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.

Paul gets all up in the Pagan Air

No, no! That’s the wrong Damon…

+J+M+J+

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

I see that in every respect you are very religious…
Paul’s word for “religious” is δεισιδαιμονεστέρους deisidaimonesteros. This is the only place in the Greek scriptures where it is used. It means “fearful of the gods” or the “daimons” (which are not “Demons”.) Nowadays we say “Religion is a fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a group of people. These set of beliefs concern the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, and involve devotional and ritual observances.” And, “Religious, besides meaning “having to do with religion,” can also mean “acting as if something is a religion.” We think in terms of “organized” religion vrs “spirituality” where the latter means more along the lines of something a la carte: I get to make it up as I go along. I get to decide what and where to worship, in fact, I may not even worship, in the accepted sense of the term.
Paul, however, did not mean “religious” the same way we do. In fact, he meant “Spiritual” almost exactly as we mean it. deisidaimonésteros (from deidō, “to dread” and daimōn, “a deity”) – properly, religious (superstitious) fear, driven by a confused concept of God – producing “sincere” but very misdirected religion. Indeed, this is the mark of heathenism. (word study.) One pagan might not care at all what Venus says, but Diana of the Ephesians would be all the rave. However, we don’t want to offend Venus either, so we won’t disrespect her.
More importantly, Paul’s use of deisidaimonesteros fits nearly everyone in our modern, Western world, hung up in our culture of “offense” and “scientism”: we are superstitious about both. We have created daimonic energies around everything from sex and identity to political movements and slogans. We are fearful of offending all the daimons – the powers of the air, as Paul says elsewhere, the powers and principalities that run things. Again, these are not “demons” in the Exorcist sense. These are entirely human things. You might think of these as Cultural Constructs properly understood as “when enough people think something is true, it is.” 
We are surrounded by cultural constructs today: ideologies that function enough like traditional religion that they compete with or meld with traditional religion for the same cultural real estate. They get a victory either way. What is “MAGA” but a pseudo-religious mantra that either overrules all Christian morality or else invades and colonizes it?  Feminism can either drive out religion or become melded with it. We have Christian feminists and we have secular feminists who are “recovering Christians”. We have racialist ideologies that manifest inside traditional religious communities: Byzantine, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic. Yet we also have racists who reject “traditional religion” which they say is destroying “racial identity”. Economics become religions when people use “the invisible hand” or state power to overrule the God of Christianity and Judaism on the one hand or on the other to attack and destroy him. Scientism can be used to denude the spiritual content of progressive Christianity or to deny the importance of anything that sounds religious (or even philosophical) at all. We let the construct take the center stage and then try to dress it up in our various religions – instead of letting the religion dictate the direction and everything else better try and hold on. Or else we retreat from it.
Paul would know us today. These things – and many many others – all fill up the gaps in our culture created by the abandoning of the Areopagus by the Church. I know some say we’ve been forced out, but that’s only because we’ve let it happen: we’re afraid not only to speak the Gospel in public but also to model it. We don’t want to be seen as Catholics qua Catholics. We have a fear, not of having to “speak up” on a controversial topic, but rather of being asked to explain ourselves. “Behold, how these Christians love one another!” said Tertullian. We’d rather not go to the park because people might talk about us. The Church has not been driven out of the public square, she has ceded it whole cloth. She’s afraid of losing her tax status, or her safety nets, she is worried about what people might think of her, or what sins might get uncovered. Hiding in the corner is safer. The Church – compared to which not even the Gates of Hell are stronger – is worried about daimons.
Paul would challenge us to learn his language: to take the deisidaimonesteros of the culture and redirect it to God, as St Paul did when he invaded the Hill of Mars and took the field of Battle for Jesus. Preaching in public… here on of my favourite stories about John Wesley:

In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.” 

He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.” 

Afterward, 12 men received Christ. 

Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.” 

Would that we could be so eloquent with our lives and our actions. Would that our lives spoke the Gospel in places where we might gather such oysters.


Don’t Dubia The Import of This

JMJ

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

Cum autem venisset Cephas Antiochiam, in faciem ei restiti, quia reprehensibilis erat.
But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 

Paul has spent the better part of the first chapter (and some bits of chapter 2) laying out his bona fides. He’s legit. Yes, he had a private revelation, but he took it to the Church in Jerusalem and they all backed him up – Peter, James, and John. That is to say the inner circle inside the College of Apostles. They agreed with him, with his message, and his reaching out to the Gentiles. You can read about this in the book of Acts. The Council of Jerusalem was formative – not only for the early Church, but for the next 2,000 years.

And yet, a short time later, when Peter shows up, he tries to back-track. And Paul gives him what-for. Yes, he’s still Peter. And yes, he’s still the head of the Church, the Rock. In fact Paul plays up that fact in this passage, calling him “Cephas” (which is “Rock” or “Peter” in Aramaic).  And so here, the Rock, is wrong. And the other Apostles do not fear to call him out. It’s ok. It’s ok to note when the leader is wrong.

I hear, lately, a lot of folks saying that we can’t question the Pope. Oddly enough, these tend to be Pro-whichever Pope is in office folks. The Tradies liked Benedict. The Liberals like Francis. So when someone might criticize a speaking engagement of one or the other Pope (or of St John Paul II, Bl Paul VI, St John XXIII, or Pius X – XII, etc) the reaction is sadly predictable along party lines.

And yet Paul stand up and says, in faciem ei restiti, quia reprehensibilis erat. I got up in Peter’s face because he was wrong.

The Papal Defenders seem to think that questioning the Pope and actually, you know, expecting an answer, is wrong. Those asking questions seem to think failure to ask would be a greater sin. Taking as a given the best intentions on the part of both the askers and the asked (we are Christians, after all), one has to assume that there are good reasons for concern when otherwise obedient sons and daughters stand up, with apostolic fervor, and get in Peter’s face.


Wei Wu Wei

JMJ

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

Et qui utuntur hoc mundo, tamquam non utantur : praeterit enim figura hujus mundi. 
And they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 

The Greek in these verses is interesting and a lot of English translators (and St Jerome, as well) build it in parallels:


Those married as not married

Those weeping as not weeping
Etc

The same verb is used in the positive and negative form. It’s nearly like Lao Tzu’s “Do Not-Doing”. Cry not-Crying, Rejoice not-Rejoicing. Own not-Owning… So they get to Verse 31 and keep the parallel going: use not-using. Except that’s not in the Greek. Unlike the earlier verbs the writer doesn’t just say something and not-something but rather χρώμενοι xromenoi and καταχρώμενοι kataxromenoi where kata adds the meanings to over-use, to use fully, to use up. The Greek says “Use the Kosmos without using-up the Kosmos” or even use without abusing the Kosmos.

There is a difference between using the good things of this world and abusing them, between blessing God for a good vintage of wine and getting blotto. There are intended uses (the telos) of God’s blessings and then there is abuse of them. CS Lewis covers this in Perelandra. There are fruit so good, so refreshing that one is filling, but a second – when it’s not meal time, nor otherwise needed – would be sinful, an act of gluttony. Food is like that on earth. Sex is like that: for God gave it to us for a purpose and we’ve discovered myriad ways to over use or abuse it. Earlier in Chapter 6, Paul gave us a list of people who kataxromenoi everything to the point of becoming their overuse for Paul uses the verbs as nouns. He adds, “They will not inherit the kingdom of God”.


That’s what it means to kataxromenoi: to use up something so much as to become identified with the using of the thing. 

It is to be noted that “Kosmos” does not mean “the planet, the orbiting stars” etc. It can mean that, sure, but it means “the system”, or, literally, the arrangement. The ordered harmony of the stars but also the system of Empire, the way the world is governed. We’re not to do that: think of people who say “American then Catholic”, or who break it down even further and say “Kennedy Catholic” or some other political styling; anyone who hyphenates. When we let the worldly system define our faith, we’ve drifted into καταχρώμενοι and away from the faith that is described as “Catholic” that is, whole. 

The Catholic faith is her own Kosmos, or rather she is the breaking-in of a new Kosmos on this one. The form of this Kosmos is passing away… as the new one, the Kingdom of God, breaks in. We can use even the political system of this world as long as we don’t become hacks in it. We can enjoy the food as long as we don’t become gluttons, we can have sex adhering to the divine plan. We are to be the advanced, covert (yet somewhat overt) force of an invading army.  We are the spies with Joshua in the Promised Land. We are, as Lewis notes, in occupied territory. We can’t be going native. 

The Final Mystery of the Rosary

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Queenship of Mary
Wednesday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Alleluia. Vivus est enim sermo Dei, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum cordis. 
Alleluia. The word of God is living and effective, able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.

It’s tempting to take this reading about the bad shepherds and go someplace dark. It’s tempting to take the bit about the generous landlord and the non-union workers and go someplace political.

Even the Alleluia verse about Jesus can be seen as a threat. It can almost sound like “He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.”

Yet the very Logos of God – Jesus himself – is alive and present in this messed up place. There is hope. God says he will shepherd his people himself. It is the feast of the Queenship of Mary: and that’s worth so much hope, so much joy…

I’m new here. The whole “convert” moment still has that new car smell for me. Mindful, of course, that my conversion came in spite of this scandal, which was on the front burner when I was leaving ECUSA. Having decided I was wrong then to let my pride keep me away, it was sort of an inoculation preventing such an event. And so I’m thankful that I can celebrate this feast with the titles lavished on her in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin:

Queen of Angels, 
Queen of Patriarchs, 
Queen of Prophets, 
Queen of Apostles, 
Queen of Martyrs, 
Queen of Confessors, 
Queen of Virgins, 
Queen of all Saints, 
Queen conceived without original sin, 
Queen assumed into heaven, 
Queen of the most holy rosary,
Queen of the family, 
Queen of peace.

And this Queen is also mother, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, as the Litany reminds us. And:

Mother of divine grace, 
Mother most pure, 
Mother most chaste, 
Mother inviolate, 
Mother undefiled, 
Mother most amiable, 
Mother most admirable, 
Mother of good counsel, 
Mother of our Creator, 
Mother of our Redeemer.

This lady is praying for us in heaven. And she’s concerned about us. Not just abstractly, but as her children, the sisters and brothers of her only son. Is any mother concerned about her children only in the abstract? No. She remembers us each. And so the visionaries at Lourdes, at Fatima, at La Sallete, at Walsingham, at Penrhys, at Glastonbury, and at Knock all remind us. In our sadness, in her sadness for us, she comes to us as your own mother would come to you. Or, perhaps, as your own mother never did. And Francis (and other Saints) have taken God as their Father and this lady as their Mother.

She is the Joy of All Who Sorrow, the sign of God’s triumph, even in darkness. She is the shower of the way, and the gate of heaven, the unploughed field that produced the heavenly manna, the ladder, and the lampstand.

She is the mother of all in the Church and of the Church herself, the bride of Christ as Mary is the Bride of the Holy Spirit. So on this feast I’m joyously letting her pray. For I know she does. And I shall let her reign, too. In my heart as she reigns in the highest heaven.

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Food for the Dogs…

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Dominic
Wednesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Non est bonum sumere panem filiorum, et mittere canibus.
It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. 

It’s a long standing bit of church-geeky wordplay that takes St Dominic’s name and turns his friars into Domine Canes the Dogs of the Lord. Yet they come by it honest, for before he was born, his mother the Blessed Jane of Aza, had a vision of a dog carrying a torch as it ran through a field, catching all things on fire. A Benedictine priest told her that her son would be a preacher, setting the world on fire for Christ.

Dominic’s first and longest standing outreach was to the Albigensian heretics of Southern France. These were, essentially, a Manichean revival, teaching that physical things were bad. Physical here includes the body. Spirit trapped in a physical shell… this is a familiar teaching to many, but it is not Christianity. The Church teaches that humanity is a spirit-flesh hybrid, and that our physical selves are as important as our spiritual and mental makeup. This is why Christians believe in “carnis resurrectionem” and “resurrectionem mortuorum”, that is the resurrection of the flesh from the dead. Since they believed the flesh to be evil, the Albigensians did not believe in the physical resurrection at all. Bringing the Gospel to these folks was a lifelong process for Dominic. 


So on to other word play. Matthew’s Canaanite Woman.

It’s important to know that at the time of this story there were no Canaanites because there hadn’t been a Canaan for thousands of years.  It’s as much of an anachronistic misnomer as is calling Jesus as “Palestinian” for there was no province of “Palestine” at this time. Matthew’s well-trained Jewish audience would know who the Canaanites were and, since they spoke Greek, they would have enjoyed comparing the  woman as a κυνάρια, kynaree-a (canine) and a Χαναναία, a kananaia (Canaaanite).

Equally wrong would be calling Jesus a racist because of this story. (I suspect Fr Martin has already lined up his Jesuitical tweets in this regard.) The lack of actual Canaanites in this time period means there’s more than an historical/literal point here. If Jesus is God he is setting up the scene, and everyone is falling into play: Jesus solicits a show of faith from the woman just as he does from others. At Matthew’s telling, Jesus uses wordplay to force his audience to listen again. “Did he just say that?”

There are other cases of word play in Matthew’s Gospel. I think they are important. Matthew’s community is being taught something that is lost on us, perhaps because we no longer need it in our preaching. Or because we are easily offended.

Yet there is something here.

Jesus is reaching out to the Gentiles very early and using them as examples of faith. Matthew’s community probably gets mildly scandalized here. Even more so when the Centurion’s servant is described in terms of pederasty. Matthew seems to want his community to see there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to the Gentiles who, in fact, can be better at this faith game than the Jews. And he uses word play to call them out.

So back to Dominic, whose Albigensian preaching became the first really good example of enculturating the Gospel. The preachers and teachers of the heretical movement were poor ascetics. The people could see in their leaders a holiness of life that they could not see in the wealthy Catholic prelates and even parish priests, with their huge carriages and houses and domestic staffs. Dominic knew that the first thing he’d have to have was a community of preachers whose lives reflected the poverty that these folks had come to expect of their religious leaders.

So the followers of Dominic became poor that they might reach the poor, and well educated to debate with the folks who were preaching the heresies. The dogs of the Lord begged for their bread crumbs and lived lives that the locals could see as holy.

They didn’t become Albigensians, but they did find in the heresy something good, something of value that they could carry with them to bring the Gospel more fully home to these folks. It matters not that they have to give up worldly splendor and comforts to preach. In fact, as it turns out, that’s one of the greatest goods of the Dominicans, their ability to move through the world unencumbered by the things of this world and although this is a clear teaching of the Gospel, they begin using it to combat its misuse among the Albigensian communities.

This is how the Gospel must be preached today: finding the good in things (even if it is misused) and calling it out to draw others deeper into the fullness of the Spirit.



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