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.

Arthur Dent and Titus Pullo


JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 11th week of Ordinary Time (C1)

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil…

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
This thing about walking a mile is regarding Roman soldiers. The Roman soldiers were occupying Israel, and in the eyes of all, these greedy, violent, rowdy, armed Gentiles are a chaotic evil force present in God’s holy land. A Roman soldier could, at any time, demand that you help him and force you to walk with him for a mile doing X, Y, and Z. Jesus says do it and then go two miles with him instead. Imagine that this must have sounded like. This man who talks to tax collectors is telling you to do this oppressive thing that the occupying Army can order for you to do. More than that he’s telling you to go twice as far. To comply with injustice and then to give more.
Who is evil?  It’s not about who “does” evil, either – regardless of what the NABRE says.
The Greek here actually says, “Do not resist the Evil One.
The Latin (non resistere malo) “Do not resist evil”.
St John Chrysostom says this is an important difference:

Having therefore mentioned the ancient law, and recognized it all, He signifies again, that it is not our brother who hath done these deeds, but the evil one. For this cause he hath also subjoined, “But I say unto you, that ye resist not the evil one.” He did not say, “resist not your brother,” but “the evil one,” signifying that on his motion men dare so to act; and in this way relaxing and secretly removing most of our anger against the aggressor, by transferring the blame to another.

 When someone does something against us in the world, it is not them – as an actor – who is evil; rather the evil is something they are being tempted to do. The one tempting them to act in such a way is the Evil One.  It is against him that we have a fight.

When it comes to our brother or sister who is doing harm to us, however, the struggle is not against them but to liberate them from the clutches of Satan. They are trapped and we must free them. This is why Jesus tells us not to hit them back, but rather to let them hit us again; not only to let them steal our coat but also give them everything else we have; not to let them force us to do something we don’t want but also to do things that they don’t know they want yet out of the kindness of our heart. St John says to act in this way will let them see we love them. If they see that we love them we may have a chance to free them from the evil one who has his claws in them.

When you think about it nobody has a reason to attack Christians. In fact, the only person with a reason to attack Christians is Satan. That he gets other people to do it on his behalf and gets them to take the blame is a score for him. That he gets other people to do it on his behalf and gets us Christians to blame the other folks is a double score on his behalf for he gets them to sin and gets us to sin as well. Further, he has ruined our witness. Because let’s be honest, if we’re reacting against their hate we are judging them. And everybody knows that Jesus said judge not lest ye be judged. Reacting in violence – even legal violence – to violence is judgment.

When someone is sitting in the clutches of Satan and a Christian does something that pushes that person farther into those clutches… we have failed.  What Jesus gives us here is a way to subversively do what they want us to do and yet show them Jesus.

If any time someone asked us to do something we said okay and then we did it out of love for them and for Jesus, the world would be a very different place. Imagine no lawsuits about wedding cakes. Imagine no torturous spitting matches in front of abortion clinics. Imagine no Twitter wars. Imagine peaceful loving service leading to salvation.

Look, I understand that we have a legal right to do these things! But just because the law says it’s okay does not mean it is salvific for us or for others. Jesus gives us these tools: let them hit you again. Do what they order you to do. Pray for them. Love them. Nowhere in this list does he save file a lawsuit against them. Nowhere in this list as does he say take them to court or take them to jail. Nowhere are we invited to fight them back.

We need to watch ourselves: we may be the last chance to be rescued from Satan these folks have.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams posits that it’s possible to fly if you fall down and while you’re falling you forget to finish the fall.

There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. … Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.

So, as you’re falling if you suddenly look to the side and say oh look some luggage you might miss the Earth and then begin to fly. That’s what Jesus is telling us to do here. Distract someone so they don’t do evil. Don’t let them finish their fall. Give them love back instead and they may fly.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done.


JMJ

The Readings for Saint Charles Lwanga & Companions, Martyrs
Monday in the 7th Week of Easter:

It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.

The feast of these martyrs is well placed in June, for they were martyred for refusing to hold on to their honored places in the court of the king of Uganda, in exchange for accepting his sexual advances. Instead of simply removing them from court sending them away in shame, he was enraged and had them killed: like the seven Maccabee brothers in our reading today, they elected to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors. As he was being burnt at the stake, Lwanga said, “It is as if you are pouring water on me. Please repent and become a Christian like me.” It reminds me of St Laurence saying “I’m done on this side, turn me over…”

Would that we had such courage today – we don’t often have it. We are afraid for our jobs, or our place in the community. We worry about being “deplatformed” on social media or about losing our businesses, etc.  I do not deny that these are important things, but what would the martyrs have said in our places? 

My inner voice tells me they would have not cared to be homeless, but they would not have denied the faith to stay housed.  They would not welcome being ostracised from their communities, but they would not have traded the truth for popularity. 

I’m not better at knowing this than anyone I could presume to criticize. I only hope I get more courage before they light fires.

My Face Hurts…

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia, nec nominetur in vobis, sicut decet sanctos : aut turpitudo, aut stultiloquium, aut scurrilitas, quae ad rem non pertinet : sed magis gratiarum actio.
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks.

The NABRE takes a dodge here… it says “Immorality or any impurity or greed” which is not what the Latin says, nor is it what the Greek says. The Latin refers to “Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia”. That first word is fornication. We’re not talking about “immorality” in general but about sexual sins. The Greek is even more direct. The word used there is πορνεία porneia. It is the origin for our word “pornography” but its meaning is derived from the verb “to sell off”. We trade off our sexual morals for other things – money, yes, but also acceptance, entertainment, self-gratification. This is made even more clear by the words selected in the next verse (which are not so obscured by the NABRE) obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility make it all very clear, and also eliminate about 80% of the internet and 95% of comedic content since WW2.

Why is St Paul so opposed to us having fun?

Matushka Frederica Matthews has this great line in one of her books, I honestly forget which one, discussing our cultural abuse of irony and making everything funny, she says, “Can we stop smiling now? My face hurts.” As a culture we make a joke of literally everything. This has gotten worse in successive generations – what was once sacred is now ribald humor. And as this area gets burned over, we move on to the next one… we can now joke about literally anything religious, because no one cares about it – and those who do don’t deserve our sensitivity. Only in jest can we talk about such things.

Paul is warning us against doing that to one of the most sacred acts God has given for humans to do – to participate in God’s creative generation of space and time by bringing a new human soul, enfleshed, into the world. Making jokes about this cheapen it.

But there is a second reason as well. We are spiritual athletes. We are in training. There is a time and place for everything. Yet there is never a place for baseness, or scurrility. We have no reason to “keep in practice” for the things we used to do.

A friend of mine called me out for using as a self description a word which has become synonymous with a sexual subculture. I hadn’t realized how important that word had become to me. I may not use “gay” to describe myself, but I have a “totem animal” anyway, right? Why? Do I need that? Do I still need that word to be part of me? Do I still need to get all those in jokes? Those brain cells might better be left from something else, I think.

Chrysostom reads both of these meanings

Have no witticisms, no obscenities, either in word or in deed, and thou wilt quench the flame—“let them not even be named,” saith he, “among you,” that is, let them not anywhere even make their appearance. This he says also in writing to the Corinthians. “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Cor. v. 1.); as much as to say, Be ye all pure. For words are the way to acts. Then, that he may not appear a forbidding kind of person and austere, and a destroyer of playfulness, he goes on to add the reason, by saying, “which are not befitting,” which have nothing to do with us—“but rather giving of thanks.” What good is there in uttering a witticism? thou only raisest a laugh. Tell me, will the shoemaker ever busy himself about anything which does not belong to or befit his trade? or will he purchase any tool of that kind? No, never. Because the things we do not need, are nothing to us.

Moral. Let there not be one idle word; for from idle words we fall also into foul words. The present is no season of loose merriment, but of mourning, of tribulation, and lamentation: and dost thou play the jester? What wrestler on entering the ring neglects the struggle with his adversary, and utters witticisms? The devil stands hard at hand, “he is going about roaring” (1 Pet. v. 8.) to catch thee, he is moving everything, and turning everything against thy life, and is scheming to force thee from thy retreat, he is grinding his teeth and bellowing, he is breathing fire against thy salvation; and dost thou sit uttering witticisms, and “talking folly,” and uttering things “which are not befitting.” Full nobly then wilt thou be able to overcome him! We are in sport, beloved.

There is a counter point, I think. One that is important for us in this age – that was not so important for Paul. While everything is funny – because it’s meaningless – everything is also taken far too seriously. CS Lewis and others have noted this tendency in our media, to stir up excitement for things that happen hundred and thousands of miles away while ignoring the things right out side. We get anxious over meaningless things about which we can do nothing, and then make light of things that are actually important.

So what would life look like if we took everything only as serious as it warranted, and yet took everything exactly as serious as is needed? What would life look like if one lived as if one’s salvation in Christ was the most important thing? Mindful that St Paul says that salvation entails a lot of things: obedience, humility, civic responsibility, passivity before abuse, charity, etc. What would life be like to live in that way?

All I Want is My Fair Share

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Videte, et cavete ab omni avaritia…
Take heed and beware of all covetousness…

The Gospel is messy: it doesn’t color between the lines we’ve drawn. Who in this brief Gospel story of familial dysfunction gets your sympathy? We’re not told if we’re talking to the younger or elder brother. My guess is younger because the elder would normally get it all – but see Jacob and Esau, or Isaac and Ishmael. Fathers can be capricious. We don’t know but maybe the man is the eldest son of a second wife or the eldest son in fact, by a mistress though, rather than the wife. Who knows? Who gets your sympathy? My late younger brother (along with many of his friends) was a bully. I rarely see things in these internecine incivilities without that memory coming into play. I tend to pity the one standing in front of Jesus. I often wondered why I was the one that wanted to go to church, but my brother was the one who got to beat me up. So I don’t necessarily see this as an issue of “justice” because my younger brother often got away with a lot of stuff.
What would Jesus say? The answer is one that is certain to annoy anyone who thinks the Gospel is only about “social justice”. Jesus doesn’t even ask the brother who’s right and who’s wrong or what might be going on. He says, simply, don’t covet.
Aslan would remind us we never get to know what might have been, what could have been, or even what would have been. All we can know is what is (and what was). So yes, I had a brother who was a bully, but that’s what providence has dealt. It’s created some interesting memories and mental dynamics in my life. However to fight back, to blame, to demand fairness would have only complicated things, and perhaps have lead Jesus to offer me some interesting parables. This says nothing about what he would have said to my brother… or anyone else involved. This is always only in the the first person.

St John Chrysostom directs us to this in another way…

The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.

Mindful, this is from the same Saint who teaches that both rich and poor alike rely too much on having stuff and not enough of God. This same saint teaches it is the duty of the rich to share in humble thankfulness for all they have and the duty of the poor to be humble in their reception of charity. The same saint teaches that laws do nothing for charity, as only a change of heart brings about charity…
See? The Gospel is really messy and doesn’t fall neatly into modern political parties.

Jesus asks, “Who made me the judge (literally, the divider) over this?”

In the first person singular and plural the Gospel offers no justice at all. In talking to Christians the only thing we’re promised is hate and eventually death. However we are to do justice – by which the Biblical writers do not mean “pass laws, march in the street, fix things”. We have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn’t have time to care about our political squabbles.

In the life of Sts Cyril & Methodious we learn: That is why we generously endure offenses caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbors, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds.
The Gospel is very messy. Our problem today seems to be that we are unwilling to “endure offenses caused us as private people”. We instantly demand justice and “our fair share”. Jesus accuses us (in the first person) of being covetous. Our job is to defend the weak, feed the poor, shelter the lost, but never to assume that is us we’re talking about there.

I got my Liberty License

JMJ

The Readings for the memorial of St Theresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Itaque, fratres, non sumus ancillae filii, sed liberae : qua libertate Christus nos liberavit. State, et nolite iterum jugo servitutis contineri.
So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free. Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage. 

Paul does some strange things with his argument and I want it to be evident:

Abraham had two sons. God promised him a son, but because of human concupiscence, Abraham was impatient and slept with his slave woman, Hagar. She bore him a son. Then the promised child was born to his wife, Sarah. He drove out the slave woman, again because of human sin: his wife was jealous. But God saved that child as well. Of Sarah by Isaac came all the tribes of Israel. Of Hagar, the slave, came by way of Ishmael, all the gentile tribes of the middle east.

It should be evident that the Ishmaelite tribes of gentiles were not under the law of Moses while the Israelite tribes were under the law. Yet Paul uses these same tags of Israelites and Ishmaelites to describe the Freedom of Christians (Israelites) as compared to the slavery of those under the law (Ishmaelites). It’s an interesting rhetorical inversion, a literal head-over-heels, topsy-turvy place where suddenly Jews who reject Messiah become gentiles while the Gentiles who accept the Messiah are plugged into the New Covenant along with the Jews.

But Paul is making this argument to say Christians are not under the law…

One, however, would be a fool if one imagined that Paul is saying there are no rules for Christians. I’ve been a fool like that. My freshman year in College was spent at a small, evangelical Christian school in down-state New York. We had a pledge we had to sign, saying we’d not drink, dance, smoke, join secretive oath-bound organizations, or use traditional playing cards.  (Those were the words… clearly playing poker with Tarot cards was fine… and while we were not allowed to join Greek-Letter fraternities, the number of professors/alumni/administrators who were Freemasons was actually astonishing.) So, we had this pledge. And in October of my freshman year I wrote a long letter to the student paper referencing – among other passages – this bit from Galatians to say we didn’t need to follow any rules.

I made the classic mistake of confusing Liberty in Christ for License to sin.

Sin is actually slavery. We are trapped in our own brains, in our own lusts, in our own desires. We cannot be the self-giving, the self-slaying, the self-sacrificing images of God that we’re intended to be. We are set free…

We are only free if we flow in the will of God. This is what Paul is saying. For the covenant of Sinai was the will of God – but no more. Paul invites his readers to move into the new covenant of freedom in the will of God. But not “there are no rules”.

Our modern Secularizers are telling us this. That religious rules that impact “freedom” (by which they mean license) must be done away with. They are seeking to enslave us to the world, the flesh, and the devil while calling evil things good, things of darkness as things of light. 

The Men of Nineveh – who heard a few whispers from Jonah and repented – will rise up and condemn us, for we hear the preaching of God himself, and yet persist in our sins and even demand that the Church change to accommodate us.