Are you a hacker?


The Readings for Tuesday in the 7th Week of Easter:

What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.

Have you heard about “hypermiling”? These are folks who learn every possible trick to play with their car to get the most gas mileage possible. They go into neutral (or even turn off the car) when they go down a hill. They ride close behind large trucks on the highway so that they can take advantage of the lowered wind resistance. This was a huge thing in the early part of this century, but it requires a standard transmission and, even better, standard brakes and steering.  Every part of your car that is automated, they say, takes away control from you and prevents you from hacking it for better mileage.  For these folks, it is the mileage that is important rather than the travel. Longer trips are better for mileage, and the drive is important, sorta… but it’s the mileage that is the thing. What’s the data from the tank?

We are all aware that we are going to die. Each of us in varying degrees has this awareness. The degree is not one or presence vrs absence; rather some of us are able to say with more or less certainty, “I’m not going to die soon.” Yet all of us know death is out there somewhere. We may be more or less fatalistic about it: I will die when it comes, so until then I shall do everything I can. I have no control over when I shall day. Or there are those who try to take control and live forever. Jack at Twitter seems to be one of these, “lifehacking” everything from how often he sleeps to how little he eats in an obsessive drive, seemingly, to keep living life more. What could be wrong with that? 

All of Silicon Valley Culture seems to be currently obsessed with this, to be honest. As a people, we’re hung up on data (rather than persons or individuals) and we need to see the highest possible return on the data… we seem rather to not care that there are people involved. We want to approach everything with a “scientific” outlook, by which we mean we don’t care about any subjective content, only quantifiable data that can be plotted (up and to the right, please). Jack’s attempt to plot life using data and hacking the code is only the same drive on a different level. 

This is to be expected of a culture built largely by people who live in code. Trust me on this, we try even to hack religion. I’m quite used to us, even as I need to, daily, deprogram myself, to remind myself that my relationships with persons are not data-based. My conversation with you (even via the written word) is with someone created in the image and likeness of our Father, God.

What has either of these to do with St Paul?

St Paul’s awareness of his mortality is living, active, and present. He knows from day to day that he lives only at God’s pleasure. His desire is not to get every possible thing out of this life, but rather only to finish his course and to finish the ministry God has given to him. Those are the same thing: he’s going to die before God is through with him. God’s not going to “kill him” before he’s done with his work. The work and the life are coterminous. The surest sign that God is not through with him is that he is still breathing. If he were to focus on his life, qua life, instead of on the ministry, it would be like Adam and Eve grabbing for knowledge on their own terms instead of waiting for God to bestow it.

This is our primary choice in the world. I was going to add “in the world today” but the reality is that it has been our choice since the garden. Do we do what  God asks or do we grab things on own terms? Do we hack? Do we try to “get the most” out of things instead of holding them and thanking God for them and letting them go? The signs are probably different for each of us, but recent indications that I have been hacking things have included how I edit these posts for fear that someone might read them for “hate speech” and mess up “my life”. First off, it’s not mine. Secondly, if I’m speaking Truth then it’s not hate but I do have fear like that. I have fear, also, of bad medical news, so I don’t go to the doctor when I don’t want to know. Avoiding pain, avoiding fear: these are signs I’m trying to hack life.

Paul knows God wants him in Jerusalem – and Paul knows that his life is going to change drastically when he gets to Jerusalem. He replies only that he’s going to Jerusalem – although he sets things in order, telling the elders what to do when he leaves. He wants only to finish the race before him. Jerusalem is not the end of the race – in fact Paul will take preaching the Gospel to new levels: reaching even to Nero and his household. Nero’s not sane enough to hear truth, but his people are so over the insanity, that they are willing to hear about this new Kyrios who won’t ruin their souls.

Paul brings to close the quest for “more life” by realizing that as long as he does what God wants he will live as long as God needs him to – not one minute more. We cannot hypermile all the way through this life, holding on to control to get the most out it. Jack’s going to die just like the rest of us. So the question is not “How do I live more?” but rather “What would God have me do now?” If God has something new for me to do then it’s up to him to keep me alive. If God wants me to do or act or say – then it’s up to God to bring out of that “thought, word, or deed” whatever it is he needs. It’s only up to me to do the thing, to say the word. To lifehack and to be fearful are both strange forms of practical atheism.  

With St Ignatius we say:

LORD Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish Thou hast given me. I surrender it all to be guided by Thy will. Thy grace and Thy love are wealth enough for me. Give me these Lord Jesus and I ask for nothing more. Amen.

Even when death comes, that is time only to meet God. We are so fearful of that prospect, that this other prayer seems pure insanity:

O Lord my God, I now, from this moment do I accept from Thy hands, with burning love and sincere contrition, with a calm and willing disposition, whatsoever death Thou shalt choose to send me, with its pains and griefs. Amen.

This is why St Paul says to take all things and make Eucharist (Thanksgiving) with them: as long as we’re not grabbing for more, then each thing that comes our way is what God would have for us at that time. We turn it to heaven and ask that we may make of it the best use God would have us make for his plan.



The Readings for Tuesday in the 6th week of Easter (C1)

(Who proceeds from the Father…) I will send him to you.

I’m not going to defend the Filioque clause with this essay except by accident. I’m continually asked why I left Orthodoxy for Catholicism traveling from east to west, so I thought I should finally answer clearly online. I’ve done so in private conversations, but I’ll try to lay it out here.

As has been documented in many places, I left the Episcopal Church because the threads of orthodox, traditional Christianity that I found there were entirely optional. That they were becoming fewer and further between was a sign that I needed to leave. Staying where I could pick and choose doctrine was a sign that I wasn’t under Authority so much as I was in a religious shopping center. It’s important to say that at the top of this essay.

When I left the Episcopal Church, I had it in my mind that Orthodoxy and Catholicism were the only places I could go but the Roman Church was, in 2002, going through the “Boston” sex scandal which was turning into a much wider issue. There were prochoice Nuns arguing for women’s ordination, there were clown masses, and there were Catholic politicians who couldn’t tell doctrine from dog poop.  Having been in the Episcopal Church where all of that had led directly (in less than 20 years) to the “Thing I was Leaving” I didn’t want to do it again. Rome was not going to work for me. So I became Orthodox.

If you’ve followed my blog at all you know everything that happened there, from my crazy convert phase to my ultraliberal “indy” phase. You know I went to a monastery at the end, meeting there the Western Rite Orthodox community of Denver and the surrounding area as well as from other parts of the country. When you’re in a monastery (I was only there for 6 months) you suddenly discover you’re plugged into all the gossip in the church. You hear literally everything going on, even in the furthers corners of the ecclesiosphere.

At the monastery during a long talk with my brother, Nicholas, I wrestled with the idea of being a monastic who lived at 7500 feet above sea level, who never had to “serve” anyone unless they drove 3 hours out from Denver to ask for my help. Nicholas said to me, “You want to be a friar. Orthodoxy doesn’t have friar.” Discernment continues…

What I discovered between 2002 and 2016 was that everything I had run away from in Rome was also present in Orthodoxy: financial scandals (primates who rack up credit card debt, monasteries that get re-possessed, chancellors who steal money, parishes & missions that go into debt because they build for 500 when they have 4 families), political infighting (the OCA and ROCOR basically exist because two wealthy Russian families had a fight in the midwest in the 1920s, currently the Greeks and the Russians are out of communion with each other, and don’t ask how many Bishops engage in simony), and sex scandals (from Bishops molesting women and diddling seminarians to having relationships with clergy, monastics raping each other). There are liturgical messes (between the modernizations of the GOA and the AOCANA, altar girls, and other shenanigans) and high-placed liberals (with all the same sexual and moral collapse that we have come to expect in the west, and politicians who flaunt their faith for votes even as they totally ignore the teachings of the same, and clergy who get all swept up in the awe of knowing senators or mayors). The a la carte nature of the Church is just the same as well: Orthodoxy in America, like the Roman Church, is filled with “conservatives” who get hung up on moral conformity, as long as they can keep their wallets and political choices out of the arena. Vote against gay marriage and abortion, but vote to keep the minimum wage down and taxes low, and whatever you do keep the aliens outside the borders. Libertarian Orthodox are as annoying as Libertarian Catholics. The Racist Orthodox are as evil as Racist Catholics. The hideaway from evangelism Catholics are just as tiresome as the hideaway from evangelism Orthodox.

In short, the main difference between the two bodies was one of size: the media doesn’t care what the Orthodox churches do because they are tiny (at least in America). Not enough readers would care if there was a sex party at an Orthodox seminary. (Orthodox? What are they, Jewish?) For every one Orthodox parish I could reach I could find 20 or so Catholic Churches within spitting distance. I have to walk by three to get to St Dominic’s on Sunday.

There’s a huge mess right here, and an equally huge mess much further away, why waste all that gas?

Rome had the one advantage of insisting that both Orthodoxy and Catholicism are equally the Church, whilst Orthodoxy says she alone is that thing – although the way the Russians treat Catholic Clergy (and Laity) coming into Orthodoxy says rather a bit more.

Both lungs of the Church for all that they are filled with signs of age and too much smoking are also filled with life, pure air, and the circulating Blood of Christ. If I were in Russia, I’d still be Orthodox. Alexy II has expensive watches, political alliances with Putin, imperialist eyeballs on the Ukraine, and no shortage of Russian Neo-Nazis beating folks up with crosses made of 2x4s. But Orthodoxy is the Church there. There are sinners everywhere. I don’t want a pure church: I want the true one.

I’m here, in the West, where the Patriarch of Rome is in charge and all the same problems. I’ll stick with him. Sure, he insists that John 15:26 needs to be linked up with John 16:7. I’m ok with that.

Pro Invicem


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

Subjecti invicem in timore Christi.
Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ. 

Paul opens up this passage with a command that gets lost in the shuffle of modern political readings of scripture. Focus on the command not on the elucidation. Serving… being subject to one another. How does that seem to us today?

Evidently, when two powerful males are introduced, the games of power mean that whoever extends their hands first means they are being subservient. Also evidently if you let someone go ahead of you on the Highway, you are indicating that you know you are blocking traffic. I’ve read (on twitter) that letting a woman enter a door before me is actually a sign that I am in control: I’m not being polite or subject to the other party.

Silly psycho-political games we play.

And yet, Jesus does say that whoever would lead… must be the servant of all. To use our broken ideas of Psychology, then… while Pope Benedict (above) washes the feet of folks on Maundy Thursday… Pope Francis must be making quite the power play by washing the feet of prisoners:

Or, perhaps, humility is a thing in itself and we should not let modern political babble confuse us.

We are to be servants of each other.  We are to be subject one to another.

This can be harder than it sounds. Social norms are as hard to navigate as white water rafting at night. Trying to figure out who’s in a room is enough for me: placing myself at the service of the least in the room requires figuring out who they are. I blurt out questions when it’s not my turn, don’t know when to jump into a conversation, can’t remember names to save my life, and (to be honest) struggle with other psychological issues that are not commonly acknowledged outside of certain Church documents but arise from the sins with which I struggle. So it’s a safe thing for me to just say to everyone in line, “you go first”. 

Our culture, on the other hand, wants everything to be “fair” by which they mean mostly “as long as I get mine…” Why should I come early and stay late? Others will do that. Why shouldn’t I get promoted at work before others? Why would that poor slob win the lottery when I need it more?

I remember reading a story of a pair of Orthodox nuns visiting a parish. You’ll need to know that in many modern Orthodox places monastics can be viewed with suspicion. This can be helped by some anti-monastic bishops… anyway… these two nuns were visiting a parish and were at coffee hour socializing with everyone else and suddenly a woman pointed at them eating and having a good time and said, “See, they are hypocrites. They come here to ask for charity, but then they take our food like a member of the parish and just laugh.” One nun stood up and and was offended. The other prostrated herself at the feet of her accuser and asked forgiveness. 

The second nun was subjecti invicem in timore Christi.

I love the stories of the Christian Martyrs whose faith was discovered because they were visiting Christians already in prison to bring them food or messages from home. When Christians actually do “Pro Invicem” we get in trouble. Christians get arrested for feeding the homeless, for sheltering Jews, for ignoring unjust laws, for hiding slaves, for helping refugees. We’ve been getting in trouble for this since Paul was hiding escaped slaves, emotionally bullying their masters into manumission and using the Church to subvert cultural paradigms all over the empire. As government and societies today are trying to force us back into slavery to pagan ideals of nationalism, immorality, and racism, I hope we stand firm.

But I hope we do so by subversion, by pro invicem… we must remember to love our enemies… because we don’t have any. Literally every political thing in the world is here to distract us from God, and it is supposed to look like “our enemies” are doing it  – so we blame the other humans – but we forget the only enemies we have are demons? Literally every political or “social justice” thing is a false flag op.

That person over there is not a demon, is a living icon of God. They may be wrong… they may need to be opposed or voted out of office or imprisoned for crimes, but they are also to be served by us. By serving them we will win them for Christ. We will win the world that way.

The Domestics


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

Quoniam per ipsum habemus accessum ambo in uno Spiritu ad Patrem. Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenae : sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei.
For by him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God.
We’re so very used to our modern “classless” society that we tend to think the idea of class is bad. As we play that assumption we forget to note that class is a very real part of our world: it is only the obligations of class that we have done away with. Rich and poor are treated equally before the law as is proper in things criminal, but in things civil there was a notion of noblesse oblige, the idea that one’s higher position required an assumption of charity, of noble largess to those in a lower station. We still have classes of folks in America, we’ve just done away with the idea of an obligation entailed by participation in that structure.

When the Vanderbilt family moved to Asheville, NC, in the 1880s, they built a huge estate… railroad money, you know… but that was not all that they did: they reforested much of several counties that had been greedily logged after the Civil War and left barren. This actually became the seed (root?) for the first national forest, the Pisgah National Forest. They imported experts to decorate the house… whom they hired to teach the locals how to be artisans. They built housing for their growing family and, in the area known as Biltmore Village, they even built a church.

This is noblesse oblige.

In a similar situation today – if someone owned say a Palace or a Casino, or a Tower with their name on it – these folks would all be thought of as “employees” and may not even get them health insurance or a living wage. It’s not just folks who have the trump card in the economic world, either. At one time a single man of my paygrade would have employed a valet and a cook, quite possibly a maid as well. And these would have invested in my success as much as anyone: for my success was theirs as well. Today I do my own laundry and turn out my own lights.

We’d call that a smart business decision. The Vanderbilts would call it greed, sin, and would think it beneath their station to act is such a way.

Why this lecture of the cultural morals of another time?

Because it was the same in St Paul’s time. Because to be a wealthy member of the society in which Paul lived was to have servants and one could judge the quality of the person by they way they treated their servants or those less fortunate who lived around them. This was true in the Roman world just as a matter of culture, but in the Jewish world it was a matter of God’s law. The latter dictated how the wealthy were to leave the corners of the field for strangers to harvest for free, how temple sacrifices were shared with the poor, how an entire society was built around property and yet sharing at the same time.

All this to explain when St Paul uses one Greek word οἰκεῖος ekeios to describe the position of Gentiles and Jews united together. On the one hand it means “members of the same household”, but on the other hand it’s the same word used for what we would call today, The Family, and The Help. Folks upstairs and down are equally part of the same οἰκεῖος.

Paul is using this word on purpose to show that there is no difference between classes of people in the Household of God, for we are all one people. All one household – no matter what our classes are “in the world”. In this household we are all together and all servants. Even our Lord and God washes our feet. So much so should we to each other. Rich and poor, Jew or Greek, in the household of God we are all there, all with our parts to play, all with our obligations to each other fully in place. None of us can claim to be above the other, for we are all in need in someway, all rich in some way, and all called to share in humility in all ways.

Yes, Virginia, there are Angels. OK, Maryland.


The Readings for the Memorial of the Guardian Angels
Tuesday in the 26th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Videte ne contemnatis unum ex his pusillis : dico enim vobis, quia angeli eorum in caelis semper vident faciem Patris mei, qui in caelis est.
See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 
When I was 2, I wondered away from my grandmother’s front porch. I made it all the way to the corner by the Presbyterian Church in Fort Gaines, GA. This was a full block away. I was standing on the corner watching the traffic – I wasn’t on the sidewalk. I was on the curb – when my grandfather, coming home from work yelled at me out of his car window. 

I ran all the way back to a switching on the porch. God only know what could have happened to me standing on the corner there. But thank God Grandpa showed up! (I didn’t think so at the time, because no one likes a switch…)
That every individual soul has a guardian angel has never been defined by the Church, and is, consequently, not an article of faith; but it is the “mind of the Church”, as St. Jerome expressed it: “how great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II). St Basil says, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” And the Catechism, citing St Basil, adds, “Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”
These angels… 
I told this story the other day, about getting caught in a blizzard on the freeway and I had forgotten it entirely. Its never come up since it happened (in January, I think, of 2007). I was driving from Hamilton, Ontario, to Richmond, Virginia. I had stopped at a rest area in Maryland to get a nap. It was a lovely night. When I awoke there were about 3 inches of snow on my car… carefully backing out and moving along the freeway, there were about 8 inches within an hour. I was going about 15 miles an hour and there was no one on the highway but me. Ok, I’m stupid. There are no hotels, no gas stations… nothing.
This 18 wheeler comes along side of me… and then pulls in front of me…  then  slows down to match my speed. It was a lot easier driving in one of his tracks, let me tell you. We’re going down a mountain and the truck turns on a blinker. I’m not stupid by this point I do the same thing. I follow the truck off on a ramp. We get to the intersection at the ramp and he signals a right turn. I do the same. He drives into the intersection, and I turn right… and he goes off through the other ramp back on to the freeway. I look, and there’s a hotel. 
That’s my impression of how guardian angels work. And no, I’m not saying that the Trucker was actually an Angel. Nor my grandfather. But something made that truckdriver act that way, even though I’m sure that he only used his CB to locate a hotel and led me there. Something brought my grandfather home at exactly the right moment – or maybe kept me safe until he go there.
That’s an Angel acting their part.
Mine stays very busy.
Here’s a performance of Britten’s The Company of Heaven. It’s one of my faves…

Poets of the Logos


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

Mater mea et fratres mei hi sunt, qui verbum Dei audiunt et faciunt.
My Mother and Brothers are those who are hearing and doing the Word of God.

Jesus, like his brother, James, makes much of those who Hear AND Do. James and Jesus both link up the same Greek words for this (James 1:22 and here in Luke 8:21). Although the English wants a pronoun as an object here, neither the Greek nor the Latin have one: the Latin says “Who the Word of God hear and do” and the Greek says “who the word of God are hearing and doing.” (I Stand to be corrected on the tenses there, but I think I read aright.)

This is important because the Greek word that Luke (and James) picked here for “word” is not the usual one that means “teaching” but rather “Logos” which means far more. One might say the “Mind of God”, or even the “Organizing Principle of God”. The very pattern of God woven into all of Creation. This Logos is so important that it is, in fact, a title of Jesus, who is called the Logos incarnate. Through Luke, Jesus (and also St James) are inviting us to hear-and-do the Logos using a Greek word (poieo) meaning “maker” or “creator”. They are inviting us to become poets of the Logos.

This theme runs through Jesus’s teachings in so many ways: not burying your talents, not hiding your light under a bushel, not stepping out of God’s moral plan for you life. Hearing-and-doing the Logos makes so much more sense than “Following your bliss”. St James said on Sunday, “You ask but you do not receive because you ask to satisfy your passions”. The primary message of the Cross is that your life is not about you. You don’t get to do anything you want. You get to do what you were born to do which is to serve as God served when he lived among us.

We don’t like that. Americans far prefer rebels, as I noted about yesterday’s readings. Even though she spent her entire life in humble obedience to the Church – even kicking out a cofounder who wanted to get married after his divorce – Dorothy Day is remembered as a Rebel. Double Ditto for St Francis. Faithful children of the church are not welcomed models for us today. We don’t like to think of Dorothy as a “supporter of patriarchy” nor Francis of Assisi writing pained letters about sloppy liturgics. We want hippies and uppity women to make our history. Jesus wants poets who can dance within the pattern laid down by God, his Father and ours.

Jesus says that hearing-and-doing makes one his Mother and his Brother. James, his brother, says the same thing. And Mary, his mother (but James’ stepmother) would know full well what dancing with the Logos can mean. But James and Jesus, now, they get this from Mary’s Husband, Joseph the Craftsman. He knew how to work with wood like a poet. He knew how to work with the grain of wood, how to make beauty in tune with nature. And yet, because he worked with his hands, he would have been part of an underclass in both Jewish and Roman cultures.

The true artisan knows that about his craft, bread-baking, wood working, wordsmithing, iron mongery, gardening, child-rearing, music, stained glass… we all participate that way in the Divine Nature as we mirror the Divine Craftsman. Jesus calls us to participate in that ongoing creative process as that image of God in us is our salvation.

Go be poets of the logos. Work out your salvation.

What if?


The Readings for Tuesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et haec quidam fuistis : sed abluti estis, sed sanctificati estis, sed justificati estis in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et in Spiritu Dei nostri.
And such some of you were; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God. 

Yesterday Paul said that some in Corinth were celebratory about their sins when they should be mourning. That struck me hard because there are those Catholics who feel “enlightened” and they have “left behind” all the strange teachings of the church and come into the “real” world, the “modern” world. And reading Paul’s list… it seem remarkably like the way enlightened folks might behave today.

When they found out I had joined Courage two years before becoming (or wanting to become) Catholic, two friends asked me about attending meetings where “my identity” should be called into question. A year later, I’m not sure what to do with the knowledge that two such highly placed folks – one a Catholic missionary, and one a Catholic educator – would ask me why I wanted to adhere to the Church’s teaching on chastity. I mention this because it is how we got to where we are.

Such some of you were.

Aslan says we are not given to know what if but only what isI’ve been told that for those who did not have sex, this is easier. As I do not fit into this category I won’t know. I will tell you this is a hard struggle. Still, it seems no harder than those who deal with other sins: and Paul seems to know a list of very hard sins indeed. There are folks who seem to think that they can have their pet sins if they allow me to have mine.

A large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.

This is the life I have: God seems to think that, if I now cooperate with him, this is exactly the life I needed to have had in order to bring my soul fully to him. There is grace before and behind.

What is it for you? What is it that you think really is who you are, that is not… really, even the tiniest fraction of your real self? What is the one thing you see when you look in a mirror that is hiding – from you – how God sees you?


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That Natural Man…


The Readings for Tuesday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Animalis autem homo non percipit ea quae sunt Spiritus Dei : stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere : quia spiritualiter examinatur.
The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 

The Latin is “Animalis” or animal. The RSV rendered it as “Unspiritual”. The Greek, however, is ψυχικός psychikos or “natural”.  It’s usually contrasted to πνευματικός pneumatikos which does mean “spiritual”… however we miss something here if we’re not careful.

In Christian athropology, there are two types of life: Soma and Zoe. The Soma life is something shared by all animals. The Zoe life is shared by all spiritual beings. Since the human being is a hybrid between spirit and flesh, between pneuma (spirit) and sarx (flesh), we have a choice: we can continue to live the Somatic life until we just consume ourself and die; or we can live Zoetic life forever.

Soma and Zoe are contrasted all through the New Testament. Sarx and Pneuma (Parts of the person) each have their own sort of wisdom, their own sort of teaching. Soma only comes from God in the sense that God gives all breath. But the Zoe is the very life of God. Humans can’t destroy the sarx (for we are created as sarx and pneuma together) but we are called to the action of self control: to submit the sarx to the pneuma, to control the flesh with the spirit. We are called to be Pneumatikos instead of Psychikos.

Have you ever gone to a Zoo and seen an Alpha male orangutan engage in sex acts in the monkey house? I make this point this way because orangutans seem to do this all that time… every time I’ve been in a monkey house (Bronx Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, San Diego Zoo) the orangutans have been sexually busy. And if they can’t get what they want, they’ll engage in autoeroticism. It’s so odd to see: because there’s no pr0n in the monkey world. They just do this thing. It’s 100% natural.

And so that makes it ok, right?

That’s the argument that we hear in the modern world. To this the Church says it’s possible to take a higher path than simply “natural”.

It’s fine to eat meat all the time or to go vegan, it’s find to eat dairy or sweets… but the Church says food is only there for one purpose: to help you serve God.  There are times when it would be spiritually better to not eat. The Church doesn’t stop with food or sex: the teachings are that sometimes perfectly natural things can be harmful to the spiritual growth of the human. 

As we are to act in a godly way, and God’s first action is self-giving, anything that counters that motion of self-sacrifice is harmful. This draws boundaries around certain actions in the world. And even some things that would be ok out of love and self-sacrifice are rendered evil by doing them out of selfishness and/or fear.  

The Zoetic life is one of charity, forgiveness, and constant connection to God. God is love and so those who follow him live in love. The Somatic life is one of self-reference: I can forgive if I feel like it. I can love it I want or feel you deserve it.

Truth be told, most of us flicker back and forth between these two modes. Even the most worldly of persons might be struck by divine beauty or perform an act of selfless giving. Even the most spiritual of persons might wake up grumpy. A friend reported meeting Pope (now Saint) John Paul II at a general audience. When the Holy Father entered the room, someone in the press of people trod on his foot. (This was before the assassination attempt, and before the extra security.) The Pope grimaced and “gave a look”. My friend said that from that moment he loved the Pope fully because he could see in that look a sign of hope for the rest of us. We dance along the Mason Dixon line between liberty and slavery always. It’s hard not to give in to the old ways that should be gone with a Spiritual Wind. But they can seem so refined, so worldly, so stately. So natural. 

And the world cannot understand why we would ever want to do anything else. Why not just stay in this place, in this natural state, in this warm, comforting sleep? Why trouble with waking up? The red clay under our nails is a sign that we are from the earth, yes. But we can rise on the Spiritual Wind far above our past, to our rightful place.

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The Price of Admission


The Readings for the Memorial of Pope St Pius, X
Tuesday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Multi autem erunt primi novissimi, et novissimi primi.
Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first

This is one of those verses like the song of the Magnificat, that needs to leave us trembling more. We sing the Magnificat without so much as batting an eye:

He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

And, perhaps, if we fail to pay attention, we imagine we are the hungry, or the humble. Perhaps we think we are the Last.

As the kids now (rightly) say, Check your privilege.

Christians in this country whine because we can’t get a Macy*Mart employee to say “Merry Christmas”. Despite the fact that she’s earning $7 an hour and has no benefits because she’s part time and it’s the Holidays so come 5 January she’ll be unemployed. “Anti Christian bias,” we’ll say as we ask for a refund.

We may use our funds to purchase other products, never mindful of the near slave-like conditions that exist in those other countries. I’m no fan of the current administration, but their erection of tariff walls means that some of those slave will have to get laid off, and some of those production lines will have to move back to the states where, at least, the workers will get insurance, we hope. Free trade only benefits us, it’s rarely ever been free for folks outside of the First World.

I used to self-identify as a member of a persecuted minority. But I’ve not been able to justify that since a book that came out in the early 90s pointed out that, as someone living in NYC (and later SF) I was at the upper end of the finances in that persecuted group. And, further, I was actively or passively involved in oppressing others in the same group by virtue of their race, class, or geographic location. What did I care about Egypt as long as I could get their cotton sheets for cheap? We formed our own corridors of power and ran whole industries by virtue of our fiscal strength. This was true in the Church and outside the Church.

Median household income in Kentucky: 46,659
Median household income in SF: $78,378
Median household income in Mexico: $11,700
Gaza: 9,288
Manila: $5,010 

The first will be last.

You might want to say that this has to do with sinners, and prostitutes being in the kingdom before Pharisees, and so on, but the whole passage is about rich versus poor.

I don’t really know how this works, but there are no camels in America. So we might be missing the point. 

But I think for all of us it will be hard to get into the Kingdom.

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Confess Your Unpopular Opinions


The Readings for the Memorial of St Maximilian Kolbe, Priest & Martyr
Tuesday in the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Alleluia. Tollite jugum meum super vos, et discite a me, quia mitis sum, et humilis corde 
Alleuia. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

In their quest for Lebensraum, or Livingroom, the Nazis invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Since that whole people was devoted to the Catholic Faith, Hitler knew he had only to break the Church in order to take the heart out of the country. He killed or arrested every leader of the Church – clergy or lay – and had them shipped off to concentration camps, along with Polish Jews, communists, homosexuals, and all the other “undesirables” that had been defined by the Nazi state. 

Today’s saint, Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, found himself in Auschwitz. At the end of July 1941, ten prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place. Kolbe died 77 years ago today. Gajowniczek survived Auschwitz, and died in 1995. Kolbe’s sacrifice purchase 50 years for that man, a stranger, and won himself a martyr’s crown. 

Pope St John Paul II called Kolbe “the Patron Saint of our difficult (20th) century.”
He is the Patron Saint of ham radio operators, drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement.  Here are more things to know about this extraordinary saint.
Although the Pro-life movement, political prisoners, Journalists, the family, and addictions all present us with important issues for our time (even in this century) it is his death in the course of a normal, virtuous act that highlights his importance for our time, for our difficult century.

In our day it is possible to deny the personhood of anyone who disagrees with any political point, socially or individually held. We no longer march them off to the concentration camps, for we are more advanced. We publicly shame them, we hound them from all pages of the internet, we use guilt by association, and arcane conspiracies to exclude them public life and even employment.

But we don’t kill them.

I know of a construction company who refused a contract to a temp employee because the temp employee had a union logo on his Facebook page. I know women who feel they have to use male names on Twitter and other social media in order to be able to have opinions, to enter into arguments, etc, without being called crude names in ad feminem attacks. Pardon the neologism, it’s totally needed here. People lose their jobs for “not sharing our company’s values” nowadays.

Showing virtue in this world is risky. Especially since, as Catholics, we believe the definition of virtue is a static one, defined for all time in the death of Christ on Calvary. You cannot love in a better way, you cannot live in a better way, you cannot die in a better way, no better way than the truth, himself, can be practiced. But we must also be careful that we fall not into the same trap, for disagreeing with our teachings does not de-person you. For Christ died for humans as a class. And we must also be on the lookout for those who, claiming to be Catholics, confuse their partisan politics with the teachings of the Church. It’s possible to be politically active and disagree on some things. It is not possible to be Catholic and belittle, make fun of, or de-person our political opponents – although it is certainly fashionable in this day to do so.

There were 6 Popes in my life time, but I have no memory of the first – St John XXIII – and the 3rd Pope – John Paul I – reigned for only 1 month. I am so very thankful for the other four! Paul VI, St John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. These last two who are there now, one with his seemingly cold academia, and the other with his bubbly grandfatherly qualities, can seem like Abbott and Costello, really. But from Humanae Vitae to Laudato Si, the teachings of the church have been brought solidly to bear on our culture and our missteps. And all the Popes have been excoriated – by Catholics and non-Catholics alike – for their rigid adherence to tradition and for daring to call out the modern world on our sins.

To live a life according to the Church’s boundaries in this time and place is heroic virtue.

Yesterday we celebrated the Memorial of another set of Martyrs, and, oddly, sort of, another pair of Popes. Saint Pontian, was made Pope in AD 231. One of his predecessors, Pope St Callistus, was perceived to be too liberal. His detractors elected a better Pope, a priest named Hippolytus, the latter being more conservative. Both Hippolytus and Pontian were sent to work in the mines, and eventually died, but not before being reconciled. This virtue of disagreement and yet reconciling is what makes them a good model for us: we need only to know that we are required to love all and to lay down our lives for those whom we love. These two things, only. And all else will be fine.

It is fitting that St Maximilian, who was in life so devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, should die today, which is the Vigil of her entrance into heaven. We shall talk more of that tomorrow, but (spoiler alert) her body and soul are in heaven now, united. The first of child of Adam and Eve to enjoy in that way the fruit of Baptismal Grace in the Heavenly Kingdom. And as her Assumption is the living embodiment of our promised Resurrection, St Maximilian finds his own death, on the vigil of her death, to be the gateway to everlasting life.