Three Singers, One Song

JMJ

The Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, Apostles

It was the feast of the Unleavened Bread

Acts 12:3 (NABRE)

TODAY’S FEAST CELEBRATES TWO Men who sang the same song. They were both martyred for the song because they refused to change the tune when the empire demanded they do so. They didn’t change the tune even when their fellow Jews rejected them and tried to have them slain.

Peter gets arrested and an angel leads him out of prison. Roman prisons are (mostly) underground: holes in the ground like graves actually. What does this remind you of? So, it’s Easter and Peter gets loosed from his underground chains and returned to freedom. Who is this God that frees people from their chains? Peter never changed the Tune.

Paul’s moment of conversion, of course, was more like the Transfiguration than Easter. Like Peter, Paul got to see Christ in his glory. But Paul gave up his entire life – including his religion – to go teach about this man he saw once in a vision. He insisted that in some way we cannot fully understand Jesus had died for him. And then Paul went and died for Jesus. Paul never changed the tune.

The Roman Church has two patrons, Peter and Paul, whom tradition teaches were both martyred at Rome. They were only part of the crew, as it were: tomorrow we celebrate all the earliest Martyrs of Rome. If you listen to Folks Who Know Things™, they will let you know that Jesus was pretty cool but Peter and Paul got it all wrong. We all know of demagogues who preach falsities and lure others to their doom. People who want us to ignore the Church tell us that Peter and Paul were such men. They got it all wrong. Everything is fine. Follow your bliss and do your own thing. It’s only a pinch of incense after all.

Today’s solemnity celebrates two men who sang a common harmony, but there was a third voice in their song. In fact, the Third Voice was the driving force behind Peter and Paul. They only sang the songs that were written for them and their harmony would have fallen apart except for their Master, Jesus. It was he who composed the tunes and wrote the harmonies, who called them to sing, who gave them their voices, who blessed them with all the gifts they needed to do the work he called them to do. To ignore Peter and Paul is exactly to ignore Jesus, the Dominant Third Voice in this trio.

People who know things will try to tell you that Jesus was all about love and Peter and Paul ruined it.

People who say know nothing about love.

Come See What I’ve Found

JMJ

The Readings for the 12th Wednesday Tempus per Annum

I have found the book of the law in the temple of the LORD.

II Kings 22:8 (NABRE)

WE TEND TO IMAGINE ancient Israel as something like a theocracy under Jewish Law: everyone being faithful to one degree or another, over time the culture drifting away or coming back. But, generally, you know, Jewish, or – at least – Jew-ish most of the time from Moses until Jesus. But the Bible is filled with stories of not very Jewish things – or even very Jew-ish things. And there are suprises, like today’s reading from the reign of King Yoshiyahu (Josiah), whose name means “Yah (YHVH) Supports” when they find the “Book of the Law” hidden in the Temple. If you open your Bible to II Kings and read Chapters 22 and 23, you may be surprised to find out what was in the Temple of the Lord that was destroyed.

[R]emove from the temple of the LORD all the objects that had been made for Baal, Asherah, and the whole host of heaven… an end to the idolatrous priests who burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the vicinity of Jerusalem, as well as those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, moon, and signs of the zodiac, and to the whole host of heaven. From the house of the LORD he also removed the Asherah…He tore down the apartments of the cult prostitutes in the house of the LORD, where the women wove garments for the Asherah.

From II Kings 23:4-7

The Temple in Jerusalem was quite the little New Age bookstore, yes? God’s own house was even being used by Temple Prostitutes like any heathen shrine in much of the world.

Yoshiyahu went on to purge pagan practices from all over Judah. And then he had the people celebreate the Passover. And catch this:

No Passover such as this had been observed during the period when the judges ruled Israel, or during the entire period of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, until the eighteenth year of King Josiah, when this Passover of the LORD was kept in Jerusalem.

II Kings 23:22-23

The important thing to note is that Passover has not been observed since about 1382 BC (when the Judges are estimated to have started) though the kings until Josias (who is estimated to have reigned c. 649-609 BC. So, nearly 800 years with no Passover celebration: the very mark of Jewish liberation – and one of the main parts of Jewish tradition that Christians bring forward as Easter. This was not at all a thing. David never did it. None of the Judges. Solomon didn’t.

You want to ask what were they doing all this time?

I don’t know at all.

And the interesting thing is that the compilers of the Hebrew Scriptures left this confession of their sin in the text for us all to see and read – and ponder over.

How far had Israel’s Children strayed – not observing even the basics of their religion for eight centuries? And yet, for all that long had God been merciful to them and not destroyed them at all.

Yah supports.

Jesus says of false prophets, “By their fruit you shall know them.” Some fruits take 800 years to manifest. This comes after “not judging” and “pearls before swine” etc. Can we bear the sins of those with whom God is being merciful at least as long as God bears them?

How long has God supported your sins and yet not destroyed you? Can you repent like the People of Judah? There is time now.

Yah supports.

Validate Me

JMJ

The Readings for the 11th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum

Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 6:2b (NABRE)

MANY RECENT CONVERSATIONS have been around the topic of seeking validation. Your host became aware of this issue leaving his job history (of nearly 25 years) in the DotCom industry and moving back into Church work. One of the main changes was the way in which workers are treated. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t treated poorly in DotCommuslavia nor are I treated poorly in the parish where I work. In fact, in both places, the treatment is, I think, above average. It’s the how of the treatment that interests me at this moment.

In my previous line of work, praise and acclamation is not only a given, but perhaps the main point of most conversations. One constant feature of my day was verbal praise, emails filled with bouncing gifs, and a slack filled with emojis celebrating every aspect of my life and the lives of my coworkers. Hands in the air, rainbow flags, and – my personal favorite – the Party Parrot.

Angel Parrot

Leaving there to come to parish ministry, all those shenanigans went away. It was quite an ego collapse, let me tell you! For more than a few months I had no idea if I was doing my job correctly – or at all. There was no tradition of meetings starting with affirmations (prayer, yes, affirmation, no). There was no culture of positivity, there was no “design of personal empowerment”. Sigh, I can still speak the language. Anyway, (NEway, as the cool kids say) what came to me was that this was how the real world functions – a lot less smoke blowing and quite a lot of adulting.

Or another way to look at it would be to realize that a huge part of our culture is based on affirmation: what others think of me is important. What others do or say must be evaluated on how it makes me feel. If it does not affirm me, there’s a problem. If you don’t put a rainbow flag in your company logo for June, you’re a hater.

Jesus tell us not to seek the praise of others, nor to do anything in order to get that praise. Jesus tells us to do thinks not to be seen – in fact to hide away lest we be seen at all. Jesus suggests that we even keep the knowledge so secret that our left hand will not know what our right hand is doing.

There’s nothing wrong with praise – as such – but there is a lot wrong with praise seeking or even attention seeking. I struggle with this a lot because attention is the currency of the internet. That’s why I’ve owned Doxos.com since 1998 and why I’ve been e-journalling since before there were blogs at all. (I love that my blogger profile says Member Since October of 2001.) My original twitter number was in the low 600k. My FB account has been around since Mark first let non-college students join. (The original idea was only college students and only people who were known already by other members could join. Then this was opened up.) MySpace, LiveJournal, and a few other services were all places I could go for attention.

Attention seeking keeps you from growing up: from owning your opinions, from acting on your beliefs and – eventually – attention seeking makes you jealous of (and vindictive around) the interactions in this world of “Social Capital”. What will we do? When we act on our faith are we doing so to be seen doing so? When we hold back for the same reasons, what will become of us? Will Twitter Deplatform me if I speak out the truth about sexuality and human sexual differences? Or would I dare say that at all anyway? Conversely, am I saying them out loud just to get more attention? Clickbait is an artform.

And we already have our reward.

And the spiritual is no longer good enough: we can’t get the “hits” of likes from God who already loves us infinitely. There’s no more God-capital to get. So we need more social hits every day to make up for turning our back on infinity.

The curious thing is that, depending on your job, this behavior works at work. You have no reason in the secular world not to do this. Our entire person is external and socially constructed in that world. But in the Christian world, our personhood is internal: generated by God and involved only in authentic communion with other persons equally God-given. To be you requires an internal dynamic that has nothing to do with attention (social, sexual, or otherwise).

A Christian is set free from craving likes and tweets. We are called to focus on Jesus even when it means the world hates us. Think instead how may Catholics imagine persecution is coming. I mean, of course it is, but getting kicked off YouTube is not persecution!

We should pray, follow the rules of the faith (fasting, etc), or do the works of mercy (give charity) to please God and to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. But if we’re doing them to be seen, we already have the reward for which we are working. We did it for no spiritual reason at all – and so our reward is not spiritual.

The Opposite of Acedia

From “The High Priestly Prayer” (1900) by Eugene Burnand
Readings for 7th Wednesday after Easter (C2)

I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.

John 17:15-17

JMJ

JESUS IS NOT abandoning us to our sins in his prayer, but rather calling us to act in courage through God’s grace. In Romans 8:37 St Paul says we are “more than conquerors” in all things. Then, in the next two verses, he adds, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yet we know life can feel like a continual struggle, a continual slog through the mud of worry, indecision, and second guessing. In the Gospel, our Lord asks his Father to give us victory over the Evil One. What is the challenge? In the slog I just mentioned, the challenge is acedia – we use a more modern word, “sloth,” sometimes but that can seem more like the challenge is to “get outside and do something!” The opposite of acedia is not action. It’s God. The victory is God.

If you hang out on Catholic Social Media at all you will find so many men and women wondering if God’s calling them one way of life or the other, religious life, ordination, or marriage? All I can hear in my head is the priest who pushed me so hard saying, “Discernment is an action verb!” Go this way, very fast. If something gets in your way, turn. (That’s from a RomCom/BratPack movie called, Better Off Dead, 1985, Warner Bros, starring John Cusack. It’s prime discernment formation!)

The temptation to acedia starts with “Well, I don’t know…” and it gets compounded by the “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO). In the end, doing nothing seems the safest choice and our fake humility (which is really our pride) tells us, “I don’t deserve more. I will wait for God to give me a sign.” But then no sign comes or, more often, multiple signs come which we ignore waiting for something better. There is nothing the Evil One loves more than Christians who will do his work for him – meaning, why should he go to the trouble of tempting us or persecuting us, all he needs to do is watch while we do nothing.

St Catherine of Siena asked our Lord for help with a temptation, “Please help me to overcome this temptation. I do not ask you to take it away, but grant me victory over it.” (Libellus, Chapter 4.) St Paul suffered from a “thorn in the flesh” which is sometimes understood as a person bothering him or perhaps an illness or a temptation. Three times he asked the Lord to take away this thorn, but Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is the kicker, “my grace.” As I mentioned the opposite of acedia is not action, it’s God. While sloth is the sin, the solution is not frenetic activity – which can just be more sloth, if all the actions are distracting you. Rather we need a full immersion in God’s abundant life.

Jesus’ prayer gives us the same answer: He asks the Father to consecrate his disciples to the Truth. Who is the Truth? The answer is in the next sentence “your Word (logos) is Truth” and elsewhere Jesus – the logos himself – says, “I am the Truth”. Consecrate the disciples (us) to himself, the Logos who is Truth. Set us apart for him. Reaching out to Jesus who is our Savior, our Life, our Judge, and our Friend is the first and only action we need.

You may have heard of the Daily Examen, filtering your life through a few questions to ask how God was working in your life and how you responded. Let me suggest the best way to prep for that Examen is a daily offering that lets God know what’s up for the day, offering it all to him, and letting him know that you know he’s really in charge. “God I have to XYZ today (and sometimes my list is very long!), but if you have other ways for me to go, I know that the things needed are in your hands. Help me to get up from prayer and run with you.” At the end of the day, the Examen will be more clear because you and God were dancing together from the get-go.

We have the one thing we need – Jesus on our side! We are more than conquerors. Now get out there and do something! If something gets in your way, do something else!

Amen?

Jonah’s New Signs

From my old copy of “The Sign of Jonas” by Thomas Merton

Readings for Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent (A2)

No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.

JMJ

Wake up this morning was to news about the Pope’s Lenten Retreat on the Holy Prophet Jonah. This story from the scriptures was, therefore, on my mind as I went to Mass. A fund thing to note (props to Fr Anthony not-on-twitter-now) Catholics don’t cite scripture, but we know the stories. So to remind us of two-thirds of the story (in outline):

  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “nope” and went the other way on a boat
  • God tried to wreck the boat in a storm
  • The sailors threw Jonah over the side
  • Swallowed by a fish
  • Fish spat him up
  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “Nope, if I go there, they will repent and you’ll forgive them”
  • God said, Right. Go to Nineveh.
  • Jonah said, “ok” and went
  • Jonah preached a little.
  • They repented.
  • God forgave them.
  • Jonah got all “DAMN IT I KNEW YOU WOULD DO THAT”

Jesus says the only thing he’ll give is the “Sign of Jonah”. Now… the Church tends to read the following text in Jesus’ voice and I will not correct that… but the Greek text has no quotation marks. Matthew and Luke have this story in slightly different versions although Jesus says “no sign except the sign of Jonah”. But then is the rest of the passage Jesus? Or Christian rabbinical conversation? It doesn’t have to be the former. It could be the latter. I want to think of it this way:

  • Rabbi Luke says Jesus means this: as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
  • Rabbi Matthew says Jesus means that and also a prophecy of the Resurrection.

Accepting that as a given truth, are there possibly other signs for us in our present Generation? I think the answer is yes. I’m not fleshing these out but offering them as meditation points. I think there’s a lot of room for digging in:

  • Jonah tried to dodge vocation by going the other way. God fixed that: do we run away at any excuse?
  • The Ninevites only needed a tiny push to repent: is it possible that even those “heathens” you work with need only a gentle whisper of truth to breakout the sackcloth?
  • Nineveh’s conversion was so total that it made Jonah angry: we don’t want to see our opponents converted. We like hellfire from heaven better.
  • Jonah was an outsider in Nineveh yet his power was multiplied because he was following God: how many times do we go looking for someplace to “fit in” as a missionary rather than just going where God wants us?
  • Another way to think of that point: When Jonah was following God’s will it didn’t even matter that he didn’t speak the language. Everyone heard him: Jesus is also an outsider in most of our world yet this crucified criminal overthrew all of Rome and changed history.

That’s it. Some different signs to chew on. Feedback is welcomed.

The Amazon in Burning

The Readings for the 31st Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Nemini quidquam debeatis, nisi ut invicem diligatis : qui enim diligit proximum, legem implevit. Dilectio proximi malum non operatur. Plenitudo ergo legis est dilectio.
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

JMJ

Have you heard about the Servant of God, Xu Guangqi? He is one of the Three Pillars of Chinese Catholicism. He was converted to Catholicism by the Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci. The latter, leading the Jesuit mission in China, made some interesting choices in regard to Chinese cultural practices (including the veneration of ancestors). These were first (1645) rejected and then (1656) accepted by the church. In 1939 the Holy See re-assessed the issue and Pope Pius XII issued a decree authorizing Chinese Catholics to observe the ancestral rites and participate in civic ceremonies Confucius-honoring. I’m not familiar with either the writings of Xu Guangqi, Matteo Ricci, or Confucious, but I’m in no position to argue with Pope Pius XII or his Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The wiki sums it up, saying, “Confucianism was also thus recognized as a philosophy and an integral part of Chinese culture rather than as a heathen religion in conflict with Catholicism.”

There’s another writer I know of…

During my neopagan days, from about 1982-1999, I became infatuated with the writings of Aleister Crowley. My teacher said she was convinced that anyone with an adult take on the pagan religion would find themselves in bed with “Uncle Al” as she called him. I was not attracted to his work for the sake of “power” or magic. (He would have called it “Magick”). In all the pagan writers published in the modern world, he is the only one with any philosophical depth, with any sense of real Truth being out there somewhere. His entire philosophy was wrapped around words that show up in St Paul over and over: Love and Law. He added a third word which St Thomas Aquinas will bring into the mix: Will. Aquinas says, “To Love is to Will the good of the other.” Paul says this is the fulfillment of the Law. “Love is the Law, Love under Will,” said Crowley.

I’m not at all convinced that I won’t meet him in heaven. He was so very hung up on Agape. He misunderstood it, often enough, but he just could not let it go, or maybe better – it would not let him go. Truth be told, I was reading one of his more esoteric works when a line about offering all to the divine caused me to turn back to Christ. (“Don’t hold back even a pinch of yourself”, he said. “Or your whole work is wasted.”) And so here I am, meditating on Bible and still able to hear about Crowley. In this month of the Holy Souls, I don’t think it untoward to pray for his repose.

So. The Amazon Synod.

Remember, before we go on: Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love is willing the good of the other. Is there any greater good to will for anyone than their salvation? Not really.

Did you ever hear of Pachamama? You may have missed the entire storm (if you’re lucky), but in short here’s what happened: in the time since Matteo Ricci when to China, it’s become possible to travel the world by airplane and so the missionaries in China, I mean the Amazon Basin, didn’t have to wait on letters and reports posted by sailing ship to get between themselves and the Home Office in Rome. Indeed, it became possible for the entire world to learn what was going on with the mission work in China, I mean the Amazon Basin. Instead of waiting 300 years or so, the Church was able to talk about it now.

Is there anything in their culture, like Confucious or Crowley, that might lead someone – digging deep enough – to come to Catholicism? I don’t know. Some priests did think so: and they brought these things to Rome. Sadly, they did it in front of the Media Circus called the internet.

This did not make the talking heads online happy at all. This really annoyed the Anti-Francis folks. This seriously pissed off the Catholic Right. They let loose on some Racist Rants about the people in the Amazon, about culture, about colonialism, about power in the Church, and – most importantly – about their own sense of the loss of that power. It was sad to watch really.

If you don’t understand the synodal process in the Church you might think that a bunch of bishops saying things in Rome means the teaching of the Church is thus. In reality: those bishops were, essentially, talking in front of the Pope as advisors. The Pope is the Decider Guy here – and what he says won’t come out until (if?) he writes an Exhortation. That document has the weight of the Church’s teaching authority behind it: it’s Magisterial as we say. Nothing else is, however. So we have to wait. We may not have to wait 300 years as the Chinese did, but if there is an “Amazonian Rites” controversy it will – sadly – be colored by race and colonialism. It will be the Church’s desire to protect and elevate her children to salvation pitted against the West’s desire to deforest the Amazon and grow hamburgers and soybeans.

If we do not love them, if we do not will their good, if we confuse our culture of solid housing and urban squalor, indoor plumbing and venereal disease, “free” elections and neoliberal wage slavery with “the good” that we are colonially forcing on them… we will fail as missionaries. Our love will die. And so will they.

We might not know their songs or their culture, but we can still destroy them.

Added Later: Look. The Holy Spirit is in charge here. God is in control. The Church has survived bad popes, silly popes, evil popes, and popes with kids in their house and politicians in their pockets. At one point the entire Church was Monothelite. Jansenists have tried to take it over. Arians have tried. (And the Aryans, too.) Gnostics have tried. Church still here. The Church “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail” is nonplussed by missionaries from the Amazon.

Salvific Synergy of SIn

If everyone gets in, God wins. I call it the God Wins Law.

En to Pan

The Readings for the 30th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Domine, si pauci sunt, qui salvantur? 
Lord, will only a few people be saved?

JMJ

As with other questions, this one is transparently not what it seems and Jesus sees through it. Notice how Jesus instantly goes from “will only a few people…” to “you must…” Jesus knows that the question will only a few people be saved is really a coverup for, “How little do I have to do?” the man that’s not wondering if his notoriously sinful stepfather will actually get into heaven. The man thinks “If my notoriously sinful stepfather can get into heaven I don’t need to worry about it.” This often becomes the God-Win’s question: God’s going to let everyone in – including Hitler – so why bother? If Hiter can get into heaven then it’s ok. Or: if even Hitler can get into heaven, then this is all a load of fewmets striking windmills.

Domine, si pauci sunt, qui salvantur? We’re asking is there hope for me? If it’s only a few, there’s really nothing to be done, let us despair and fall into grave sin. Jesus puts it back on us: Contendite intrare per angustam portam : quia multi, dico vobis, quaerent intrare, et non poterunt. Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. This is the same lesson as “a camel passing through the eye of a needle”. It’s hard enough for this thing to happen – with all the things of this world, with all the pains, distractions, joys. I saw a four-box comic today in which a cat is looking at autumn leaves and comments, “Life is transitory… but so enchanting.” That’s all of us: we become enchanted by the things of this world. We struggle for a little while, but then we fall back into watching the world and being enmeshed by it.

Scimus autem quoniam diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This line from St Paul is the hinge, on which these two readings turn. For really, omnia (the Greek word is πᾶν pan) means “all”. All. ALL. All things. If you love God, then all things are working for your good: Paul’s Greek phrase is πάντα συνεργεῖ panta synergei. If you love God, then your past sins are not wiped out (as I heard in a sermon on Sunday from the Master of the Dominican Order). God doesn’t forget (God can’t forget), rather God repurposes. By the grace of God in the sacrament of confession – even your sins are turned into stepping stones towards heaven. All things. All means all. Even the things that you have to dredge up in a life confession, even the things from high school that make you blush.

There’s great comfort here in realizing that I am the only sinner I will ever know. No one but you knows what you’ve done (even if you tell me, I can’t look into the state of your soul when you were doing it). I am literally the only person I can look at and say, “I knew that was wrong. I knew why it was wrong. And I dismissed all that and did it anyway.” I don’t need to rewrite your sins – or even know them, they don’t exist.

Other things work for our good too – all things – that abusive parent, the job that objectified you and fired you for illegal reasons (but you can’t prove it), the sexual partner that ruined your teen years, the accident on the freeway that made you late for work, the wildfire that destroyed your house, the wind that sent you to Oz, the wardrobe that sent you to Narnia, the rocket that exploded in midair and made you afraid of flight. The job that opened your eyes to new careers, the teacher that changed your mind about world history, the baker that gave you free coffee, the priest that makes you laugh in confession. The cat, the computer, the laundry, the bus that breaks down in the middle of the Californian desert so you can’t get to a wedding on time… all things work for our good. There is only one good, though: entering through the narrow gate.

Passing through the narrow gate, I want only to hear one thing: Wow, you made it. The crown of heavenly witnesses may only gasp and let out a sigh of relief, but I pray to hear Wow, you made it.

If I lose Jesus, literally nothing else matters. If I gain Jesus, literally nothing else matters.

…I met a man with seven wives…

If we are united to Christ and share in the fullness of God-stuff (as we noted yesterday) then it’s all done, right? No. For what we discover if we pay any attention to ourselves is that there are a lot of things present in us that seem to have a certain quality of “B.C.” How do we deal with them?

There are three options, really: ignore them, expunge them, incorporate them. These are the same three options the Church uses when she comes to a new culture – how does she treat the things that are there already? Some local traditions can be ignored, some can be included (we may even say “baptized”), and some have to be done away with. We can look at the three categories in terms of the evangelization of the peoples of the British Isles. The Pope told Augustine of Canterbury that while idols needed to be destroyed, churches should be built where the idols were: the people were already used to coming to those places for worship. The same held true of other cultural artifacts. But the idols had to go. However, whereas the Church had already dealt with monarchies and tribal chieftains, in the British Isles she found a form of distributed (nearly republican) democracy: even the kings were elected. She not only baptized this but supported it for a long while. (William the Conqueror really tried to stop it, but it showed up again and again.)

The same is true in our personal lives: fasting rules aside, if you want to be vegan, paleo, or keto, the Church doesn’t really care. And even if the fasting rules seem to conflict there are pastoral ways to get around that – even in the Byzantine tradition where fasting is very strict. If you want to play Baseball, you’ll find this is baptized into Church Leagues. Although you can’t be a Freemason, you can be a Knight of Columbus. If, however, you want to engage in polygamy or ancestor worship in a way permitted by the culture, the Church will tell you, “No” and in that she will rely on 2,000 years of her conversation plus another 4 – 6,000 years of Jewish conversation prior to that. Even in cultures which were largely polygamous, the church has relied on attrition to end the practice. At the same time, the Church will be generous in letting the old ways pass away.

So what in your life needs to go? What in your life needs to be baptized? What can be ignored as not terribly important? Which parts of you are from the earth? St Paul has a list: Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. This last – to covet something – earns the additional title of idolatry. When you realize how much of our consumer culture is set up to trigger covetousness you begin to see that the other sins may be rooted in this one. The first step in any of these sins is to covet something that is not rightfully yours: your neighbor’s stuff, or spouse, or your neighbor. The fruit or children of idolatry are these other things in the list.

Considering how much of our daily life is spent satisfying ou desires, these words of Jesus from the Gospel will be hard:

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.

The Amazing Technicolor Nightmare Coat


JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 13th week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Merito haec patimur, quia peccavimus in fratrem nostrum, videntes angustiam animae illius, dum deprecaretur nos, et non audivimus : idcirco venit super nos ista tribulatio.
We deserve to suffer these things, because we have sinned against our brother, seeing the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: therefore is this affliction come upon us. 
I’m not at all certain what the Committee was doing when they chopped up Genesis to get passages for this week. They leap into the middle of Joseph’s story with no backstory and they leave us with a weak opening for “Israel in Egypt”. We’ll get the Exodus story in a few days but this internecine dysfunction that plays at the heart of Israel’s story that carries past the Maccabees – and on to Bar Kochba in AD 135 – is suddenly robbed of its context.
Israel, oddly like the Church, is filled with squabbling brethren.
Bullies will creep up out of cracks in old sheds on snowy days in funny Christmas movies. They will appear in the bass section behind you to make obscene gestures with their hands on your ears. They will ooze out of the bus seats behind you to taunt you while the bus driver can’t see. They are your own brothers selling you into slavery – to the Egyptians, or to other bullies…

This act is heinous: for the brothers sell their own flesh into slavery. Joseph seems to lord over his brothers his own status as “Daddy and Mommy’s Baby Boy”. Yet the level of bulliness the brothers display is unparalleled: first plotting to kill Joseph (but not doing so only out of a fear of breaking the Kin’s Blood Taboo), then selling him into slavery.

And here they are, ten or 15 years later, still reaping the horror of what they’ve done.
Bob Dylan has this song… the opening verse describes what I imagine would be Joseph’s lament:
They say everything can be replaced
Yet every distance is not near
So I remember every face
Of every man who put me here
I’m not sure how Joseph feels. He’s crying by the end of the story… but is he crying from sheer loss, or from loss of will to torture these men who tortured him?

As someone who was bullied a lot in school, I confess I remember every face. I look them up on Facebook. This dude has a wife and kids and seems kinda happy. This other dude looks like he may have done some time and perhaps has found Jesus recently. Being bullied leaves a mark much deeper than the wounds inflicted, although you can still see my broken nose and tooth.

I’m not sure what Joseph feels here but was I to meet the members of the NCHS Warriors in a similar famine situation – even 35 years later, I’m not sure how I’d feel. Joseph is not exactly gracious. In fact, he gets a good bit of revenge before he caves in. Yes, I’m committing eisegesis: reading into the scriptures instead of exegesis, reading out. But hey, it’s my blog.

The brothers feel compunction here. Maybe not for the first time but, in a sense, finally. And as they speak Hebrew, Joseph can understand them… and I’m sure his own heart is pricked a little by the number of hoops he makes his brothers jump through.
Why does he do it? I don’t know. It’s possible to project all kinds of psychology into this story. It’s remarkably devoid of motive on Joseph’s part. First, he tries to bully them, then he makes them travel back and forth, then he breaks down.
It’s possible he doesn’t forgive them any more than I’ve forgiven my own crop of bullies. I try, but even typing this brief post as made me agitated: not angry, mind you… just… agitated. By the end of the story he seems to have reconciled with his family, but did he hang out with his brothers at all after this? Or just put them in nice houses in Goshen and leave them there? I hear echoes of mistrust and psychic wounds in the story of Potiphar’s wife, in the prison prophecy, in the story of his reunion with his father, and finally of his making his brothers promise to not leave even his bones behind in Egypt.
When he later says “You intended this for evil… but God intended it for good.” Is there any absolution or just a statement of fact?

How do the bullies feel? The brothers somehow remember Joseph, and that is as it should be: but do bullies remember their victims usually? Do they just go unthinkingly on with their lives? I would not be who I am today but for the bullies. I only went to one HS reunion – my ten year, I think – and I admit I was mortally afraid. So… yeah. I remember every face.

Joseph.
OK.

Abolish or Fulfill? Abolish or Fulfill?


JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 10th week of Ordinary Time (C1)

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

There are no answers in this blog post. Some of us will hear a sermon today that says this passage means the old law has passed away. Jesus says he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Oddly that sermon could come from traditionalists or revisionists. Jesus can’t fulfill something if he abrogates it. We want to think of fulfill in the same way we think of a card reader or fortune teller. Fulfillment means someone made a prediction and Jesus did it. It’s obvious, right? But that’s not what it’s intended here.

Fulfillment in these terms means the expansion of, the revelation of, the unveiling of the real meaning of something. There are very few prophecies in scripture where somebody says at such and such a time, such and such a thing will happen. Rather we see pictures drawn in the scriptures and then those pictures are flushed out as if they were done in simple pencil sketches and later are fulfilled in 3D video.

In a very famous prophecy Isaiah says that lady over there is going to have a baby and 800 years later it’s fulfilled in the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus. The sketch was that woman having a baby. The Fifth Element was the Virgin giving birth to God.

This is called Typology.

Jesus says everything else was an Antetype: he is the type, the thing itself. In my person are all true meanings revealed. He says elsewhere, “I am the way the truth and the life.” He is it. This means also that if the Bible is a unified story that needs to Jesus, even the laws and rules in the Old Testament are there to show us the way to Messiah; again, the rules are a sketch, not a prediction. It’s hard to link a forbidden shellfish salad with the coming of Jesus. Does the absence of bacon indicate anything?

How do we differentiate between various rules about food, liturgical instructions, property values, manumission, and sexual morals?

We are so used to thinking of the Torah as if it were a written totality of the Jewish law. We want to imagine 613 individual, discreet, rules and we want to be able to answer the question, Did you follow the rules? But is there any evidence that the code in the first five books of the Bible was the entirety of the law? Or is that a Christian assumption? is there a difference between saying one thing in the Bible and the gradual development of context within the Jewish tradition? Can you begin the rules in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and end up at don’t eat Chinese food and cheeseburgers are forbidden? At which point does the development become untenable?

What if the Jewish law is less like our modern codebooks of rules and regulations and more like British common law? What if the documents of the Bible are only a basis, a recording of some conversations, and not the end-all and be-all of the rules? What if the text of the Torah is only a sketch of the Law? What if “the Law” involves taking these sketches and applying them to individual cases, looking for fulfillment?

I come not to abolish but to fulfill. Jesus is part of a rabbinic discussion of the law. That Jesus “fulfills the law in his person” is a legal claim, an elaboration of the Torah. The notion that Jesus doesn’t fulfill the Law is a legal claim as well. Jesus is stating his place in the legal discussion. You can accept or reject that claim but it has nothing to do with shrimp cocktails or the use of mixed fibers in your clothing.