What really scares you?

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

Certus sum enim quia neque mors, neque vita, neque angeli, neque principatus, neque virtutes, neque instantia, neque futura, neque fortitudo, neque altitudo, neque profundum, neque creatura alia poterit nos separare a caritate Dei, quae est in Christo Jesu Domino nostro. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

JMJ

All right, yes. It is All Hallows’ Eve; in fact as I write it is after first vespers. But this reading at Mass this morning made me cry. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. I’ve been thinking about this all day. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. And yesterday’s reading said all things are working for our good. Follow st. Paul’s argument in this chapter:

The flesh is weak. We are born in the Flash and we are tempted by the flesh. Yet through adoption in Christ, we are children of God, Children of the spirit. And in this adoption in this Grace we are victorious. And so everything that was bad before now only leads us closer to God. Everything that was a threat before now is completely destroyed. Paul, of course, is not saying that we cannot be hurt by the sword but he is saying the sword cannot hurt anything important.

You may remember Orwell’s 1984. I don’t remember a lot of it, but Room 101 sticks with me. In Room 101 the state applied torture to the worst traitors. The torture was the thing the traitor most feared: “the worst thing in the world.” For the hero of the book, Winston Smith, the worst thing is rats. He is tortured (by fear – not by physical pain) into saying that his lover, Julia, should be fed to the rats instead of him. That’s all it takes: giving up of his love: making his own avoidance of pain to be of more importance than her experience of it. Once he had thrown Julia under the bus he didn’t need to be tortured anymore. He was let go.

I wrote yesterday, if I lose Jesus, literally nothing else matters. If I gain Jesus, literally nothing else matters. Paul, today, tells us as long as we walk forward through anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword, death, life, angels, principalities, the present, the future, powers, height, depth – forward always in faith – we will be victorious. Paul knows that the flesh will chicken out at any one of those things, or pride might make us “buck up” despite our fear. Paul wants us to know that the Love of God in Christ is the only thing that matters.

What scares you? I don’t mean, are you scared of heights or Stephen King movies. What really scares you? What conversations make you feel backed into a corner over your faith? What scares you the most about having to be a confessional Christian at some point? Losing your job? Losing your home? Losing your ability to support your family or yourself? Paul was writing to a people who could lose their life – and did – by the hundreds. And he was telling them that, yes, you could die. But that there was a more important victory gained by that death. I think he would say the same to us: yes, all that you fear is possible – and more. But so what, he would continue, you still have Christ!

Tomorrow’s feast of All Saints can be called the feast of all those who didn’t give a fig for things that scared them. I’m not saying they didn’t get scared, mind you, but they went forward anyway. Sometimes that can just be war or a social injustice. They picked up their cross and manfully strode forward even though they knew, in the end, on that cross they would be nailed down.

It’s All Hallows’ Eve: a night filled with scary things that shouldn’t scare Christians at all. But there are many things in this world to be afraid of. Still: not worth a fig compared to the glories yet to come. What have we to be afraid of that Jesus has not already conquered?

Impossible.


JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot
Thursday in the 13th week Tempus Per Annum (C1)

Pro salute enim vestra misit me Deus ante vos in Aegyptum.
It was for your salvation that God sent me before you into Egypt.

Yesterday’s writing may have seemed a bit out of character for me. I’m a placid, poetical sort of writer usually. Nu? I have dark corners too.

So I will wonder again: is this statement of Joseph’s absolution or just a statement of fact? To a mystic, a statement of fact is rare and Joseph, the dreamer of dreams and the reader of omens, is certainly a mystic.

Dylan’s lyrics, continuing from yesterday. It’s the refrain:

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

I was walking home from a bar late one night – oh, actually it was about 5 am – with my housemate Rick. It was one of those snowy nights in the middle of winter in New York City when, with the snow falling, there is absolute silence. It’s one of the few things I miss about New York City. This weather. This silence. Anyway, walking. Rick was trying to figure out this song phrase that was running through my head. Rick was very good with Broadway musicals but this one was escaping him. We found out later it was actually a TV Musical that had been on once when we were kids in the late 60s. One word of one song was stuck in my head still in 1995. I could even sing it.  “Imm-poss-ible.” I was certain it must mean something, if only we could figure out why it was stuck there.

Rick said, “There must be something in your life that doesn’t mean something else.”

“Why?” I asked.

Joseph could see his light come shining. He knew that sooner or later he would be released. Yet, he never was. To the end of his days, he was this Hebrew captive in the house of Pharaoh. He was even given a slave name meaning the “The God Speaks so He Lives.” You can read it to mean that Joseph could hear meanings in things… which Pharaoh understood to mean that some deity was speaking to Joseph… or did it mean that Pharaoh (the God) had decided this slave could live? It seems highly likely it was the latter. Joseph was in prison about  orto die… and the god-king spoke and let him live.

If you read the story of Joseph in Genesis close enough, it sounds as if this Hebrew slave is the beginning of the idea that Pharaoh owned the entire land of Egypt. The Egyptians sold their goods and their property to Pharaoh through Joseph in exchange for food during the seven year famine.  And thus Pharaoh – not Joseph – became very rich. Joseph was still Pharaoh’s slave. And through Joseph, all of Egypt, too. And Israel.

I see my light come shining
from the west down to the east.

Dylan was on to something: he was a good mystic too. We all journey from the west to the east in search of more light. Jews and Christians face east to pray: that is the proper orientation – get it? – of synagogues and churches. But everything means something else. Who will help the widow’s son?

When Joseph says that God sent him there, is he stating fact, or mystery? Why do they have to be separate? Joseph’s claim on us is that he is so broken. Joseph is a victim trapped in his victimhood. There is literally nothing Joseph does after he is sold into slavery where he is not a Slave. To highlight: Joseph made his brothers promise that even if he died he would they would take his bones with them back to the promised land. Take his bones. He chained them by their promise to his corpse. I am still a slave who can do nothing. You must take me out of here.

Is it not possible in the sacramental world that fact and mystery are the same thing?

Have you ever looked at recursive formulae in mathematics? After the cth failed attempt, resend the frame after k · 51.2 μs, where k is a random integer between 0 and 2c − 1. It’s like a magic box filled with mirrors, an onion in reverse, where each layer in is bigger than the one outside.

You can get lost in there, meditating on it. Why does a fact have to rule out a mystery? Recursion says they are the same thing, more and more as you go deeper and deeper.

Joseph is both slave and Liberator. Joseph is both Egyptian and Hebrew. Joseph is at one time Jacob’s son and Pharaoh’s son.  Then, by a chiasmus in the text, Moses is those things as well: slave and Egyptian, Hebrew and Liberator, son of Pharaoh’s daughter and son of Israel’s daughter too.

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east.

Fact and mystery become the same thing in a sacramental universe; because by a glorious chiasmus in the text Jesus is these things as well: slave and Liberator, human and divine. Then in the Gospel Jesus becomes the chiasmus, and we become those things for those around us.

Any day now. Any day now.
I shall be released.

Now, Daddy! Now!

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 12th Week Tempus Per Annum:

Thus, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, his wife Sarai took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his concubine.

First, Abram didn’t quite follow God’s instructions to leave his family. He brought along his nephew, you know, just in case. Now Sarai notices that she hasn’t yet had a child so she gives Abram her slave. This foundation story in the Old Testament is filled with people making up for what they feel God is lacking. God has to pick up the pieces and fulfill his part of the Covenant even when his human friends decide they want to do it their own way.

This is the same thing that Adam and Eve did: instead of waiting for wisdom to grow in them and with them, they took it. Eating the fruit on our own terms is never the right answer – but we all do it. When Adam and Eve did it they got kicked out of the garden. But God was really desperate to get this Abram dude to father Israel and to bless the world. So every time Abram makes mistakes God – not very politely – steps in and slaps him on the wrist. Then God picks up the pieces. Some of the best stories in the Old Testament come from the shattered pieces that God has to pick up.

Today’s shattered pieces involve this Egyptian slave, Hagar, and her child. God has to pick them up. They are left alone in the desert. It’s one of the funniest things in this passage: Sarai first says, “Here take my slave.” And then like a housewife in a 1950 sitcom, she changes her mind and says, “You did this to me.” “Women!” Says Abram, looking at the camera. “Am I right?” Then he shrugs his shoulders and does what his wife wants. So God has to go into the desert and find this woman and her child and rescue them.

I bet you’re looking forward to next week when the shattered pieces will involve Lot, Mrs. Lot, Sodom, and Gomorrah. I know I am.

Anyway, the entire story of Abram seems to be about someone who should be trusting God and yet fails to do so at every turn. Everything God promises God does. But Abram, rather like Varuca Salt, wants it now, Daddy, NOW! And so Abram’s story is not just about God’s Divine Providence, it’s also about God’s Divine Providence responding to our continual f****** up, pardon my asterisks.

God’s Providence happens anyway. For we still continue on like Abram.

No matter what we do, no matter which choices we make, God’s Providence will always happen. We can imagine that we have a vocation to the ministry and find ourselves 55 years later blessed beyond compare even though we’re not ordained. We can imagine that we should be doing great things at every turn and failing and find ourselves blessed beyond compare, even so. Because even when we’re not faithful, God is always faithful.

This is the message of the entire Bible – which humanity has yet to learn. God is working his purposes out. We can help him or we can try to hinder him. We can do either of our most common tricks: “Yes I will help,” we say. But we do not. Or “No, I will not help” we say. But we try to anyway, under our own energy – instead of God’s. But even then God’s Divine Providence will bless us beyond compare.

Jesus says, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Most of us, it must be said, will fail in either the listening to these words or in the doing of them. Still, God is faithful nonetheless. God is faithful to his word. He cannot not act on it because his speaking is his doing. God’s word, Jesus, is a doing. The word of God, Jesus, says “light” and light is. God’s word is action. God’s action is reality. When God speaks his faithfulness performs the speaking. Even when we are not faithful God is.

This is not the Prosperity Gospel.

God’s promises are hardly ever for mere material blessing. St Paul says God’s purpose is to will the reconciliation of everyone. And so everything must be seen as working towards that end. If that requires poverty or death, war, earthquakes, famine, whatever… they will come to be.

Our faithfulness requires that we trust God even then. As we will be blessed beyond compare.

A Trick of the Tongue

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 7th Week of Easter:

Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees.

St Paul is a seed of dissension in the Sanhedrin rather than a source of unity. Jesus said of himself, “I came to bring a sword rather than peace… to kindle a fire on the Earth.” It sounds as if St Paul is taking this role upon himself in this trial. See: when you preach the gospel, when you spread the kingdom, the entire purpose of your life is to do your mission. Other things must become tools for that purpose, means to that end. Paul speaks here not only the truth, but the truth in such exactly a way that it causes tension. Yes, he’s on trial for the resurrection of the dead, but he’s here about the Resurrection of Jesus, not the general resurrection. What we have here is pronoun trouble. This is one of my favorite scenes in all of the New Testament! 

With that trick of the tongue, that double entendre, a violent, sectarian argument breaks out and Paul is suddenly whisked away to safety, leaving the elders to argue amongst themselves in an argument that continues until this very day. It’s funny: This playing of the Pharisees against the Saduccees is how the Gospel is spread. In the safety of his cell, Paul is given the mission for the rest of his life:

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

In Rome as well, standing before Nero, Paul’s entire modus operandi is not to score courtly or rhetorical points with Caesar, but rather to spread the Gospel. By the time Paul dies there are Christians in Nero’s own house. The seeds were planted for the final victory – but that looks nothing like what the world thinks of as “victory”.

St Paul played one half of the system against the other half. Why? To spread the Gospel. This was acceptable. St Paul then turns the Roman system on its head to spread the Gospel further. St Paul claims his Roman citizenship to keep himself from being killed so that he can preach the Gospel. In the end, St Paul takes advantage of his Roman citizenship to bring the Gospel to Rome. Glory to God for all things. 

Jesus told us to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. This is what he means. This world game, this world’s rules, this world’s entire system is set up like a three-card Monte table that only the Church can beat. Everybody else will lose if they try: everybody else will lose their souls. If the Church stands up and takes the system by the reins she can steer the whole thing to heaven. They won’t like it. That’s their problem. They mightn’t like the process too much, but they will love the ending. 

St Paul shows us what should be the Christian’s attitude towards politics – both secular politics and religious politics. When dealing with unbelievers or a secular State the outcome is irrelevant in terms of worldly victory. The entire purpose is to spread the Gospel. We can never lose sight of this end: Preach the Gospel to all gentiles. That’s the only purpose of our life! We can have as much fun with the system as we care to have since the world’s system there for our purposes and not for their vainly imagined purposes. In the Incarnation, God changed the rules of play without changing the field of play. The way to eternal life, to love, to peace, lies exactly in what the world, the flesh, and the devil thought of as the Path to Destruction. Now we die to live and we sacrifice to have.

The purpose of the secular state is to keep the peace. Why? For the spread of the Gospel. The purpose of the king, the president, the congress, the state house, the mayor, the city council, the Peoples’ Soviet, the Duce is to keep order. Why? For the spread of the Gospel. The entire purpose of the secular law (in God’s plan) is to spread the Gospel. It has nothing to do with rights and nothing to do with freedom. The content of the law is unimportant. It has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with anything that this world thinks of as important. The entire purpose of the secular order is to hold the world in peaceful stasis in order to leave the Church alone to do her work spreading the Kingdom of God.

(We must be careful in the system called “Democracy”: for what we think of as “the Christian vote” often comes at the price of “The Christian Soul”. The world system is not there to do our work for us. We cannot legislate (or elect) the Kingdom. I would honestly rather live under a dictatorship than to go even once more through the sort of electoral choices we’ve had since my childhood. It would probably be better for the Church’s mission, too. That’s my own opinion, but I think the strength of the faith coming out of formerly Soviet Russia, compared to the faith in the “free” West will hold up my point. Even thus, some may call me “unChristian” because I’m being “Unamerican.”)

There is a flipside to this. The men of the world play this game for pointless markers: political victories, secular power, money. The Church plays this game for the salvation of souls and must pay with the lives of her people. We are configured to die like Jesus did. It’s possible the only way to get your neighbors into heaven is to let them see you give your life in love for your spouse and children. It’s possible the only way to raise your children in the faith is to stay at home, cut the family income in half so that they can be properly raised in the faith. We have to give up on all the counters of the world’s success. When we do that, we win. This is the flip side of Tertullian’s recognition that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The world’s system is the plaything of the church: even when it thinks it’s doing us harm, by God’s grace we win. When science-ists lash out at Bishops on YouTube, people have to go listen to the Bishops’ videos. When Senator Kamala Harris said that the Knights of Columbus were a rabid fringe organization she sparked hundreds if not thousands of men – including your host – had to go look into the Knights.

This is how we have to make choices in the world. As long as we direct our lives to the End assigned to us by God, the other things will fall into place. As the Psalmist says “I have never seen the children of the just begging for bread.” Of course, you’ve often seen people begging and one must assume that some of them are Christians, right? However, the Psalmist means that God takes care of us. “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord,” says St. Paul elsewhere. And again, “Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.”  

The whole point of this is that where Jesus is we may also be… and we want, pray, and work to bring as many others with us to that point with us as we can.

Count as Loss.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 31st week of Ordinary Time (B2)

But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Is there a way to safely look at all of life that went before Jesus and recognize it has no value? Literally, none.

What once was the very meaning of success. What once was the end goal and target of political aspirations, of angry yelling and screaming in the halls of power… is now anathema. And what once was the assumed end goal is now out of reach.

What was once a stumbling block, is now the focal point. What was once the hated enemy is now home. What was once a bastion of oppression has become the greatest liberty, the greatest joy, the richest dreams, the most potent strength.

What was once the easiest thing to get
 Is now the last thing, least, unimportant thing.
What was love turns out to be nothing.
What was everything turns out to be lost.
And what was never on my mind at all
 Is always there, always pushing forward, always driving homeward.
How at 20 could one be so blind?
And how at 50 could so much light still only be the smallest portion possible?
How is Light never at 100% finally?
How is there always more love?
How can Truth ever unfold into more?

Once nearly everything was freudian and sexual.
And sarcasm.
Meaningless.
Now it’s deadly serious.
And filled with Joy.

And this, they say is only the beginning.

And pains and white water all serve to sever connections. Loss and loves all bend to one direction. Even the joys of life like sunrises and winter chills only point one way. And it is foolish to kick against the goads.

One day I will wake up and drop this all and won’t care to do so. One day the light will turn up so bright that it will burn and I won’t mind. One day the love will pierce through like steal in my hands, my feet, my head, my side…. my heart.

And I will will finally know as I am known.

And only the grace by which I stand…

will be left at all.

Please, be it so.

Amen.

All are welcome!

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

In caritate radicati, et fundati, ut possitis comprehendere cum omnibus sanctis, quae sit latitudo, et longitudo, et sublimitas, et profundum : scire etiam supereminentem scientiae caritatem Christi, ut impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei.
That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.


Paul holds out to the Ephesians – and passing them, now hold out to us not the pale and powerless possibility of “heaven”; not “pie in the sky, by and by when you die” but here, now. No harps and crowns just now: power! The Power to comprehend divine fire in breadth, fire in length, fire in height, fire in depth.  This is what the Greeks call “Theosis”:  impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei, to be filled with the fullness of God.

I’ve sat in discussions with faithful Catholics who cannot imagine this is the Church’s teaching. For they only know they should follow the rules, do penance, and hope for something better in the future. They call this teaching of the saints and scripture blasphemy, as they fear traditional worship with its focus on glory. They hide behind guitars and call us all to just get along… 

They are like so many Orthodox who are hung up on “Did you have cream in your coffee this day in Lent?” These Orthodox speak of every mouthful of food taken without first a prayer, gagging us in the afterlife. They say that every drink of wine taken on fasting days will drown us… they wave toll houses at us to keep us from heaven. And they say they know “Theosis” – but say Catholics are in error for teaching Purgatory… meh. There are cancerous growths of legalisms in both lungs of the Church.

St Paul offers us that all divine, all embracing, all changing Love that is called “Agape”. Yes, Love welcomes all… But no one can join Love without changing. This Love – a him, not an it – welcomes all to a constant conversion. Jesus tells us, “Ignem veni mittere in terram.” I am come to cast fire on the earth. Set the world ablaze Lord! Again as at Pentecost when the very fire of God in golden tongues will fall on all flesh. Arise and blaze across all time and space and burn – yet do not consume – us all in Love.

This is not easy work. And there is no peace in this love. Becoming saints is a lifetime of hard engagement a lifetime of sacrificing self will, of giving up all that comes in the way, of moving apart from all that would hold us back. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father,  a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother… coworkers from coworkers, neighbor from neighbors, even fellow parishioners against each other as one says “The Gospel” while the other says “The Compromise”. We stand on the edge of the Spiritus Gladius, the Sword of the Spirit… and we dare not fall to one or the other side. 

And yet… and yet… we know we have to use both hands: one reaching for Jesus, while the other reaches out to bring our friends. For none of us go alone. It would not be Love if we were alone. This is ecstatic Love, call us and all out of ourselves. We must call all along with us. We must dance forward in a great reel or Dionysiac Procession: the ancient Tripudium of three steps forward, one back. No one can know the Liturgy in all its holiness of heaven striking earth with fire… and not be set aflame. It matters not if there are guitars or drums, Byzantine or Gregorian chant: when heaven moves, the earth will follow.

When you know the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s infinity how can you hold it back from others? If you are fire yourself, how can you prevent the fire from spreading by the very touch of your eyes on those around you?

Oh dear friends, have you seen it like a fire wrapping a bush that is burned yet not consumed, this love that falls down on us like a gentle, driving, roaring monsoon? We are awash in grace and Love and nothing stands between us and this… save ourselves. There is no other Love without it. And with this Love, there is nothing else. 

Wrapped in prayer, swathed in light, and holding God himself in your mouth and soul, can you not know that here and only here is Love. 

What Spirit is We Should Be.

JMJ

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

O insensati Galatae, quis vos fascinavit non obedire veritati, ante quorum oculos Jesus Christus praescriptus est, in vobis crucifixus? Sic stulti estis, ut cum Spiritu coeperitis, nunc carne consummemini?
O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified among you? Are you so foolish, that, whereas you began in the Spirit, you would now be made perfect by the flesh?

We begin with the Spirit… but we think we can fix it all with the flesh.

Remember: we’re the Galatians in this reading. We have heard the Gospel. We know the message of salvation, of forgiveness, of healing. We know freedom from the three primary failures of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. But when someone comes along that preaches a “Gospel” more pleasing, one that makes it easier just to get along, one that gives us the freedom to cave in (just a little, ok?) to the World, or the Flesh, or the Devil… only just a little… Instantly we go after that one. We begin with the Spirit, yes. But the Spirit is hard, very hard. I think we get tired. We don’t want to keep trying.
If Paul was writing on the Internet, this would be typed with caps lock ON. O INSENSATI GALATÆ. I think the AV and the RSV get it a little better here:

O FOOLISH GALATIANS! WHO HAS BEWITCHED YOU?
Who has tricked you into thinking that there needs to be a compromise (in the name of “RELEVANCY”) with the world? Who lured you into accepting a different Gospel than the one that Christ won for us, the one the Apostles preached to us, the one the Church has held for 2,000 years? It is a long, hard journey to Sainthood, but we are all called to it.

Paul’s references to the “works of the law” are important for – as I noted on Monday – he was talking about something old being brought into the newness of life found in the Gospel. But our law, our modern rules, seem new to us: we’ve only just invented these modern ideas of what is no longer sinful. We’ve only just discovered that we could make our own rules and no one else had the right to tell us otherwise.

Foolish Galatians, every last one of us.

For Satan was telling those very lies in the Garden of Eden. Pagans, Gentiles, and even Jews and Christians from all over the world and through all of history have taught those very things. We are still weaving something very old brought into the newness of life.

And that old message has always.

Always.

Always.

Led away from the faith.

Our Modern Laws, our “newly discovered truths” are the same lies we’ve always heard whispered. “Your eyes will be opened, and ye will become as gods yourselves, knowing good from evil.”

Who has bewitched us?

We have bewitched ourselves into accepting the easy path. The harder path is the Gospel.


(The Waterboys Spirit)

The Greatest Adventure

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Francis of Assisi
Thursday in the 26th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Ite : ecce ego mitto vos sicut agnos inter lupos. Nolite portare sacculum, neque peram, neque calceamenta.
Go: Behold I send you as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes.

Mister Bilbo Baggins ran out of his house one fine Spring morning with no hat, no stick, no coat, not even a pocket handkerchief! How can one survive? He asked. He had been roused from his sleepy life by a Sorcier Provocateur and ran off to rescue some treasure on behalf of 13 dwarves he had just met. Yes, there was a promise of reward, and sure, there was the treat of death. But at heart was a new

…love of beautiful things.
To go and see the great mountains…
…and hear the pine trees
and waterfalls.
To wear a sword instead of a walking stick.
Just once.

A chapter later, standing in rain trying to pick the pockets of a troll, the formerly staid and middle class Mr Baggins realizes he’s come a far way from home, indeed, although he’s only a week or two’s journey out.

And then, only a few pages later, standing in the dark, talking to someone he cannot see, he says,

I’ve lost my dwarves, my wizard, and my way.

It may seem odd to consider this children’s story on the Feast of St Francis, but I’m familiar with both stories – from about the exact same time in my life – and I think they run a sharp parallel. About the time I fell in love with the Hobbit, I met for the first time my cousin, Greg, who was a novice in the Conventual Franciscan Order. I remember reading my first book about the Life of St Francis just after that. This is 1977. Yet, only in my most recent read through The Hobbit (just a month ago did I notice: the Hobbit takes the light half of the year, beginning in mid-April and ending with the Battle of Five Armies in late November of that same year. (The main story arc for the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, begins in Late September and ends in March of the following Spring, thereby covering the dark half of the year.) In the course of the Summer, the Hobbit “dies” to his old self, then slays the dragon, and returns home loaded with riches, returning to find even his home looted and all his goods sold off.

The Hobbit, written by a pious Catholic, is not allegory not at all. But it is a very solid building built of very Catholic bricks. Bilbo travels the Via Negativa, giving up his staid life and becoming a hero. It’s the sort of story that Francis, with his love of Trouveres and Troubadours, would have greatly enjoyed.

And so Francis, reading the passage we have today, where Christ sent them out with neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes takes it all quite literally and strips himself bare in front of his father and the entire village, saying “Henceforth I will have God as my Father and the Church as my Mother.” And he, too, set out on a strange journey, giving up everything he had, slays the dragon of sin, and wins the riches of Christ. He has no home to return to, since he has given it all away.

A Jungian or a follower of Joseph Campbell might read The Hobbit and find himself saying “We must all take this journey.” Francis, I think, would agree. But the modern, secular, mythologist or therapist would not care what we lost and what we gained. Francis would care that we lost everything and gained Christ.

That is the message Francis give us in reality – which Tolkien only does in sign.

To find Christ is our own goal. He is as near as our neighbor. As near as the leper we won’t touch, as near as the woman smelling of urine on the bus.

But we must let go of everything that stands between us and Christ. We must drop the middle class crap, the idea of class and snobbery, we must kill the dragon of pride and greed, we must in the end, give up even our sight, our defense, our certainty. There, in the dark we will will find Christ – who has been waiting, searching, longing for us.

St Francis, at the end of his life found Christ coming to him, to make the hidden marks upon his soul to wound his flesh visibly. And the very type of Christ that he had become inwardly was now seen beyond.

And as we, too, are conformed to Christ, here, or later, we will see him.

The Prophet St Job assures us:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then from my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Process that: when my skin is destroyed, even then, in my very flesh I shall see God. The Flesh may die, but I shall stand in my flesh before God, my Redeemer.

That’s the greatest adventure: to go through all the trials and loves, the losses and victories of this world to die and then, in my flesh, to see God face to face.


What’s love got to do with it?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St Vincent de Paul
Thursday ihthe 25th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Deus, qui sacrae legis omnia constituta in tua et proximi dilectione posuisti…
O God, whou founded all the commands of your sacred Law upon love of you and of our neighbor…

As I’ve mentioned before Dom Mark advises preachers to “preach the propers”. I’ve been wrestling with this idea all week and it finally hit me when I saw that the memorial of St Vincent de Paul was upon us. The name of St Vincent de Paul is probably most often connected in our minds with one of the most active charities in all the world, which, itself, is part of the Largest Charity Organization in the world, in all history.
No Christian can even claim the name if there is no active charity in their life. we do this each to our ability and our calling: in his latter days my grandfather gave away literally the entire family inheritance to a Church in his tiny town in north Georgia. The blessings of that action still rebound to our family. God gave us stuffonly to give it away, to share with others, with those who have nothing. Even when I think I have nothing, I always meet someone who has less. Our charity, though, is not our love.
Fr Z notesthat this prayer came into the Roman mass via an ancient Italian liturgical tradition and he sites a passage in St Matthew which seems to be the source of this prayer:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 22:34-40).

And there’s this citation from St Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on the passage:

When man is loved, God is loved, since man is the image of God.

So what is love?

St Thomas has us there, as well: To love is to will the good of another.

Good, also: is very well defined. God is good. God is the ultimate good. Yes, charity and acts of service are important, but God is the final and and goal of all being: if you’re not willing someone else to God-wards, you are not acting in love.

As Fr Z points out, “All of the Law is summed up in Jesus’ two-fold command of love of God and neighbor. The first part of the two-fold law is about unconditional love of God. The second follows as its consequence. We must cultivate our different loves in their proper order. God comes first, always. Always.”

We have it in our mushy liberal hearts that “love” has something to do with “don’t judge me”. We have set up the idea that God wants us to open the doors and let everyone in, like a 24/7 Denny’s. Love is not a “second hand emotion” but rather the driving force that created the universe. It sends us to hell and back in service to another person. It will not settle for second best. It weeps over the addict anddraws her away from her addiction. It can be gentle, nearly passive; or love can be tough to the point of self-destruction in the name of rescuing another.

We cannot love another by simply saying, “Do what ever makes you happy”. For our end and ultimate Good is God. And to walk away from God in any way is not to be acting to one’s own Good.

But how do you will the good of another and yet woo them? How do you notcondemn and yet not condone? How do you call someone Godward without pushing them away?

So Very Much Love

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Sts Andrew Kim Tae-gon,
& Paul Chong Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Thursday in the 24th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Remittuntur ei peccata multa, quoniam dilexit multum. Cui autem minus dimittitur, minus diligit.
Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. 

It took me years, decades to realize what he said to me. I mean “your sins are forgiven” is clear. But what did I know? I’ve been finding them at ever turn lately. Deeper and deeper. When he said I had loved much, I thought he was laughing at me. For I have. I was not running away from my sins… they were still in my pockets that night at his feet. What sins I had done? I was just living a fun life. There was the long sexual history, of course, but that turned quickly into a pharisaical judgement of folks who didn’t have that history. There was the condemnation of all my sexual partners, the instant feeling of superiority, and the realization that I could always just go to confession. And I knew what it was all about. But I needed to condemn and forgive myself as well.

Sure, I had dissed my parents to pull this off, but it was so important when I did it, right? They were oppressing me into their cultural models of virtue and binding me to the slavery of the middle class. Of course I got out of that house and blew off the family as quick as I could! It has taken most of the last three decades to make up for that. Forgiveness is nothing without healing. “Saved” is the same Greek word as “made whole” and damn it all but I realized I needed my family to be whole. Still, for the longest time, even after he touched me, I didn’t care about them. They were always trying to hold me back. And now I had found the real liberation. This Jesus was the freedom I had always craved. Goodbye, Pops.

Then, later, when I realized what my history had done to me, I struggled to reconcile who I was becoming with who I had been. This guy had reached in and broken all my crutches. But I had used them for so long, that I was literally limping. I would wake up and cry out, How can he do that to someone? Take away all that’s ever been important and leave them alone? And I was not alone because he was still, right there: his hand on my head, my tears falling. My hands holding. My lips kissing.

I still needed so much to wash his feet and to know this wasn’t another hallucination, another lover that took what he wanted and left.

And I found his feet everywhere I looked. And found myself washing them and kissing them over and over. And I realized these were men I had used to get away, to free myself. Sure, I took their money, but sometimes I didn’t cuz it was fun. I had made them all into idols and toys… to fill the broken, empty place where Jesus should be. Idols of lust. Idols of liberation. Idols of personal satisfaction. Idols of gosh this is fun tonight. And each man failed to be that replacement for the one thing needed. Each man fell short, and I had to replace him too. There are no Alphas anywhere. Now that Jesus was here where he belonged I could even love these men, even pray for them, beg God to show them some part of wholeness; some path to wholeness. It took forever for that to dawn on me: restored relationships means even restoring these that had been my destruction. God’s restoration, his love acting through my love, means healing even these broken lives and hearts.

When it all crashes down, when you hit rock bottom, sure, it’s easy to see what good a love like Jesus’ can do for you. But when you’re not at rock bottom, when you’re only aware that something, somewhere, has gone horribly wrong… Love like Jesus offers is only the beginning of a long, slow, climb up. Yes, there glimpses of glory and flashes of light, but mostly, it’s just a trudge up out of the pit I dug for myself. Jesus is here walking with me, but I have to walk. It’s no less deep because I didn’t hit the extremity. 

In the latter times, I felt a call unexpected. Could I just, a little, find something good in the past and bring it with me? And that painful last grip of darkness still clings to me. Can I not just maybe find someone that I can take comfort in (read “use” and “self gratify”). I have loved much, and I have also lost much.

I can be forgiven all of it. But I have to let it all go.

And there’s this long, slow trudge, still: where nearly everyone needs my forgiveness and where, I need theirs. And I have to be loving: because what the kids call “slut shaming” is a real thing. We don’t shame folks out of their sins. We love them. For most of them, it was a loss of love or a quest for love, or a demand for love on “my own terms”, that took them there in the first place. Only Jesus can be that love. And your heart has to open, has to draw them forward, has to let Jesus love them through you.

When he said I had loved much, I thought he was laughing at me. For I had. But decades later, I saw what he saw: I was not running away from my sins… they were still in my pockets that night at his feet. I was running to him. I had heard that this man – above all other men – was capable of being Love so I had to run and give him a chance. I never expected forgiveness. What did I need forgiving for? I was in a place I had chosen. But this love that he saw… that he knew inside his own child. This love that his love awoke in everyone who reached out to him.

This love is still becoming the meaning of my life. I’m still letting it unfold and finding new ways of kissing his feet.