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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A sting of pearls…

JMJ

The Readings for St Alphonsus Liguouri, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
Wednesday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Gloriatus sum a facie manus tuae : solus sedebam, quoniam comminatione replesti me. Quare factus est dolor meus perpetuus, et plaga mea desperabilis renuit curari? facta est mihi quasi mendacium aquarum infidelium.
Under the weight of your hand I sat alone because you filled me with indignation. Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide!

Jeremiah has figured out that following this God leaves us alone, broken off from the world and the objects of ridicule. And yet God sends us back into the world. Jeremiah says it’s like being tricked. A few chapters later (20:7) he’ll utter these sorrowful, rich words:

Seduxisti me, Domine, et seductus sum : You have seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced : fortior me fuisti, et invaluisti : factus sum in derisum tota die, omnes subsannant me. I am become a laughing-stock all the day, all scoff at me. 

Even for someone deeply in love with God as a Prophet the question can appear, from time to time, “Why can’t I be normal?” I don’t think this is the same thing as, “Can I go back to Egypt?” Many faithful folks dwell in the Suburbs, if you will, of Mammon City. I think of the idea of Israel here, where faithful, pious Jews could dwell in their prayer and their daily lives, sanctifying time, but certainly living in it. Jeremiah and all the prophets down to John the Baptist live beyond the edge. This love stings. And I think it’s ok – even expected a little – for them to want to have something normal.  Sure, serving God is great and all, but why do I have to go all the way?
Simile est regnum caelorum… Iterum simile est regnum caelorum…
The Kingdom of Heaven is like… and again the Kingdom of Heaven is like… 

The preacher apologizes if he misspeaks here, but everyone misses a very fine point here. These two images come together for a reason, a very important reason.

In the first of these Similes (quite literally in the Latin, Simile est) the Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a Treasure Hidden in a Field. And when someone – say you or me – finds the Treasure, we sell everything to buy the Field.

But in the second one, the Kingdom of Heaven is not the pearls. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a Merchant who goes looking for pearls. And when He – say Jesus – finds the pearls – say you or me – he sells everything he has to buy the pearls.

See?

This Love is worth everything for God who gave everything, even his life, to capture the Pearls of Great Price: you and me. Can you see here how greatly God loves us? Can you see here why it is that we must also give up everything and all things less to take possession of this Kingdom? So greatly are we loved, how can we not love back?

We might think we can go back to being normal. But no… once you taste this love, once you see this light, nothing else can ever be the same. Sins that used to be fun… dull. Things you used to think were love… turn out to be dross. Even the legitimate enjoyments of the world seem brief and passing when viewed in their right perspective. What we have here, real though it is, in its pains and even in its joys, it a shadow of the real stuff.  My beloved has paid for my reality.
This love cost God everything to buy the pearls…

For us to offer anything less than everything in return seems a bit selfish, n’est-ce pas?


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Some sheep go astray…

Can you get from this image to the topic?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Benedict, Abbot.
Wednesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Potius ite ad oves quae perierunt domus Israel. Euntes autem praedicate, dicentes : Quia appropinquavit regnum caelorum.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Bishop Barron often makes a painful point: for every one new convert that enters the Church, six leave. In the USA alone, the second largest religious group is ex-Catholics. The largest is Catholics, as well. In the San Francisco Bay area, 25% of the population is Catholic. Although that “organized religion” thing sets us apart, the reality is that we are so lost among the 75% that folks don’t see us. And often the folks not seeing us are ex-Catholics who would rather forget about us in the first place.

Go to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.

Although it’s tempting to want to evangelize among folks who are already Christian, I think Jesus’ first words of direction are important here. The lost sheep do certainly include the “separated brethren,” as they are called, but they’re not lost. They do not fit under the rubric of the “Nones” who have nothing to do with Organized Religion and the lapsed who just have not come back within the last 20 years. I’ve been amazed at the number of lapsed Catholics I know. Folks who used to go, but don’t anymore. I knew folks in High School and College that put my liberal protestant piety to shame, but now probably don’t have even a Bible in the house gathering dust.

I’m sure they have stories like mine: one day I woke up and didn’t believe it. It made no sense to me – at least not as much sense as sex and a job, a commuter card benefit, health insurance, and a few hobbies. I wasn’t cavalier enough to have only 1 hour on Sunday devoted to this private hobby so I dropped it altogether. Besides, there were other religions that were so much more fun in the first place: better food, better rituals, boutique cultural contexts, more interesting DIY functions. Everyone in every bar knew what a “christian” was: Episcopalianism was only slightly less exotic than a Rum and Coke. But no one knew what a Gnostic Pagan was. 

Others may have other reasons for leaving and more heartfelt and less egotistical than mine. But there is one story. 

How does one get back? You have to be invited. I had one afternoon of emotional sap: listening to an old LP I found in the bottom of my closet cleaning out my Sophomore year dorm room. It was of 70s Christian music, and it brought back “all the feels” as they say today. And I cried a lot. Also I left it in the dorm, along with the record player I had it on. That’s how important those feels. But then one day – some 15 years later – I was invited back. The person that invited me was named Ethan. And his invite took the oddest of forms: for he only suggest that maybe, when I moved to San Francisco in 1997, I might have something in common with a local Episcopal Church. And it took me the better part of a year or two to hear the invite in my memory and respond. That community was a perfect way to get me back inside… 21 years later I think it worked, although my path has more than a thousands hairpin turns. Look, you never know how God is going to act. My invite to the Catholic Church came in the most unlikely of ways – from the husband of my Orthodox Goddaughter, who mentioned St Dominic’s to me offhandedly. When the time came Nathan’s recommendation calmed my nerves a bit. And by “coincidence” he was at the service when I made my profession of the Catholic faith.

Our job is to go to the lost sheep. We may not be the folks who “win them back” but Ethan and Nathan both extended invites to me.
How do we go to the Lost Sheep? How can we say the Kingdom of God is at hand in a way that they can hear? St Benedict, whose feast is today, has been nearly maimed into a political slogan by the ranty right, but the Father of Western Monasticism knew that living the kingdom properly wins converts.

At Mass last night, Fr D reminded us that even Dorothy Day knew you don’t do it with “social action” that comes without dogma, but that might be a way in. Finding out that the Church’s pro-life action includes housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, free education for kids and adults, justice for refugees, social services for the poor, medical consultancies (everything from foot-care to drug-interaction advice), and rehab clinics… doing these actions – you can do them all at my parish – will draw others in. Jesus said “let your good deeds shine before men” that they may praise God. Our right action will lead to others coming in for right praise. Our Orthopaxis (which can only flow from our Orthodoxy) will lead to others’ Orthodoxy and, in turn, their Orthopraxis as well.

Go out and find the lost sheep… and tell them the Kingdom is here. Now.

And invite them in.

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Typology for the Fourth

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 13th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et vota pinguium vestrorum non respiciam. 
Neither will I regard the vows of your fat beasts. 

Iconoclasm is the breaking of icons. In modern usage it tends to be a good thing: destroying “sacred cows” of the culture in order to progress in a field. But historically, iconoclasm was a retrogressive heresy, an attempt to go back in time to a mythical past for the sake of safety. People destroyed the sacred images in churches. And, since the Church teaches every human is an icon of God, every attack on the image was an attack on the divine archetype. So also today, although we forgot to our peril, attacking the icon of God is attacking God, himself.

Independence day. These are some awesome readings for a random Wednesday in July. I think they are very meaningful. Matthew is unusual in that his version gives us two demoniacs rather than one possessed person. We might see in the parable of the Gadarene Demoniacs a typology for our current situation.

There are two of them, as it were political parties or even candidates. Both parties are terrified of the Son of God and his followers, even though they need our votes. Between the failed social justice motions of one party and the failed moral actions of the other, all the demons have driven all the pigs mad. And the voters all at once charge into the water.

I do not labor under the impression or even the assumption of a “Christian Nation”. We once had a society with a Christian Veneer and that made many of us comfortable, but we have been wearing down that veneer for more than two centuries: and beneath it we were no more Christian than any other nation. We downgraded the Divine Icon of every African Slave in America to get our nation started, we trade off the Divine Icon of children born and unborn now to various political ends and selfish personal empowerment. We daily deny the divine icon of self and others in our consumption of porn, and we celebrate this denial in our horror movies, our news stories, our business choices, and our cheap plastic junk.

We are engaged in wars around the globe, the fruit of 6 presidential administrations. We revere as our honored dead the largest force of colonial oppression the world has ever known, dying for “Our Freedom” to continue in our iconoclasm. We have set up the world to destroy it. We siphon the wealth and resources of entire hemispheres into our yawning maw and crap out identically unique individualities based on the stuff we own instead of the icon within us. What we now call freedom we used to call license. We were once opposed to it. Now we demand it. We pass our political shell games off to others as “liberation” when what we really need is a new factory to produce more sprockets cheaply. The only thing that sets us apart from other powers engaged in the same actions today is July 4th is our holiday, not theirs. Still, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia are all on this train with us.

Calling out the truth from within, I do not put myself above this Leviathan for I help build it, I helped enforce it. My purchases feed it. For a long time I let it emotionally move me. The seeds were planted in 1776. It has taken 240 years to being the fruit to maturity. The pips were gleaned from the fruit our first parents dropped. The tempter was the same.

We get the fat beasts we deserve. We own the demons we curate.

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This needn’t ever have happened.

JMJ

The Readings for  in the 12th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Omnis arbor, quae non facit fructum bonum, excidetur, et in ignem mittetur. 
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

I’m having trouble finding it. It was this year’s “It’s Easter, let’s run a story slamming the Bible” story. Ancient carvings had been discovered that “proved” ancient Israel was pagan, polytheistic, and not at all like your Preacher wants you to imagine. In fact, it was such a mess that we might as well say there were no Jews in that period. I can’t find it, I think, because that part of the News Cycle has blown over. We’ve moved on. There will be other blasphemies.


Except anyone who reads the Bible can tell you that most of the history of the Israelites looks like this: 

God: Don’t eat shrimp.
Random person: Let’s try worshiping these trees, they say it’s ok to eat shrimp.
Everyone: Shrimp sounds good.
God: Send a gentile army in to snap them out of their idolatry.
Israel: Grf. We’re sorry! We’ve sinned! Forgive us!
God: Ok. Send the goyim back defeated.
Israel: They tried to kill us. We won. Now let’s eat.
Random person: Shrimp?
Repeat.

The entire context of the story is ignored as anyone will tell you every holiday is, “They tried to kill us. We won. Now let’s eat.” They leave off the “we were schmucks, and God was opening a can of Righteous Whoopass” parts.

And so, today’s passage from the Old Testament is one of my favourite stories of the kings of Judah, ever since I first heard it cited by Joseph Campbell in his Masks of God series. Our assigned reading abbreviates it and leaves off the good parts. But it catalogues quite a huge housecleaning. Grab a Bible and read through 2 Kings 2 and 3. As you read through it, notice how many things are actually in the Temple of Solomon, hanging out in the place built for worship of the Most High alone.

Then the king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, his assistant priests, and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the objects that had been made for Baal, Asherah, and the whole host of heaven. These he burned outside Jerusalem on the slopes of the Kidron; their ashes were carried to Bethel. He also put an end to the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to 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 to the Wadi Kidron, outside Jerusalem; he burned it and beat it to dust, in the Wadi Kidron, and scattered its dust over the graveyard of the people of the land. He tore down the apartments of the cult prostitutes in the house of the LORD, where the women wove garments for the Asherah. He brought in all the priests from the cities of Judah, and then defiled, from Geba to Beer-sheba, the high places where they had offered incense. He also tore down the high places of the gates, which were at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua, governor of the city, north of the city gate. The king also defiled Topheth in the Valley of Ben-hinnom, so that there would no longer be any immolation of sons or daughters by fire in honor of Molech. He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun; these were at the entrance of the house of the LORD, near the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the large building. The chariots of the sun he destroyed by fire. He also demolished the altars made by the kings of Judah on the roof (the roof terrace of Ahaz), and the altars made by Manasseh in the two courts of the LORD’s house. He pulverized them and threw the dust into the Wadi Kidron. The king defiled the high places east of Jerusalem, south of the Mount of the Destroyer, which Solomon, king of Israel, had built in honor of Astarte, the Sidonian horror, of Chemosh, the Moabite horror, and of Milcom, the Ammonites’ abomination. He broke to pieces the pillars, cut down the asherahs, and filled the places where they had been with human bones. Likewise the altar which was at Bethel, the high place built by Jeroboam, son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin—this same altar and high place he tore down and burned, grinding the high place to powder and burning the asherah…Josiah also removed all the temples on the high places in the cities of Samaria which the kings of Israel had built, provoking the LORD; he did the very same to them as he had done in Bethel. He slaughtered upon the altars all the priests of the high places that were there, and burned human bones upon them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.

Indeed, trees that do no bear good fruit are cut down.

Yesterday I suggested that the “narrow gate” of righteousness and the “broad gate” to destruction are both in the same Church. I suggested a lot of ways it’s possible to go down the dirt road to destruction just “doing church things” and forgetting about the Gospel. Today’s reading backs me up.


Think of the Temple as the human soul and realize that we need to be on guard at all times. Solomon was led astray by love for his wives, each asking for her own temple, and him caving in just to keep peace in his house. How many times do we do that, find a way to keep the peace by not keeping the faith? How many idols are in your temple? Where is your sun chariot, or your asheras, your altars to the signs of the Zodiac or your version of “Astarte, the Sidonian horror, of Chemosh, the Moabite horror, and of Milcom, the Ammonites’ abomination”?


Israel wasn’t paying attention. As we discover in the same passage there hasn’t been a Passover observed at all in generations! Things just got out of hand. All that was needed was someone to mind the fort a little more tightly. Someone needed to go right to the police at the first sign of trouble. And if your orchard starts bearing bad fruit, it’s time to chop some trees down just to keep the bad stuff from cross pollinating with the good stuff.


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Breaking up is Hard to Do.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Attendite ne justitiam vestram faciatis coram hominibus, ut videamini ab eis : alioquin mercedem non habebitis apud Patrem vestrum qui in caelis est. 
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  

The RSV says “your piety”. The KJV says “your alms”. The Greek word is δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosuné. It means justice, justness, righteousness. The Latin wins, here, I think. “Justitiam Vestram” which the Douay renders as “your Justice”. In the Septuagint, the Bible familiar to Jesus and his followers, δικαιοσύνη is used for the Hebrew “Tzedek”, the concept in Jewish religion, for someone who adheres to all the miztvot, who practices “justice” not in any way merely en vogue or culturally acceptable, but as decreed by God to be Just. Piety, as in the RSV, is part of it. Almsgiving is as well, but it includes keeping the Sabbath, keeping Kosher, wearing the right clothes, saying the right blessings at the right times, committing neither to’evah, nor sexual impurity, neither unjustly treating one’s family, slaves, nor laborers. It’s a complex conception that has nearly nothing to do with our concepts of “justice” now, which tend to be subjective and emotivist.

Jesus tells us not to do God’s Tzedek, or the feminine form is Tzedekah, in front of folks. I’m nearly sure he doesn’t mean “don’t let folks see you”. Rather he does mean, “don’t do it just so folks can see you.” He says if you do it so folks see you, you’ve had your reward.

I don’t do my charity so that folks see me, but I have to tell the federal government how much I give each year so that I get my tax refunds… I think that qualifies as “I’ve gotten my reward already.”  Then we turn our charity over the trumpeters.

The internet’s awesome for teaching. It’s great for entertainment. (I’ve posted so many music videos while tying this!) It’s brilliant for charity and support. But most of us confuse “likes” with “being liked”. Most of us confuse profiles for physicality – and I say this as a long time denizen of dating apps.  We march through the gnostic world of bytes and virtual dreamscapes forgetting that every avatar has a person behind it and many a nubile 19 year old is really a 53 year old balding dude with a basement apartment. And then there are the times I may not be a doctor, but I play one on the internet. To this world we go with our political actions, our righteous anger, our self-righteous indignation, our hated, and our echo-chambers of auto-adulation. (I’ve worked in it for 25 years, I’m allowed to know where I am.)

We’ve created a culture of performative virtue; moraltainment, if you will. It’s not real, they say, unless there are pics. The pics have to be posted on Instabook and Tweetagrams, discussed on Slackouts and posted on YouBlog. We get our rewards in likes and shares, in retweets and embeds. We call it social media, but there’s never anyone else paying attention. So it’s sorta social; demented and sad… but social. In other words, not only has the Devil got us bragging about our virtues, but he’s tricked us into bragging to no one at all.

When all is said and done, we have an addiction to it as well: not in the sense of a substance-based addiction, but rather in the ways we confuse a “like” on a website with actually being liked. We think a share means someone loves us. We think a dating profile is meeting someone. I have 300 friends on Facebook (but I have trouble getting 6 to come over for cards). We get our sense of validation, our sense of excitement from this virtual world.

When the war with Korea and China comes, I hope they get the internet first: that way we may have a chance. Otherwise we’ll be filming the incoming missiles on our smart phones or taking selfies with the blast shadows. Truly we will already have our reward.

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Brief thought on Elijah: Pick.

TZzztztztzzzztztzztzttztzztzt CHUSHPOW

JMJ

The Readings for St Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church 
Wednesday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Usquequo claudicatis in duas partes? Si Dominus est Deus, sequimini eum : si autem Baal, sequimini illum. 
How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Ba’al, then follow him. 

This story… I’m quite convinced the “fire of God descending” was more of a TZzztztztzzzztztzztzttztzztzt CHUSHPOW lightening flash and explosion. The fire even lapped up the water. And the part the reading skips, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape!” They seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and there he slaughtered them.” Ba’al simply means “lord”. It is, really, the non-Hebrew word for “El”.  Notice it’s kind of the same sounds.  

Elijah challenges us to pick: who is Lord. Mindful that you can only serve one lord, and, as Mr Dillon said, “you’ve got to serve somebody”. Elijah asks us to pick.

Pick.

St Mary of Egypt fought against all the lords of her life for 40 years. I’ve only just begun. Not only do I have to pick (I’ve picked already, thank you) I have to kill off all the parts of me that are prophets for the others.
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Deus Vult!

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)

Si Dominus voluerit. Et : Si vixerimus, faciemus hoc, aut illud. 
 If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that. 

I watched the Pope Francis movie last Saturday. One of the things it did was provide a huge amount of context for some of the Liberal Press’ favourite Francis quotes. The one that got me in the solar plexus was a rather loaded question about “the gay lobby” in the Church. It was presented on the airplane in rather oleaginous manner by an obsequious woman who felt she had to ask “permission to ask a question about a very delicate matter…” and then asked His Holiness how he was going to “confront the gay lobby in the church”. In the days of my political activism, having heard many such questions, I would have said “hater”. In this case, I won’t say that because being close to power makes us all very odd – as does being a journalist. Every journalist wants the Power to Say Something and to get kudos from their fellows for getting a good quote.

When confronted by such a disingenuous question the Pope let fly. The question, which, for all that it was well-oiled and fully pumped up with big words, really should be translated as, “Will you tell gay people to get out of the church?” The reply – now well known – was sound bitten as “who am I to judge?” Yet in full context the reply was a reminder to the journalist, to everyone on the flight, and to the rest of us, that God calls us all to holiness. There were quotes from the catechism, and a good bit of puffing from the Holy Father. It doesn’t matter where you start the walk, or how long it takes to get there, it’s where you end that’s important. And the Pope was asking in reply that if someone who identifies as Gay is sincerely seeking the Lord, who is he (or any of us) to judge? There are a lot of folks in the Church – gay and straight – who are not seeking the Lord at all. We have more to worry about. Yes, who am I to judge, but also, who are you to judge? 

Within the last couple of days Pope Francis has said something that has been reported as “God makes some people gay.”  I’ve been asked what I thought about it and, since I don’t believe in ontological differences based on sexual desire, I think it’s a fair question for me. And, coincidentally, here comes today’s reading from St James:

Behold, now you that say: Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year, and will traffic, and make our gain. Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that.

This passage reminds me that we don’t get to pick the events in our lives. We only get to pick the way we react to them. There is a line used by the Orthodox to discuss both the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks and also the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia: these God allowed to happen to the Church “because of our sins”.  Oddly this same line is never used to discuss the sack of Constantinople by the Latins which can be traced exactly to a political power play inside the Byzantine world that resulted in a bunch of Angry Latins. Does God allow political falls or not? Am I who I am because God made me this way? Does such formation happen at such an early age that it’s not possible to answer such a question?

It God wills and we live, we shall…

We are not trapped into our choices: but we are not in control of events. Does God make your parents get divorced? Or does God allow it to happen? Is some part of the “what makes me gay” having been raised by a single mother? Or having been abandoned by her? The divine pattern is not what makes us: it is the matrix in which we are made by our choices and our dance. 

In the larger context of Catholic teaching the Pope has said nothing new. God made me. God loves me. Because I have been raised by Christian parents in a Christian context this is not news to me. Even though my family and my churches growing up had some messed up ways of showing that love, they inculcated that knowledge in me. The older I get, the more I realize that my identity, my sense of self, my actions must all be in response to that primordial knowledge. God made me. God loves me. While I have some seriously rough places of selfishness, of dysfunction, of brokenness, of scars from my past – caused by others and by my own bad choices – I have a daily choice: do I act from those places, or do I act from the knowledge that God made me and God loves me? 

I can freely decide to make any corner of my being the very center and prime directive of my life. Or if God wills and we shall live,  I can act from that knowledge that God made me and God loves me.

I’m with the Pope on this one.

May not be a Bruce Lee quote. But it’s true.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)

Non rogo ut tollas eos de mundo, sed ut serves eos a malo.
I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil. 

There’s this great line in St Catherine’s writings, asking God not to take a temptation away from her, but rather to give her the victory over it. Of course, there’s also the line in the Our Father asking that we not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. 

We sometimes want an easy ride. We want a sermon that’s all jokes, we want a recipe that’s all hamburger helper. We want a religion that’s light and quick. How may Americans confuse Christianity with Mayberry, RFD? How many westerners are happy to call themselves Buddhists, but only on their own terms? (There are Dharma Punx who parallel the Orthodox Children of the Apocalypse in their serious rejection of Western values in the name of a deeper religious calling.) To be fair, before Americans got into the act, a lot of other people confused religion with “our culture”. God even calls out the People of Israel for doing that to Judaism in the Old Testament: creating an easy to get along, cultural thing that had little or no resemblance to the faith taught by the prophets – and a lot of resemblance to the practices of everyone else in the region. Everyone likes an easy religion.

Thing is, most religions are not intended to be easy. Classical Paganism was filled with rules, taboos, stipulations, food regulations… it took late 20th century writers to create a feel-good religion out of all that, a lackluster, Presbyterian sort of paganism for American bookstores. Oprah and Madonna turned the highest levels of Jewish Mysticism into something you could study with friends over a Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Anyone promulgating a traditionally stringent form of paganism gets accused of being a right-wing religious nut just like any other religious conservative.

Jesus’ prayer is a reminder that not even God himself thought this would be easy. St Mary of Egypt struggled for 40 Years in the Jordanian desert. If you don’t think the story is factual, remember it was told by Monks who, thus, at least acknowledged that theirs was a long struggle, a lifelong struggle. So is ours.

Along with Jesus, St Catherine and St Mary both know that without the struggle, the faith is meaningless. It’s ok to make choices, but doing away with temptation, doing away with evil, per se, is not the way to make disciples. 

Taking the easy way out is never the right way.

I’m wrestling with the virtue of fortitude and also with follow-through. It’s easier to run away. 

I am divine, you are dibranches.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)
St Athanasius, BDC

Omnem palmitem in me non ferentem fructum, tollet eum, et omnem qui fert fructum, purgabit eum, ut fructum plus afferat.
Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 

The Clash paraphrased this verse very well in 1982, singing: If I go there will be trouble and if I stay it will be double. For those of an earlier generation (or different genre), Lynn Anderson was a bit more poetic with I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Both artists reminding us that  Our Lord taught: love is not about warm fuzzies, but rather about a lot of work.  Jesus expects that our relationship with him will be rocky – for us. He’s already done the hard work though. He could not love us any better: he loves you just the way you are.

Still, there is something required of us. He likes our praise and worship, but he wants more than words. One of the Desert Fathers said, if you will it you can become wholly fire. This is what Jesus wants. If you’re on fire, he says. Show me. But we are, perhaps rightly, scared of fire. We know it’s going to burn. We know it’s going to not leave us unharmed, unchanged, unscathed. Jesus knows that life is not tried, it is merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire. It may look good to live fast, avoiding attachments, but it is the attachments, the pain, the struggle that grind down our edges, that make us into smooth, reflective surfaces to return his light.
We want, pardon the analogy, vegan love: warm feelings, romance with no meat, no death, no struggle. Jesus bled and died for this love. And wants us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. And to be honest, he expects us to die for it too. So like he says, it’s gonna be tough to stick around here, but it’s tougher still for the sticks that get cut off. When it comes to love, it’s not moonlight, it’s fire, or it’s fire.

Thing is, we’re prone to go the easy way. Jesus knows that when we can’t be with the one we love, we will love the one we’re witheven though that just gets really old after a while.  When we do it my way find ourselves craving more and more but getting less and less. We suffer from this silly idea that love will fill me up, complete me, make me all the me I’m supposed to be. Real love does that, yes, but only by destroying all of you, making you into the full human being God made you to be. You’ll be you, alright, but you’ll be totally changed, totally different. Because you’ll be Christ.

Love hurts. Yes. So why not pick the love that lasts forever?