Theodicy

Rev’d Canon Edward N. West

The readings for the 29th Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Putatis quod hi Galilaei prae omnibus Galilaeis peccatores fuerint, quia talia passi sunt? Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?

JMJ

Back in 1985, I took a year off college. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing and by a twist of the post office and federal record-keeping no one could tell me where my financial aid forms were. Thus, three days before the school year started (I was already living on campus) as I was sitting in a student club office in the Loeb Student Center, I freaked out, filed for a leave of absence, and moved out of NYC to Atlanta. That worked for about 4 months. When I went back to my parents’ house for Christmas I stayed. Then, in the back of the (Episcopal) Diocese of New York newspaper, I found an advertisement for the Institute of Theology. It was a “late vocations” program as we would call it now. It met on Saturdays (and a couple of nights in the week) and was taught actual professors from actual seminaries. I begged permission from everyone to attend, got my pastor to write a letter, got references from some surprising folks, begged and got a waiver on paying for it… and off I went. A semester in “Seminary” to see if I liked it: a pre-vocations program if you will.

My favorite class was homiletics, taught by the Rev’d Canon Edward N. West. That’s him up there. He called me (and anyone else under the age of 70) “Ducky.” He was as familiar with Eastern as with Western Liturgy, and in terms of heros and people I’d like to be like when I finally grow up, he’s on the top of the list. He had a life-sized painting of the late Czar Nicholas in his apartment that was a gift from a scion of the Royal Family. His first public liturgy was the funeral of Mayor Laguardia. Ok, enough geekery.

My least favorite class was called, “The Problem of Evil.” “Theodicy” is the technical term for this.

I know this has bedeviled Christian theologians for two millennia – and it’s in the Books of Job and the Psalms as well. Rabbi Harold Kushner’s classic work, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, has given a cliched phrase as a talking point. This issue is best put this way: If God really loved us he would fix it so things did not suck. If there is a loving God, things shouldn’t suck. If there are sucky things (and there are) it proves that God is either not loving or not all-powerful.

We had a whole class on this. Two weeks in we had to discuss why people die. I blundered in with “Everything in nature dies, that’s just what happens. And we sinned. So we get to be natural too.” The professor countered with “What about good people?” And I responded with “There are no good people: we’re all sinners.” And he pushed back really hard. Then dismissed me as a young’n who didn’t know nothin. And I had essentially failed the course.

I’m kind of cold I think. Life sucks. Jesus offers us no reason at all why some folks were crushed by a tower and why others were turned into mortar for Roman masonry. And then he says, “Look, you know life sucks, so repent.”

This is God talking. It made sense to me, having lost my brother, his best friend, and the best friend’s sister within 1 year when I went to college in 1982, I find this oddly comforting. It was even more so when in 1984, I lost my grandmother. The world sucks. Yeah, so?

The Greek word most often rendered as “sin” is ἁμαρτία harmatia. It doesn’t mean “breaking the rules” but rather “missing the mark” as in not hitting the bullseye on a target or maybe better missing the target altogether. This is not a more-liberal reading of this verb: in fact, it expands it. It’s not just this sort of thing here – it’s a whole class of things! It’s not just a rule broken: it’s a relationship. With that idea in mind, we can see what St Paul means. An addict doesn’t just get drunk, doesn’t just shoot up: she ruins lives including her own in the present and future tenses. A moment of harmatia breaks communion.

St Paul doesn’t talk about breaking the rules: he talks about “sinful flesh” σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας sarkos hamartias. What is in the flesh misses the mark. See that? Our flesh is not out and about breaking rules (although we do do that sometimes, yes). It is not being “bad people” that makes life suck: it’s being humans in the flesh. What we have here is a broken, dysfunctional thing. We should not be surprised that it is broken and dysfunctional.

This problem of evil raises another concern: what’s evil? I think we know what evil is: it’s anything we don’t like or – sometimes – don’t understand. We are convinced the Christmas Tsunami was evil, that the boss I hate so much is evil, that the diagnosis of cancer is evil, that having my car broken into is evil, that this election or that is evil. What we may mean is these seem wrong but we’re saying Evil not wrong.

Later in Romans 8 St Paul says, Scimus autem quoniam diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum, iis qui secundum propositum vocati sunt sancti. We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints. (We’ll get there on Wednesday next week in the lectionary.) And so, if all things work together for our good – even the things we call “evil” – is there anything actually evil that can happen to us?

We can be killed, we can become ill with cancer, we can have a tower fall on us, we can have our blood mingled with cement for the Empires building projects, but: if we love the Lord, if we desire to be saints, these things are not evil. They are mysteries leading us to salvation. I realize there was ways for humans to be evil, to miss the mark entirely, but even then God is working out his purposes. Who was more evil in recent history: those who killed millions of people or those who knew what was happening and did nothing? I would not like to face that question on Judgement Day.

The professor, I later found out, had – early during my 4 months in Atlanta – lost his wife to cancer. The entire class was, really, a way for him to work through that. His pushing back made sense after a while. But – legit question – is losing your wife to cancer an evil or just an example of the world being broken? Like I said, maybe I’m cold. But Christians don’t believe that death breaks communion. “For your faithful, Lord,” we say at Mass. “Life is not ended but only changed.”

Is there evil? I think so – but I think when we say something is evil we mean only, “that thing was surprising and confusing.” So many things arise from Natural Consequences, are they evil? If I drink to excess, I will possibly pass out on the subway. Then my wallet could be stolen during my long, sleeping subway ride back to Brooklyn. Is that evil? There’s a sin there, yes (theft) but is that better or worse than the sins of drunkenness and wasting the resources God provided for me to care for my needs and the needs of others? But is it evil? Or just the way the world is always missing the mark?

I don’t know, Ducky. But all things work for our good. I’ll take that.

What Do You Fear?

JMJ

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

Si patremfamilias Beelzebub vocaverunt, quanto magis domesticos ejus? Nolite timere eos qui occidunt corpus, animam autem non possunt occidere.

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household? Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.


What is the origin of fear? I’m trying to suss this out. St John says perfect love casts out all fear. So is the origin of fear in the lack of love? Or, is it in the imperfection of love?

Since no human being, created in the image of God, can be without love I suggest the answer is the origin of fear is in the imperfection of love. Working hypothesis: we fear not because we hate, but because we love imperfectly.

Jesus says do not fear those who can kill the body. Those are the folks we actually fear the most. We may not say “kill the body” anymore, but we are afraid of people who can deprive us of life and liberty. We are afraid of those who can socially kill us by firing us, taking away our home, expelling our children from school, taking our children away from us, shaming us on social media, destroying our reputation on the internet, or stealing our identities and ruining our credit scores. These are the people we fear.

So, I suggest the problem is that we do not love them perfectly. What would it mean to love perfectly?

Jesus’ best example of perfect love is when he says his father causes it to rain on the just and on the unjust. The sunlight, too, can be said to fall on the just and the unjust equally. God’s love is like that: falling on all of us equally. I used to have an image of the love of God pouring down upon us like beams of light and there were some on whom it did not fall. I realized that didn’t make sense. Then what I saw was that there were some who tried to use umbrellas or anything to keep that pesky light from hitting them. These are the Goths of the spiritual world. They try to hide from the light. God doesn’t love me! So they say.

And certainly, there will be those people who will deny you the chance to love them. But you have to keep loving them! Let them say no. You must always say yes. Love must be perfect. We can’t do it yet, fine! But let’s work towards it, later! Love must grow to be perfect.

When our love is perfect and we will not be afraid. Fear is a luxury a person in love simply cannot afford. Fear is the luxury of folks who love stuff more than people. Fear is a luxury of someone who loves their job more than people. Someone who loves their favorite foods, their favorite sex toys, their favorite appetites, their ego, their reputation, more than people: they can afford fear.

So do not fear the person who can kill your body, but brother loved him perfectly. On the way to the beheading, as you’re walking up the steps, Weep For Love of your executioner. Pray in love for his soul. Beseech God to have mercy on him who is about to kill you. Even if that only means slandering you on the internet.

They do that to Jesus moment by moment. What more do you expect for yourself?

In the Howling Wastes


JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 13th week Per Tempus Annum (C1)

Isaac asked, “Which of my sons are you?” Jacob answered his father:  “I am Esau, your first-born.”

God used Jacob: he was the second born son rather than the preference of Patriarchs who want the oldest boy. Think about it, though. Isaac was the second born son as well. Think back… the oldest son of Noah caused a curse as did the oldest son of Adam. In fact, Adam was not the first created animal: he was created last and asked to rule over the animals. David was the youngest son of Jesse. Solomon was not his oldest son – in fact, he was the youngest son of the seventh wife if I count rightly. So even when you have a “patriarchal culture” God doesn’t quite follow the rules.

Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother – a thing probably not normal in any culture that has something called a “birthright”. Esau probably imagined that was a meaningless transaction. But, lo: God honors it even so. And Esau falls into a long line of firstborn sons who don’t quite measure up.

How does this typologically fit Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God and the firstborn of Mary?

Well, Jesus came from the wrong side of town…

Rome was the Center of the World. Culture was made there. Technology and money concentrated there. It was not only the seat of power: it was the center to which all things flowed. The produce of the world, the art, philosophy, and the economy of the world drained out in Rome. It was the Silicone Valley of its day.

Jesus wasn’t born there.

If Rome is the urban center of the San Francisco Bay, Jesus was born to a poor family in a cowshed on the outskirts of Canon City, Colorado. His followers said he was Lord of the World. Even a couple of decades later, in the heart of the empire, there was only 150 or so Roman Christians, many of the homeless, slaves, rescued orphans and elderly… these were not the revolutionaries that would ever overthrow the known world.

But they did.

Picking up the lowly and casting down the mighty. That’s how God works. The “Flyover States” are the most dangerous place on the map.

Now with 20% Less Mercy

John J McNeill – in need of a corrective.

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 6th Week of Easter:

Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.

Took him aside and explained… we nearly never do that these days. We go looking for “constructive feedback” or at worst something called a “Sh*t Sandwich” which is bad stuff sandwiched between two bits of praise. We get offended not only when people tell us we’re wrong but also when people imply that we are wrong, even when people hint there might be a right way (that’s not the way we did it). 

Telling someone they’re mistaken and bringing them to the truth of the fullness of the faith is 3 of the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, and 3 of the 17 Works of Mercy all together, about 20 percent of all mercy is showing someone their missteps. 

Of the Works of Mercy we have:
  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish the sinners.
  4. To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  5. To forgive offenses.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.
  8. To feed the hungry.
  9. To give water to the thirsty.
  10. To clothe the naked.
  11. To shelter the homeless.
  12. To visit the sick.
  13. To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  14. To bury the dead.
The second 7 are seen as “Corporal” in that they deal with the body, whilst the first batch are the “Spiritual” works of mercy. It does us no good to pit them against each other; to decide one is more important than the other. The body and the soul are, together, one being. The corporal may be seen as easier, or the spiritual as more important, but that’s not the case. It’s a matter of qualifications: I can dig graves, but I am terrible at bearing patiently with those who wrong me. I might not be the right person to lead a retreat on forgiveness. Praying for the dead, though, I’m good at. And, to be honest, 25 years in customer service has totally prepped me for finding a compassionate, gentle way to say, “You’re so very wrong, Bucko.” Such as: 

While a number of different settings on this device are possible, we have found that these settings listed in this help center article work best for our device and also your hi fi reciever. Other settings, while possible, are not supported although you’re of course free to use them if you wish. 

It has also prepped me for pulling out all the stops and saying, “I know you’re looking for a different answer here, but I have to tell you again, you’re very wrong, Bucko.”

As Bishop Barron has noted, while we’re very willing to let someone tell us how best to play golf, or make a pumpkin muffin, we seem to be horribly unwilling to let someone tell us that in matters of religion. We go looking for agreement in the first person: You might say that, but I can’t agree with what you’re saying. It’s not merciful to let that person off the hook. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of mercy. Letting someone give up their soul because you feel uncomfortable correcting them (or because they feel uncomfortable if you do so) is decidedly not merciful. Parents fail in this all the time.

But we also fail in other ways: Priscilla took Apollos aside. They didn’t open up a series of Facebook Posts or a long tweetstorm. They did not engage in those wonderful, modern practices: a whisper campaign or character assassination. Elsewhere we are advised to talk to someone in error one on one, then, failing that, maybe two on one. If that fails, we might even try a larger intervention. If all else fails, then we can ignore them and allow them to go their own way.

We like to come on strong because it makes us feel good to do so: self-righteous may be too uncharitable, but there’s something enjoyable about pitching corrective so fast and so furious that the party ducks and runs for cover. We did our best, right? but the wouldn’t listen, eh?  So… next project.

This is not mercy either. It’s mercy if we gain our brother back. Yet if we drive them away, we’re both lost.

We are surrounded on all sides, both inside and outside of the church, with those who are perishing for lack of mercy. How do we do mercy in the way that Priscilla and Aquilla did? Can we gently offer correctives without losing the souls of those we’re trying to save; without, as a friend of mine used to say, “Shattering the Crystal”?

To bestow mercy we must first be “under the mercy” ourselves. Are you? Am I? Do we submit – daily – to the Church’s teaching even (especially) when we find it at odds with our life experience and desires? How’s our prayer lives? Are we engaged in a living and regular (ongoing) conversation with God? Do we exercise ourselves daily in charity and humility? Can we say the truth in ways that do not sound like “look what I found” but rather reflect the Church’s magisterium and God’s love?

We need to know each our own strengths and weaknesses so that we don’t overstep our own callings. Let me bury the dead. Someone else can take on apologetics or forgiving others. Right? None of us need to preach alone or at all for we’re all in this together let’s pool our resources and see what we can do. Let’s be 100% merciful 100% of the time. 




It’s only a little pinch.

Bl. Stanley Rother, God’s Friend.

+J+M+J+

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

I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

Once, a long, long time ago, it seems to me now, in a religious galaxy far, far away I sat in a class on Patristics as an Episcopal priest explained that no one today would go to their death over a pinch of incense. He thought we were, finally much saner now. I think of this event from time to time and wonder if he was right. Would anyone do it now? Did it make any sense, even then? Most Romans knew the Emperor wasn’t divine. The priests and cults of the empire had needed to invent stories as Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero ruined one by one all the sacred traditions and offices of the Republic. The people watched one entire mythology end and a whole new one begin. What did they care? It’s only a pinch and politically wise. The philosophers since Socrates had long spoken in monotheistic terms and, while it was still largely woven over by polytheistic animism, it was clear that the Divine Augustus (etc) was not this deity. So who cared?

In March of 1935, a farmer and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child, Stanley Rother. Raise in a Catholic home and a student of Catholic schools, he was an Oklahoma Farmer’s son, through and through. He did chores, served at the altar, studied well enough in school, danced, and played sports with his friends. And after school was over he thought maybe to go into the priesthood. That was not an easy choice: he failed Latin and his grades were poor. He was asked to leave seminary. But his Bishop saw something in Mr Rother and found another seminary for him. Finally he was ordained to the Catholic Priesthood 55 years ago today on 25 May 1963.

Fr Stanley volunteered to go as a missionary to Guatemala. Pope St John XXIII had called for priests to go and Stanley took that call to his heart. The Bishop who ordained him sent him to Santiago Atitlan as a priest for the tribe named the Tzutuhil, decedents of the Maya. To serve his people this man who had failed to learn Latin became fluent in both Spanish and the Tzutuhil language. He could, after the Council, even celebrate Mass in the native language of the people! The team even gave the Tzutuhil a written language which they had not had until this time.

Meanwhile, in Imperial Rome, Jews were exempted from the pinch of incense by treaty. But Christians were not. They came from every corner of the empire, they were not an ethnicity or a people with a country. They cared deeply and refused to even pretend that the Emperor was divine and in doing so they rejected the politics and the religion of their neighbors. What my former teacher, the Episcopal priest, misunderstood was that the religion of one did not “shape” the politics, it was the politics. To reject the claim of the Emperor to be divine was to insist that humanity could not debase others, that the Roman emperor had no more right to worship than a Roman slave, and – in a world where the pater familias was divine ruler under his own roof, the Christians said, nope: men and women are equal before God and it is God that is ruler. They refused to participate in a system that denied that or to even pretend to participate. When the system said “Caesar is Lord!” the Christians said, “Jesus is Lord.” Rome hated them for it.

The Gov’t of Guatemala, along with many of the other Gov’ts in Central America, were under pressure to fight off the “Reds” who were trying to “infiltrate” these countries. Infiltrate here means teach, find food for the poor, keep farming tools in working order, bring in fresh, running water, etc. The pressure came from the United States. While in Europe, for much (but not all) of the 20th Century, the political persecution of the Church came from the Left, in the Americas it was from the Center and the Right. In every case from Mexico south, where a right-wing puppet or dictator was persecuting the Catholic Church, it was with American arms up the puppet’s backside and American-trained fingers from the School of the Americas on the guns by which that oppression was accomplished.

Christians have, since Rome, been far too liberal for their worldly conservative friends: they welcome immigrants, they feed the poor, they walk among the sick without fear and treat them (we invented the Hospital when the Rich and Powerful of Rome were throwing their sick into gullies to die).  The Christians of Rome pulled together and ignored the world view of the secular traditionalists around them. They shared their food, they cared for the sick, from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs. They built real community around the Church. They refused to even pretend to play along with a system that said one mad idiot was god and everyone else was his slave – even when they daily, faithfully prayed for his salvation and peace. They would not offer incense to him but they willingly offered it for him.

Stanley kept this tradition alive in Santiago Atitlan and when the way to keep out the Reds involved keeping the powerless, poor, and illiterate Tzutuhil exactly powerless, poor, and illiterate, the good shepherd of his people said, “No!” They built real community around the Church. The people learned to farm together (with Stanley’s farming skills from Oklahoma) and when the machines broke it was Stanley that helped them fix things.

People began to vanish – catechists, altar servers, Sunday school teachers, language teachers, farmers. When Stanley dared to stand up to the gun squads who were “Disappearing” his people, his fate was sealed – so we might say in the world. But Father’s fate was sealed when, as a little baby, the faith of the Church was washed into his soul. To be a friend of God means to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…

And he did so: on 28 July 1981, three gunmen entered the Rectory that was Stanley’s home and shot him. He was venerated as a Martyr from that day forward – first by his own people, the Tzutuhil, then by the Church in Oklahoma, and now – officially – by the entire world. He is known as Blessed Stanley Rother, Priest and Martyr. Although he is not yet a saint that will come in God’s time.

The pinch of incense Stanley was asked for was to stand aside while a Gov’t, following funds and support from a mad king in the Rome of the modern world, tried to deny the people of his parish their personhood, their divine icon of God. Stanley could have stayed in the States (he was home less than a week before his death) and he could have let the flock be scattered. Everyone would understand. Oklahoma, today, might be celebrating a priest’s 56th ordination anniversary.

But Stanley did not offer this pinch of incense. He refused to even pretend to play along. The world – a world that pretended to be “Christian” at the time – hated him for it.

(This man is my patron saint.  I started this essay with nary a clue that today – the readings for Saturday, that is – was the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. I only knew that after my posts of the last two days about God’s friendship meaning our death… I wanted to show what I was intending. This man is what I mean.)

May he pray for us. May it be so with us as well.

An Ontological Illusion.

JMJ

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

Quicumque enim in Christo baptizati estis, Christum induistis. Non est Judaeus, neque Graecus : non est servus, neque liber : non est masculus, neque femina. Omnes enim vos unum estis in Christo Jesu.
For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

This is not a passage about social justice. 
At all. Forgive me that I have, often, fallen into this as well.

Every day a devout Jewish Man would wake and say these three blessings (among many others):

ברוך אתה יי’ אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני גוי
ברוך אתה יי’ אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני אשה
ברוך אתה יי’ אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני עבד


Baruch Atah ha-shem, elohenu melekh ha-olam she-lo esani goy.

Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the universe who has not made me a gentile.
Baruch Atah ha-shem, elohenu melekh ha-olam she-lo esani isha.
Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the universe who has not made me a woman.
Baruch Atah ha-shem, elohenu melekh ha-olam she-lo esani eved.
Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the universe who has not made me a slave.

Thus a Jewish Man, bound to the obligations of the Torah and the Covenant, thanks God (blesses him) for giving him this heavy duty. Which was no onerous task, but rather an honor.  I’m not a gentile, so I have this duty. I’m not a woman, so I’m not excused from this duty (as by child birth, or other womanly functions). I’m not a slave, so I am free to fulfill these tasks. It can sound flaunty, or even triumphant, but a slave or a woman is excused from some duties of the Torah. A gentile is not obligated to any of them at all. A Jewish man must adhere to the whole thing – and if not in his person, than in the persons of his family for whom he is responsible.

Blessed are you… indeed. That’s a way to wake up.


Here St Paul turns those blessings on their head. He says everyone who has been baptized into Christ has put on Christ… and that all divisions have ceased.


Neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), Neither slave nor free. Neither male…

Paul’s whole argument is against dividing the community. Don’t break off into cliques, don’t use the world’s titles for you to divide yourselves. Don’t use the world’s titles to define yourselves. And he uses quite a list:

Jew and Gentile is a primary division in the Jewish world. (Most Gentiles did/do not care.) Slave and free is a primary division in the Gentile world, though. Even being a former slave or the child of former slaves is a blot against one in the Roman world.
Then Paul throws a twist in the phrase, he does not say, in Greek, there is neither male nor female for that biological division God is credited with making in the beginning – before there were Jews, before there were slaves.

What he does say in Greek is There is neither male and female. And as the Jew/Goy line is intended for his Jewish readers and as the Slave/Free line is intended for his Roman readers, Male+Female is intended for all… Paul is saying none of the divisions we see in the world matter. 

Even the most primary of divisions that has been since the beginning of the world – since Genesis 1:27, actually where the phrase “male and female” is also used – this division is now healed. We are all now, in the Body of Christ, made into the New Man, the New Adam, which is Jesus himself. We are not to stand opposed in anyway, one tribe against another, one class against another, nor even one sex against another. In Christ, the curse of the Garden is undone. “…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

The Morning Blessings that established one’s Identity in the world are null. One’s only identity now, in Baptism, is Jesus. The only thing that matters now is this: 

In baptism, we have put on Christ Jesus and are all one in him.

As I noted at the top of the week, I’m reading Galatians now not as if the Judaizers, as they were called, are trying again to graft the Jewish Torah back into Christianity (as they were in Paul’s day) but rather as if we might be dealing with “secularizers” who are trying to graft some other alien structure into Christianity. There are those who want to graft in “White American Capitalist Republican” in here. There are those who don’t really care about anything in there but “White”. There are those who seek to graft in other social divisions, based on class, sex, desires, race… all the things we use in our “Identity Politics” are irrelevant.

If we are baptized into Christ, all are one in Christ. Coming into the Church we have to give all that up. Obviously it does not end: even in St Paul’s day, one was still either a salve or a free person. But the division, the failure of unity, is no longer real. Again, this is not a teaching on Social Justice. This is a radical teaching on the unity of the Church, a radical reformation of who you are. St John Chrysostom says, 

If Christ be the Son of God, and thou hast put on Him, thou who hast the Son within thee, and art fashioned after His pattern, hast been brought into one kindred and nature with Him… he does not stop there, but tries to find something more exact, which may serve to convey a still closer oneness with Christ. Having said, “ye have put on Christ,” even this does not suffice Him, but by way of penetrating more deeply into this union, he comments on it thus: “Ye are all One in Christ Jesus,” that is, ye have all one form and one mould, even Christ’s. What can be more awful than these words! He that was a Greek, or Jew, or bond-man yesterday, carries about with him the form, not of an Angel or Archangel, but of the Lord of all, yea displays in his own person the Christ. Source

Those who are not so baptized may do as needed or wished. This is not about their choices or lives. 

Those who are initiated by those holy waters into Christ “display in their own person the Christ” and all those other bits are mere labels we add to ourselves are only so much mammon to be tossed out, ignored.

This holds true in other places like Romans, where Paul begins to note lists of sins not as “noun/verb/object” phrases, but as verbal nouns: people whose very identity has become the doing of something. Paul says that won’t work any more. In fact he says if we hang up our “identity” in the doing of something, we’re damned. Only a human being can become a Christian. These other labels prevent that. We have in the mystery of Baptism (and in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and in the Mystery of Matrimony…) literally bounded ourselves to the Messiah not in the abandonment of ourselves, but in the fulfillment of ourselves. We free ourselves from false “identities”, from illusions of selfhood, and become how God made us to be.

No longer let us say “Blessed are you Lord for having made me not like all these other folks…” but rather let us say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under the roof of the house of my soul… but enter and make me yours. Make me you.”



Idols of the Post-Moderns

JMJ

The Readings for Our Lady of Sorrows
Saturday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Sed quae immolant gentes, daemoniis immolant, et non Deo. Nolo autem vos socios fieri daemoniorum : non potestis calicem Domini bibere, et calicem daemoniorum; non potestis mensae Domini participes esse, et mensae daemoniorum.
But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God. And I would not that you should be made partakers with devils. You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord, and the chalice of devils: you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils. 

The image above is from the cover of one of my favourite political books, the T.A.Z. or Temporary Autonomous Zone. For a while in the early 90s, I could practically recite the thing. It seemed the perfect image to head up this post.

Paul can be of two minds about the pagan deities in the cultures he visits. On the one hand, there is no such thing as “Hermes” or “Magna Mater”, so the idol is nothing. It’s unimportant. We should pay it no mind at all. On the other hand, the “energies” or “things” that draw humanity to worship idols, that foment fear and superstition in men’s minds: these are demons. So, on the one hand, we know that food offered to idols is – literally – food held up in front of a bit of wood or waved under some metal. Might as well be cooked over wood or in a metal pot for all the “juju” that’s in the idol. But on the other hand there are demons involved in the delusion. 

Paul tells us that if you find something in the market, go for it. But if someone tells you that it was sacrificed to idols, then you shouldn’t eat it. The issue is that there’s no “demonic activity” in the meat. But there are demons tempting others – and you – and even accidental visual collusion is still collusion with the demons.

We don’t have a lot of metal or wooden idols in our world any more. So where do we find the demons lurking? 

In Ephesians we find Paul telling us we “wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We’ve made our own idols I think. License and selfish desire, concupiscent ideologies, and false spiritualities all lead us astray. I think it would be easy to make an idol out of some adult entertainment stars, but we’re never that poetic. And demons hate actual art. We’d rather make an idol out of a flag, a football team, or an addiction. For St Paul all the idols of Crete or the Areopagus were also centers of cults: communities of folks. But for us, with our isolation, our internet, our buffering, and introversion, we find that our cultus has room for only one or two.

As with the idols St Paul knew, the thing, itself, is nothing. Drugs, Apple Pie, Chevy Trucks, Hell’s Angels, Cats…  The thing, itself, is nothing. But the energies that draw us and hold us to the thing, the desire to craft identities around it (instead of our God-given identity in Christ) that’s the “powers and principalities” that we’re fighting against. These rulers of darkness draw us into their orbits and force us into isolation, away from each other, away from people who worship differently. Today we’ve even developed drugs so that we can listen more carefully to our preferred voices, shutting out all else. When these demons get their hooks into us it can take decades before healing can begin.

This, then, is the cost of this much more subtle, more more personalized content that’s passing for idolatry today. Against this Jesus stands as a “sign of contradiction”. Jesus is not about “me” but about “us”. Jesus calls us out of our isolation into communion, out of our pallid humanist ideas of “equality” and into constantly kenotic communities. The weaker leads, the stronger serves, the wiser learns at the feet of the fool. God is love: a fiery all-consuming, all-engaging, all-dancing act of self-giving. And we need to be that as well or we’re nothing at all like God. The demons hate this.

The image above, as I noted, is from the cover of one of my favourite political books, the T.A.Z. or Temporary Autonomous Zone. It seemed the perfect image to head up this post as it is clearly of an idol that was constructed by an artist. It’s a sort of thing the occult community used to call “Chaos Magic”. It means nothing to anyone save the artist that made it. But for the rest of us it is beautiful, maybe. Tonight, as I was typing the final lines of this post… I took off my contacts and sat back down to the computer. Only then did I see the demons in the image. I’ve had this image in my possession for nearly 30 years only now, liberated from the book and propped up on my blogpost did I see them. 

We do not share our demonic communions with anyone at all anymore. Except the demons.  And they like it like that. Divide and conquer. 

Noblesse Oblige

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Sed quae stulta sunt mundi elegit Deus, ut confundat sapientes : et infirma mundi elegit Deus, ut confundat fortia.
God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.


You know, Nietzsche’s complaint about Christianity being a “slaves’ religion” is 100% correct. If one were to be so foolish as to deny this, we have today’s readings to support old FFred. We also have Benedict, Francis, Dominic, and all the others who taught poverty was central. Paul was a scholar of his day, but he was a tent maker. And although the Way attracted the rich and powerful, their income promptly went to supporting the poor. If you’ve not had a chance to see the movie, Paul the Apostle, you’ve missed Prisca and Aquila harboring an entire Christian community in their house. They knew that the wealth God had given them was given them exactly to care for the poor in the Church. God had given everything – including their wealth, station, and skills, expressly for the care and feeding of those poor brethren to whom he had not given such things; save only by the hands of Prisca and her husband. They did not bury their talents. They lavisged them on others and on the Gospel. This care for the poor, this care for the weakest, this care for the foolish is our Way.

It’s supposed to be our Way internally first, to a superfluity that flows out and begins to be our way in the wider world. People are supposed to say, “See how they love each other” even as we give away our extra food to anyone who needs it. To the Romans a weak, elderly person was a danger to the whole tribe and could be exposed on the hillside – as could a newborn baby that no one wanted. Christians rescued all these folks and nursed them back to health, or to a death with dignity in a community of love. In the end it was this care for the weak and the lost that made the Christian faith not only a threat to Roman culture, but, eventually, the victor over Roman culture when the latter had become so corrupt, so rotted from the inside, that it fell way like a chrysalis that was enclosing an entirely new form of life. 

From this moment we get our Western cultural values of charity and of community. Even when we don’t follow them, we pay lip service to the idea of them: as the current administration embodies. Everyone knows things are supposed to look like Mayberry. They just don’t agree on how to get there.

What we do know is there’s no biological or evolutionary reason to do this: there is no non-religious reason at all for caring for the sick, the weak or the poor. There’s no idea of “justice” that requires me to give up all my hard-earned cash to care for you. There is no human system of morality in which this makes sense. Socrates can give us Plato (or vice versa) and ideas about rhetoric disguised as essays on homoerotic love, but he can’t give us charity. Even our founders knew that these ideas don’t come from us – we are endowed with these by our creator (even as we might disagree about how best to relate to him).

And so it is in the eyes of the Church as of the founders, really: the state’s best function is out of the way of the Church so that she can do her job.

Lately our failures in this respect have underscored how our own values have fallen by the wayside. The state’s function of Justice seems needed. Care for the weak (children) and care for the other has failed as we have become power-hungry. Some have openly disparaged the poor and the stranger in the face of clear church teachings, others have misused children in ways that the Pagan Romans would have easily recognized. This has damaged our ability even to opine on these topics, let alone teach, or lead by example.

So we must, what? Bury our talent in the ground? No. Even more we must get out there and be the Gospel in action. Time to double down on the Truth. It may expose us to shame and to mockery, but that’s when our Lord was able best to show his love for us: by going through the same mockery and abuse. We have such a Lord and Savior who asks that we may be like him. Love othersoth hard that we accepts steal into our palms and side.


—-
Please consider supporting my my writing via my Patreon.

As I say. Not as I do.

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Omnia ergo quaecumque dixerint vobis, servate, et facite : secundum opera vero eorum nolite facere : dicunt enim, et non faciunt.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

Back when I was an Episcopalian teenager and pretty much everyone was convinced I was going to seminary, I used to find myself in conversations with people that, really, I wouldn’t want to know now. But these were rich and powerful clergy, and they were initiating me NOT into a pattern of sexual abuse, but rather into a curious and double life of another sort. So, for example, one of the most conservative seminaries of the Episcopal Church ended every Sunday with a solemnly sung Vespers service followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The solemn repetition of the same content over and over had so bored several generations of seminarians that they did not call this by its traditional Victorian, Anglo-Catholic name of Evensong and Benediction, but rather, “Evenscreech and Cookie Worship.” 

It’s a joke only a religion nerd could get – especially one at a very conservative parish in Atlanta that had weekly the same practice. But it’s also an irreverent blasphemy that should not be repeated by a pious teenager at all, let alone to a Sunday School teacher.

And when I had so profoundly scandalized the Sunday School teacher that she didn’t want to talk to me any more, I thought, this is probably something to bring up in confession.

And I was told by the priest – who had gone to that very seminary – that such jokes were perfectly fine. But shouldn’t be repeated in front of the laity.

See: everyone was making assumptions about my future. This was at a parish where sexuality was not a topic of conscience, but rather of strict adherence to tradition. But some jokes shouldn’t be repeated in front of the laity…

So when I hear Jesus say those guys teach well enough, but don’t do what they do, I realize this has been a problem for a long, long time.

When I hear of Catholic Clergy having sex – but not getting married – and calling that “celibacy” because they abstain from marriage, I’m perhaps too realistic for my own good but I wonder why it surprises folks to learn that people can be that duplicitous. Evidently some of this stuff never got repeated in front of the laity.

We have entire schools of thought (clerical ones and lay ones) set up to tell us why we can use condoms, or why it’s ok to deviate from the sexual teachings of the church as laity “using their conscience“.  We have a “pro choice” Senator who piously goes to Mass in SF. And a Catholic-school educated Governor. Why should it surprise us that some folks in Church-power would claim the same “primacy of conscience” to do whatever they might want as well? What purpose is served by imagining the clergy to be different?

To be fair, the Catholic teaching is not that the Conscience will always lead us right, but rather that a Conscience, properly formed by the Church into conformity with the Law of God will always lead us right. As Catholics, we must submit to the teaching of the Church even if our erring conscience would lead us elsewhere

As Catholics we believe the Church is sinless but she is filled with sinners.  This is one of the contradictions of the Church, one of the mysteries… Here we are where the folks who taught us “conscience should be your guide” then went off the rails dragging the rest of us with them. And we see it.  We see folks who claim to be Catholics and yet rape children. Or kill them in the womb. Or destroy their lives with economies of Greed. We see folks who claim to be Catholics and disagree with nearly everything taught.

If you’ve been following along this last week or so in the readings from Ezekiel you know that Israel went very wrong because his shepherds were very bad. Then God said, “I guess I’ll have to do it myself!” and “I will be Israel’s shepherd.”  Today in Ezekiel, God shows up, walks into the temple, sits down, and says, “I’m here. I’m going to do this job now!”

Christ is enthroned on every altar of adoration even when he’s ignored by the walkers on the street. Christ is lifted high at every mass even when the clergy don’t believe what they’re doing any more. Christ is glorified at every painful turn of a soul away from a sin embedded so deep that it’s become a false identity. And you, my dearest sister, beloved brother, can heal the Church with sincerity of heart.  And love.

And since God is love.

There is hope.



—-Please consider supporting my my writing via my Patreon.

I see your 22, and I raise you 67.

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Saint John Vianney, Priest
Saturday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Judicium mortis est viro huic, quia prophetavit adversus civitatem istam, sicut audistis auribus vestris.

This man deserves death; he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.

Prophesy against “The City” (be it Jerusalem, or San Francisco, or any part of the City of Man in general) can bring one up on charges of death. John calls out Herod for his adultery and gets beheaded. You’ll get that when you call out a popular, strong leader with rich friends. America has been no fan of being called out since at least the Jackson administration.

So, you have to be careful if you want to speak about The City… make it look like you’re saying something else.

The Holy Father is again taking flak from the right. At issue is a recent change to the Catechism.  Now, first and foremost the Catechism is not an infallible document. It’s edited and changed as needed.


The current text in the Catechism says:

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor 


If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
 

 
Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.‘[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.] Emphasis added

A proposed revision to paragraph 2267 reads, in full:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. 

In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. 

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’  and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. Again, emphasis added.

Now, following on how it was previously explained as something whose met requirements were “very rare if not practically non-existent” we’ve moved to a new place of “inadmissible”.

What’s changed?

The bit about the dignity of the human person is not changed. Nor have the requirements regarding absolute necessity. Nope… that has not changed either.  What has changed is the possibility of necessity and requirements being met. So I don’t think the Pope is changing Church teaching so much as he’s making clear his sense that the 53 Countries that allow the death penalty can’t meet the requirements.

And so he’s preaching against The City, but he’s making it look like he’s preaching against the Death Penalty. 

He’s saying there’s no country in which he can assume both fair laws and unbiased decision making (in courts and in laboratories) coupled with the existing ability to actually detain someone safely. Some will debate that last point, but we have a lot of safe storage now.

And given our track record in America (and some other places too) of racist assumptions in crime and punishment, including – but not limited to – lynchings, unjust arrests, police killings, corrupt judges, tampered evidence, manufactured evidence, turned off body cams, blue collusion, non-peer juries, faked prison suicides, division of families, detention of innocents, revenge killings, and neighborhood race-based raids unseen since the Japanese Internment… I think it’s a fair accusation. 

We wouldn’t know justice if it bit us in the ass. 

The issue is the application, not the teaching. The govt has legitimate rights and powers. But salvation is more important. In this way we return to the early stance of radical support for the Gospel: where even the monastic fathers of Egypt said it was better to hide a criminal from the police, and so give him a chance to repent, than to turn him over. The latter would only mean his death. It is selfish to waste someone else’s soul for a false sense of security. They were speaking of a Christian govt in a Christian empire. It’s not that way now, not at all, not here nor anywhere. We have a duty to protect lives.

Don’t worry. In the same way the left ignores teachings on sex the right will ignore this teaching as well. And they’ll both insist they’re being faithful Catholics whilst hating on the others.

Pray for the souls of the departed, especially those slain in 

Afghanistan
India
Nigeria
US
Iran
Japan
Taiwan
Kuwait
Zimbabwe
Libya
Thailand
Guyana
Uganda
Bangladesh
Iraq
Indonesia
Botswana
UAE
Bahamas
Cuba
Belarus
Yemen
Saudi Arabia
Vietnam
Syria
Egypt
South Sudan
DRC
Ethiopia
China
Sudan
Comoros
Somalia
Barbados
Malaysia
Chad
Pakistan
Oman
Singapore
St Kitts and Nevis
St Lucia
Bahrain
North Korea
Equatorial Guinea
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Palestinian territories
Trinidad and Tobago
Lesotho
Antigua and Barbuda
Belize
Dominica
Jamaica
Jordan

___

Please consider supporting my my writing via my Patreon.