessed be he. And it is that love, the source and ground of all being, that makes my own being, all other being possible.

If you were the only person left, God would die for you. In love. Infinity is in your hands and your heart. And you are betrothed in Love.

A few twists and you’re good to go.

JMJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Hymn to God the Father

BY JOHN DONNE

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



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Lord I’ve Done Some Yuge Things Here.


JMJ

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

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

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

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

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

And yet.. and yet…

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

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

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

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

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This needn’t ever have happened.

JMJ

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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But our Money says “In God We Trust…”

JMJ

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

Ecce merces operariorum, qui messuerunt regiones vestras, quae fraudata est a vobis, clamat : et clamor eorum in aures Domini sabbaoth introivit. Epulati estis super terram, et in luxuriis enutristis corda vestra in die occisionis. 

Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 

James is certainly condemning the wealthy of Rome, here. They held an economic and cultural hegemony on the entire world at that point. Economic because all wealth flowed to Rome for consumption, but cultural as well, because anyone who pretended to be wealthy pretended to be Roman. And they exported their culture by force: tying their ideas about morality, freedom, politics, and economy to any process of local advancement: you want to be king in your country, make it Roman. So James is not only speaking of Romans, but also of Jews (and others) who pretended to wealth, aping the standards of Rome.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah will be familiar to you, if only because you have been exposed to the horror story version or the sexualized version in some movie or TV show. You may also know the Bible Version in Genesis 18 and 19. Americans (religious or not) are prone to taking brief passages of the Scripture to make their point and ignoring what comes first and follows after. It is, however, the context that makes the story – not the meaning we add to it. Sex is not the meaning. 



The Icon above is generally styled “The Holy Trinity” and it was painted by St Andrei Rublev (1360-1430). Done in 1425, the theme is more properly called “The Hospitality of Abraham” because it shows the three Angels visiting Abraham and Sarah, as recording in Genesis 18:1-8ff:

And the Lord appeared to him in the vale of Mambre as he was sitting at the door of his tent, in the very heat of the day. And when he had lifted up his eyes, there appeared to him three men standing near to him: and as soon as he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of his tent, and adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord, if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant. But I will fetch a little water, and wash ye your feet, and rest ye under the tree. And I will set a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart, afterwards you shall pass on: for therefore are you come aside to your servant. And they said: Do as thou hast spoken. Abraham made haste into the tent to Sara, and said to her: Make haste, temper together three measures of flour, and make cakes upon the hearth. And he himself ran to the herd, and took from thence a calf, very tender and very good, and gave it to a young man, who made haste and boiled it. He took also butter and milk, and the calf which he had boiled, and set before them: but he stood by them under the tree. 

This story of Hospitality is the prologue to the story Sodom. After a wonderful conversation where Sarah laughs at God, the three men get ready to go.

And when the men rose up from thence, they turned their eyes towards Sodom: and Abraham walked with them, bringing them on the way. And the Lord said: Can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do: Seeing he shall become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed? For I know that he will command his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, and do judgment and justice: that for Abraham’s sake, the Lord may bring to effect all the things he hath spoken unto him. And the Lord said: The cry of Sodom and Gomorrha is multiplied, and their sin is become exceedingly grievous. I will go down and see whether they have done according to the cry that is come to me; or whether it be not so, that I may know.

Traditional, very conservative Jewish Biblical commentary is filled with many entirely non-sexual reasons for that cry that ascended to God: greed, abuse of slaves, injustice, pride; lack of care for the poor that was so extreme you could be punished for feeding the homeless  –  like in Fort Lauderdale and some twenty other locations in the USA. St James sees in Rome this exact pattern.

The Midrash tells two tales of righteous women who dared extend a helping hand to beggars and were put to death:

Two maidens of Sodom met at the well, where they had both gone to drink and fill up their water jugs. One girl asked her friend, “Why is your face so pale?” Her friend answered, “We have nothing to eat at home, and are dying of starvation.” Her compassionate friend filled her own jug with flour, and exchanged it for her friend’s jug of water. When the Sodomites found out about her act, they burnt her to death.

A second tale:

It was announced in Sodom, “Whoever will give bread to a poor person will be burnt at the stake.” 

Plotit, the daughter of Lot, who was married to a prominent Sodomite, once saw a poor man who was so hungry that he was unable to stand. She felt sorry for him. From then on, she made sure to pass him every day on her way to the well, and she would feed him some food that she had stashed in her water jug. 

People wondered how the man managed to live. Upon investigation, they discovered her act and prepared to burn her. Before she died, she turned to G‑d and cried, “Master of the world, carry out justice on my behalf!” Her cries pierced the heavens, and at that moment G‑d said, “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Me.”

Moderns with a more liberal political agenda like to make much of such stories and say Sodom was destroyed for violations of the Desert Code of Hospitality. This is truth! The Synagogue lays the Hospitality of Abraham for the three angels specifically in sharp contrast to the lack of hospitality in Sodom. These texts are read every year together on the same Sabbath. We can learn much meditating on how Abraham (and, later, Lot) treats the Three Strangers, who happen to be the Holy Trinity in Christian typology and iconography, as compared to how all others in Sodom treat the same Three Strangers.

This understanding is good and true as far as it goes but, of course, words matter: when we moderns hear “hospitality” we do not hear “matter of life and death in the desert” but rather “Grandma was always a gracious hostess” or something about Waffle House, and a number of Yelp stars. No matter how many times it might be explained, the divine obligation of care for the stranger (regardless of culture or divinity) is totally lost as a social responsibility in today’s culture. In rejecting Syrian refugees, or Latin American children, in abandoning the poor, the homeless, the jobless youth, America becomes another Sodom. 

Such hospitality, in the better places, is relegated as an obligation to the state and forgotten by individuals and, God help us, even by Churches. In the worst places, like Sodom and Fort Lauderdale, it is outlawed all together. Even Churches in Fort Sodomdale fail to protest. The Churches in San Francisco which, for other – entirely wrong – reasons, is often compared to Sodom, are again failing the poor, as we have not only a Temp Mayor, but an entire crop of politicians who are literally sweeping the poor off our streets in the name of the Rich. In fact, some churches are playing along. Some are not, really. St Bonaventure’s has converted parts of their physical plant to care for the poor of the neighborhood, installing even showers in the church. Meanwhile, St Mary’s Cathedral has installed showers outside… But if all the faith leaders of SF were to ban together to protest the treatment of the poor, would the Catholic Mayor of SF listen? Or would he be swayed by the lamentations of the Rich, who are scared of the poor, who are discomfited by the poor, who need a safe space from the poor. 

Our treatment of the poor and the stranger is exactly – as in the case of Abraham – how we treat God.

America’s Sodomy goes even further. Our electronic devices, our clothing, even our food is the product of a virtual slavery in which we hold the entire world. Sometimes the slavery is not very virtual at all. There is nary a tomato sold out of season in the USA that is not the product of indentured servitude. Our clothes and all our cheap stuff we justify by saying “we are giving them jobs” when, in fact, they managed to get by for millennia without our jobs, but now need jobs because we have forced our economic system on them in the name of our security. 

So deep is our problem that I have to type this – and you have to read it – on the very products of our slavery. And we both have to feel good about it: because how else would we even communicate now? Most (all?) Catholic Apostolates make unquestioning use of electronics that are built, in the same way as our Christmas ornaments, by impoverished wage slaves in third world dictatorships held in place by our economic choices. How can that be that the Gospel should ride on the backs of slaves? San Francisco’s entire economy is built on this part of our hegemony. 

James is certainly condemning the wealthy of Rome, here. But James is condemning America as well. We hold an economic and cultural hegemony on the entire world at this point. Economic because all wealth flows to America for consumption, but cultural as well, because anyone who pretends to be wealthy pretends to be American. And we export our culture by force: tying our ideas about morality, freedom, politics, and economy to any gov’t charity. So James is not only speaking of Romans, but also of Americans who pretend to wealth – even Christians – and are aping the standards of Rome.

Deus Vult!

JMJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It God wills and we live, we shall…

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

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

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

I’m with the Pope on this one.