Resist!

Today’s Readings:

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith.
1 Peter 5:8
These words are the opening of Benedictine Compline (and the traditional Roman Compline), an office I sang for a long time before entering the Monastery using the English text in the Monastic Diurnal from Lancelot Andrewes Press. In the Latin in the video below, it’s the brief chant right after the loud “Amen!”
Fratres : Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte : quia adversárius vester diábolus tamquam leo rúgiens círcuit, qućrens quem dévoret : cui resístite fortes in fide.  Tu autem, Dómine, miserére nobis.
R.  Deo grátias. 
It’s so important to be both sober and vigilant! What the Latin does in four word, Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte, the Greek does in two: Νήψατε γρηγορήσατε.  The first word, “nepsate”, caries with it the general idea of “don’t be drunk” but, in the context of hellenic thinking, that “drunkenness” can come from the passions, from the weaknesses and faults that we carry in our very being. A glutton who will eat anything is the last person you want to ask about tasty food. A drunkard is the last person to recommend a tasty liqueur. A sinner will be full of ideas about how to keep sinning – but not about stopping. When the first papal encyclical letter says “Be Sober” what it means is, “be untainted by the world, the flesh, and the devil.” And that last is so important: because he is a person, and crafty. He can use the other two against you.
Once we are sober (detached from our sinful pleasures and desires), then and only then are we ready to begin our night watch. I think of how many times drunkenness has lead to sin on my part, but even exhaustion, “letting my guard down”. It’s such a commonplace that it can be shorthanded in scripts: an imagine of a couple walking into a bar… and then waking up together the next day. A few empty beer cans on the beach, and a pile of clothes. We all know what it means… most of us have been there now.
One of the things I found so very interesting coming into the Catholic Church is the idea of the “well-formed conscience”: one that is trained up in the mind of the church. This idea is found in Orthodoxy too, but it often comes attached to some spookiness. This is the sober and watchful mind. This is the brain that is alert to the wiles of him who like “roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour.” And we are counselled to “resist, steadfast in the faith.”
We have our own lion: St Mark, whose feast is today, and he will intercede for us.  His is the shortest Gospel, and the easiest to navigate. He is known as the abridger of St Matthew – often times telling the same story, sometimes with the very same words – but in a shorter, more succinct mode. I’ve been told that St Mark more often uses the word “immediately.”  As in “When that had happened, immediately this other thing happened.” St Mark is a good Gospel to keep on hand for reading spurts (like standing in line at the bank or riding the train to work). It does well in short chunks, easy to digest: unlike St John’s Gospel or even the Epistles.  St Mark is almost intended for “Snippets” that you can then take away and chew on.  This is the best way to begin well-forming a conscience: meditation on the scriptures in a slow and daily practice Snippets. It could take 3 or 4 months to get through St Mark’s, done right. Maybe by journaling.
It’s the only way to resist Satan. So that’s my challenge today, brothers and sisters: pick up St Mark and meditate your way through it.  You’ll find no where suggesting that we’re supposed to hide, by the way. When Satan’s out there roaming around, we’re supposed to resist – not hide.
A blessed feast!

70×7=Eternity

From CatholicLink

Today Readings:

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
Dicit illi Jesus: Non dico tibi usque septies: sed usque septuagies septies.
Matthew 18:22

Forgiveness is one of the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. The full list is at the end of the posting. I don’t find these easier (or more difficult) than the Corporal (Bodily) Works of Mercy (also listed at the end of the post). I think because I’m not very merciful, all of these things are hard for me except praying for the dead, although I think that’s more my own superstition than my own act of mercy.

At Church we’ve been meditating on these words of Mercy for a while. They were doing the Corporal one in the Fall of last year – wrapping up just as I got by to SF. We started on the Spiritual works at the end of January and I’ve been participating in a small group discussing these every Monday morning. By “coincidence” we began discussing forgiveness this week.

This is fresh and so four stories come to mind:

Three of bullies in school (one in grade school, two in high school) and of my wonky journey trying to find a vocation in God’s Church. These stories come up because I can tell them as if they happened yesterday, and as if someone actually set out to cause me harm.

That was what came to me yesterday morning, meditation with my group: it’s rather easy to forgive if you realize most things that hurt you are not done to you, personally. The driver who made stupid errors on the highway as you were leaving work tonight did not set out to ruin your day, to cause you damage. Even the bullies only failed because they objectify their victims: they are not hurting persons, they are hurting objects.

There are, I’m sure, people who hurt people knowingly and willingly, although I cannot mention them without invoking Godwin’s law. But even these people failed to see their victims as people.

Forgiveness comes when we see the other as person.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
Egressus autem servus ille invenit unum de conservis suis, qui debebat ei centum denarios: et tenens suffocavit eum, dicens: Redde quod debes.
Matthew 18:28

But the other thing that gives rise to forgiveness is awareness of our own sinfulness, of our own weakness. Knowing how much one has sinned helps in letting go of the sins of others. That is, after all, the name of the game, is it not: forgive my sins as I forgive others. forget all the things I’ve done in exactly the same way I forget all the things done to me.

In that light, I’m in so much trouble! See: I may never have been personally harmed. But grudges are personal. I’m embarrassed to say I know the names of bullies. I look them up from time to time on Facebook to see how messy their lives are. (As if mine wasn’t also messy.) It is our pride – our wounded worldly pride – that hold on to these moments.

But what about other moments? The forgiveness of people who only indirectly harmed one (and again, not personally) may be even harder. I lost a job once to an embezzlement, the thief didn’t set out to steal my job, as such, but she did – and the jobs of many of my friends.  Her story can make me feel I need a few belts of whiskey. What about your “political enemies”? Do they even know you – you, personally – exist? Do they know that their actions are hurting you? Do you imagine they sit up at night and say, “How shall I hurt her tomorrow?” Can you forgive them anyway?

Here, too, it is our wounded pride that holds on to these things. Here, too, it is our humility, and our desire to emulate Jesus that will save us.

These questions are not terribly important in a world where one has power. One can forget to forgive in a world where one comes home at night and comfortably rests in a high-backed arm chair watching drivel on Netflix.  But how important to our salvation would it be to forgive those who take away our tax exempt status because of our teachings on sex? How important is it for us to pray here and now for the forgiveness of those who – not knowing any of us personally – would still lead us off into concentration camps or unemployment, or worse.

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I said at group on Monday that we need to come to a place where our forgiveness of our enemies is a massive evangelism. “Off with her head!” ‘I forgive you.’ “Off with his head!” ‘I forgive you.’, “Off with their heads!” ‘I forgive you.’ Seventy times Seven we must do that or, at least, one more time beyond our own head on the block.

If we don’t get there, we may all be doomed – along with those we damn by our lack of living the Gospel.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • To instruct the ignorant.
  • To counsel the doubtful.
  • To admonish sinners.
  • To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  • To forgive offenses.
  • To console the afflicted.
  • To pray for the living and the dead.

The Corporal Works of Mercy

  • To feed the hungry.
  • To give water to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To shelter the homeless.
  • To visit the sick.
  • To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  • To bury the dead.

God’s Family Servants.

The Holy Family Window, St Joseph, a young Jesus, and the BVM.

Today’s readings:

The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12

Continuing from yesterday, where Lust is the fruit of Pride, we have today’s reading on humility. Yes, the whole Father-Teacher-Master package is about humility. And it could be about “titles” and the claim that we should have none as Christians, but this is not true. From the earliest, Paul spoke of himself as his disciples’ Father – and even allowing that they may have many fathers, but he was their Father in the spirit. The Church has always had titles and offices, functions within the community. I may disagree with you about what those titles mean but you will agree with me that we’ve always had titles: Presbyteros, Episkopos, Dulos, Apostolos, etc. Our community functions in an hierarchy: which doesn’t mean “some are better than/more important than others” but rather “rule” (archy) “of priests” (hieros). Yet Jesus says: the greatest must serve. Jesus embodies this, washing our feet. Jesus calls us to this service.

How, mindful, again, of lust and pride, does this work for us?  Let’s look at the next three prayers from the Angelic Warfare Confraternity:

For our imagination, that we may be preserved from any fantasies that defile us, that all impure images may vanish, and that we may be protected from all the assaults of demons. 

For our memory, that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord may touch and heal us through hope for a better future. 

For our estimation, that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them, that we may never turn away from higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods for the sake of sinful self-indulgence.

If we read carefully, these three prayers are about the future, the past, and the present, respectively.  We ask God not to let us be troubled with the future, not to let us be haunted by the past, and – most importantly – not to be tripped up in the present. You know, we have all sinned in the past. The future doesn’t exist. The question is where will you be now? What are you doing, now?

Pride plans the future. Pride exults in the past. Pride is not having a conversation – pride is planning a rebuttal. Pride is not listening in the present: pride is grinding the past down to counter attack in the future.

Yet our sins are only in the present.

Mindful what I said yesterday about pride denying intimacy and creating a passionate addiction, here’s the method: yes we sinned in the past, wasn’t that fun? Let’s plan something interesting in the future! (And I can tell you how often those plans do NOT come to fruition.) But what does happen is something by the way, the sex of happenstance, in the present: a hookup app or a personal ad. And Boom. Our plans waylaid, our memories hijacked, we sin only in the present. Yet consent was given to that sin in our planning and our ruminating. Our pride has given birth to something way less exciting than we had imagined. Yet if we recap the story around the watercooler – or even in our diary – wow how awesome!

Who would be first, must be servant to all.

We cannot be a servant if we’re planning to have sex, or to get a promotion, or to get something else “out of” them. It can even seem to be very innocent. It may only be a crush, but if it’s not what it supposed to be – chastity, love, service – then something’s going wrong. Wash away our sins with justice: which, in this case, is service, humility, redressing the wrongs done.

Some folks have asked me about coming into the Catholic Church at a time such as now, when there is seeming chaos. Of course I laugh: I’ve been around enough blocks to know that there is chaos everywhere. If it’s not the Papal Monarchy, it’s the constant infighting and simony of the petty city states of Orthodoxy, or the chaotically heretical, Everyone’s a Pope world of Protestantism.  If I didn’t believe that the Holy Spirit is running the Church I’d be off in the mountains someplace, hiding, or else learning the I Ching and being Shinto (actually, that’s probably more like it).

Pope Francis (whose four year anniversary was yesterday) has struck me since the very beginning, as worthy of his Patron Saint. So, to be honest, have Popes Benedict and St John Paul II. I’ve never known the possibility that the leader of such an empire could be so humble.  And yet I’ve seen it three times in my lifetime.  Yes, Francis can go off-topic sometimes and cause toes to curl, but he’s no Medici. Yes, he can raise a few eyebrows, but he’s no Avignon Papacy. I’m not worried.Benedict XVI is the scholar of that tradition, John Paul had a gift for bringing that scholarship to the masses. Francis has a gift for going to the masses. God sends the Church what she needs when she needs it. These three servants of the servants of God have been blessings to the world since St John Paul was elected in October 1978.

These men, of course, are not the only ones – such leaders are not found only in the Catholic Church or even only in Christianity. Yet, they seem to be always found in the religious world: never among the “spiritual but not religious” nor among the secular. Humility (like chastity) is not a value highly sought in the world.  We would do well to learn from these men what it means to be humble – even with great power; what it means to be a servant, – even when a leader.

If we tie our memories down, if we sacrifice our dreams: if we live only in the present, then we can be humble servants, like our Lady and St Joseph. Then we can be servants at their table, of all their guests.

Before Our Father


A Patristic Homily on the Gospel Reading for today, Tuesday in the First Week of Lent, from the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, using the words of Sts Augustine, John Cassian, John Chrysostom, and Pope Gregory the Great. 

Judaism has the teaching that God is the Father of us all. In the teaching of the Trinity, Christianity personalizes it – God the Father is not just the All-Father, as in Judaism and even in many pagan paths, he is the generative source of God the Son and to the degree we stand in Communion with the Son his Father is also Our Father in Heaven, not just in an Omnipotent Creator sort of way, but in an intimate, loving, paternal way. We do say “Lord” and “King” along side “Father”. But we also say, “Daddy”.  Thomas Aquinas patristic commentary on the Our Father is long.  Please read the whole thing. Scroll down to where you’ll see verse 9 in red:  9. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed by thy name.” The rest follows. For today’s Patristic Homily, we’ll stick to the first two verses of today’s Gospel:

7. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.8. Be ye not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.”

The hypocrites use to set themselves so as to be seen in their prayers and the Ethnici (that is, the Gentiles) use to think that they shall be heard for their much speaking; so Jesus tells us, “When ye pray, do not ye use many words.” We should indeed pray often, but in short form, lest if we be long in our prayers, the enemy that lies in wait for us, might suggest something for our thoughts. Yet to continue long in prayer is not, as some think, what is here meant, by “using many words.” For much speaking is one thing, and an enduring fervency another. The Lord Himself, as it is written, continued a whole night in prayer, and prayed at great length, setting an example to us. Yet also the monks of Egypt are said to use frequent prayers, but those very short, and as it were hasty ejaculations, lest that fervency of spirit, which is most behoveful for us in prayer, should by longer continuance be violently broken off. Let prayer then be without much speaking, but not without much entreaty, if this fervent spirit can be supported; for much speaking in prayer is to use in a necessary matter more words than necessary. But to entreat much, is to importune with enduring warmth the heart Him to whom our entreaty is made; for often is this business effected more by groans than words, by weeping more than speech.
Jesus thereby dissuades us from empty speaking in prayer; as, for example, when we ask of God things improper, as dominions, fame, overcoming of our enemies, or abundance of wealth. He commands then that our prayers should not be long; long, that is, not in time, but in multitude of words. For it is right that those who ask should persevere in their asking; “being instant in prayer,” as the Apostle instructs; but does not thereby enjoin us to compose a prayer of ten thousand verses, and speak it all! What He condemns is many words in praying that come of want of faith; “as the Gentiles do.” For a multitude of words were needful for the Gentiles, seeing the daemons could not know for what they petitioned, until instructed by them; they think they shall be heard for their much speaking.
True prayer consists rather in the bitter groans of repentance, than in the repetition of set forms of words. For we use many words then when we have to instruct one who is in ignorance, what need of them to Him who is Creator of all things; “Your heavenly Father knoweth what ye have need of before you ask Him.”
So in our prayers we do not instruct, but entreat; it is one thing to inform the ignorant, another to beg of the understanding: the first were to teach; the latter is to perform a service of duty. We do not then pray in order to teach God our wants, but to move Him, that we may become His friends by the importunity of your applications to Him, and that we may be humbled, being reminded of our sins.
So we ought not to use words in seeking to obtain of God what we would, but to seek with intense and fervent application of mind, with pure love, and suppliant spirit. Yet even with words we should at certain periods come before God in prayer, that by these signs of things we may keep ourselves in mind, and may know what progress we have made in such desire, and may stir up ourselves more actively to increase this desire, that after it have begun to wax warm, it may not be chilled and utterly frozen up by divers cares, without our continual care to keep it alive. Words therefore are needful for us that we should be moved by them, that we should understand clearly what it is we ask, not that we should think that by them the Lord is either instructed or persuaded.
Still it may be asked, what is the use of prayer at all, whether made in words or in meditation of things, if God knows already what is necessary for us. The mental posture of prayer calms and purifies the soul, and makes it of more capacity to receive the divine gifts which are poured into it. For God does not hear us for the prevailing force of our pleadings; He is at all times ready to give us His light, but we are not ready to receive it, but prone to other things. There is then in prayer a turning of the body to God, and a purging of the inward eye, whilst those worldly things which we desired are shut out, that the eye of the mind made single might be able to bear the single light, and in it abide with that joy with which a happy life is perfected.