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.

Sit Anathema Sit

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 27th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit.
If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema.

Paul is reaching out to the Galatian churches. (Galatians = Gauls = Celts living in Asia Minor… ) Paul is hurt and angry that people to whom he, himself, has taught the Faith are being hoodwinked by false teachers. These false teachers are showing up and telling all of Paul’s Gentile converts that – contrary to Church teaching – in order to really be a Christian, one must first be a Jew. Men have to be circumcised, folks must keep kosher (as it was then understood), no working on the Sabbath, etc.

This argument may seem arcane to us, and perhaps a bit of “uber-geekery”: in fact it’s very important as the problem persisted well into the days of the Christian empire. It persists even today, with folks not only asking why Christians don’t follow Jewish Customs, but actually teaching that we should, even demanding it. Although these are often rather recent protestant movements (none are really older than the last 100 years), a Catholic parallel might be to see these other preachers as the sedevacantists movement of their day. They were so convinced the Church was wrong that they totally denied the validity of what was being taught.

Paul was convinced that these folks were going to lead his Baby Christians astray. Taking that parallel as valid, though, (and you can stop here if you don’t) I don’t think were in any danger of having a sedevacantist takeove of the Church. I don’t think we even need to fear a Trady Tradboy take over of the Church. The other end of the Spectrum gets very Sede too, however.

The liberals reject the teaching of the church as much as the conservatives. The left side of the nave drifts into sedevacantist thought just as quickly as the right. And, especially here in America, but also in Europe and Australia, it is this side that is leading the Church astray into another Gospel.

The folks advocating for inclusion of the gay agenda in the Church, the folks advocating for ordaining women are not the dangerous ones, to be honest. Both of those would take serious movements  in the hierarchy to accomplish. In order to change the teaching of the Church on sex and sexuality, for example, the Church would literally have to claim a new revelation.

The dangerous folks though, the sedevacantists, are the ones who say – even with out a change – let’s ignore the Church and do our own thing.

These folks are all over the Church. They quietly ignore church teachings and advise others to do so. When challenged they (rightly) reply they have never taught against the Church. But rather than mis-stating the truth, they have not stated it at all. They have not “made folks uncomfortable”. They have “accompanied them” and have passed along their own lukewarm faith. They are in pulpits, and teaching positions, leadership roles, and the hierarchy all over the place. (The same is true among Protestants and Orthodox as well.)

The easiest disguise for these folks is secular politics. They create red herrings out of secular political issues and accuse each other of failing to live up to the Gospel of Peach by fighting with their brothers and sisters over political disagreements. They move towards embracing the “sexual revolution” and accuse others of being sexists. They move towards rejecting church teachings on economics and accuse others of being communists. They reject church teachings on peace and accuse others of not being patriots. They want the secular gov’t to do something specific (which may be a moral good), but refuse to see that the Christian faith may move others to do the same thing by another route.

These folks are preaching another Gospel. They are not adding to the Gospel new rules like St Paul’s opponents, but rather they are leaving out huge and important parts of the Gospel. As we move through Galatians, I think it will be possible to speak of these new sedevacantists as well. Paul was worried about Judaizers. We must worry about Secularizers. Same heresy, but now Blue instead of Red. Anathema Sit, anyway.

“When many Christians will be lovers of heresies, and wicked men will persecute the clergy and trample spirituality and justice under foot, this should be the sign that Antichrist shall come without delay.”
St Birgitta (Briget) of Sweden

Think Different

Good Ol’ Uncle Al

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 25th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ne aemuleris hominem injustum, nec imiteris vias ejus. 
Envy not the unjust man, and do not follow his ways.


America has a problem with rebels. We started with the violent overthrow of our lawful king. We used advanced wordplay to justify what only a couple of generations before would have been a sin. Indeed our whole Anglophone culture is based on the same sort of thing, really. For what was the English schism if not the overthrow of a lawful authority?

We like rebels. But we fail to recognize that all rebels are the same: the essential argument is always, “I will do what I will. This shall be the whole of my law.” This non-argument is used to justify even contradictory ideas: like belief in evolution and also in non-reproductive sex. We rebel against any form of authority including our own. And we envy the folks who do it best: we want to emulate them.

Why can’t I inherit, we ask, all of my money from my parents, ruin every business I touch, cheat on several of my spouses, be emotionally abusive, lie, cheat, gamble, and still be President and a hero to millions?

America has a problem with rebels. All of our movies (even the good ones) are about rebels: what is It’s A Wonderful Life about if not fiscal rebellion? Gone With The Wind is not just about “The Rebel South” but also about a woman rebelling against social norms and running her own life. The Korean war was about a Rebel General. MASH is commentary about rebels in the Vietnam War disguised as a story about rebels in the Korean War. We think the Rebellion in Star Wars is the Good Guys. In our mythology, Jesus was a rebel. We pay no attention to the fact that he adhered to rather traditional Jewish teachings on many front and that even some of his more “rebellious” lines are from one or another Jewish rabbinical tradition. Jesus is not a rebel, but he does have peculiar opinions.

We see this play out in the Church as well: as the entire America Church is filled with Rebels of one sort or another. Yes, there are the liberal sorts who toss off moral strictures, but there are the conservative sorts who align themselves with Steve Bannon and stick up for political leaders who abuse women. These are all our Rebels against the Pope. There are in Orthodoxy white supremacists who won’t even let their women dress in traditional, Orthodox ways because it looks “too Muslim.”

We like rebels – even the ones we say we don’t like.

The problem is that this leads us to some awkward places in our moral life. If we elevate these folks so high on our cultural ranking, where does that leave us, faithful Catholics, who try to adhere to the moral order propounded by our Church exactly because it is the moral order propounded by our Church? Yeah, sure, there’s an element of “rebel” in it because in today’s world looking like Davey and Goliath, or Ward and June Cleaver (or even the Brady Bunch) is a rebellion of a sort. But it is an acquiescence to an authority as well. There is no such thing as a Christian Anarchist.

Unless you’re a rebel.

Getting Out of the Inner Ring

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Pope St Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church
 Monday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et multi leprosi erant in Israel sub Elisaeo propheta : et nemo eorum mundatus est nisi Naaman Syrus.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Fr Dwight did an excellent article, drawing on the writings of CS Lewis, about the Inner Ring mentality that allowed for the recent scandals to root, evolve, and stay hidden. All it takes is one whispered secret. There are no passwords, no secret handshake, no admission nor expulsion; it is a secret society nonetgeless. Lewis’ point is that this happens everywhere: not just in Church. It seems to be part of humanity’s fallen nature. When Scarlett O’Hara first sees Rhett Butler at Twelve Oaks, she’s told “he isn’t received” meaning that no proper, polite family will welcome him into their home. But here he is, at Twelve Oaks. If the Wilkses have let him in to their home, suddenly, he is now, received. So it’s ok to be seen with him. That’s the way a real inner circle works: the very definition of “Not what you know, but who you know.”

We want to be in there, right? We want to be on the inside. Ask me how I feel about being “in the Dominican Family”.

I heard recently of a deceased priest who would navigate through the silent canon of the Latin Mass (in the days before the V2 council) saying “wordy wordy wordy” soto voce. I know an Orthodox priest who skates through the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom by only saying aloud the words of institution. The rest of the Anaphora takes maybe 1 minute or 2, glanced at briefly whilst the Choir sings the Sanctus and the “We praise you”. As this is the normal practice in many parish churches I visited during my 12 years of Orthodoxy, I can’t say it’s odd. Someone (or several someones) must have known about Fr Wordy’s practice, because the Silent Canon is silent… so… someone didn’t call the Archbishop.

The print above shows Christ rising from the Altar in a style that will be familiar to many Orthodox and Byzantine readers as “Christ the Bridegroom”. He is appearing on the altar during Mass offered by Pope St Gregory the Great in response to the latter’s prayers who asked that an unbeliever in the room might be shown the Truth of the Eucharistic Miracle. In this most common and universal of miracles, the very Body and Blood of Christ, living, eternal, human, and divine, is made present on the Altar in the forms of Bread and Wine. 

The Pope prayed for such a miracle because there was a deacon in the room who doubted. This most basic teaching of the Orthodox and Catholic faith was doubted by a member of the clergy in the 6th century. Further more, this image – and the story – was vastly popular throughout the Middle Ages in Europe even during the Spanish Evangelism of the New World. Persons who, as clergy, doubted the most basic teachings of the Church. And many laity acting as if it’s not quite a shock to find out… 


It’s St Gregory’s Feast today on the New Roman Calendar. St Pius X is celebrated today on the older Calendar. Either way, today is the feast of a Pope who taught the historic faith in times of trial. Both Popes faced clergy who were at odds with the teachings of the Church. Both Popes had wins and losses in that face-off. St Gregory dealt with lax clergy living lavishly in Rome. He created a monastery and put everyone under monastic obedience. St Pius dealt with modernists denying the faith and created the Antimodernist Oath.  And both Popes are makes as great reformers – notably in both cases, of the Daily Office. It is prayer that fixes the inner rings of the world, by opening them up to God.

The Bible readings underscore that sometimes God not only acts in spite of the “inner circle” but sometimes goes right outside the Church. The cited cases (of Elijah and Elisha) highlight how God’s prophetic actions required Gentiles, that is non-believers. When you find yourself facing non-believers inside the Church, you need Gentiles to back your reforms. You may need to even let in the Government Officials. 

St Paul knows the answer though: I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified… in weakness. That’s all we have. That’s all we need, really. When we celebrate Christ as the Man of Sorrows, bleeding on our altars whilst all of us kneel in awe instead of a divine potluck with hand holding, when this is the Gospel we preach – the whole package – even the parts that call us out, call us sinners, make us change our lives…

Then we can preach the Gospel, because we’re living it.

But we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s not happening: because it’s been not-happening right along.





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Not Sweetness and Light

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Monica
Monday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Clauditis regnum caelorum ante homines! vos enim non intratis, nec introeuntes sinitis intrare.
You shut the Kingdom of Heaven to men! You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

It’s important to hear these verses in a Jewish content. A scribe, a lawyer, was often one of the Sadducees. This tradition within Judaism was of a more literalist sort, invoking the scriptures in a fundamentalist way: “without” interpretation, has it were. The Pharisees, from the other side, were more inclined to circumvent some laws, to find ways to expand them. They were using scripture plus interpretation. These two might be seen as “conservatives” and “liberals” within the Judaism of that time, although there were other parties that were either more or less free with their understandings of the Torah. Some were so concerned about the state of affairs that they treated the whole temple as ritually impure. Others were so liberal that they never bothered to go to the temple at all. Jesus is yelling at both “revisionists” and “traditionalists” in his world. Conservatives and Liberals.

Sometimes it’s tempting to project these verses on our religious opponents. Certainly the plethora of (not so) good-natured religious jokes about Southern Baptists and drinking is a class of this: 

Why do you have to take two Baptists with you when you go fishing? Because if you take just one, he’ll drink all your beer.
What’s the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist will tell you “howdy” when he sees you in the liquor store.

And often these verses get pointed as very large guns (because spoken by Christ, himself)  at Jews of many different ages. And that is never, even in a pretend way, good-natured. Christian Anti-Semitism is a problem of massive proportions. It cost lives and prevents the haters from getting into the Kingdom as well as the Hated which last see Domincal evangelism as only more of the same. 

It is tempting in today’s crisis, to point these verses at the clergy who were having illegal sex with minors. They certainly have avoiding the Kingdom of Heaven while, at the same time, preventing others from entering: not just their victims, but many others who are scandalized or spurred to levels of anger that keep them away.

Still, I can only judge myself. I would like to point these verses as very big guns (because spoken by Christ, himself) at me.

I’m mindful of how much of my life was spend finding ways to bend the rules, to be comfortable, to be left alone, whilst having a religious experience of my own choosing. I think of how my own parents, following my lead, have become activists in their own denomination (UMC), withdrawing support from their parish when the preacher speaks in a way they think of as oppressive. In the times I was “church shopping”, regardless of what denomination it was, I would only go to “friendly” places. And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don’t want the Authorities to come down on them. I’ve even found them in Orthodoxy, and you can find them in Catholicism too.

So… 

When I hear about the current crisis I think of how easy it is, Revisionist or Traditionalist, for a Double Income and No Kids family to become a strong financial pillar in a local parish, to keep the pastor quiet about certain issues, to dance through a religious culture without ever setting off the landmines that might challenge one’s place. At the same time, one is preventing not only oneself from hearing the Gospel, but also others.

And we have many examples, I think: not just from my own orbit, but in other ways. For I know that there are many couples married for a while without kids. There are many writers who find the social (including environmental) teachings of the church to be annoying in a capitalist culture. There are politicians who prattle on to keep their positions. There are clergy and lay teachers who like the size of the donations that come from these parties; or, who actually agree that disagreeing with the teachings of the church is “OK in this area now”. And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don’t want the Authorities to come down on them. But maybe the Authorities will change soon… Conservative or Liberal matters not. 

And this Crisis, which is a scandal, a stumbling block, an injury, a wound in the sides of the victims as well as in the side of the Church, is caused by this culture. Yes: it is the specific sins of specific people. But the complicity lies far wider than the action. The action of complicit consent is practically a prime tenant of 1st World religious practice – regardless of religion. 

When I hear conservatives or liberals complain… dissing the teachings of the church from either side, we are the folks Jesus is talking to today.

Hashtag BernOp

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Monday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ait illi Jesus : Si vis perfectus esse, vade, vende quae habes, et da pauperibus, et habebis thesaurum in caelo : et veni, sequere me.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”


In the sixth century, St Benedict went to Rome and found corruption and vice. So he moved to the country and started a community of monks to be saved despite all the problems. Benedict, like every great reformer, but salvation, his and other’s, first, before culture, or even before the institution of Church. His order grew, becoming not only the salvation of the Catholic Church, but also of the culture of Europe, storing up knowledge lest it be lost in the final collapse under invading barbarians. 600 years along, however, it was the order that needed saving.

The recent scandals in the church seem a perfect attack: dividing brother against brother and giving ammunition to those who would spread heresy and immorality. It adds fuel to the fires of those advocating both for a change in sexual morality and those who are advocating for a near Donatist purge of the church from all they deem evil and impure; even sometimes including the laity in a sort of “red scare” sort of mentality. At the same time, this is all playing into the hands of those on the outside who would weaken the Church not by virtue of laws or persecution, but rather by attrition, both of population and moral authority. This active inculcation of indifference is as deadly as a “culture war” without any of the blood or emotions.

We have to admit that a wealthy, comfortable, culturally ensconced church, not only embedded in the world, but down right in bed with it, is without moral authority any way. 

So here’s St Bernard, the man who took the Order of St Benedict and spun it back to its roots because it (the Order) had grown fat, powerful, and lazy. This Spiritual Obesity had led to hardening of the arteries, and an advanced case of necrosis in several places. This was echoed in the Church as well: for when the monastic orders begin to fail the Church is unhealthy at her heart. Bernard put salvation first.

Yesterday, Fr Joseph Illo preached a homily I hope will end up online (update: here it is) calling out the darkness in the Church and noting that he would rather sell the parish and the school if it would mean the defeat of the corruption in the Church. Salvation first.

I’m a new Catholic. I’m not as familiar with the names of those involved as I would have been if this were Orthodoxy or the Episcopal Church, but I’ve lived through the same sort of thing in both of those Churches. And in both the Bishops stayed in denial. No one talked about the financial and sex scandals in ECUSA, ditto in Orthodoxy. Everyone is talking about it in Rome just now, so maybe it will mean something else. 

And yet, at the same time, as Christians, the world will still try to bully us into following the world’s rules.

The Church is not the 100% Pure Virgin Bride, she is the Abominable Bride. But she is growing more and more pure as this moves. I take great comfort that the report in PA covers events that are nearly all before 2002. The Church can move forward. But at the same time, the Cardinal McCarrick affair is ongoing. Most churches in SF (even the most conservative ones, Orthodox and Catholic) have gay couples in them. In most cases not only the pastors but also prelates are aware. And this article by Fr Dwight was a painful eye opener, but I was already aware of this particular issue by virtue of friends who had dated clergy, and clergy who had counselled me to be sure to use condoms…

It’s all the same culture: the laity have no place to call out the clergy (and vice versa) as long as we each have our own favourite sins. For every clergyman acting out, there’s a couple with condoms, or a pro-choice Catholic politician taking communion from a knowing pastor. We’re dying from the inside – but it’s all of us together, not just from the top down. And I’m not above tying some of this (but not all) to grandstanded, irreverent liturgies partaking of the Heresy of Formlessness. 

So, there we are. That’s the Church we have just now. The Abominable Bride. I’m too new: I don’t know everyone’s names, but I’m not angry, I’m just being realistic. We are Christians and we must save – and forgive – even those who are here with less than honorable intentions, even nefarious ones. We must love them. Fully. In the hopes that some of the weeds can become wheat again. Salvation first. At one time, with her own courts, the Church knew that salvation required honesty about sins and yet avoiding the secular power structures. St Thomas Becket died to preserve the Church’s right to her own courts – even in the case of murder.


Sadly we’re not there any more. And Paul’s counsel not to bring one another before the secular courts (in front of non-believers) fall now on deaf ears. Yet Fr Illo reminded us that God can use even the secular courts as a scourge, as certainly as God used the Philistines, Nebuchadnezzar, and Darius. So we’ve set ourselves up for this one. Fr Illo is right: because a church devoid of riches, social position, and political power would be far less attractive to folks who are not here for anything else. And Pope Benedict XVI agrees:

From today’s crisis will emerge a church that has lost a great deal. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges. It will become small and will have to start pretty much over again. It will be a more spiritual church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.

We need a Bernard to loop us back to the very beginning. To pull us, again, towards Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: sell all you have and come follow me. We need one fast, before God lets the world force us to do so.


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Jesus in the Sky with Prophets

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Non enim doctas fabulas secuto notam fecimus vobis Domini nostri Jesu Christi virtutem et praesentiam : sed speculatores facti illius magnitudinis… Et hanc vocem nos audivimus de caelo allatam, cum essemus cum ipso in monte sancto.
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…. we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

A question comes up every year around Easter: how can we know? Where is the proof?

Truth be told we take a lot of folks at their word, over and over. We never ask for more proof than their spoken word, even when it’s obvious (to anyone paying attention) that some story or other is clearly fabricated. There are whole websites devoted to disproving fabrications and there are, equally, whole websites devoted to dispensing fabrications. Yet, not to put too fine a point on it, none of these websites ask their owners (or even their readers) to pay the price of their truth with their very lives.

We live in an age when religious martyrdom has been given a bad rap. Only insane folks die for their version of religious truths. Sane religious folks are to be differentiated from the nuts that fly planes into buildings or park trucks in front of government offices. Lunatics kill themselves to make a point. Regular folks live and let live and don’t bother with messy things like doctrines. That’s not, actually, what martyrdom means. Killing oneself or oneself and a whole lot of others, is not what makes a martyr.

Being slain for or because of one’s faith does, however.

So it would be possible to look around the globe today and find folks of several religions who are killed exactly because of their religions or, in the line of duty described by their religions. A Jew slain in their Synagogue, a Native American defending tribal sacred grounds, a Christian killed while she was praying at a shrine. These are all martyrs. The Royal Martyrs of Russia are of this sort, as are very many slain by the Communists. The right wing militias supported by the US have given us a lot of these as well, especially in Latin America. President Reagan deserves the title of “Martyr Maker”.

There are also martyrs of a sort very commonly understood: people who are ordered to recant their faith and do not – and so are slain. Communists, Fascists and other forms of paganism have given many faiths – including Christianity – a lot of these. Likewise the English have given the church a lot of these. Queen Elizabeth I deserves the title of “Martyr Maker” as well.

St Peter – and the other witnesses to the life of Jesus – are, in fact, martyrs of a different sort. Their witness, their confession lies at the root of all the others. These 11 men (and 400 or so others) insisted that what they had seen had actually happened. And not one of them recanted even though every last one save John, could have purchased their very lives by that recantation. 

We have seen this. St John adds, “We have handled this with our hands”.

Yet today it is popular to deny the authority of the witnesses.
To say the tales are fabricated.
To insist that the stories must have been written down long after the reported events.
To demand any number of options that make it easy for the stories to be untrue.

It’s not enough to say St Paul didn’t write his letters, we have to image St Titus was a lie as well, or St Timothy. The whole thing is made up.

Well, OK. 

The theory that Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and fed to garbage dogs (forgive me) and that’s why there is no body is a self-contained and non-contradictory way to read the possibilities. But then what about the Resurrection? Well, those were stories the failed followers of the guy told themselves in their guilt at deserting him.

OK.

Except who goes to their death for a lie – knowing it’s a lie? And while yes, you may be able to get one or two folks to do that, who gets 12? Who gets 400?

You can’t prove that this thing, this Christ event did not happen. But you can believe it to be a lie, yes.  Are you wiling, personally, to go to your death to say you know it didn’t happen? Can you get 400 folks to join you (who are not equally inspired by their own religious faith)?

A man who believes in nothing will fall for anything. But he won’t die for it.

The Apostolic martyrs paid with their lives the cost of their beliefs. And in so paying, they brought hundreds, thousands in to experience the change of life that only Jesus can give. The first experience of the light of Mt Tabor that comes with baptism and is renewed – every day – at Mass and confession.

Today’s feast gives us a goal for all this. This image of Jesus, the Son of God, glorified in his flesh, this is what God has in store for all of us. It’s not enough for God to become a human baby, urinating on himself, or defecating on the ground and wiping his bottom with his hand. Nope, that’s not enough of a scandal. God has opened the gates of intimate union with his divinity to all of us. This glorified God-Man we see before the Apostles today is a sign of our own theosis, our divinization. As we are he has become so that as he now is, we can become by his grace in the future.  

This participation in God – as God participates in our humanity – is a thing unimagined and yet making so much sense: that we would be able to return, in Christ, to a place not only before the fall, but to our intended place in spite of the fall. This makes the whole of history into a unified story arc with Christ as the creator, corrector, and culmination.

The Transfiguration is not only a sign of Christ’s coming triumph in the Gospel texts, it is a sign of our coming triumph in the world to come.

Each martyr from St Stephen down to those slain on a beach by ISIS have paid with their lives not for their taste of this life, but to prove that they had done so. Their death pays for others to taste it, for us to taste it as well.

A blessed feast!
___


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Subversion!

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Aliam parabolam locutus est eis : Similis est regnum caelorum fermento, quod acceptum mulier abscondit in farinae satis tribus, donec fermentatum est totum.
Another parable he spoke to them: The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. 

During the great fire of 1906, so the story goes, Mrs Boudin ran into the family bakery to rescue a bit of the sourdough that was rising at that time, so that the strain of yeast in the 65 year old bakery could be continued. That strain is now 149 years old and still an SF favourite. It only take a little leaven. 

Reaching the end of Christendom is scary for some folks. These folks define Christendom as a Majority World View and that majority is certainly passed away in the US, by falling off on the left and on the right. It died in Europe a painless death of under-use. Although it is thriving in many places, it is often woven in with leaders who would just as soon sell out for more power and mammon. Speaking ill of Putin got an Orthodox Parish in New York City slapped by the OCA. Catholics who are on the Trump train think the rest of us are fake Catholics. Christendom is dead, if by Christendom you mean the power to enforce our morality on folks who are not Christians by using the Gov’t. Gov’ts don’t care about us if we don’t vote for them or else keep them in power. 

Truth is, they never did.

Yet St Paul tells us to “honor the king” and “obey the laws” as long as they don’t contravene the Law of God. And in that respect he’s right – because he says the reason to do this is to get people to speak well of you and want to look into the Gospel.  Jesus says, “Let your light shine before all that they may see your good deeds and praise God.” St Paul takes the Roman Marriage and twists it into a loving relationship of equals. He wants to use it to convert the world. He turns slavery into Christian witness. He wants slave owners to do more than just treat their slaves as equals in Christ. He makes “law abiding” a way to preach. Jesus tells his disciples to be wise as serpents and to make friends of unrighteous mammon. Be in the world, but not of it. Two millennia later, the Christians of the CCCP were praying for the Soviets in the exact same words they used to pray for the Czar, asking that the Gov’t would keep order so that the Church could live the Gospel.

Subversion, my friends. That’s what this is about: subversion. 

The Gospel is leaven, designed to change the world from the inside, or, as the Dominicans say, Grace builds on nature. God takes bread and makes it into His Body. God takes a sinner and makes her into a saint. God take humanity and makes it into himself. None of these by committing violence to the folks involved, but rather by leavening their loaf, by making them, from the inside, into what they are supposed to be. This is why there can be no Benedict Option. To abandon the world would be to rob the world of leaven. 

Still this is not the way to victory. The death of Christendom only means a chance for us to die more often. “Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” (Letters 255).

The Apostles and all the Church Fathers tell us that no matter how hard we work to build God’s kingdom here, the end will be the Kingdom of Antichrist and darkness.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. 2 Timothy 3:1-5a

It’s not going to be pretty, either: Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.  And that “holding the form of religion” bit means that these folks will be (or at least claim to be) Christians. We have these today: folks who say the teachings of the church are impossible to keep, or who insist that a group or class of person can’t keep the teachings of the Church so the teachings must change. In this they deny the power: of God to work, of the redemption of Christ to save, and of the human person to cooperate with grace. 

The Council of Trent foresaw this:  

If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be Anathema. Canon XVIII

So we’re right on target.

The Prophet Jeremiah’s underwear is an amusing story. It’s how these people will end up. But for the time, we have to even subvert the downward motion: for God intends it for our salvation. Being the leaven in the world, means being the sourdough of God. All we need is one pinch saved from the fire. Only a remnant will save the whole world.


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The Israel of God

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 16th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Popule meus, quid feci tibi? aut quid molestus fui tibi? Responde mihi. Quia eduxi te de terra Aegypti, et de domo servientium liberavi te, et misi ante faciem tuam Moysen, et Aaron, et Mariam.

O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 

These words are the refrain for the hymn, sung on Good Friday, called the Improperia or the Solemn Reproaches. The text is written as if spoken by God from the cross. For example:

I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Saviour to the cross.

I led you from slavery to freedom and drowned your captors in the red sea, but you handed me over to your high priests. 

This is one of those hinge moments, however. We can’t have it both ways.

These sung lines are often cited as a case of antisemitism. That can only be true if you A) understand the teachings of the church; and B) assume we reject them whole cloth. For the teaching of the Church is that Israel is the chosen people of God and that in Christ, we Gentiles are grafted into that relationship. We become Israel not instead of but rather also. These verses and others which seem to criticize “the Jews” but, in fact, are read by Jews as a complex mea culpa for other things not dealing with Messiah, cannot then be read as only speaking of any perfidy of the Jewish people at the time of Christ, but must refer to the entire people of God and how we all constantly betray him. Yes, for we, too, have been led from slavery to freedom, yet we lead Jesus daily to the cross by our actions and our words.

God asks, today in Micah, that the mountains and hills listen to his argument against Israel (that is, us…) and he has one, surely. The common point in all these instances and in the Gospel where Jesus is talking to “an evil and unfaithful generation” (us) is that “Israel” means to wrestle with God. Yes, God would like us to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. But we are much more likely to struggle like Jacob did the night before God made him lame and changed his name to “he who fights with God.” That’s our expected function. Not that we ever win, really: but God wants us to submit even though he knows we won’t, because it’s hard. The wrestling always ends the same way it did for Jacob. God puts Jacob’s hip out of joint and blesses him.

There is but this required of us: do Justice, love Mercy, and walk humbly with God. For most functions today, Justice means “revenge”, mercy is unknown, and humility before God (or anyone) is brushed aside. Sunday’s post noted that Catholicism is hard. At Confession yesterday before Mass the priest’s comments surprised me and to be honest I spent much of Mass whining to Jesus about it. So, at least I was praying sorta… but as I was kneeling before communion I imagined this conversation: My Lord, this is too hard. What am I to do? And Jesus responded, “My child, it know it’s hard, but you are, still, alive.” The wrestling match ended that way.

All of that was demanding a sign. We want things to be different, yes, but we want them to be different in the way we want them to be rather than in God’s way.  We want Justice where “our side” wins. Mercy shown only when we feel like it. The only sign we’re going to be given – the Sign of Jonas – has been given to us already. The men of Nineveh are waiting for us to respond to God without grumbling. The Queen of the South wonders that we cannot hear wisdom when it is offered.

When will we stop struggling?

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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