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!