Be the Light

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Dominic
19th Monday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

II Timothy 4:3-4

These are the readings for the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Dominic as assigned by the Order of Preachers in their liturgy. There’s another set of optional readings for the Memorial of St Dominic in the Roman Missal. In most places today’s readings will be those of the 19th Monday in the C2 cycle.

ST PAUL’s teaching to St Timothy could have been written yesterday. Hardly a day goes by on Catholic Social Mediae when some Self-Proclaimed Teacher doesn’t say something to lure the masses to their doom. That teacher could be trying to marshal up some anger in a political ploy or swirl a vortex of hate around the Pope. He could be offering some Option to escape all this or be offering some liberal mainline pablum to absolve everyone of sins that are politically incorrect to call out. Or any one of these could be unmasked as a hypocrite driving their own ambitions rather than the salvation of souls. Yet St Paul’s words prove this problem is 20 centuries long. More, scripture will show us the Church has been dealing with “prophets” like this all the way back to the Sons of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The Church is always splitting into Camps and there’s aways someone willing to listen.

At the time of St Dominic it was the Church’s pride that was causing the split. Another thing that might sound very modern: wealthy cleargy living immoral lives were causing a scandal and driving people out of the Ark of Salvation into the arms of heretics. Think of how many people left the Church over the sexual abuse scandal or Cardinal McCarrick. Think of those scandalaized by politicians not living the faith or those who use the Church as a way to curry votes.

Dominic knew the answer was to double-down on the orthodox faith and the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. He knew that actually living the faith in its fullness was the only way to draw people back to the Church. To make the faith attractive one needed to live it – thereby proving it was livable – and to live it with joy.

The secret is in the Gospel reading today. In John 8:12 Jesus says he is the light of the world. However today, in Matthew 5:14, he says his followers – we- are the light of the world. These are not contradictory sentences for, in our baptism, we are members of him. As he is light of light, we are, if you will, light of light of light. We are sons of the Father in the Son of God. Our function is to be light here, wherever here happens to be. As lay folks we can be light in our jobs, in our families, in the subway, in the bodega, in the bars, at the disco, even in internet chat rooms. We are called to be the light. Dominic knew his sons and daughters, in order to be the light, would need to live the Gospel fully.

What would it take to be light where you are? How can the Gospel be lived more fully in your life? I don’t know these answers – only you do. In my own life it’sbeen a gradual awakening to the promptings of the Spirit. When I wrote – nearly 20 years ago now – “What if everything I think I know about myself is wrong?” I didn’t know what the answer would look like. It’s possible you don’t know either.

But be light.

And you will see the way.

Always distinguish.

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Monday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

You have been told, O human, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

AT TIMES the entirely orthodox language of the Church sounds rather like the language of the world. It’s not that the Church is too close to the world: rather it’s just that the world has come close enough to the Church to try and confuse Christians. This is dangerous and we need to be on the lookout at all times. Lest “even the elect might be deceived” (Matthew 24:24). Today is one of those times and the “almost worldly language” is do justice.

First, let’s say what it is.

The Hebrew phrase used in Micah is asot mishpat. Asot means “to do” well enough, but mishpat does not mean Justice or righteousness. It does mean judgement. The LXX (ποιεῖν κρίμα poein krima) and the Latin Vulgate (facere judicium) carry this meaning as well. Do a judgement or, more to the point, make a division. Almost every English translation puts in here something about “justice”. And while the way to that idea is clear in the words “division” or “judgement”, there is a direct route from the choice for “justice” to being tripped up by the world.

The world has a decidedly different idea of “justice” than God and worse, the world’s idea of Justice is always changing. At the present time, “justice” in the world includes the right to murder innocent lives in the womb, to help them die later in life, and to deny any meaning to the words “man” and “woman”, or to our bodies. That’s “justice” in the world now.

Needless to say, that’s not acceptable to Christians: God’s law is the deciding factor for what is “just” or not. But, again, that’s not what this verse is saying.

When the late Robert Christian, OP, was consecrated as Auxiliary Bishop for our Archdiocese he gave a brief thank you talk at the end of the service. During that talk he used a phrase that I instantly committed to memory (because it seemed so important). Later I learned it was a very traditional part of the Dominican teaching and theological repertoire, often attributed to St Thomas Aquinas:

Rarely affirm, seldom deny, always distinguish.

It’s that last bit about distinguishing that gets to the heart of what is intended by Hosea by mishpat: it’s not “do justice” (and especially not in the au courant sense of “there is no truth, everyone is right”). Rather it’s an adjuration to distinguish between the things that are important to our final end (that is, for our salvation) and to be able to move forward as needed.

On the most recent episode of Clerically Speaking Fr Harrison pointed out that we often answer ideological questions by jumping to the opposite ideology. Alternatively, if someone has bought into an ideological form of Catholicism, everyone with whom one disagrees is clearly from the opposite ideology. You can see this on the Bird App as people accuse brother and sister Catholics of being Nazis and Marxists. While there are a few of each, certainly, it seems evident that “when I point one finger at you I’m pointing four back at myself.”

So we have to learn to parse things out. To distinguish.

When someone is using a given ideology – Fr Harrison used Gender Ideology in his example – rather than simply jumping into reaction formation, we may want to try and understand what has caused the other person to go so far afield. When they ask for “justice” we want to distinguish between sin and sinner, between what we can legitimately do (with a goal of bringing about a mutual conversion to a deeper faith) and what we cannot do that would involve damning all parties involved.

During my RCIA class, someone asked our teacher if they were required to believe all these dogmas before they became Catholic. In my newbie state I was disappointed that the teacher took 45 mins to say “not really”, but in the fullness of the answer, we are required to assent to them. It may take a lifetime to reach full faith in them. There’s ongoing growth in the faith and one needn’t be perfect to become Catholic.

We need to learn that the real goal of any human relationship is not to “be 100% right and argue the other party into submission” but rather – walking humbly with our God – to bring everyone (ourselves included) closer to God’s Kingdom one step at a time. We need to distinguish the path and through mercy, that is, God’s Grace, we can come forward together.

Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.

JMJ

The Readings for the 15th Monday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Benedict, Abbot

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

Matthew 10:40

THIS WHOLE PASSAGE can seem strange. Swords, dysfunctional family fighting, etc. Ranks up there with the cut off your hands and gouge out your eye part. The other day on the Clerically Speaking podcast, Episode 178, Producer Nick (who is, suspiciously, a lay person) said he wanted to hear prachers address the strange parts of Scripture. But, I suspect, we can only do that if we’re rather fundamentalist about the whole thing. The statement about swords in verse 34 could be taken in a vacuum, but that’s not how Jesus said it or how Matthew recorded it. The NABRE parses this out into 3 different sections but there’s no reason to do that at all. Verse 34 is explained over the next 9 or 10 verses, in verse 40 it reaches its apotheosis (pun intended).

The Holy Trinity dwells in our Hearts. This is the gift of Baptism, yes, but also God is our beingness. His is the action that makes our being be. We are not part of God (in that Eastern Wooji-Wooji kinda way) but rather God is the Creator and Sustainer of us in each and every moment and action of our lives. Without Baptism we live disconnected from this reality. Through Baptism that connection is restored, turned on, if you will, although we can continue to ignore it. By way of analogy, before Baptism, the radio in the car was broken. Baptism turns on the Radio. After Baptism, while it is possible to turn the volume way down, the radio keeps playing. (I hate when my parents do this on long drives!)

Jesus runs down a list of things we might use to turn the volume down. We’ll go through it 3 times: family (v37), worldly obligations (v38), and even making up our own identity in our pride (v39). To tune into Jesus, we have to drop out, giving up our ideas about what we owe to others (v37), about what we owe to the state (v38) as it was the state that gave the Cross to Jesus, and what we owe to ourselves (v39).

Turn the radio back up. Jesus is to be our source (v37), our life (v38), and and our end (v39).

Eventually, we can say with Brother Laurence, “The time of business, said he, does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.” And again, “Sometimes I consider myself there, as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue: presenting myself thus before GOD, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul, and render me entirely like Himself.”

And then it will truly be as Jesus promised, “whoever receives you, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.”

When we mediate the presence of Christ in an active, living way to those around us, when we turn the radio up and blast it, those around us experience Christ himself in our fellowship. They, too, are drawn to tune in to the same station on their radio.

Let me fix that for you.

JMJ

The Readings for the 12th Monday, Tempus per Annum

Let me remove that splinter from your eye.

Matthew 7:4 (NABRE)

THIS BIT ABOUT NOT JUDGING is quite familiar to us. We’re often told (as Catholics) that we’re being “too judgey” when it comes to sex or some “inclusion” issue in secular society. People who don’t listen to a thing the Holy Father has said about abortion will yell “Don’t Judge” and “Who am I to judge?” without even realizing it’s a line from the Bible. (That’s a hateful book that should be in public libraries, they say.)

What struck me in this reading today was the very passive-aggressive line, “Let me remove that splinter from your eye.” The implied context is the other party didn’t ask for help first. I’ve someone asked me for help, it’s ok. But jumping into “mansplain” without being asked to do so is very tiresome, indeed! That’s sort of “Hey, let me show you where you’re wrong, even though you didn’t ask.”

In this passage, Jesus is telling us to hush and just sit there for a while. Pray even.

How often is it possible to do that? Depending on one’s job and general personality that can almost be a moment-by-moment temptation!

I think it might be useful to focus on the area of faith in this meditation. How often do we reach him and say, let me fix that for you when nothing is broken?

Recently on Twitter, someone noted that they did not find the rosary to be of any use. Instantly there were jumped upon by a whole bunch of people, sadly including the present writer, all of whom insisted you needed the rosary to be Catholic. This of course is not true.

There are those who judge others for their piety, insisting that one or another item will break things. My own struggle with this is in the area of the Daily Office: having hit a liturgical high point with the traditional Benedictine Office in English in my former monastery, it drives me bonkers when people can’t understand how to put the office together, when the Church says certain Psalms make people “uncomfortable” and shouldn’t be said, or when Church leaders publish books on the office with mistakes. I mean it’s so simple! Let me show you how it’s done. Did you know the Dominicans only do the antiphons once?

Jesus whispers, hush. And tells I need to sit down.

You have no idea how important that is: inside my brain, I was practically screaming as I typed the above “problems”.

One of the things Jesus is pointing to here seems to be cutting people off unnecessarily. The greek word for “judge” means to “cut”. In my liturgical examples, we are dividing the Church, cutting people off into right and wrong groups based on the assumption that I am right and you need to learn a few things.

For actual sins, Jesus tells us how to do things (see: Matthew 18:15-17) working with the whole Church. This is why Bishops are empowered to do certain things that random laity are not. And, when the Bishops work together with the Pope, they can decide whole teachings are heretical and outside the bounds of Christianity entirely. But that’s not my job. Nor yours, really. When Jesus describes the right way to work with a brother who is sinning, the point is to win the brother back to the Church (Matthew 18:15b). When we act like that even when the Brother is not out of bounds, we risk kicking him out by our own actions instead of by his sins. In other words, we risk offending him and sinning ourselves.

Jesus whispers hush.

They are our brothers

There is a two-year cycle of Patristic Readings for the Office of Readings. It is not yet in the Liturgy of the Hours, but you can use it in the Universalis app, for example. The post below is the Patristic reading from the Monday of the 16th Week in Year 1.

JMJ

From a discourse of St Augustine on Psalm 32

Whether they like it or not, those who are outside the church are our brothers We entreat you, brothers, as earnestly as we are able, to have charity, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the Church. Of these some are still pagans, who have not yet made an act of faith in Christ. Others are separated, insofar as they are joined with us in professing faith in Christ, our head, but are yet divided from the unity of his body. My friends, we must grieve over these as over our brothers; and they will only cease to be so when they no longer say our Father.

The prophet refers to some men saying: When they say to you: You are not our brothers, you are to tell them: You are our brothers. Consider whom he intended by these words. Were they the pagans? Hardly; for nowhere either in Scripture or in our traditional manner of speaking do we find them called our brothers. Nor could it refer to the Jews, who do not believe in Christ. Read Saint Paul and you will see that when he speaks of “brothers,” without any qualification, he refers always to Christians. For example, he says: Why do you judge your brother or why do you despise your brother? And again: You perform iniquity and common fraud, and this against your brothers.

Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptize us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognising our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers.

If they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.

And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realise that they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.

Indefectibili Foedere

The Readings for the 3rd Monday in Advent (A2)

Dixit auditor sermonum Dei, qui visionem Omnipotentis intuitus est, qui cadit, et sic aperiuntur oculi ejus :
The utterance of one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows, of one who sees what the Almighty sees, enraptured, and with eyes unveiled.

JMJ

Does it strike you as odd that Balaam is not Jewish and yet he is a Prophet? This has always bothered me. At most he must be a Ba’al worshiper who got things right for once once, right? But no. He seems to be quite connected with the God of Israel – even if he is not a member of the tribe. The thing with the donkey (a couple of chapters earlier in the book) makes it clear that he’s on speaking terms with the same God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. How does that make sense?

The Dominican Tertiaries have been reading our way through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is not a teaching document, per se, but a source document: intended for teachers, clergy, and magisterial officials (eg Canon Lawyers) this long document of 2856 numbered paragraphs is intended to list out all the teachings of the Church. It is not, however infallible and some sections can be changed or even removed. The teaching on the Virgin Birth of Jesus, for example, does not have the same magisterial import as the teaching on the death penalty. The latter, therefore, can be sifted to more fine detail as the Church grows in her understanding of God and the world in which we live. (I see Pope Francis’ teaching on the Death Penalty to be less a “change” in teaching then a realization that no government in the world today – especially the USA – has shown itself to be just in the use of this punishment.)

This month we began reading Part Four: Christian Prayer. I was counseled to read this portion by Daniel Glaze who urged me to read Part 4 right after I was brought into the Catholic Church. OK, so now I’m getting around to reading it. This Part 4 has the answer to my Balaam question, I think.

Prayer is lived in the first place beginning with the realities of creation. The first nine chapters of Genesis describe this relationship with God as an offering of the first-born of Abel’s flock, as the invocation of the divine name at the time of Enosh, and as “walking with God. Noah’s offering is pleasing to God, who blesses him and through him all creation, because his heart was upright and undivided; Noah, like Enoch before him, “walks with God.” This kind of prayer is lived by many righteous people in all religions. In his indefectible covenant with every living creature, God has always called people to prayer.

CCC ¶ 2569 Emphasis added

It’s the indefectible covenant (Indefectibili Foedere) with every living creature that lept out and grabbed me tonight. God is always calling all people to prayer.

At the end of today’s reading, Balaam even prophesies about Messiah: I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel. Here is this pagan through whom God is indicating not only his present plans but also his future plans: a reason why he cannot curse Israel at all.

God has an “old testament” up and running amid the peoples of the middle east outside of the Israelites. God is getting everyone ready for what, or rather who is coming at Christmas.

In later books, Darius the King of Persia is called “Messiah” and God has plans for him. And the Apostles will discover that God’s been working through everyone getting them ready. When the first evangelists get to China, they will find that Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Buddha have prepared the way for the Gospel, just as Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah did in Israel. See, while we might want at Christmas to focus on an ever-smaller circle (All Israel > Southern Kingdom > Tribe of Judah > Jesse’s family >Joseph and Mary > Jesus) God is, in fact, aiming for nothing less than all of us. This is his Indefectibili Foedere cum omnibus animabus viventibus, his Indefectible Covenant with every living creature.

Evangelism, done properly, is this: to enter into relationship with another person so deeply that, in that communion of Love, the two of you discover how God has worked with them in their life to prepare them for the Gospel. This is their personal “old testament”, a record of God’s covenant with them. Then we walk, carefully accompanying them, through the record of their life to the point of decision: can they trust enough to let go and enter into a relationship with this God that has called them to prayer?

He’s calling all of us to prayer. So we explore, we grow in prayer, we wait expectantly for the Answer to come. There is only one answer, which is Jesus. For, ultimately, there is only one prayer: that of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Mercy and Justice have Kissed

We tend to argue about matters of leisure (such as sex) because otherwise, we might have to discuss the injustice arising from our wealth.

The Readings for Monday, 29th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Stulte, hac nocte animam tuam repetunt a te : quae autem parasti, cujus erunt?
You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?

JMJ

It was an interesting discussion yesterday with the Third Order Dominicans: how do we care for the poor? Actually, the discussion started with a discussion of Theft and the discussion of the 7th Commandment in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Did Jean Valjean commit a sin when he stole bread for his family?

The Rich Man says, “I will build barns for my surplus…”

In the Catholic Church there is a doctrine on Private Property: we have the right (from God) to own things. But “The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind.” That is to say, God gave everything to everyone and while you have the right to own your home, for example, “The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.”

The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

In short, after providing for your family, everything else is yours in trust from God for the care of others.

I, myself, have no family so I wonder how this pertains to me. I’ve made several choices since leaving the monastery about not owning extra stuff, although I think I fail in this. My apartment seems filled with clothes I can’t wear and food I won’t ever get around to eating. How do I become a good steward? At my age and income status, I can’t pretend to be poor. So, I think I’m obligated by today’s Gospel not to be the stupid man in the parable. But how?

This discussion on care for the poor was preceded by a discussion of the false dichotomy between God’s Mercy and his Justice. God cannot be both, it is claimed. Either in Justice, we’ll all get a slapdown, no matter what we do (because we’re that bad), or in his Mercy, we’ll all be ok – no matter what we do or have ever done. The payoff for this argument is usually not at all theological: we mean it only (usually) in the second person. If I project lots of mercy on God, then, really, you have no right to tell me I’m wrong. If I project a lot of Justice on God, then, really, you had better start doing all the right things and I have the right to judge you too.

Both of these aspects play out in a discussion of sexual matters because the world only thinks about sex as a matter of liberty, but that’s an issue of western, wealthy entitlement. There’s nearly no one involved in the Culture Wars who is poor. So, we tend to argue about matters of leisure (such as sex) because otherwise, we might have to discuss the injustice of our wealth. So, it’s better to say, “You, fellow rich white person, are committing a sexual sin.” And to reply, “You, fellow rich white person, have no right to judge me.” Then we all feel good, having done our religious duty, and go back to being fellow, rich, white folks.

In this we 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 petty as we are.

Mercy is God’s divine and infinite condescension to us in kindness and love. The first instance of this, personally and for each of us, is the creation of the entire world. The second 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.

God’s justice is a restoration of right relationship.

Imagine you are building one of the barns in today’s parable. The floor should be perfectly level. From that floor, at perfect 90° angles, should rise each of the walls. This means the walls are “plumb”. The structure is “level, plumb, square, and true”. 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 rich man calls you back and asks you to fix it – to make the wall square again. The process of returning the wall to plumb, when projected on human relationships, is justice.

If we pitched our economic morals with the same arguments we use for sex, it would sound like this: “You have to stop being rich and share with me!” “You can’t judge me, go away.” Environmental morals are the same: our wealth is destroying the world, we are the rich man in the parable.

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, level and plumb. Mercy (God’s kindness) allows me to have the grace to do it. It is not “just” for the rich man to build barns unless it is for him to use the barns to more easily invite in the poor. It is not mercy for us to say, “He can do whatever he wants” 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 same thing.

The Leaders they Deserve

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Martha
Monday in the 17th week, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Cui ille respondit : Ne indignetur dominus meus : tu enim nosti populum istum, quod pronus sit ad malum.
And he answered him: Let not my lord be offended: for thou knowest this people, that they are prone to evil.

The people of Israel have lived in slavery for several generations. They know only idolatry. They only know that some God many have never heard of is rescued them… and they are really quite afraid of this one. The other gods never did anything scary – at least not inside human memory. They know what the worship of fakes looks like. This is why God has given them leaders: to raise them up in the way of their ancestors, to worship the True God of all that is, even of the animal forms of gold and rocks the Egyptians worshipped.

So when the people want to worship, they want to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Moishe and Aharon are there to direct that natural human desire to worship away from the entirely unnatural worship of creation to the Creator Himself. The people want to worship something they can see… Aaron and Moses are there to direct that worship to someone they can know.

Aaron fails in his one job. He not only doesn’t direct the folks to right-worship, he participates in their false worship. In fact, he not only participates in it but he also facilitates it.

Then he passes the blame – not to the people… but to the fire and gold: “egressusque est hic vitulus”. This calf came out…

Who did this, asks the parent. “Notme” reply all the children in the room standing around the pile of garbage that was formerly something important.

Although the people have sinned and will be punished, Moses puts the blame directly on who is at fault: Moses asks Aaron, What did this people do to you that you would lead them into this sin?

I imagine this question will be asked a lot on Judgement Day of leaders who failed to lead, of teachers who failed to teach, of those who were called to speak and fell prey to that liberal canard falsely attributed to St Francis, “use words when necessary”. We “led with beauty” and were “winsome” but we never got around to meat. We dodged questions for fear of causing the weak to stumble, but we never got around to correcting the fallen, to answering them once they were strong.

This is a failure of courage. Until recently (this weekend, really) I thought the vice of cowardice was a failure resulting from some inner weakness. It seems to me, on deeper meditation, to be a species of the sin of pride: I would not anyone see me fail, so I shall simply juggle for a while and slowly back away. If I  sit here quietly no one will see me and, at the right moment, I can vanish. Certainly, introversion can seem like the vice of cowardice, but there is a difference in the heart on this, so don’t misread my statement. And the grace we are given to manifest a charism that we have will overcome – and use – our own weaknesses when they are needed.

Cowardice is a failure to use our charism: to rely on our own self to do something that we should let God do through us. To fail to keep someone in your charge away from a grave fall is for the shepherd to run away from his sheep when the wolf shows up.

A teacher was once asked if someone had to accept all the church’s doctrine to be Catholic. Rather than answer the question at all 45 mins were involved defining the difference between “doctrine”, “dogma”, and “tradition” so that, in the end, there was no time to spend answering the question in a way that would offend anyone.

What did the people ever do to you to deserve such a teacher?

I imagine all of us who have been called to be leaders will need to rely on Aaron’s excuse: “You know, these people are so evil, that I had to let them get away with their pet sins or else they would have gone away. It’s better to have them sin and stay than leave and sin anyway, right?”

“The reality is that we are in danger. This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. The shepherd cannot run away at the first sign of danger. Pray for us.” Thus said Blessed Stanley Rother 18 months before he was slain by a rightwing hit squad in Guatemala. It is true of us here too, but in other ways. We are in danger  – if we’re not, we’re doing it wrong. What have our flocks, our friends, our councils, our families ever done to us to deserve such leaders?

Who will be the Moses that will intercede for us on that day?

Waiting at the Bottom of the Ladder


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 14th week, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you…

Jacob sees all that’s going on and suddenly “…there was the LORD standing beside him…” To make free with a later vision in the Bible, God was not in the vision of ladders and angels, God was a quiet voice beside him.

We can get distracted by all the things (even holy things) that are going on around us. We forget the one thing important, that God is right there…

The Late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago made an oft-quoted comment about the increasing secularization in our world and how the Church would fare in it. (Tim Drake sussed out the quote and the context here.)

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

Although that bit about his successor may be premature, it’s the last bit that seems important for our readings today.

God will protect us wherever we go. It’s actually not going to get any easier. I think, in fact, it’s going to get harder from here on out because God doesn’t change. The things God asks of us, expects of us, and the things God wants us to be do not change. We’re going to have to fight all the harder just to hold on. We will not let you go until you bless us. It’s a hard struggle, but the truth is God is not changing: it is the world that is changing around us. Holding on to God is the easiest thing we can do. It’s the path of least resistance because God is not changing. We don’t have to run to keep up with God. We only need to hold on and wait.

Truth is, we don’t want to. We’d rather let go and float along with the current.

God himself walks into the room and says, “Don’t worry she’s not dead she’s only asleep.” And the crowd ridicules God to his face. The girl really was dead. But God is not the god of the dead but of the living. To God, that girl was only asleep. That’s how God sees all of us. We are seen by God as so different from the way the world sees us. The world may not be mourning us, but the world thinks we’re stupid. The world is not sad over us, but the world thinks we’re backward. The world does not regret leaving us behind, but the world does think we’re haters. God says otherwise. The world laughs at God.

I don’t think it’s going to get any easier: it’s going to get harder. Cardinal George continues:

God sustains the world, in good times and in bad. Catholics, along with many others, believe that only one person has overcome and rescued history: Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, savior of the world and head of his body, the church. Those who gather at his cross and by his empty tomb, no matter their nationality, are on the right side of history. 

We see this as today. Both left and right in our political spectrum seem to espouse the same things. Violence is only directed at different parties. The church, strangely, gets it from both sides. That is as it should be. While some on the left think we’re too conservative and some on the right think we’re too liberal we should just be about the business of God. Holding on to God, the one point that does not change or move in the midst of all this chaos.

In the end, it will be up to us to follow Cardinal George’s final option. The Church must “pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

God is right here. Let us hold on. This place is awesome. The House of God and the Gate of Heaven. Hold on. When this chaos is over, we will have more work to do.

Would the judge of all do that?


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 13th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him?

This bizarre scene where Abraham bargains with God leaves us with a huge question: why would God want to be bargained with?

The stories about the city of Sodom are not pretty. As is recounted in Jewish tradition the Sodomites were inclined to hating homeless people, to killing people who dared to beg, and to stoning those who dared to help them. Sodom was not a good place to be unless you were very wealthy and well-connected. It was a lot like modern America.

God wonders to himself if he should tell Abraham what he is about to do. The reason God wanders this is because he’s going to make Abraham a source of blessing for the Nations. That doesn’t make sense unless this is a time of training for Abraham. God wants Abraham to learn something here. What is it?

From the text we’re left to assume that the lesson is in fact intercession.  God wants Abraham to learn how to intercede for strangers. So he starts small and lets him intercede for Lot, his cousin, and his family. Instead of interceding Abraham bargains; but that’s okay: this is a learning process.

God is teaching Abraham how to pray. Abraham steps up admirably. In time the Jewish sense of their purpose would include linking the Temple in Jerusalem and its sacrificial system to the safety of the entire world. Jerusalem becomes the navel of the world, the stone that prevents the flood waters from rising again. In time Israel will give birth to the Messiah, the savior of the world. The Seed of Abraham will become the intercessor for all of us.

We are Abraham’s children. This is our job. We are to be a blessing to the Nations. The church fathers taught that the Church in the world is rather like yeast in bread. It only takes a pinch and the whole loaf rises. The Church’s function in the world is rather like the soul is in the body: we are to be the light of the world, the flavoring that makes everything possible. When was the last time you prayed for strangers?

I thought of this as I heard prayers this weekend for all the folks in town and I thought why shouldn’t we pray for their safety? We are to pray blessings on everyone, to all the nations.  Shouldn’t we pray for their peace? We are to pray for our enemies. We are to pray blessings upon those who curse us. This is exactly what we should be doing. We should be bargaining with God, pardon the phrase, for everyone. This is what Jesus did as well: his entire life was an intersection for the world. When we fail at this we failed to be Christians.