Who will help us escape?


Today’s readings:

Respondit eis Jesus, et dixit: Amen, amen dico vobis: quæritis me non quia vidistis signa, sed quia manducastis ex panibus et saturati estis.
Jesus answered them, Believe me, if you are looking for me now, it is not because of the miracles you have seen; it is because you were fed with the loaves, and had your fill. (Knox)
John 6:26
You’re looking for me, not because of the things that prove me to be the Messiah, but rather because you got food. In the Golden Chain, the Patristic Commentary on the Gospels compiled by St Thomas Aquinas, we find this:

Augustine. As if He said, you seek Me to satisfy the flesh, not the Spirit. Chrysostom. After the rebuke, however, He proceeds to teach them: Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures to everlasting life; meaning, you seek for temporal food, whereas I only fed your bodies, that you might seek the more diligently for that food, which is not temporary, but contains eternal life. Alcuin. Bodily food only supports the flesh of the outward man, and must be taken not once for all, but daily; whereas spiritual food remains for ever, imparting perpetual fullness, and immortality. Augustine. Under the figure of food He alludes to Himself you seek Me, He said, for the sake of something else; seek Me for My own sake.

Seeking him for his own sake.

We hear a lot about the Prosperity Gospel these days – both in the preaching of it and the preaching against it. Some have even found it in the Catholic Church, noting that the “Jesus has a plan/spouse/job for you” can be read as more of the same.  As an Orthodox priest once said to me: we know God’s will, “That all should come to a saving knowledge of God.” After that it’s all trivia.  My two friends, Steve, have done podcasts and videos about God not having a plan for you or me beyond willing our salvation. (Steves: I love you guys.) Reading this passage, I’m mindful of a thing my friend Pietro said one Easter in a Bible Class on John: Are we running to God or away from Hell? And I am reminded of the Act of Contrition, where we say we “Dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell” but most of all we’re sorry because we’ve offended God who is “all good and deserving of all my love.” We want God not for himself, but because we don’t want to die.

I would venture that it is better to love Jesus for his own sake, because he is the Truth, the very light, the Second Person of the Trinity, he is love, itself… it is far better to love Jesus thus, than to seek him out of “Salvation”.  For the latter is objectification. It’s turning Jesus into a tool.  It’s making Jesus into a Fire Escape, we love the Fire Escape when we’re in a towering inferno. But – to Love Jesus for himself, to Love him as he himself is, is salvation. To fall in love with Love himself, is to become saved, to be heaven here on earth to those around us, to become Salvation to those with whom we journey. As St Seraphim of Sarov rather famously said, “Acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

Today is 1 May, the beginning of the Marian Month par excellence. Mary opened her heart to God without equivocation, saying “Yes” to the incarnation without ever knowing what it would mean in full. That is the level of trust needed here. To Love God fully as himself, to know that he wills nothing but your good, and so to follow him, not because “whatever you ask in my name” or “pressed down, over-flowing, full measure”, Name it and Claim it, or “God has a plan for you…” but to walk in his light because he is light, and to love fully because he is love.

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love God.

Love.

Except you ravish me.


Today’s readings:

And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness…
Acts 4:29

At this time there were about 3,000 Christians in the whole world. Some Protestants would have us imagine that, essentially, those 3,000 would be the entire population of Heaven. I’m not going to wager a Universalism that I won’t win because of free will, but I will wager the divine economy is a bit more lenient that some want to imagine. Those 3,000 Christians had a job to do: to witness to the Kingdom of Jesus and as they set about their business they met little opposition. Yet what they met was real enough. So they prayed one kick-butt prayer:

Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them, you said by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of our father David, your servant: Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly? The kings of the earth took their stand and the princes gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed. Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do what your hand and your will had long ago planned to take place. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

The Douay is even better:

Lord, thou art he that didst make heaven and earth, the sea and all things that are in them. Who, by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, hast said: Why did the Gentiles rage: and the people meditate vain things? The kings of the earth stood up: and the princes assembled together against the Lord and his Christ. For of a truth there assembled together in this city against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants that with all confidence they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thy hand to cures and signs and wonders, to be done by the name of thy holy Son, Jesus. 

There are two things that I find awesome about this prayer: first although they recount the history of Jesus’ passion, there is no blame. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews all conspired To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. Everything was sucky, yes: but it was only what God wanted. In fact, in God’s mercy, that’s all that ever really happens. (All things work for the good of those who love the Lord.) So, the Church prays, “Here in Jerusalem everyone assembled against Jesus to do exactly what you planned anyway. Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, even mighty Augustus obeys God’s plans.” Now that the local authorities, though, are getting wise – and telling the Church to stop being the Church – the reaction is praising God.

How different is that from us today? On the one hand some act as if we cannot do the work the Church is called to do if the law does not allow us to. Some are afraid of losing tax benefits, or other practicalities. Some are convinced that the very end of Christianity in America is upon us. And some who have us hide away, to protect ourselves from the world: locked in a perpetual Upper Room Option, for fear of the world.

To this cringing, the Early Church – all 3,000 of them – who are about to change the spiritual, sexual, relational, financial, and political shape of the known world, all say: fiddlesticks. This is them saying fiddlesticks:

That’s the second thing that’s awesome about this prayer – all in verse 29 – “Take note of their threats and give us the cojones to not care.” (It’s in the Greek…ok, maybe not.) Most importantly, and actually in the Greek, the Church asks for the grace to proclaim God’s Logos. That’s Jesus, brothers and sisters: the logic by which all of everything is understood and, without whom you may have all the facts in the world, but not the Truth.

Being told “Don’t do anything in the name of Jesus ever again” the Church did not run away and hide but rather trusted in God’s divine mercy and said, “God’s got this and we’re just going to keep going.” This, my friends, is the Pascha Option. Life has won. #GodWins It doesn’t matter how the state changes definitions, or how far the world goes to kill us off. In fact, we know that when the world does that, we’re doing something right! When the Church kneels down and says, “Just give us the grace to do what you told us to do…” God’s divine Boo-yah! shakes the house.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, so I will just admit how I fail all the time. I’m scared a lot. I need this prayer every moment of the day. I need to remember the Pascha Option. It’s deceptively simple: We’re a mess. God came – himself – to fix us and transformed the very fabric of the universe. Now, even the sucky things are God restoring us to his glory. The Jesus Psalter would have us pray “Jesus, send me here my purgatory.” Send me here all the tribulations and pains I can handle to prune off my pride, my impatience, my lack of charity, my lust. That way I can be more-fit for the society of angels. Send me here the pains I deserve, the sharp corners I must turn. Put me here in the rock tumbler and make me into the Christian you want me to be.

John Donne prays:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 

None of those pains are designed to make me shut up proclaiming the divine Logos: rather, in grace, I have to breath deep of the Divine Light and shout, all the louder, from the root-top.

Don’t judge me, bro.


Today’s Readings:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Luke 6:36-37a

This verse can be thrown in our faces at times. Anytime a comment about morality is made it can turn into a “Don’t judge me, bro” sort of conversation. Yet the Greek word rendered “Judge” can mean more like dividing the grain from the chaff. In fact, Jesus – who often made moral statements regarding sex, anger, finance, etc, – told several parables in keeping with this idea of division. We’re not to cut off people except as a very last resort. That avoidance of division would include making moral judgements about persons, certainly, but it doesn’t mean not making moral judgements at all.

So I posted on Facebook on Saturday night:

I believe that people should be free, that traditional morality was invented by people and we should be free to make new morals now that we know more. We can come up with anything we want. We can invent ourselves anew, we can ignore cultural norms and expectations, we can pass laws we like and ignore the ones we don’t like. Every one should be free to paint their pictures anyway they want.
Except Donald Trump.

My point was not that I believe that crap (obviously) nor that anyone does, but usually at some point in a conversation on morals it will come down to that and “don’t judge me, bro.” Especially around sex. But even there, as I pointed out on FB, we are not at all judgement free – ask anyone about the President’s locker-room talk, and there’s going to be a lot of judgement.

A priest mentioned a “throwaway” line in a book he had been reading, “Lust is the result/fruit/punishment of/for pride.” I’ve googled several permutation of that with no avail, but it’s kept me thinking for a while. Lust is the fruit of pride: for pride puts me before everyone and makes me want to have others serve my needs. At the same time pride denies me the intimacy that can come from real love, and I’m left not caring for people with whom I crave contact, sharing, human warmth. The end result is that sex works for everyone – you don’t need to worry if I’m a nice guy, just boink’n’bye. In turn, that level of disconnect, of misuse of the divine gift of our bodies, results in a passionate addiction. And so lust blossoms. It doesn’t matter if that’s a lot of activity with other persons, or with one person, or with oneself. Its root is pride, its symptoms are narcissism and a lack of intimacy, and the result is lust.

Or, to read it differently, the prideful person put himself before others, judging himself (dividing himself off) from them. And because he has judge them (divided them) off from himself, he can no longer be intimate with them. If you divide off others – you’ve really only divided off yourself. This is why the heretic, the one who teaches heresy, is not “kicked out of the church” but rather excommunicates himself: you cannot hold on to someone who doesn’t want to be held. Women feel judged by people who are opposed to abortion. Men who have sex with other men feel judged by people opposed to same sex marriage laws. These two statements can be true – that people feel judged – even when nothing but love has been expressed; when no division has happened. This is their own conscience speaking against their actions: calling them to repentance. That’s rather different than judgement. (Don’t get me wrong as I know the latter happens, too, but it’s different.)

Yet, at the same time, Jesus says we are to be merciful. That reminds me of a ditty from a book on word play that I read in High School:

The Lord makes it
to rain On the Just
and the unjust fellow
But mostly on the Just
For the unjust steals
The just’s umbrella.

We are to be merciful. God waits, wounded by our sins, waiting for us to come to him and ask for healing. God waits, pierced by the nails of our anger, for us to love him. God waits, not judging us – not dividing us off from himself – even though we have divided ourselves off from him. And we must aspire to do the same, to be perfect as our father is perfect:

We must be constant in the aspiring to the perfection of holy love, in order that love may be perfect; for the love which seeks anything less than perfection cannot fail to be less than perfect.
– St Francis de Sales

Who is my Brethren?

A Patristic Homily for the Monday in the First Week of Lent. From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Remigius, Gregory the Great, Rabanus, and Origen, the Teacher of the Fathers.

Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

To this most sweet section of Scripture which we cease not continually to ponder, let us now listen with all attention and compunction of spirit, for Christ does indeed clothe this discourse with more terrors and vividness. He does not accordingly say of this as of the others, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” but shews of Himself by direct revelation, saying, “When the Son of man shall come in his majesty.” Jesus gives us this story as he, himself, is within two days to celebrate the passover, to be delivered to the cross, and mocked by men. He now fitly now holds out the glory of His triumph, that He may overbalance the offences that were to follow by the promise of reward.

Both the wicked and they also who shall be set on His right hand shall see Him in human shape, for He shall appear in the judgment just when he was incarnate: in a form like ours. He shall come down with the Angels whom He shall call from heavenly places to hold judgment. “For all his Angels shall be with him” to bear witness to the things wherein they have administered to men’s salvation at His bidding. “And all nations shall be gathered before Him.” (Proving also that the resurrection of men shall be a real and bodily event.)

The wicked are called goats, because they climb rough and rugged rocks, and walk in dangerous places. Under the figure of a sheep in Scripture is signified simplicity and innocence. Beautifully then in this place are the elect denoted by sheep. The goat is a salacious animal, and was the offering for sins in the Law; and He says not ‘she goats’ which can produce young, and “come up shorn from the washing.” Then He separates them in place. For the Saints who have wrought right works, shall receive in recompense of their right works the King’s right hand, at which is rest and glory; but the wicked for their evil and sinister deeds have fallen to the left hand, that is, into the misery of torments. Then shall the King say to those who are on “his right hand, Come,” that in whatsoever they are behind they may make it up when they are more perfectly united to Christ. He adds, “ye blessed of my Father,” to shew how eminently blessed they were, being of old “blessed of the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

Observe that He says not ‘Receive,’ but “possess,” or “inherit,” as due to you from of old. This “prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” is to be understood as of the foreknowledge of God, with whom things to come are as already done.

The Saints obtain the boon of this heavenly kingdom because, says Jesus, the Judge, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me to eat.” In fact, Our Lord here enumerates six works of mercy which whoso shall study to accomplish shall be entitled to the kingdom prepared for the chosen from the foundation of the world. These are they who are judged on the side of the elect, and who reign; who wash away the stains of their life with tears; who redeem former sins by good deeds following; who, whatever unlawful thing they have at any time done, have covered it from the Judge’s eyes by a cloak of alms. It is from humility that they declare themselves unworthy of any praise for their good deeds, not that they are forgetful of what they have done. “Lord, when saw we thee &c.” They say not because they distrust the Lord’s words, but they are in amaze at so great exaltation, and at the greatness of their own glory; or because the good which they have done will seem to them to be so small according to that of the Apostle, “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

It is Christ in every poor man whom we feed when he is hungry, or give drink to when he is thirsty, and so of other things; but when He says, “In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren,” He seems to me not to speak of the poor generally, but of the poor in spirit, those to whom He pointed and said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother.”Yet if they are His brethren, why does He call them “the least?” Because they are lowly, poor, and outcast. By these He means not only the monks who have retired to the mountains, but every believer though he should be secular, though an hungred, or the like, yet He would have him obtain merciful succours, for baptism and communication of the Divine mysteries makes him a brother.