Thus was fulfilled.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Audite ergo, domus David. Numquid parum vobis est molestos esse hominibus, quia molesti estis et Deo meo? Propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum: ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel.

Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
Our verse from Isaiah says, ecce virgo concipiet, behold a virgin shall conceive. But St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was working with, at first, the Greek text of the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text as we know it. In Greek, the word used for the person who will conceive is “παρθένος” parthenos which not only means “virgin,” but also caries echoes of Artemis and Athene, and includes the concept of virgo intacta, The Hebrew, however, uses only the word עַלְמָ֗ה almah. It means only “young woman” or the rather formal title of “Maiden” without meaning, specifically, “virgin”.

There is a story from the Church’s tradition that, when the LXX was being translated, a young worker came to this passage and wanted to write the Greek word for girl, νύμφη nymphe but the Holy Spirit intervened and said parthenos. The young man said, “But Lord, that word means young girl.” And the Holy Spirit said, “Write parthenos and I will show you the fulfillment of it.” This young man, so the Tradition states, was Simeon, who was kept alive to a great age to see the fulfillment of this promise when the Blessed Virgin presented Our Lord in the Temple at Candlemas.

But even so, the story discussed has nothing to do with Jesus or Mary, right? There’s a war going on, and the King wants to know if God is with us or against us in this war. Isaiah says, God is with David. And ask anything you want as a sign.  The king says he dares not tempt God – even though it is at God’s own command. But God says, “Fine, if you will not ask, I will show anyway…” This has nothing to do with Messiah or anything. But the Angel says it does. How is that?

For the early Church and for the Holy Spirit, for the Apostles and the Patristic communities, the entire world was pointing to Jesus. The quest was to find out how. The Old Testament must, in all its ways, prefigure Messiah. So we must meditate and pray to open the text. The same way that the Angel said this unrelated verse from Isaiah is a Messianic Prophecy, so also is the passage from Genesis about the head of the serpent, so also the making-mute of Zachariah is a sign that the Old Covenant is done, so also Samson is a sign of John the Baptist, Judith of the Blessed Virgin, Daniel in the Lions’ Den of Christ in Hell, the Red Sea of Baptism, Manna of the Eucharist, Egypt or Babylon a sign of “this world” and the escape therefrom a sign of our Christian growth… the list goes on.

The image at the top of the page is of the Welsh Poet, Taliesin. Taliesin seems a bridge between the pagan darkness in Wales and the Christian revolution of Arthur. In fact, the poetry of Taliesin (as we have it) weaves together the two Wales into a unified whole that allows us to the see the Christian truth foreshadowed in the past, a Pagan Old Testament, if you will, in the myths and stories the Cymry told each other in their camps and homes long before St David and the missionaries ever got there.

Certainly the ancient Bards of Wales never intended or imagined Christian context for their stories, but once the Truth was revealed, all could see He had been present all along in their quest.

So it can be in our lives: once Christ is revealed as not “a true story” but as “The Truth” then anything that was true before is, lo, a bit of Christ present and still true. Yet a fuller, deeper, and more complex meaning is revealed.

This was how the first Christians read the Bible. We inherit their readings in our Tradition, but the skill seems lost. It’s hard to look at a Biblical Story and not want to see the literal truth or untruth of the letters. If the Bible is not History what good is it? But the Bible is history. That’s just not all it is.  If that’s all it is, it might as well be any other history text.

But the Bible, to the Church Fathers, is more like a Tarot Deck than a History Book. Prophecies are Fulfilled not because they were literal predictions that literally came true in a verbatim, literal way. So boring. They are fulfilled, they are Made Full of the Holy Spirit and bring forth the Word of God like Mary.  They are signs that await the explication of their fullest meaning in Christ’s teaching, in the Church, in the action of the Holy Spirit, in the lives of the Saints.

I said Tarot Deck and I mean no scandal: anyone can go out and buy a book of “the meanings of the Tarot Cards” and learn that the Ace of Cups means a new love affair, but a proper reading of cards, of stars, of the I Ching… of anything, really… is not just “fortune telling” but rather visual meditation. Done right any discussion of any set of Symbols should lead us to Christ (if we’re telling the Truth). This is why those who Translate the Bible to be “inclusive” are missing the point. We’re not the message, the subject, or topic of the Bible: Jesus is.

Like Taliesin wove his text of Pagan Past into a Christian Future, the Church has done the same with the Old Testament, missionaries have done where ever the Gospel has gone, and you need to do the same with your life in the Church. Where has God acted that brought you to the Faith you now have? If you are not in the faith, how has your life brought you at all to reading these words? Here God is acting.

The music is playing all around us, and all we need to do is sing.

A translation of Deus Duw Delwat

O God, the God of formation,
Ruler, strengthener of blood.
Christ Jesus, that guards.
Princes loud-proclaiming go their course
For a decaying acquisition.
The praising thy mercy.
There hath not been here;
O supreme Ruler;
There hath not been; there will not be,
One so good as the Lord.
There hath not been born in the day of the people
Any one equal to God.
And no one will acknowledge
Any one equal to him.
Above heaven, below heaven,
There is no Ruler but he.
Above sea, below sea,
He created us.
When God comes
A great noise will pierce us,
The day of judgment terribly.
Messengers from the door,
Wind, and sea, and fire.
lightning and thunder
A number without flattery.
The people of the world groaning
Will be concealed.
Kings will shudder [that] day,
Woe awaits them!
When the recompenser shall appear,
Let the heaven appear below.
A ruddy wind will be brought
Out to the cinder,
Until the world is as desolate
As when created.

Do not thy passions counteract
What thy lips utter?
Thy going in thy course into valleys,
Dark without lights.
The love-diffusing [Lord] will separate us.
The land of worldly weather,
A wind will melt the trees:
There will pass away every tranquillity
When the mountains are burnt.
There will be again inhabitants
With horns before kings;
The mighty One will send them,
Sea, and land, and lake.
There will be again a trembling terror,
And a moving of the earth,
And above every field,
And ashes the rocks will be;
With violent exertion, concealment,
And burning of lake.
A wave do ye displace,
A shield do ye extend
To the travelling woe,
And violent exertion through grief.
And inflaming through fury
Between heaven and earth.

I have not been without battle.
Bitter affliction was frequent
Between me and my cousins.
Songs and minstrels.
And the hymns of angels,
Will raise from the graves,
They will entreat from the beginning.
They will entreat together publicly,
On so great a destiny.
Those whom the sea has destroyed
Will make a great shout,
At the time when cometh
He, that will separate them.
Do not thy passions counteract
What thy lips utter?
Thy going in thy course into valleys,
Dark without lights.
And mine were his words.
And mine were his languages.

The lance was struck
And my side was pierced.
It will be struck to you also…
I have not been without battle.
Bitter affliction was frequent
Between me and my cousins.
Frequent trials fell
Between me and my fellow-countrymen.
There was frequent contention
Between me and the wretched.
Those that placed me on the cross
I knew when young.
That drove me on the tree,
My head hung down.
Stretched were my two feet,
So sad their destiny.
Stretched with extreme pain
The bones of my feet.
Stretched were my two arms,
Their burden will not be.
Stretched were my two shoulders,
So diligently it was done.
Stretched were the nails,
Within my heart.
Stretched was the spiking,
Between my two eyes.
Thick are the holes
Of the crown of thorns in my head.
The lance was struck
And my side was pierced.
It will be struck to you also,
As your right hand (struck me).
To you there will be no forgiveness,
For piercing me with spears.
And the Ruler we knew not
When thou wert hung.
Ruler of heaven, Ruler of every people!
We knew not, O Christ! that it was thou.
If we had known thee,
Christ, we should have refrained from thee.

Do not the brave know
The greatness of their progeny?
Ye have committed wickedness
Against the Creator.
A hundred thousand angels
Are to me witnesses,
Who came to conduct me
After my hanging,
When hanging cruelly,
Myself to deliver me
In heaven there was trembling
When I had been hung.
When I cried out Eli!
Do not the brave know
The greatness of their progeny?
A country present will meet thee,
And while it may possibly be yours,
Three hundred thousand years save one,
A short hour of the day of everlasting life.

This time I got away with it! Right?

JMJ


The Readings for Wednesday 2 Advent (Year 2):
Memorial of St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Quare dicis, Jacob, et loqueris, Israël: Abscondita est via mea a Domino, et a Deo meo judicium meum transivit?
Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel: My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?

Recently, visiting my parents house for a vacation, I was “triggered” a number of times towards, as the morning prayer says, “my accustomed failings”. But I had just read Matt Frad’s The Porn Myth and he points out that when we are triggered, we need to call it out. When we feel the old patterns of sin forming up we need to say it is so, out loud, verbally (not just think to ourselves) and ask for help. The entire time I was on vacation I named triggers out loud, mostly in the moment. The experiment was a success in that I got home without having any grave matter to worry about.

Of course once I got home, this all fell apart. Work, normal life, riding the bus, and maybe doing things I shouldn’t have, interrupted this process. In sum, vacation gave me time to struggle, but, of course lack of a real schedule disrupted my devotional life. Coming home restored my schedule, but disrupted tye ascesis, the struggle, the jihad.

But God hasn’t punished me yet, so he’s giving me a free pass, right?

Abscondita est via mea a Domino, et a Deo meo judicium meum transivit.

In the Hebrew and the Greek, this verse says, essentially, God’s not watching. He missed me in the judgment. The rest of the passage is God saying “you’re an idiot.” Today we could add a third option: God’s not watching, if he is he has skipped me… and there is no God any way. God still says, “You’re an idiot.” But we do have more choices now… You’ll remember from earlier in the week: God only delays judgement to give us more of a chance to repent.

It’s easy to forget that the purposes of space and time are to work out our salvation. Forgetting that, any delay seems like a reprieve. I don’t need to struggle with sin right now: I’m on vacation. I don’t have time to pray right now, I have to go to work. I can feed the poor later. I can say I love you, Dad, tomorrow. 

Today, though, is the day of salvation; because today is judgement day. If we think in theological terms, God is outside of Time. God is omnipresent in time as well as space. Judgement day is happening for God at the same “time” as my next sin. Judgement is happening now. Today is the day to be damned. Today is the day to be saved.

God does not delay, as some of us imagine delay. God sees our every action – not only our sins but also our repentance. Why not make the struggle glorious today, brother? Why not destroy that sin today? Why not wage war against the unfleshly powers of evil in heavenly places by destroying their hold on you today? My way is not hid from the Lord, in fact, quite the reverse. And so he loves you even still.

Why not say I love you today?

It’s all sin. Come and feast.

Happy St Nicholas Day!

JMJ
The Readings for Wednesday 1 Advent (Year 2):
Et accesserunt ad eum turbæ multæ, habentes secum mutos, cæcos, claudos, debiles, et alios multos: et projecerunt eos ad pedes ejus, et curavit eos.
Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. 
Matthew 15:30

In a world where we don’t want to imagine there is sin… it helps to realize what sin is. We want to think of sin as a moral infraction, a “breaking a rule” and, in some ways, this is the case. But it is not a breaking of a rule the way that one might cheat on ones taxes or sneak out of work early. Sin is a failure to be what was intended but not by us, not even by a set of rules, but rather by God in God’s overarching pattern for all things. St Augustine calls it, “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” And if we take deed or utterance as symbols, Jesus is erasing a lot of sin here.

In the 9th Chapter of St John’s Gospel, Jesus is asked “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus reply that it was neither does not undo the idea that being born blind is an offense against the created order, that the design of God requires everyone to see God’s works and, seeing them, to praise God for them. There is no moral infraction – but the sickness of sin leads us to a world where someone might be born unable to see and praise God.

In today’s passage it is all the mutos, cæcos, claudos, debiles, et alios multos,  the mute, the blind, lame, and the weak, and many others.  These are all parts of God’s creation but human sin has left them alone, lost, weak. I don’t mean that human sickness is caused by sin, (That’ll make you blind!) but rather that all of our losses are because of sin. Sin is in the world, ergo there are failures.  Jesus sets them right.

In my youth there were preachers aplenty who said AIDS was God’s punishment on “the gay”. I know these folks still exist, but in my youth they were very common even in what we think of as mainline and liberal denominations. I once walked out on one preaching at NYC’s Cathedral of St John the Divine. Their god has sloppy aim: for in punishing gays he also got homeless mothers, and unborn children, It is wrong to say that disease was sent to punish you. It is totally right, however, to say that all disease, all sickness, all poverty, all homelessness, all need and necessity, all cripplings, all maimings, all murders, all violence, all war, all natural disasters, all – for all we know – super novas and the asteroid belt are all the result of sin and the war our soul center has waged against God for ever.

Jesus is coming to set things aright – not to heal people like a magician, to show the power of God (which only begs the question of why tsunamis and why AIDS and why I missed the bus this morning and was late again and got fired as a result). Jesus miracles are not a sign of Magic that you and I somehow missed, but rather each miracle and all of them together, is a sign of what God wants the world to be.

Only our sin keeps it from being so.

And so, Advent. The coming of Christ to save us, to judge us, to set us free, and condemn us – what is this hope then? The sign of the kingdom that is the Mass:

Et faciet Dominus exercituum omnibus populis in monte hoc convivium pinguium, convivium vindemiæ, pinguium medullatorum, vindemiæ defæcatæ. Et præcipitabit in monte isto faciem vinculi colligati super omnes populos, et telam quam orditus est super omnes nationes.

A time is coming when the Lord of hosts will prepare a banquet on this mountain of ours; no meat so tender, no wine so mellow, meat that drips with fat, wine well strained. Gone the chains in which he has bound the peoples, the veil that covered the nations hitherto; on the mountain-side, all these will be engulfed.

Come to Mass. Bring your failings, your weaknesses, sins, losses, maiming, and broken breads to lay at Jesus feet. and see this  restoration, this Kingdom of God in action… only our sin keeps it from being so.

All Teh Feelz

+
JMJ

Today’s readings:

Dixit Jesus, “Cui ergo similes dicam homines generationis hujus? et cui similes sunt? Similes sunt pueris sedentibus in foro, et loquentibus ad invicem, et dicentibus: Cantavimus vobis tibiis, et non saltastis: lamentavimus, et non plorastis.”
Jesus said, “To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.'”

Luke 7:31-32
The first time ever I wrestled with this description I think I imaged that Jesus liked “the people of this generation”, or at least pitied them. Pity, in a way, may be a good word, but like is not. In fact Jesus is calling them fools. He’s also saying they are foolish for all their feelings.  Over and over, it seems to me today’s generation(s) are more intune with Jesus’ time than we like to admit. 
I recently re-read Calvin Miller’s wonderful retelling of the New Testament story, The Singer Trilogy. Chapter 13 opens with this verse:

No person ever is so helpless as
the man in whom joy and misery
sleep comfortably together. 

No physician can give health and
happiness to the man who enjoys
his affliction. For such a man
health and happiness are always
contradictory.

It goes on to tell the story of a man with a maimed hand and arm. The Jesus character (called “The Singer”) offers to heal the man fully if he “will just desire it whole and believe it can be.” The man cannot do so, for his whole being is subsumed in the pain, almost as though to be healed would be to rob him of his being. In response to repeated offers to heal him, the man says only, “Stop your mocking. I am a sick old man whom life has cheated of a hand.” In the end the Singer leaves the man alone and in pain waiting “for the Singer to join him in his pity.”
So many of our stories today are about people who don’t want healing, they want mutual pity. They don’t want a way out, they want to be trapped in their pain, confusion, and lament – and to trap all of us there with them. Their anger forms walls around their pride, their self-definition is generated by negation: I am not-that. Our affirmation of even the possibility of truth causes pain. I wrote yesterday that to save those around us, “The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.” Someone who has been there might have to thread the labyrinth again and slay the Minotaur. 
But who would do that? Who has been there… and wants to go back in? I think Jesus calls each of us to that task. We are, each of us, skilled at some labyrinth somewhere. Go get a ball of thread.

Pie in the Sky By and By When You Die

Today’s readings:

Beati pauperes, quia vestrum est regnum Dei.
Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Luke 6:20b
It seems entirely possible to read this and other passages as if God likes poor people and hates the rich, as if there are so many ways that the poor are blessed in the afterlife – and the rich are damned – that it must be quite easy to “buy your way into heaven” by getting rid of all your stuff. That reading can work really well for a certain sort of activist who wants to overthrow the system and make everyone “equal”, whatever that might mean. It also works equally well for another sort of activist who wants to condemn all religion as the opiate of the masses.

It is not so: there is no state on this life that will “fix” us in this problem. St Basil says (emphasis added):

Not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us. For the Lord Himself has fulfilled every work which leads to happiness, leaving Himself an example for us to follow.

You are not virtuous simply because you are poor. Wealth, per se, is not listed among the sins, but pride and envy are, both.

In the Gospel, however, we have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn’t have time to care about our political squabbles.

St Ambrose of Milan notes (emphasis again added):

But although in the abundance of wealth many are the allurements to crime, yet many also are the incitements to virtue. Although virtue requires no support, and the offering of the poor man is more commendable than the liberality of the rich, still it is not those who possess riches, but those who know not how to use them, that are condemned by the authority of the heavenly sentence. For as that poor man is more praiseworthy who gives without grudging, so is the rich man more guilty, who ought to return thanks for what he has received, and not to hide without using it the sum which was given him for the common good. It is not therefore the money, but the heart of the possessor which is in fault. And though there be no heavier punishment than to be preserving with anxious fear what is to serve for the advantage of successors, yet since the covetous desires are fed by a certain pleasure of amassing, they who have had their consolation in the present life, have lost an eternal reward. 

St John Chrysostom would warn that all of us are in danger of condemnation:

The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.

I’ve noted, often, a desire to care for the poor in abstract, but not in specifics. A desire to run charities, while at the same time a fear of the poor procreating; a desire to educate, but not to evangelize (cuz, why would they want to come to our church?). There are people who smell out there. The first time I heard Christians not wanting to let “them” into “our” church was not with Joel Osteen was worried about Hurricane Harvey, but rather back at the turn of the century when a nice Episcopal congregation was afraid that feeding the homeless on Friday would mess things up too much for liturgy Sunday.

We’re really scared of the lower classes in this country: see how easily a populist political movement that, a few years ago, would have been called part of the 99%, is now called “deplorables”. We’re ok with poverty in the abstract, but not in the particular.

Jesus was, I think, mostly poor and perhaps often homeless. But not always. But he was always from among the laboring class: lower class, smelly, sweaty. Pious. But not always the “best class”. God has no preferential option for the poor in terms of salvation. And, even if there was such a thing, here in the first world, with you reading my essays on the internet, neither of us qualify. We’re rich.

And condemned. We can all be equally warned by the words of St Paul, Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Jesus wants to draw us all into his Kingdom. With man – and our political aspirations – this is not possible. But with God, all things are possible. We’re left holding the bag of junk and our job is to give the junk away to those who have none and then offer all of it to Christ. 

Takes a cool hand…

Today’s Readings:

An oculus tuus nequam est, quia ego bonus sum?
Is your eye evil, because I am good?
Matthew 20:15b
We live in very interesting times, do we not? I say that in the style of the infamous Chinese curse, of course. When met with the anti Christian actions of the right and the left, what are we to do, as Christians? What should be our goal? Certainly racism is bad and the Catholic and Orthodox bishops of America have condemned it, not just a little, but a lot. Certainly the anti Christian actions of the Left (did you see the Media gushing over the Eugenics in Iceland) have left us with an inability to take refuge on either side of the political spectrum. When we topple statues of Margaret Sanger as quickly as we topple statues of Robert E. Lee, then I shall think we are on the right path.
But there is no logic, nor is there supposed to be: for both sides have denied the Logos, the plan God has woven into all of the universe, which involves no death, nor hate. It does not allow us to treat different races as impure, nor babies as inconveniences. Nor does it allow us to invent lies whole cloth just to say, “God made a new thing.” When your god just walks around confirming your likes and dislikes, maybe you’ve made up your god too.
But none of these people want anything to do with our God, because he wants to do with everyone.
God’ll have none of your bickering, he wants to save the Abortionists and the Racists, God wants to save the divorcees and the same-sex married. God will save both the transgender and the Duck Dynasty. God will have none of those things you call divisions.
God’s gone fishing and he nets all of us.
But if I have to go to a party with them, then I’m not going.
I used to think them was about hating them, or them hating me. I can’t go to church with them because they hate me.
But, one day, praying for my brothers and sisters in Christ, someone jumped up and yelled “and for their conversion”. And I realized that the issue with inviting “them” to Church is “I might have to admit I am wrong.”  Pure human pride. 
Do we have an evil eye because God is good?
Do I imagine you’re not my brother or sister in Christ based on politics or something else? Shouldn’t I invite you to Church then? Do I have to admit my hatred of you? My assurance you’ll embarrass me, you anti-faith leftist? How will I ever explain you to my “really” Christian friends, you racist, neonazi SOBs? 
This is a failure of love. 
What we have here is a failure to communicate the Gospel.
All of the Gospel is “Taste and see…” but that one person you want to change before they get to Church… that’s where your Gospel fails. That one person that must get (even just a little) fixed before we want to feel good around them, that’s where your God can’t go. I have no problem seeing that some must change before (say) absolution can be given, or some must find ways to live together without sex, or to have sex without fear of God’s blessings… but God doesn’t demand them to to that before they set their foot in the door.
How can they convert if they don’t hear the Gospel? They are not going to hear it on the street. If you’re not going out to the antifa and the minutemen to tell them what time Mass is on Sunday… You’re giving God a long row to hoe.
And you’re doing it wrong.

Paul on the Hill of Athens

Today’s Readings:

{The Spirit} will guide you to all truth. John 16:13
What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. Acts 16:23


I love that these two readings are a set, coming as we ramp up to Pentecost. The entire mystery of Passover is about to be revealed to the entire world: What was for the Jews the “Liberation from Egypt” was only a sign, a type of liberation for all the world. What happened in Holy Week broke that open like a sealed scroll and handed it on to all the world, no longer revealed only to initiates, but common to all. What was, at Pentecost, the giving of the Law to those same initiates, prepared now to evangelize the world, becomes the Keys of Heaven for whole world. God’s farmers, God’s shepherds, God’s workmen sent out into the Vineyard to gather all in. And what do they find – Peter, Paul, John, and the other Apostles – when they get out into the world?
They find that God has been sowing seeds in all cultures, in all places: not only Israel, but all places are prepared for the Gospel! Athens, Rome, India, all are ready to be freed in the Liberation from Demons by the world’s Passover; brought out of Egypt, with the law inscribed on their hearts, to the Glory of a land flowing with milk and honey.
Pope St Gregory the Great realized this, as did so many others: the Jesuits in China, the Franciscans in the Americas, the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac… we stand not in a world empty of God, but in a world made by God, through His Logos. Jesus is the very warp and weft of the universe. We will never go anywhere he has not been first.
Not even grief, or joy:
Imagine the man you call “Daddy” died and you get to see him, finally, in heaven… and Jesus has done that.  Our Lord has done even that: lost a parent, and been reunited with him. And I can’t but imagine  how much more heaven must have been filled with Joy at that meeting. When Jesus says, “Daddy.”
Anything that is, is for us now: for our salvation, for our uncovering, for the Passover of God has redeemed it all.
Still we push it back into darkness sometimes.
And in fear we hide from it, we slay children in the womb and on the street, we bomb music venues, we bomb villages. Islam has done nowhere half as much damage to the world as Wal*Mart, and for every girl kidnapped and freed by Boko Haram, there are 11,575 children enslaved in China making our t-shirts and electronics.
We struggle to hide in a darkness of our own making from the very light God uses to make everything.
And yet God cries out: what you worship unknowingly, I proclaim to you. Hear me and I will guide you into all Truth: the only truth that is or can ever be. Jesus.

According to Hoyle


Today’s readings:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Baseball and Mixed Martial Arts are very different sports. One can play both, of course, but not at the same time and not on the same field. One cannot play baseball by MMA rules, nor vice versa. Neither can one crossweave the two sets of rules into something new and call it by either name. The rules of baseball are the rules of baseball. The rules of football, of America football, of rugby, of hurling, of all sports are each unique and their own thing. You can’t make them up as you go along, and, should someone do so, they are in fact playing another game. Equally fun, perhaps, but it’s not Cricket.

As Easter rolled closer this year I was reminded of how many of my friends do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ and I do not speak of the Atheists or others for whom this is laughable. Rather I am thinking of those who would take the name Christian, even saying that they are “reclaiming” it or defending it from people who believe silly things like Virgin Births and Risings.

What has me mystified is why? What’s the point? I mean, seriously: the Jesus you’re left with is laughable, powerless, and without purpose. In fact you have to make up stuff – politics and social justice – and fill his mouth with words he never said in order to have any religion at all. You have to make palatable myths out of the doctrine, to say “this isn’t really true” even while you profess it. You have to yell “Christ is Risen” while you cross your fingers and say, “well, it’s really just a symbol, or historical artefact…”

I don’t see the point. There are social justice groups that do that, there are political movements that do that, there are even other religions that already do that. Most of these folks strike me as a cross between the Humanist Society of New York and Reconstructionist Judaism, to be honest, but not really either of those, either. It’s better, somehow, to corrupt one that has historical boundaries and turn out from their communities people who are faithful to God whilst making claims against them of “h8” and “bigotry”. It’s better to make up new doctrines and call real Christians “sticks in the mud” and other names less charitable; to make the claim you’re being inclusive whilst undermining and destroying both the structure and the foundation. You cannot say something has evolved when you’ve torn it down; when you’ve jury-rigged a “worship space” in the ruble of your theological deconstructions.

Somehow this is all good, I guess.

Yet, following the Apostles, I shall take my home in Christ who is Way, Truth, and Life; and in the Church he founded. I will rest in his light and eat his bread. Increasingly I find there that I have more in common with the pious and respectful faithful of other religions than I do with those who would destroy my own; with those who follow a different path and name it such rather than with those who follow a different path and masquerade it about as mine. I will pray for his mercies on those within and without his fold and I will not confuse the two in the name of politeness. It is neither mercy or charity to say someone is right when they are wrong. Nor is it grace. But the Truth of the Apostolic Preaching (who is always and only the Risen Christ) can always and only be spoken in love.

In love, therefore, with the very salvation of your soul: baseball is baseball.

Tikkun Olam.

Today’s Readings:

For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:17-18 (Douay)
This sounds like Jesus is speaking riddles, doesn’t it? Or even contradicting himself within a few words: God didn’t send Jesus into the world to Judge, but if you reject Jesus you’re already judged. There is subtle world play going on in the Greek as well – so don’t worry. Set that over there and we’ll get back to it.
We know the world is broken. If you don’t think the world is broken, step away from the computer: you’re not going to get much out of this posting. But if you do think it’s broken – or, maybe, even a just a bit too messy, read on. You don’t have to be a Christian, or religious, or even a theist to see this. The world is broken. There are wars and greed and violence, injustice, evil everywhere. I don’t really care what your theological point on this might be, all we need to do is admit the brokenness. 
To Christians, this is sin and it is evidence of humanity’s participation in sin that – seemingly – no matter what we do to try and fix it, we mess it up more. Gypsy moths and kudzu are both wonderful examples of this: we brought Kudzu to the USA from Japan to keep soil in place during a severe drought in the early 20th Century. Now – it covers the South better than veils cover a bride. We accidentally brought it to a place where it had no predators (bugs and animals) nor were Americans ready to start eating it as they do in Japan; and it came to a perfect temperature/humidity for growth. Boom. Kudzu everywhere. We did the same thing to Gypsy moths: bringing them here to cross-breed with our native silk producers in the 19th Century, but they escaped… and boom. They eat everything now. (I remember walking through the forest once, in High School. All you could hear was the munching of leaves – a very spooky sound!) In Byzantine piety (Catholic and Orthodox) there are prayers that we say asking God to forgive us our sins “voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance.”  It’s important to realize: just being here, doing something… things happen.
The world is broken. This is where the word play comes in! You’ll need to know two Greek words. Forgive the lesson: 
  • κρίνω (krino) “to judge” or “to divide”. You krino the chaff from the grain.
  • σῴζω (sozo) “to save” or “to make whole”. Jesus always says “your faith has made you whole” which equally means “your faith has saved you”.
Now, our verse might make a little more sense if we parse the scary words like this:

For God sent not his Son into the world, to break the world apart, but that the world may be made whole by him… He that doth not believe, is already broken apart…
What it means is “If you’re not working with Jesus for the Healing of the World, you’re participating in the breaking apart of it. You’re already on the wrong side of the equation. Jesus doesn’t have to condemn you – to cut you off. You’ve already done so to yourself.”
There is, really, several more layers of theology there to go though (indeed, in Hebrew, Jesus’ name is the same as the Greek Sozo: healer, whole-maker, savior). To be broken most apart is eternal hell. Yet this is enough for now: to know that God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world (break it apart) but that the world through him by be saved (made whole).
This is the #PaschaOption for us today then: to participate in that healing. I know that there are reasons to worry about the state of the world. But I am not convinced we can run away. There are those who don’t want to hear about Jesus. There are those who don’t want to know about sexual morality, about economic justice, about welcoming the stranger, but the Church needs to be out there doing it anyway. There are those who feel threatened by pro life activities like food distribution, opposing unjust war, ending the death penalty, ending abortion – but the Church must do it anyway. She cannot, however, do it by force – and that includes enacting laws. She must do it like Jesus: by sozo. Indeed, that’s how she did it in the Roman Empire. It was our way of life that won the day. “See how these Christians love one another.”
What can you do to live the #PaschaOption? There is a tradition among all denominations of Judaism called “Tikkun Olam” – the repair of the world. I was surprised to find it the subject of a Children’s song – from Sesame Street no less! It well makes the point: any act of mercy, of kindness, of love is a participation in that process of healing. Again, I’ll not bet on universalism – a wager I’d lose because of free will – but I will wager on this quote from Robert Kennedy: 

“Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.” These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
        “If Athens shall appear great to you,” said Pericles, “consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty.” That is the source of all greatness in all societies, and it is the key to progress in our time.

I don’t think we can (or should) try to “rebuild Christendom”. But I will settle for taking that moment of the Mass when heaven strikes earth and God is here, now, and bringing it with me to work. If we each did that, just once, for each Mass, once for each Divine Liturgy, one point of Sozo in the midst of all the krino, by God’s grace we could change everything.

Do not Display Yourself

For the Gospel for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18):

A homily from the works of St John Chrysostom, Bishop. 

And when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.

Here we do well to sigh aloud, and to wail bitterly: for not only do we imitate the hypocrites, but we have even surpassed them. For, brothers and sisters, I know many, not merely fasting and making a display of it, but instead they neglect to fast, and yet still make a show as if being one of them that fast. They cloak themselves with an excuse worse than their sin. For “I do this,” say they, “that I may not offend everyone.” What? There is a law of God which commands these things, and you’re worried about “offense”? You imagine, I think, that in the keeping of God’s law there is offense, and in not keeping God’s law you are saving your neighbors from offense? And what can be worse than this folly?

When the Lord Jesus said, “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,” it was not of hands that he was speaking, of course, but of our duty to keep our piety hidden from all. When he commanded us to enter into our closet for prayer, he didn’t say to go there alone all the time, nor even to go there primarily. He command us to pray, but he reminded us to be private. So likewise here, in commanding us “to be anointed” when we fast, he is not giving us a new command to anoint ourselves! As one can see clearly from David and from Daniel it was the fashion, for festive occasions to anoint oneself. Jesus says that we must anoint ourselves, not that we should positively do this, but that by all means we might endeavor, with great strictness, to hide what we were doing from others. If we were to always anoint ourselves when fasting that would just as surely proclaim it before others as fake morbidity.

Jesus does not make the fast more strict, nor command us to practice more of it, but he does command us that we should not lose our reward because of our pride and vainglory. Of course both hypocrites and the pious have the same command – to fast. Yet to those who actually follow Jesus the command is made all the more easy: he adds nothing to our toils, but only insists that we gather our wages with all security. Jesus  will not suffer us to go away unrewarded, as these others do.

Think of an athlete, a gymnast in the Olympic games. Though he works before so great a multitude sitting there, and so many princes, he desires to please only one: the judge; and this though the judge be much the inferior to the athletes. We have a twofold motive for displaying the our victory only to Christ. Jesus is the one supreme Judge. Also he is beyond compare fully superior to all that are sitting in the theatre.  Yet we still greatly enjoy making our display before others – and these cannot only not give us the prize, but they can also take it away from us!