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.


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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.



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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

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The Abominable Bride

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 16th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Liberati sumus, eo quod fecerimus omnes abominationes istas.
“We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again”


The Hebrew word used in this line for “Abomination” is תּוֹעֵבָה to’evah, a specific class of ritual and societal uncleaness in the Jewish law, related to certain acts of impiety such as idolatry, and eating unclean foods, certain sexual acts, and the sacrifice of children. In short, a description of nearly every popular Catholic politican and not a few popular clergy in the news. It’s not pretty. And yet on a given Sunday in San Francisco, you can see one such politician receiving the Blessed Sacrament unmolested in her parish church. And yet… crisscrossing the country and visiting Hollywood, Washington, DC, or Boston, one can see the same thing in Orthodox churches. If only my former ecclesial home were seen to be as important as Rome by the media, more would be said about suicides in seminary, Bishops touching things they should not touch, monastics arrested and sent to prison, and sex parties with Metropolitans. And goodness only knows what goes on in Eastern Europe, Turkey, and the lands around Palestine. Everyone says, “We’re safe. We can do these abominations again.”

To’evah, abomination, is also used of charging interest on a loan. In current English usage, usury usually something like loan sharks, payday loans, or medical billing practices. But in the Bible charging any interest at all is morally equal to rape and idolatry. For this reason, until recently, Christians were forbidden to be bankers at all. By the Church. It was a curious dual Antisemitism that forbade Christians to do so, but allowed the industry to continue in the hands of Jews, but then the Church changed her mind when the historic banking families became wealthy enough to interest Christians in the business. Still, given the housing situation in many parts of the country, the lack of care for the poor, the lack of food, the lack of medical care… Even outside of sex acts and worshiping the Golden Calves of the president, we’re all safe, right? We can do these abominations again.

In the end both lungs are spotty if not out and out cancerous. The bride is abominable. The sex part draws attention, but listen to the left criticize the Church’s teachings on sex or listen to the right criticize the Church’s social teachings. It’s all the same a la cart Catholicism, it matters not if you like the Surf and Turf or the Vegan side of the buffet.

What’s to be done?

The Gospel speaks to us now. 

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.

Is that not a perfect description of the Church, taken side by side with today’s prophetic passage? There is one fault though: our weeds (Tares in the Greek – a specific kind of weed that looks exactly like the wheat but happens to be poisonous) are not condemned to be always weeds. In the Church of God, I can be a tare today and good wheat tomorrow. God’s grace can get to me after a lifetime of taredom and restore me to righteous wheatiness in no time. But you have to admit, we have some weeds in the amber waves.

The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

There are not enough Holy Hot Pockets in Hades for all the folks I would put there. And certainly an enemy has done this. Let’s get’em!

Jesus replies…

‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest;

And remember what I said: we’re not plants. I’m a mess today, but I may be all filled with grace later. We can stand or fall by our depending on God’s grace or our failure to do so. Jesus doesn’t want us to go on Church purity drives that kick out the sinners. They’re the whole reason the Church is here. The tares need coaxing into wheatiness. We’re all transitional forms forms of saints.

The bride has to stay a mess: and yes, there are those who will find themselves in purgatory here and now. It may be God’s way of making them into wheat. And I don’t understand it, but then, I’m not God and I don’t have to understand it. 

By the same token, none of us can be more merciful than God, but collusion with sin is neither mercy nor love. I know how I would want to reach out with the pruning hooks and so I’m thankful that’s not my job. I condemn myself thereby. Even now, in light of recent scandals, some of my friends who did not believe “gay” was an ontological category are calling for all “the gays” to be kept out of/leave the priesthood, tossing out their own sense of the Church’s teachings in their anger.

We wrestle not with flesh and blood, says St Paul. But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness.

For those of us not called to serve as judges in the Church – and that’s probably all of us reading this blog, at least, we are called to pray for “the Tares” and also for those harmed by them. We are called to try – at least – to love them all back to God. There are those who have spiritual authority to take other action, and that may happen. But even then, our job is to pray and work for healing. Acting through righteous anger will not cause the world to say, “See how these Christians love each other.” But rather it will make us just like the world. We can be a part of Rage Culture too.

Yet never worry. God knows his own.

At harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”

It is most important to keep this in mind. As the whole thing seems to go to hell in a hand-basket, over and over again, our job is to pray and live faithful lives. To be virtuous even when the shepherds fail, to be trusting in the one who, in the end, will gather us into his barn.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong; 
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.


In the end, the Bride is beautiful. It is she whom God came and sought, it is she for whom he died. Her beauty, unseen even now, has ravished all of heaven and wooed her creator to come. But it was a beauty he gave her… and he knew it was there, even when she fell so low. He knew he could raise her up with himself.


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How many are you worth?

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin.
Saturday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Nonne duo passeres asse veneunt? et unus ex illis non cadet super terram sine Patre vestro. Vestri autem capilli capitis omnes numerati sunt. Nolite ergo timere : multis passeribus meliores estis vos.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 

This became a most-beloved passage when Fr Yakov mentioned that the sparrows in question are being sold as “Street Meat”: grilled on skewers and offered as snacks. If this were modern day New York, Jesus might be saying, “You’re worth more than many hot dogs.” If this were San Francisco, he might say tacos or pupusas. The parallel would hold because Jesus was talking to poor folks who would eat Street Meat. To reach today’s hip crowds in SF, he might have to say “IPAs” or maybe Vape Hits.


The “sparrows” bit is intended as some sort of comfort offered for the rest of the pericope, though. Jesus is saying, “They hate me… and you’re neither sinless nor God in the flesh. So they are really going to not like you one bit.” This follows on the texts from yesterday and the day before about how troublesome it’s going to be to preach. Rely fully on God – not on your money belt, not on your social connections, not on your religious connections! God may or may not rescue you from the folks howling at your feet, but God will save you.


On the one hand, stop acting (or not) in fear: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul? On the other hand, don’t be a hypocrite: if you don’t believe that God’s got this, how can you preach this Gospel at all? If you find yourself making decisions based on fear (as I do) then you need to reevaluate your position: Why would the Evil One take any action against you since you’re so willing take action against yourself? You’re doing his work for him! And if you’re telling others to trust in God when he is not the source of your strength and satisfaction, how long will you keep setting yourself up for failure?

What are you afraid of? His eye is on the sparrow (or the IPA) so he must be watching you as well. It is in order to prevent us from falling into this repudiation that he reminds us of our values before God.


These passages were first spoken to the Apostles as they were sent out on their mission. And they apply to us now. We are the ones who are to confess him before others. How do we do this? The Greek text makes it clear. To “confess” or (to “acknowledge”, says the milder NABRE) is homologeo, literally to “say the same”.  But another way to read that is to note that it’s using the root “logos”: to be of the same Logos as Christ. To be in the mind of Christ. This is why the Spirit tells us what to say – for we share one mind with Christ.

We must speak with Christ’s words before others. That’s hard, right? To heal, to forgive, to bless and not curse. It’s so much easier to triumph, to lord over, to gloat. If we fail to say the same as Jesus before others, if we repudiate him by our words or our actions, he will do the same to us. 

Then we’ll be worth bupkiss.

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