Of Masks, Statues, and Jehoshaphat

JMJ

FRIDAY IN THE 15th WEEK, Tempus per Annum, the readings in the Daily Office all conspire as if someone had set up it on purpose. In the Office of Readings, David and the story of Jehoshaphat, in Morning Prayer, David again, Jeremiah and St Paul all come together in one great story.

In the Office of Readings we say Psalm 69, split into 3 parts. The says that he feels betrayed by his friends and all those around him. He prays to never be a cause of shame to those who love the Lord. But then he says that even in his poverty and pain he will bless the Lord.

I will praise God’s name with a song;
I will glorify him with thanksgiving,
a gift pleasing God more than oxen,
more than beasts prepared for sacrifice.
The poor when they see it will be glad
and God-seeking hearts will revive;
for the Lord listens to the needy
and does not spurn his servants in their chains.
Let the heavens and the earth give him praise,
the sea and all its living creatures.

In this praise, the writer knows

For God will bring help to Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah
and men shall dwell there in possession.
The sons of his servants shall inherit it;
those who love his name shall dwell there.

Then comes the reading about King Jehoshaphat. A whole bunch of Gentiles – from several nations – came together to slay the people of Judah. The King was very afraid, called a day of fasting and prayer and sought help from God. The whole nation gathered in Jerusalem at the Temple and prayed. And God spoke through the mouth of one of the men of the Tribe of Levi saying:

Do not fear or lose heart at the sight of this vast multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Go down against them tomorrow. You will see them coming up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will come upon them at the end of the wadi which opens on the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not have to fight in this encounter. Take your places, stand firm, and see how the Lord will be with you to deliver you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not fear or lose heart. Tomorrow go out to meet them, and the Lord will be with you.

So Jehoshaphat organizes the Army and, instead of spears or chariots, he put singers in front. They sang: “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” The second half of that verse, כִּ֥י לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּֽוֹ ke l’olam khasdo, is the refrain to many of the Psalms, especially Psalm 136 where it is repeated in each verse, celebrating God’s victories on behalf of Israel. I would like to imagine it was this Psalm the singers were chanting as they went. No sooner did they start to sing – no doubt the song echoing off the mountainsides – than the army of the enemy was put to confusion and began killing each other! This is like the three Trolls in The Hobbit, great terrors easily made silly by their own greed and some crafty voices.

When Judah arrives on the scene, the only thing left is to step over the bodies and get their loot. Judah was three days gathering the spoils from the army that they conquered by singing.

Today (the 17th as I write) is also the feast of the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne: 16 Carmelite nuns executed by French revolutionaries on this day in 1794, for refusing to accept state control over the Catholic Church. They were beheading singing the Te Deum.

In today’s Morning Prayer, after confessing our sins with Psalm 51, we sing this mournful Canticle from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.

If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
if I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.

Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?

We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O Lord, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.

For your name’s sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.

While this comes up every four weeks or so, I remember singing it last year in the smokes of wild fires and weeping as I felt like precious things were passing away. This time, it stirred up memories of violent mobs and parties that cannot be repeated, of being at Church with a rejoicing throng or even going to the Rosary Rally last year or my Birthday Party in Dolores Park. These things will not be again this Summer. What will happen? I had forgotten all about Jehoshaphat, from only a few pages ago. So St Paul had to remind me.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

II Corinthians 12:7-10 (AV)

And so were tied together Jehoshaphat, Jeremiah, David, the Carmelites, and St Paul: it is when we are weak that God is strongest. Always he is saying to us, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

My Mom’s friends worship with a Baptist community where the preacher keeps a gun with him in the pulpit. He has done so since the first Obama administration and that says something. But his attitude is spreading. Recently I heard of a priest inviting men of his parish to get ready to defend the place in case of attack. It struck me then that something was off, that we are missing an opportunity to evangelize here. Friday morning’s office underscored this to me. God never once asked all the Christian to Man-UpTM in case the Romans would arrive. No. In fact, the Christians then tended to look like the Carmelites in Paris:

And yet we chafe at masks and mourn our statues. God’s strength will be seen in our weakness. In fear, though, we arm ourselves.

When we should be singing.

A Devotion on the Symbols of the Passion

JMJ

From A Book of the Love of Jesus, A Collection of Ancient English Devotions in Prose and Verse, compiled and Edited by Fr Robert Hugh Benson (1915). Retrieved from the Archive, here. I’ve not edited the text at all so some of the words may include off-puttings, odd-spellings, or punctuations.

O VERNACLE I honour him and thee,
That thee made through his privity;
The cloth he set upon his ſace,
The print he left there, of his grace,
His mouth, his nose, his eyen too,
His beard, his hair, he did also ;
Shield me for all that in my life
That I have sinned with senses five,
Namely, with mouth of slandering,
Of false oaths and of backbiting,
And made boast with tongue also,
Of all the sins committed too,
Lord of heaven, forgive them me,
Through sight of the figure that I here see.

This knife betokeneth circumcision;
Thus he destroyed sin, all and some,
Of our forefather old Adam
Through whom we nature took of man.
From temptation of lechery
Be my succour when I shall die.

The pelican his blood did bleed
Therewith his nestlings for to feed :
This betokeneth on the rood
How our Lord fed us with his blood,
When he us ransomed out of hell
In joy and bliss with him to dwell,
And be our father and our food,
And we his children meek and good.

The pence also that Judas told,
For which Lord Jesu Christ was sold,
Shield us from treason and avarice
Therein to perish in no wise.

The lantern where they bare the light
When Christ was taken in the night ;
May it light me from nightly sin
That I never be seized therein.

Swords and staven that they bare
Jesu Christ therewith to fear;
From fiends, good Lord, do thou keep me,
Of them afraid that I not be.

Christ was stricken with a reed,
With it the Jews did break his head ;
With good cheer and mildest mood,
All he suffered and still he stood.
When I wrong any, or any me,
Be it forgiven for that pity !

The hand, O Lord, that tare thy hair,
And the hand that clapped thee on the ear,
May that pain be my succour there
That I have sinned with pride of ear ;
And of all other sins also
That with mine ears have I hearkened to !

The Jew that spat in God’s own face;
For that he suffered, give us grace,
What I have reviled, or any me,
For that despite, forgiven it be !

The cloth before thine eyen too
To buffet thee they knit it so;
May it preserve me from vengeance,
Of childhood and of ignorance
And of other sins also,
That I have with mine eyes done too,
And with my nostrils sins of smell
That I have done when sick or well !

The garment white that had seam none,
The purple they laid lot upon,
Be they my succour and my keeping,
For my body’s use of soft clothing !

With great reeds thou wert sorely dashed,
With scourges painful sorely lashed;
May that pain rid me of sins these,
Namely, of sloth and idleness !

The crown of thorn, on thine head thrust,
That tare thine hair, and thy skin buist,
Shield me from hell-pit’s agony
That I deserve through my folly !

To the pillar, Lord, also
With a rope they bound thee too;
The sinews from the bones did burst
So hard ’twas drawn and strainéd fast;
That bond release me and unbind
Of that I’ve trespassed and been unkind. !

The cross behind on his backbone,
That he suffered death upon,
Give me grace while yet I live
Clean of sin me for to shrive,
And thereto give true penitence,
And to fulfil here my penance !

Thou bare the cross and took thy gait
Out of Jerusalem’s city-gate;
All thy footsteps sweet and good
Were seen through shedding of thy blood;
Thou met with women of Bethlehem
And also of Jerusalem,
And all wept for thine agony;
To them thou saidest openly :
Now weep ye not for this my woe,
But for your children weep also ;
For them ye may lament full sore.
And your salt tears for them down pour;
For they shall have great torment hard
An hundred winters here-afterward.
Those steps of thine give us pardon
When forth we go with devotion
On pilgrimage on horse or foot,
Of all our sins be they our boot* !

*help

The nails through feet and hands also,
Help they me out of sin and woe
That I have here in my life done,
With hands handled, or on feet gone !

The hammer, Lord, both stern and great,
That drove the nails through hands and feet,
Be it my succour in my life
If any smite me with staff or knife !

The vessel with vinegar and gall
May it keep me from the sins all
That to the soul are venom dread,
That thereby I be not poisoned !

Though thou thirsted sore withal
They gave thee vinegar and gall;
From what I have drunken in gluttony
May it save me when I shall die;
That, Lord, now I pray to thee
For that grievance thou suffered for me !

Lord, that spear so sharply ground,
Within thy heart which made a wound,
Quench the sin that I have wrought,
Or in my heart have evil thought,
And of my stout pride thereto,
And mine unbuxomness also !

The ladder set up by occasion
When thou wert dead to be taken down,
When I am dead in any sin
Take me that I die not therein !

The tongs that drew the sharp nails out
Of feet and hands and all about,
And loosed thy body from the tree,
Of all my sins may they loose me !

The sepulchre wherein was laid H
is blessed body all be-bled,
May he send me ere that I die
Sorrow of heart and tear or eye,
Clear and cleanséd that I be,
Ere to my grave I betake me !
So that I may on the Doomsday
To judgment come without dismay,
And wend to bliss in company
Wherein a man shall never die,
But dwell in joy with our Lord right;
There is aye day and never night,
That ever lasts withouten end :—
Now jesu Christ us thither send ! Amen.

AEEEEEEE-LEEEEEEEEE-AAAAAAAAAAA!


JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom
Friday in the 23rd week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Numquid potest caecus caecum ducere? nonne ambo in foveam cadunt? Non est discipulus super magistrum : perfectus autem omnis erit, si sit sicut magister ejus.
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.

This is a parable, not a gnomic pronouncement. It the Latin it says, “Dicebat autem illis et similitudinem”, meaning he taught them a similitude. I used to read this passage as a comment on how we can’t be better than Jesus (our only teacher). Today, for some reason, I saw that the teacher/disciple thing was in parallel with the blind/blind thing.

A : B :: C : D
It’s a similitude.

It means we can’t pass on what we don’t have. This is the meaning of Original Sin. The Catechism says:

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (Para 405)

Adam lost his original holiness and justice, therefore, he cannot pass it along to his children. This passage in the Gospel, though, is not about the Fall. It’s about teachers: If I don’t have the fullness of the faith (if I’m not even willing to have it) then I can’t pass it on to you.

I struggle with this in leadership roles: at church, certainly, but also at work. This is not only a religious doctrine, but it’s true across the board. In fact, because it’s true across the board, it is also a religious doctrine. A politician who knows nothing about the law cannot pass along the correct information to his constituents – or refute lobbyists. A president who knows nothing about meteorology cannot draw on maps what he doesn’t have. A priest who rejects the teachings of the Church on human sexuality cannot be expected to pass along those teachings. Worse: having discovered that the teacher doesn’t know one thing, we may expect the teacher doesn’t know other things as well.

There’s another level of complication. Do you know about the humidity in NYC in the hot months? I do, after living there for 13 years. There was a ticker-tape parade for the “Desert Storm” heroes in 1991. I was watching the weather report the night before. The weatherman taped an 80% humidity marker on his blue screen and said, “Tomorrow will be nice, cool, and comfortable for the Parade of Heroes.” In other words, he lied. So, on top of issues with knowledge, the blind can be misled by people feeding them organic, free-range, grass-fed buffalo droppings. And you can fall out of that first paragraph up there into this, less honorable one very easily. A mistake plus wayward pride is the trump card in every hand, lately.

Some are blind because they cannot see and some are blind because they refuse to see.

And when the blind are led away from the truth they become convinced that their blind teacher knows it all.

Today we commemorate John Chrysostom. He fought against the pride and lying of the political leaders of his day – their lack of concern for the poor, their kowtowing to the rich and mighty, their lack of morality, their lack of ethics – that twice he was exiled. We have no such leaders today in the Catholic Church or in the Orthodox Church. The closest is Pope Francis, but even he will not call “cow pellets” on the leaders of the day. And if he dare speak too loudly, the rightists in the church call him a communist and say we can ignore him. His advisors, at least, seem to know more than other folks advisors. Or when he speaks in favor of tradition, the progressivists get all riled up. In the East the Russian Patriarch has been sleeping with the crown of Russia since Peter the Great, and even the mighty “ROCOR” now sleeps with a former KGB agent. The Arabs and the Greeks are wrapped up in their internecine wars and the westerners are along for the ride – buying their way into the hallways of Byzantine power.

We have no such leaders in the Church today. Blind guides of the blind.

I’m thankful we have Jesus. But if we’re not careful the powerful will try to lead us away.

Mira! El Otro!

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 14th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Tradet autem frater fratrem in mortem, et pater filium: et insurgent filii in parentes, et morte eos afficient: et eritis odio omnibus propter nomen meum: qui autem perseveraverit usque in finem, hic salvus erit.
Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
Again with the brother against brother and in the New Testament, now. Apart from the Sons of Zebedee and Andrew and Peter, there are very few brothers that get along in the Bible. The Macabbees, I guess. Everyone else seems to have a bit of an issue with internecine incivility. 
This passage, though, is about the Church. Brother will hand over brother to death: Christians will be acting like the sons of Jacob, as the sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve that we are. Although it can seem a bit conspiratorial at times, this is actually one thing I fear. I know why I fear this: because I was often on the other side.

Yes, I’m a Christain, but not like one of those over there…

My great fear was that someone would think I was a Christian like the ones the someone hated – whoever they were. In that us-and-them mindset, trying to be really cool (not like them) I was bound to sell Christians short in order to look good to my friends. It actually doesn’t matter who the “us” was in this story. It’s only important that I be seen to be not one of them.

Who was one of them?

Actually: it doesn’t matter.

Repeatedly I’ve had driven home to me lately that, as far as human beings are concerned, there is no “other”. There is only us. There are still two sides, but they are not the sides we think of.

In Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” In short, we are “The Others” we’re afraid of. Even that fails to describe the real situation: God made us. We belong to him. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. God made all of us. Even the folks that say they don’t or won’t belong, even the folks that feel left outside, even the folks who hate all conception of God, Church, Good, Chastity, Love… whatever. God made us all and we belong to him.

There are folks who struggle to stay on one side of that line. There are folks who struggle to stay on the other. Very few people want to reject love, peace, goodness. And everyone usually acts out of love of something. And all love… is of God. You have to love something and to the extent that you love – even broken – you are being Godly. Certainly, because we are humans, our love can be broken. Most of us have broken love. If you’re walking around, in fact, it’s broken.

There are those beings who would have us love stuff and use people (instead of the reverse). God’s image is not in stuff: but it is in all people. When we fail to love people when we love stuff (pepperoni pizza, cheap radios from WalMart, political ideologies, national anthems) we are at risk of devaluing the image of God present in each person – and so of devaluing God himself.

There is only one force that drives us to devalue persons created in God’s image. It matters not if we do that by our shopping, our voting, our eating, or our dishonesty. When we do it, we’re fighting for the other side.

Today’s Gospel reminds me that there are those (and I have been one) in the Church who fight for the other side. We don’t even do it covertly. We become convinced that those over there are so wrong as to not even be one of us. They are the Sharks. Or the Jets. They are not one of us humans, you see?

In all honesty, they may fail at being Catholics. They may fail at being Christians. (Who of us does not fail?) But they are always one of us: one of the bearers of God’s image. We fail in this, become the other side when we forget another Solzhenitsyn quote (perhaps the rest of the one I’ve cited): “Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”

The Saints and Fathers teach us over and over again that we are to mourn and pray for those around us led away into fighting against Truth. As we are to mourn each our own sins, when we see someone who does not know their sin, or who is aggressively opposing the truth, we should assume two things: if they knew the real truth of Love, they would not oppose it; and, it is us who have failed to tell them or show them. Corrie Ten Boom found herself standing in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp watching Nazi soldiers beat another prisoner. She found it a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel of God’s love with the inmate standing next to her. I’m afraid to do this on the bus – sometimes I’m afraid of the person next to me at Mass or at work! Over and over Corrie saw God’s presence in the person next to her, and she reached out in Love. It’s amazing how many times the response even from Nazis, was Love given back.

We should, therefore, pray all the more for them and mourn, all the more, for our lack of love in showing the way more clearly.

And we should remember that the only “them” is the Demons who seek to divide us. Even if someone is leading us to the chopping block, the executioner, the press, the social media, or the courts for our faith, it should be assumed that it is a failure of love leading to this, not a failure of the person. Jesus says we will be persecuted because of his name. If you find this love difficult – and who would not? – begin perhaps by Thanking God for using this person to show you the fulfillment of prophecy. Then pray for them – and you – to be wrapped in Love.

Friendzoned by Jesus.

+J+M+J+

The Readings for Friday in the 5th week of Easter (C1)

I call you friends…

This gets sentimentalized sometimes. Sometimes overly so. I remember when Jesus calling us (me) his friends used to cause me to wax poetical about Plato, David and Jonathan, and about someone important in my life. When I was at the Monastery, I tried to find some core in here that I could hold on to, to stay centered but that failed. The meat of this passage is not that God calls us friends… Because God calls Israel his beloved wife. Friends seems a bit reserved, to be honest. And later God will call the church his Bride as well. But here, we are all just friends.

So what’s going on?

It’s a couple of verses before. Greater love hath no man than this, as the KJV puts it, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And I have called you friends. So yes, that means that I will lay my life down for you… But he also expects us to lay our lives down for him and for each other.

We are are the friends of God, not in a Platonic sense, not in a creepy, pseudo-sexual, S.E. Hinton kind of way, not even in a David and Jonathan sense, but in the foxhole death on a grenade to save your buddies kind of way. In a today-is-a-good-day-to-die way.

In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others. – CS Lewis, The Four Loves 

Our friends were picked for us: we know the difference between friends and acquaintances, between coworkers (with whom we may all be close in one degree or another) and honest to goodness friends.

Jesus is such a friend: who has taken (literally) death for us who demands death from us for him and for each other. Jesus is not the bad boy your parents don’t want you to hang out with: Jesus is the boy that says, “Let’s all enlist. Someone’s got to do something about this.”

Jesus is that one friend whose opinion matters more than anyone in the whole world. When I am engaged in hypocrisy, it is the opinion of other Christians that most matters to me. And yet, “in the world” those folks might matter least. I didn’t manipulate the universe to get these friends. These are not “the popular kids” in school. Jesus is always talking to the wrong sort of folks.

In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it. Ibid

Jesus calls us friends and then, a few years later, St Paul uses this divine, mutually-assured divinization as the model for a real Christian Marriage, too, and that marriage becomes the icon of the love of Christ for his Church. It is this Church, this circle not of cithara strumming band mates and worship leaders but rather of platoonmates, a Band of Brothers, who will screw each other’s courage to the sticking place, cheer each other on in the games of the arena – gladiators, lions, crucifixions, bonfires, street lights… this great cloud of fellow witnesses (martyrs) cheers us on to death: COME ON!

Alone among unsympathetic companions, I hold certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put me back among my Friends and in half an hour – in ten minutes – these same views and standards become once more indisputable. The opinion of this little circle, while I am in it, outweighs that of a thousand outsiders: as Friendship strengthens, it will do this even when my Friends are far away. For we all wish to be judged by our peers, by the men “after our own heart.” Only they really know our mind and only they judge it by standards we fully acknowledge. Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread.  

Jesus calls us friends. Don’t make this out to be some kind of sexless eros or some pathetic high school ensemble movie: 

God’s friends die.

The New Wine Fallacy

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Vetus melius est.
Old is better.


Jesus’ saying about old and new wine skins gets abused a lot. It often gets turned into an excuse for percussion sets in Mass. I’ve heard it used in presenting new teachings on sex and sexuality. It gets spun into presentations about changing who gets ordained. It becomes a perfect argument for any new thing, any compromise with the world, any idea that’s never been tried before.  “We don’t do it that way because it’s wrong” is treated as code for “We don’t do it that way because we’ve never done it that way before”. And then out come the misuse of new wine skins. It’s really a category of Chronological Arrogance: we know better now.  It is argumentum ad novitatem


Jesus does say that new wine goes in new wine skins. Jesus does say that you don’t use new cloth to patch old clothes.


These are both true.


But Jesus does not say, “Therefore the New Wine is Better”. In fact, quite to the contrary, it is old cloth that is better for patching old clothes, and, right there in Verse 39, Vetus melius est.  Old is better. Or, really, “Melius” means “honey-like”. The Greek word used is χρηστός krestos meaning kindly and useful.  It is also a known pun on “Christos”:

“Xrestus (“useful, kindly”) was a common slave-name in the Graeco-Roman world. It “appears as a spelling variant for the unfamiliar Christus (Xristos). (In Greek the two words were pronounced alike.)” (F. F. Bruce, The Books of Acts, 368).

Everyone knows that Old Wine is better than New Wine… aka souring grape juice.

So, let Jesus words give you something to think about the next time you hear someone want to sing “Eagles Wings” at a Requiem…

Meanwhile, on the Gridiron.

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Laurence

Qui amat animam suam, perdet eam; et qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam aeternam custodit eam.
Ὁ φιλῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολλύει αὐτήν · καὶ ὁ μισῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον φυλάξει αὐτήν .
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
This is one of those places where English loses out to both Greek and Latin. Both of these languages have (at least) two words for “life” and the writers of the scriptures use them to mean different things. I’ve set them in bold in the verse above. 

Animam (Latin)  corresponds to the Greek ψυχὴν psyche and it means that common life we all have no matter who or what we are: the driving force that humanity shares with bovinity, broccolinity, and also amoebinity. Or, as Douglas Adams put it in Restaurant at the End of the Universe, “all lifekind”. Anything made of carbon (and maybe a few other elements) that we describe as “alive” is this.

Vitam in Latin, on the other hand, is the Greek ζωὴν zoe. This is what Humanity shares with all the other Spiritual creatures. For a human is a Spirit/Flesh hybrid. We are not only living matter, as are animals, nor are we only spiritual beings, as are demons, angles, etc. We are flesh and blood. And we are Spirit.  We have choices to make regarding our Vitam and our Animam on a daily, or literally moment-by-moment basis.

It’s to be noted that the choice of “love” in English corresponds with φιλῶν philio in Greek, that sort of love we think of as friendship. God, in John’s Gospel, loves the world with agape or a divine charity. We can do the same thing. But friendship with the world is an entirely different thing all together. A friend, says Solomon in the book of Proverbs, loves at all times. That level of loyalty to the world is what we’re not supposed to be doing.

The gridiron has been an important religious symbol since the third century. Today’s Saint is the patron of my former Monastery. St Laurence is known for two things: his snarky martyrdom, and his use of the treasures of the church in what, today, would be called embezzlement. 

When the elders of the Roman Church saw a persecution looming up on the horizon, they entrusted all the wealth to Laurence, a young deacon of the church, and urged him to safeguard it. But he knew the Gospel story. So when he was arrested he promised he would turn over the whole thing… and they sent him home to get his booty – which he promptly delivered into the hands of the poor as was his job. So he gave away everything that was in the church’s possession and returned to his jailers. He said the treasure would be delivered in the morning. And when all the poor of the city showed up on the doorstep, he said, These poor are the treasure of Christ’s church.

Even Church gold can be friendship with the world. And we must always be mindful of the sin of mammonolatry.

So Laurence was arrested and condemned to death for loving Christ’s treasures too much and the world’s too little. We’ll get to what that has to do with football in a minute.
Thomas Aquinas gathered these Christian elders into a Rabbinical sort of conversation on this passage:

Chrysostom. He loves his life in this world, who indulges its inordinate desires; he hates it, who resists them. It is not, who doth not yield to, but, who hates. For as we cannot bear to hear the voice or see the face of them whom we hate; so when the soul invites us to things contrary to God, we should turn her away from them with all our might. 

Theophylact. It were harsh to say that a man should hate his soul; so He adds, in this world: i.e. for a particular time, not forever. And we shall gain in the end by so doing: shall keep it to life eternal. 

Augustine. But think not for an instant, that by hating your soul, is meant that you may kill yourself. For wicked and perverse men have sometimes so mistaken it, and have burnt and strangled themselves, thrown themselves from precipices, and in other ways put an end to themselves. This did not Christ teach; nay, when the devil tempted Him to cast Himself down, He said, Get you hence, Satan. But when no other choice is given you; when the persecutor threatens death, and you must either disobey God’s law, or depart out of this life, then hate your life in this world, that you may keep it to life eternal. 

Chrysostom. This present life is sweet to them who are given up to it. But he who looks heavenwards, and sees what good things are there, soon despises this life. When the better life appears, the worse is despised. This is Christ’s meaning, when He says, If any man serve Me, let him follow Me, i.e. imitate Me, both in My death, and life. For he who serves, should follow him whom he serves. 

Augustine. But what is it to serve Christ? The very words explain. They serve Christ who seek not their own things, but the things of Jesus Christ, i.e. who follow Him, walk in His, not their own v ways, do all good works for Christ’s sake, not only works of mercy to men’s bodies, but all others, till at length they fulfill that great work of love, and lay down their lives for the brethren. But what fruit, what reward? you ask. The next words tell you: And where I am, there shall also My servant be. Love Him for His own sake, and think it a rich reward for your service, to be with Him. 

Chrysostom. So then death will be followed by resurrection. Where I am, He says; for Christ was in heaven before His resurrection. Thither let us ascend in heart and in mind.

Aquinas: If any man serve Me, him will My Father honor. This must be understood as an explanation of the preceding. There also shall My servant be. For what greater honor can an adopted Son receive than to he where the Only Son is? 

Chrysostom. He says, My Father will honor him, not, I will honor him; because they had not yet proper notions of His nature, and thought Him inferior to the Father. 

A friend yields to the desires of his friend. A friend supports his friend in all actions. A friend will be loyal to the death. But yet might only on rare occasions correct or even chide. A friend is known by the company he keeps, really. And, to value one’s psyche over and above one’s Zoe is to cave in, far to many times, to the things of the world.

I find myself smiling when I see a priest using a smartphone to read his office or to navigate a litany without a book. But I had a coworker once who lost his job for using smartphones and tablets in the way one might in these latter days. And that same problem was mine in the monastery. So I worry, too. What else happens with phones pulled out in Mass? So, that, I think, is the line for friendship with the world – not the smartphone, but the misuses of it. And so pull that image out into an analogy. I know folks who pray before voting and who abstain from some races while voting in others – all to take part in the political process as they feel is their religious duty. But I know others who cave in on all issues in the name of a political defeat of “the enemy”, saying it is more important to get electoral victory than to hold on to their faith. In which case friendship with the world seems to have taken over.

That’s where we cross the line – or at least where I do. I find that it’s really easy to write the posts even nightly for a fortnight. And then still find myself caving in to concupiscence. Friendship with the world becomes addiction. 

And we must begin, again, to say “We acknowledged that we were powerless over our friendship with the world and our lives had become unmanageable.” 

Today, as schools return to session, many folks will be looking forward to games played on the gridiron. In some places, even clergy will get into the act, trying to be “cool” and “relevant” in their friendship with the world, seemingly unaware that anything that keeps their flock away from the altar on Sunday is the force of evil. Full stop. Anything at all that would be good, clean fun in most times, once it begins to override our connection with the Lord at Mass, is evil. And lest one think I am speaking only of our pornographic obsessions with team sports, I know a good few folks who get upset when the service takes them in to “overtime” as defined by the pot roast in the slow-cooker at home. 

We must learn to say, with St Laurence, that even the world’s worst actions are not as bad as losing our Zoe, our common life with God.  Tied to a large iron grid, and roasted over a flame… he rather famously said, “I’m done on that side. Turn me over.”

I want to imagine it said with a smile that angered his torturers and moved his friends to tears.

And so should we all be able to say if we’ve come to believe that a power higher than ourselves can restore us to sanity. God’s zoe is all that we need. It puts absolutely everything else in its proper place. Even football. Or that thing Americans play with the pointy ball.
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Is there someone else we can talk to?

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Audistis quia dictum est antiquis… Ego autem dico vobis…  
You have heard it said of old…  But I say to you… 

If you come to the New Testament looking for a relief from those pesky rules in the Old Testament, look no further than the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus, the God of all Love, makes his Father’s rules even more strict. Not just don’t do XYZ, but even don’t imagine doing XYZ, or think about the things that could lead up to XYZ. And, as we learn later, don’t do something that will draw or trip your sister or your brother into XYZ. Jesus is not much more lenient than the older stuff, in fact, he’s worse.

If by worse you mean adding concern for motives to concern for actions.

A friend posted the other day that his priest told him he would do much better struggling against sin if he stopped thinking about rules he could or could not break and started thinking about relationships. Sin breaks relationships. Another friend, preaching last week, underscored that the Evil One’s primary purpose is to isolate us, to break our relationships and to leave us feeling alone, isolated, and vulnerable. Sin is the easiest way to do that. Again, it’s not breaking rules, per se, it’s breaking relationships.

Jesus knows that actions may end relationships, but motives and intentions do so as well. We are stranded, alone in our heads. Thoughts and addictions that lead us to isolating behaviors are just as dangerous to our souls as are the actions themselves. 

George Carlin discusses this in Confession

‘Cause that’s what they taught us; it’s what’s in your mind that counts; your intentions, that’s how we’ll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had’ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. “Thou Shalt Not WANNA”. If you woke up in the morning and said, “I’m going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!” Save your car fare; you did it, man! Absolutely!

Jesus is mindful that once you have the wrong motives, even the right actions get corrupted: being sexually attracted to someone is a bad reason to befriend a stranger on Facebook or to invite a coworker out to lunch. It’s a bad thing to base a purely platonic friendship on as well. Greed is a bad reason to get married. I’ve known people to leave parties “together” because it was August in New York City and one of the two had air conditioning. Putting down a bad foundation ruins the whole structure. Jesus is pointing out the foundation comes way earlier than we had previously imagined.

No one is saved alone: it is our relationships that bring us to heaven. If we  wanna, we damage the relationships in our hearts, we have already sinned. 

Jesus calls us to loving relationship with himself and with each other. This is a relationship based not on use, not on utility, but rather on intrinsic worth. We have to will the good of each other. We have to wanna.

_____

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Preternatural Hangries

JMJ

The Readings for Friday in the 8th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Memorial of St Justin Martyr, First Friday of June

Jam non amplius in aeternum ex te fructum quisquam manducet. 
May no man hereafter eat fruit of thee any more for ever. 

Jesus curses the fig tree because it bears no fruit when it was needed – at that moment when he was hungry. This may seem like a reminder that even for Jesus, “You’re not you when you’re hungry”. But the fig tree is intended as a visual parable, an acted out teaching moment. When Messiah comes, it’s already too late to blossom and grow fruit. You should be fruitful now. We never know when the fruit will be sought for.

In case the reader misses it, the curse of the tree and then the witness of the withered tree is the bracket for the cleansing of the Temple. Messiah arrived and the tree was fruitless, Messiah arrived and the Temple was purged. Far from a case of the Hangries, Jesus is acting in love for you and me to learn how dangerous it is to only pretend to be something. A fruitless tree is certainly worth nothing to the hungry. A fruitless vine is fit only for making cheese from the ashes. 

St Peter’s epistle addresses us strongly too:

Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another….Hospitales invicem sine murmuratione.

I have, three times been involved in conversations where there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the noise made in Church by children. I confess I was the instigator once (circa 1999) although I have only been the defuser each time after that. My main weapon is the one that was used on me that first time (which was a catty comment having to do with unmarried men of a certain age…). Certainly that’s not always the case because even online I can read much wailing and gnashing done by other folks whose “mother would have slapped me into next week for acting like that” or who were “certainly never that poorly behaved as children.” St Peter tells us all to learn to love each other now because the end is coming and, well… hey, you know about that fig tree? Loving certainly involves parents and children. But not always.

I thought about this yesterday at Mass where I was Mr Cranky Pants, not at children, but at two Grandmothers who chatted calmly with each other through the sermon and the prayers of the people from the pew behind me. To be honest, Father’s sermon was not quite as engrossing as possible and my ears are to the point where almost any background noise is too much, but these two Lolas were as loud as Father. So, surrounded by a familial babble, I fell asleep. I awoke to the laughter of a joke and shushed the two… with a look that was rather more like Jesus to the fig tree than St Peter’s idea of Hospitality.

It was not exactly the best moment I’ve had at Mass. 

How often is it that way? That one person who would have been in the choir but for that sense of timelessness about their singing. Or the party who constantly says their prayers 3 seconds in front of everyone else. What about that family that comes late every week and leaves from the communion line? Yes these are my list of gripes that can pull me out of prayer, but do you have your own? Do not we all have our own? These preternatural cases of the hangries all seem to end when Mass ends. I never find myself thinking about them again (especially when I’m in confession and then it just goes right out of my mind) until the next time I’m at Mass. 

Why is it so easy to get if not angry, then disgruntled at Mass? I’ve slammed choir books, and – when I’m in a good mood – I’ve used the Mid-Mass Hangry on other folks. It’s especially easy to trip up the pious, but there it is.  I’ve used the word “hangry” (which is either a portmanteau of “hungry” and “angry” or else a Ukrainian slang term for Lent) because we are exactly that. Except we are not hungering for food. 

Today is the memorial of St Justin Martyr who was slain for his faith in AD 165. His writings are amazing documents not only of his religious journey but also of the practices of the Early Church. Justin spent his youth searching for something until, one day, meeting an elderly man walking on the beach, his eyes (and his heart) were open to the Hebrew Scriptures which in turn opened his soul up to the teachings of Christ. He spent the rest of his time learning, teaching, and defending this new faith, even writing letters to Caesar defending the teachings and creating a new discipline: Christian Apologist. 

Justin realized this is what we’re hungry for: Christ. His love, his hospitality. We are called always forward into this one thing. We may spend our entire life thinking that we need to get money, or power, or sex, or love, or 2.5 kids and a white picket fence yet until we find the one thing worth having, all this other stuff just leads to more hangries.



Who is gonna keep you outta glory?

JMJ

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

Nolite ingemiscere, fratres, in alterutrum, ut non judicemini. Ecce judex ante januam assistit.
Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.

I heard a sermon earlier this week that struck home hard: paraphrasing the Lord’s Prayer, the priest says, “Lord, forgive me my sins as I forgive…” and he asked us to fill in the blank with our worst enemy, or the person who most easily makes us angry. I confess the latter category is my family, and I bring this up in confession often enough. This one I’m working on. But enemies? I had to struggle with this. I don’t really have enemies.

The Greek, though, and the Latin here, used by St James, is much stronger than Father’s homily: because it’s a weaker verb. It’s not who do I hate, or who makes me angry.  The Greek is στενάζω stenazo to groan or to sigh – specifically within oneself, unexpressed. Who, St James asks, makes you tense up and roll your eyes?

That’s the person that stands between you and salvation. How do you get passed that?

I don’t have any enemies (that I know of) but I have a lot of things that make my eyes roll, and a lot of things that make me sigh heavily. And when I say, “things” I mean people.

St James tells us not do do this with the brethren, but, of course, we know from Jesus not to do it at all. James calls us out for doing this to the brethren, thought. You always hurt the ones you love. Folks that don’t matter don’t mind. We can look at the crazy lady in the cash register line at the Piggly Wiggly and just say, “Bless her heart….” but when it comes to the crazy lady singing and off key and off tempo soprano in the pew behind us, Christian charity goes right out the door. The horrors of sex on the tv can be resolved by changing the channel with nary a blink, but someone wearing the wrong clothes in Mass deserves a bit of whispering.

The thing that kept me writing this post all day is how many times I wanted to put in true stories of people in Church who make me angry.

The same, I think, holds true at the office, no? And maybe the Piggly Wiggly?