True Pastor, True Mercy, True Food

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et ait illis : Venite seorsum in desertum locum, et requiescite pusillum. Erant enim qui veniebant et redibant multi : et nec spatium manducandi habebant. 
And he said to them: Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little. For there were many coming and going: and they had not so much as time to eat. .

Jesus is being pastoral: here and later when he sees the crowd and has pity on them for being like sheep without a shepherd. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make a pun. Jesu, bone pastor, miserere nobis. Jesus, Good Shepherd, have mercy on us. 

What is so very hard about life is the comings and goings, with no time to eat. Work makes our days’ stress. Family make our evenings tight. And, in the end, the alone time we get (in the bathroom?) is spent on the internet. I can tell when I’ve had a bad week (such I have had) because it’s easy to just slump on the sofa and look off into space. It’s easy to not pray, to let the brain get filled with darkness, and in the end, sleep. But you wake up numb and it starts all over again. Jesu, magni consilii Angele, miserere nobis. Jesus, Angel of Great Counsel, have mercy on us.

So Jesus says, “Let’s go to the desert…” (You wanted dessert, I know.) and you wonder, what do you mean, Jesus? Is not this bad enough? There you are, trapped, alone – even in the middle of a crowd – and he wants to take you deeper into the alone place.

Even as I sat down to type, my alarm went off for Compline and I couldn’t quite get myself together to stand up and pray. Forever. And when I finally did, I couldn’t concentrate the whole week rushing on me and around me. And me in the Alone Place. But… suddenly… not on my own. I had been to Holy Mass earlier for blessing of candles and the sacrament. And I remember the peace that came upon me there which had, in fact, settled on me from that time until just after lunch. So much of the day spent in that peace, that comfort zone, And then some things happened and I found myself not quite in the zone. But I realized, finally, I had only been “out of the zone” for a few hours. Jesu, lux vera, Deus pacis, miserere nobis. Jesus, true light, God of peace, have mercy on us.

And someplace in the darkness a light was kindled. The realization that even if everything fails, it is Jesus who is in control, not me. And that peace that passes understanding flows in.

Knowing that one’s real work is salvation, that paying for things per se is secondary is neither comforting, nor uplifting. But it is life affirming.

And this Darkness passes. It’s the light that stays. Sunrise in the desert is very beautiful.

We can be like so many sheep without a shepherd. But Jesus is there – is here – to teach us so many things, and to show us so many kindnesses, if we will but let him. Jesu, fili Dei vivi, miserere nobis. Jesus, son of the Living God, have mercy on us.

BONE pastor, panis vere,
Iesu, nostri miserere:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuere:
Tu nos bona fac videre
In terra viventium.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales;
Qui nos pascis hic mortales;
Tuos ibi commensales,
Coheredes et sodales

Fac sanctorum civium. Amen.

VERY BREAD, good Shepherd, tend us

Jesu, of Thy love befriend us,
Thou refresh us, Thou defend us,
Thine eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see.

Thou who all things canst and knowest,
Who on earth such food bestowest,
Grant us with Thy Saints, though lowest,
Where the heavenly feast Thou shewest,

Fellow-heirs and guests to be. Amen.

(Aquinas) 

The Benedict Option

If I Werrr King of the Forrrrressssht

JMJ 

The Readings for Saturday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2):

    Et ait illis : Quid timidi estis? necdum habetis fidem? 
    And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet?

    July 4th, 1981,  I was sitting behind the elementary school with my friends Faith, Marc, Denis, Jody… we were all there to watch the annual fireworks display. These were shot off from behind an oak tree that grew at the back of the playground by the village sheriff.  We could see him now, moving in the twilight, setting up the tubes and things. As he shot off each one, Faith would lead us in a sound, “OOOOOOOO” or “AHHHHHH”, etc. We were annoying folks around us, but it was fun, sitting on the blanket, sipping out of little Budweiser nips, and not yet being of age.

    About 10 minutes into the program, a rocket went up (Faith had us ready to cry, “Ohhhhhhh”). But then, after about 20 feet it gave up and the rocket came down. We watched it bounce. 

    But then… it exploded! (The Sheriff had the sense to run, duck and cover). And there was an amazing amount of chaos: because the exploding rocket caught all the other fireworks and lit them all! There were rockets going everywhere. An entire 40 mins of remaining program including the grand finale went off in about 5 minutes. It was intense. It was astonishing. It has ruined me for fireworks because I tell this story every year and no fireworks display can ever match it.

    The mob of people were running into the forest, off to the farm field next door, or out towards the parking lot. 

    Faith sat motionless and so, so did all of us. And we saw the intense beauty and humor of it all.  And we drank our beers as people screamed.

    Then we applauded.

    Faith said to my Mom later, “I figured if one of those rockets was meant for me, running into the woods wouldn’t have helped, so I sat there.”

    So, Jesus: say the Apostles. You see here, we’re about to be killed! Why are we afraid? You were asleep and we were just three splashes short of a full bucket here, and going under fast. Why are we afraid? Right. How can you sleep? You have to admit the Apostles would have had any reason at all to yell back something like this. The English makes it sound that way, anyway: almost as if Jesus stood up and said, “What, this? You call this a storm? That’s not a storm…”

    That’s not a knife…

    But Jesus asks a rather more interesting question in the Greek (and in Latin): Why are you timid? Do you not yet have faith? The Latin timidi is a perfect rendition of the Greek δειλός deilos. Both of those would be a perfect name for the Lion in the Wizard of Oz (δειλό λιοντάρι). And we know from that story that the lion is lacking Courage… which means heart.  (Middle English [denoting the heart, as the seat of feelings]: from Old French corage, from Latin cor ‘heart.’). The Greek, deilos means the same thing only worse:

    1169 deilós (an adjective derived from deidō, “fear-driven”) – properly, dreadful, describing a person who loses their “moral gumption (fortitude)” that is needed to follow the Lord.
    1169 /deilós (“fearful of losses”) refers to an excessive fear (dread) of “losing,” causing someone to be fainthearted (cowardly) – hence, to fall short in following Christ as Lord.
    [1169 /deilós is always used negatively in the NT and stands in contrast to the positive fear which can be expressed by 5401 /phóbos (“fear,” see Phil 2:12).]

    Lacking moral gumption. OK. And fearful of losses and because of that fear falling short… a level of fear that causes you to back down in the service of Jesus.

    Once, meditating on the roots of anger, I found fear. Not Phobos, but Deilos. And I’ve been praying for Cojones de Latón ever since. The curious thing is that one doesn’t need to be scared of anything. I can get up and move 3,000 miles tomorrow: find a new job, make new friends, make a real go of it. I’ve done that so many times that I could write a how-to manual called “How to Quit, Move 3,000 Miles and Start Over Anytime You Want.” I’ve walked on outdoor ledges 3″ wide 6 floors above Manhattan, I’ve walked in parts of several cities in which I’m supposed to be terrified. But I’m not.


    But I am more worried about offending the persons who control my lease or my paycheck than I am about offending Jesus. And that shows up in a false bravado, a weak-willed acquiescence, a persecution complex, and a simmering stew of emotions that run the gamut from “why can’t I get anything done?” to “one day I may find a new job”.

    Jesus posits a curious solution to this timidity: Necdum habetis fidem? Have ye not yet faith?  Faith is the answer. Faith in what, though? What is this faith of which you speak? Faith is different from assurance or confidence. 

    I have confidence in meeeeeee

    Faith is trust. Faith is trust in God. Jesus can sleep through a storm (or an Earthquake), or walk through an Angry Mob (or a trial), because he knows his heavenly Father has got it all under control. Yes, he had some doubts and fears in Gethsemane, and he asked for help… but he never gave in to them. 

    Trust. The Greek word rendered “Faith” here is πίστις pistis and it’s not the blindness of belief. Rather it’s the assurance of knowing. In Greek one has pistis in a contract.  One has πίστις in a marriage. The Latin prayer called the Act of Faith begins, Domine Deus, firma fide credo et confiteor… “Lord God, with a firm faith I believe an I confess… The Greek version of the Nicene Creed begins “Pisteuo” or “I trust…”

    When Jesus says, Why are you timid? Why do you not yet have faith?” He’s asking, flat out, Which part of God’s Got This are you missing?

    If one of those rockets had my name on it, running into the forest wouldn’t help.
    (I make no apologies because her name really is Faith)


    I wonder, though what makes us think anything else in this world works differently? If God’s got this… then whatever is happening is what’s best for me: for my salvation, for my journey home. What I need to do is find the best dance for now. What is not acceptable is to run away, to hide, to chicken out, or to back down.

    I’m currently reading a Biography of St Catherine of Siena. Of all the amazing things she did, the thing that surprises me most is not that she rebuked the Pope for being in Avignon, but why she did so: he was there because Rome had riots and wars and it was scary. She knew though, that the Bishop of Rome belonged with his people. The popes were scared and running: and that’s no way for a Christian to make decisions, certainly not a Christian leader, and especially the Vicar of Christ.

    So what about my fear problem? Or, what about our fear problem? We don’t get to go hide in the hills just because there’s war, or rumors of wars, or laws we don’t like. The late Francis, Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, once said 

    I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. 

    We’re not there yet, but the prophecies of section 17 in Humanae Vitae are coming true. And we may not have long to wait.  Come what may, though: The Lion of Judah ain’t no Dandy Lion to go hide in a cave until the terror is over. Christians don’t get to run away when things get tough. They stay put, they raise their kids in the faith, they serve the Gospel, they proclaim the truth, and they get killed.

    That’s the will of God and so they go rejoicing, forgiving their oppressors, blessing those that curse them, and praying for those that kill them. The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.

    Cardinal George’s quote ends rather more hopeful than it beganHis successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

    That’s faith. God’s got this.


    Glory to God for all things.

    The Love that Dares not Speak Its Name

     

    JMJ 

    The Readings for Saturday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

    Doleo super te, frater mi Jonatha, decore nimis, et amabilis super amorem mulierum.
    I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women.

    When I was a kid it was popular to imagine that Advertisers were putting subliminal messages in advertisements, weaving elements of sex and death into magazine pictures using elements of what we would not call “photoshopping”. Rock bands were supposed to be weaving messages about drugs and devil worship into their songs, as well. All of these secrets could be revealed by someone who had discovered the keys.

    In like manner, it is fashionable today to read into the ancient stories all of our modern vices. Politicians who don’t openly discount the Ancient Texts see St Paul’s tying of work to eating as an adjuration of welfare and charity, or the Sermon on the Mount becomes a guide to fiscal prosperity. his affliction hits all sides, as we are discovering modern political virtues in Jesus’ Egyptian Sojourn, or in the lack of available rooms in the inns of Bethlehem. (I actually have no problem with the Christian Virtues of care for the poor or the ‘Alien Among You’. I just don’t need to misread the Bible to do it.)  

    In few places is this tendency more obvious than in the area of sex. For we are quite clear that, despite all of the content of the tradition, whatever our modern sexual issue is, it is present in the Bible in a good light. So the story of King David and his foster brother Jonathan becomes one of same-sex attraction and romance. So common is this reading that it’s hard to find a modern image of these two men that doesn’t have them somewhat eroticised. 

    David and Jonathan become lovers in this reading, with all kinds of “proof” coming from various passages including today’s reading where David sees Jonathan as “above the love of women” which is a paean to the virtue of friendship or what moderns call “Platonic love”. But it is not so if you want to read sex into it. The reply is “how can you not?” And the answer is to note the illogic of the Hebrew writers encoding something so sinful into the lifeline of the great king, David. When David commits lust, adultery, and murder, God sends Nathan the prophet to call the King to repentance. Would not God do the same thing here? Unless, the argument goes, God was ok with this. But we know God’s not because it’s called an abomination, something beneath the level of human moral action. And so the circular logic keeps going. 

    We recently (12 January) celebrated the feast of St Aelred of Rievaulx c.1110-1167. He is another saint whose work is twisted by modern vices so that he is now considered the Patron Saint of the Episcopal Church’s gay advocacy group, Integrity. His work De spirituali amicitiâ (On Spiritual Friendship) – a handbook for Celibate Monastics – often gets quoted as advice for same sex relationships! 

    In the Gospel today Jesus’ Family think he’s gone mad. Here’s God healing the sick and setting the world afire and his cousins think he’s crazy. We also just celebrated the feast of St Anthony (17 January). The Gospel passage reminds me of a saying attributed this great Father: A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us”.

    That seems to be where we are now. Women murder their children in utero, people mutilate their own bodies over mental distress, and our society assists them. People who refuse to assist them are called mad. People who refuse to read sex into everything are called unenlightened. People who strive for virtue (including chastity) are derided. All friendships are suspected of being sexual relationships. All communication is coded innuendo. There are puffs of photoshopped smoke in every icon and backward-masked sex plays in every Bible story.

    It is as if, with our modern blinders of sex, we want to turn all of history into a coded case of Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink.

    In this world, it is friendship that cannot be spoken of. No one believes in it anymore. Sex is everywhere: come play with me!

    Yet, by God’s grace, may we all go divinely mad!

    And draw our friends into Church.

    Saul and Matthew

     

    JMJ 

    The Readings for Saturday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

    Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat et bibit Magister vester? 
    Why doth your master eat and drink with publicans and sinners?

    The Latin does render it very enjoyably, no? “Why, with publicans and sinners, eats and drinks this Master of yours? The Greek is much more condensed: Why, with tax collectors and sinners, he eats?

    Scroll back a little though.  

    Our first reading has the anointing of Saul. The  Hebrew calls Saul the Annointed (the Messiah).  And what’s not to like? He’s tall and handsome. He’s from a wealthy family. He’s both respected and impressive. Why should this man not be the king of Israel, to sit next to neighboring kings at banquets, to woo their daughters. Everything looks good.

    But we know the outcome… God will cast Saul down. Looks are not everything. What the people think they want is not the best thing for them. God has a plan.

    Now look at Levi: a fallen member of the priestly class. In modern slang, a PK – a Priest’s Kid. He probably grew up thinking he could do anything he wanted – and his parents doted on him so he did, exactly, that. And here he is, with no shred of respect for his own heritage, collecting taxes and chillaxin with the ladies. He was friendly to those in power, who were – quite literally – oppressing his own people. He Uncle Tommed his way in to helping the oppressors and getting rich at the same time. This is how far this Son of Israel and Israel’s Temple had fallen.

    Jesus calls him to not only be an Apostle, but also an Evangelist.  This man, fixed up by Jesus, with his Levitical education and classical exposure, would know all kinds of things about slander and words that shock. And he would use them over and over to win people to Jesus’ side. 

    Jesus takes the broken and makes them awesome because they have nowhere to go but up.  God cannot much use those on top. They don’t need his help. Saul was only looking for a prophet to help find some asses – like us who only only need the help of Saints to find our house keys. Saul knew he was destined for Greatness: he just didn’t know what. 

    Levi knew, though, how far he had slid but didn’t know the way out. And when Jesus calls, he’s rather more than confused: his first response is to throw a regular old dinner party for all his friends and Jesus comes.

    Jesus’ open table fellowship confuses folks without a Sacramental awareness. They imagine that these radically inclusive meals would indicate something they call “open communion”. But while eating meals with sinners was shocking, Jesus only had the 12 with him for the Last Supper – and even that was only after 3 years (at least) of Catechesis and constant exposure to him and his teachings.

    Jesus radically open feasting though, another issue: was itself quite shocking. Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat et bibit Magister vester? 

    Sometimes it’s tempting for one in the faith to only want to hang out with those in the faith. But Jesus calls us to these dinner parties with sinners. It’s ok if you want to have dinner with your friends once in a while, yes, but so many of the Gospel Stories are about sharing food and drink as evangelism

    Later in the story of Saul we’ll hear how the Royal Schmuck uses meals as a method of control. Jesus, though, opens wide the doors and says everyone come in. He welcomes them as they are – yes. But they change in response to his love. He heals them. And just coming once into his presence changes everything. The fallen PK, Son of Israel, becomes the herald and writer of the divine proclamation of mercy. Levi, the ruiner of livelihoods, becomes Matthew, the healer of lives.  

    Saul, the hunter of asses, becomes Saul, the king of them. God lifts up those who are bowed down, but those who are high already… he’s got but little use for them.

    Christmas in Purgatory

    JMJ

    The Readings for Saturday 3 Advent (Year 2):

    Et quis poterit cogitare diem adventus ejus, et quis stabit ad videndum eum? ipse enim quasi ignis conflans.
    And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire.
    Happy Christmas: we’re doomed, here in the wealthy, bullying west. We’re doomed. But I hope it is to our salvation. How can that be? Yesterday’s post didn’t rant about our personal doom: but rather about the doom of this unhealthy culture of consume and die in which we are engulfed. We are so busy building it up because we can that we never even stop to ask if we should. (We shouldn’t. God’s got a way out. Through him:

    • The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. – Exodus 13:21
    • and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. – Numbers 14:14
    • who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go. – Deuteronomy 1:33
    • Then He led them with the cloud by day And all the night with a light of fire. – Psalm 78:14
    • then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. – Isaiah 4:5
    • At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. – Exodus 14:24
    • It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. – Genesis 15:17
    • “I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. – Daniel 7:9
    • “Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form–only a voice. – Deuteronomy 4:12
    • “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 4:15
    • “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? – Deuteronomy 4:33
    • “The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 5:4
    • “You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. – Deuteronomy 5:24
    • “He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. – Deuteronomy 10:4
    • “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. – Deuteronomy 4:36
    • ‘For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? – Deuteronomy 5:26
    • Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. – Exodus 19:18
    • And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. – Exodus 24:17
    • For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. – Isaiah 66:15
    • May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him. – Psalm 50:3
    • “From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. – 2 Samuel 22:13
    • From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire. – Psalm 18:12

    God’s way out is passing us through his refining fire. This is the very meaning of Purgatory: the refining fire of God’s love, making us pure. Will it hurt, mostly. But we will be blessed to know the pangs of love.
    And when there is something here, that is not for our salvation, be it drugs, sex, politics, a relationship, television, whatever; it will take fire to burn it out of us. We are doomed: we, the collective, cultural matrix we’ve built up. Each of us, inside it, are the icons of God, but you can’t tell me the world we have made is that at all. We are doomed.
    If we die with this wrapped around us, God love will still take care of it. 
    But if we pass through the Jihad (Syrian Catholic), the Ascesis (Greek Catholic), the Podvig (Slavic Byzantine Catholic), the holy Struggle of purification here, while we’re alive: we can offer it all up to God and, maybe, prevent others from falling into the same traps, the same pains, the same struggles as we. 
    There is one last reference: too those who have rising beyond the fire:

    And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. – Revelation 15:2

    For those who, by grace, make it through… and grace is only more fire… there is glory.

    How to Win at Quidditch by Trying Really Hard.

    JMJ

    The Readings for Saturday 1 Advent (Year 2):
    Erunt oculi tui videntes præceptorem tuum. Et aures tuæ audient verbum post tergum monentis: Hæc est via; ambulate in ea, et non declinetis neque ad dexteram, neque ad sinistram.
    With your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left.
    In the Harry Potter universe, Quidditch is the Wizarding World’s version of Football. It’s terribly exciting and, although I have no desire at all to imagine a group of snarky, self-satisfied differently-evolved string pullers behind the scenes (it’s how a whole generation learned to hate baskets of deplorable, merely human muggles), Quidditch is something I wish I could see. Flying brooms, goals, a boundless playing field, and multiple pathways to victory. There’s only one way to win, of course: get the most points. But there are so many ways to get points. Yes, grabbing the tiny gold ball might win the game for you – but not if the other team has more points. But that catch always ends the game. But who wins?

    We will see our Teacher before us and hear a voice directing us. When the heart is ready, the teacher will come, or so say one or another group of American  new age folks (OK, Rick Springfield). What should we do when the teacher is here?

    Patience.

    I’m constantly running, looking for the right place (which is always over there, never here). So What do we do when the teacher is here?

    There will be a voice behind you, saying “This is the way. Walk in it.”

    Here’s a couple of different options: one is very popular among Christians of all stripes just now. In this pattern everything is there, the perfect vocation, the perfect spouse, the perfect choices. God has a plan for your life. Your job is simply to discern the right choices and make them. God has awesome laid out for you. This is the way; walk in it.”

    There’s this other option: in this one the way is the way of Salvation. You have to end the game saved. How you play the game is up to you, though. Will you try for ordination? Will you get married? Will you struggle as single? Will the end come in a career path in tech? Is pilgrimage your route? Will the end of the game be the retirement villa or homelessness?

    What if the path is only the way of the Cross?

    Thomas Merton was prepping to enter the Franciscan Order. He was quite convinced that he should: they’d let him teach college, he’d have a home, and three squares, and he’d go to mass and pray. In fact, he was already teaching at the Franciscan College. He’ just have to move wings in the dorm.

    But several hours away by train there was this Trappist monastery that called out to him. He’d have to give all that up, all the set up, all the easy change… and actually do something.

    In the end Merton’s choice was driven by the realization that the Franciscan path was too easy, that it required no sacrifice to do it.  If God wanted him to give up everything, he couldn’t do it by holding most things in reserve.

    So he ditched it all. And thus became the great spiritual teacher we know today. What a blessing it was for all the world that he decided to simply walk the way of the Cross. It “triggered” all of his Charisms, it made all his gifts manifest. That decision: I will give up everything, made him who God called him to be.  Note: he didn’t wrestle with the ideas of that last thing. That last thing just happened.

    The teacher is before us (Christ, hanging on the Cross) and there is a voice that says, “here’s the path, walk in it.” It only goes to one place: Christ on the Cross.  There’s only one way to win, of course: get the most points. But there are so many ways to get points. This path, though, only goes to the firey end of all our lives.

    When you die, will you have been saved?

    How not to be a useless servant


    Today’s Readings:

    Et inutilem servum ejicite in tenebras exteriores.
    Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside
    Matthew 25:30a
    We all have gifts. Some of us use them. Some of us run away from them. I posted this a day or two ago, from Cardinal Newman:

    God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

    The thing that I see there, that is the most important, is that Blessed John Henry doesn’t send you out on some Vocational Discernment Weekend, nor does he say you need to go hide in the desert until some vision strikes you: only, I shall be a angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling,  by which last he means “in my daily work”.
    Elsewhere in this same book, (Meditations and Devotions) he offers a very simple rule of life – as quoted by the Catholic Gentleman – to direct us all on the way to Sainthood. Not nominal least common denominator mushiness, mind you, but full on sainthood:
    • Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
    • give your first thoughts to God;
    • make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
    • say the Angelus devoutly;
    • eat and drink to God’s glory;
    • say the Rosary well;
    • be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
    • make your evening meditation well;
    • examine yourself daily;
    • go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

    To this I would add this simple rule, offered by Alexander Schmemann in his journals (Mindul that he was writing privately, but to a hypothetical reader who was craving monastic obedience as the magic panacea for whatever it is that ails you):

    • get a job, if possible the simplest one, without creativity (for example as a cashier in a bank);
    • while working, pray and seek inner peace; do no get angry; do not think of yourself (rights, fairness, etc.). Accept everyone (coworkers, clients) as someone sent to you; pray for them;
    • after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations;
    • always go to the same church and there try to be a real helper, not by lecturing about spiritual life or icons, not by teaching but with a “dust rag” (cf. St Seraphim of Sarov). Keep at that kind of service and be–in church matters–totally obedient to the parish priest.
    • do not thrust yourself and your service on anyone; do not be sad that your talents are not being used; be helpful; serve where needed and not where you think you are needed;
    • read and learn as much as you can; do not read only monastic literature, but broadly (this point needs more precise definition);
    • if friends and acquaintances invite you because they are close to you–go; but not too often, and within reason. Never stay more than one and a half or two hours. After that the friendliest atmosphere becomes harmful;
    • dress like everybody else, but modestly, and without visible signs of a special spiritual life;
    • be always simple, light, joyous. Do not teach. Avoid like the plague any “spiritual” conversations and any religious or churchly idle talk. If you act that way, everything will be to your benefit;
    • do not seek a spiritual elder or guide. If he is needed, God will send him, and will send him when needed;
    • having worked and served this way for ten years–no less–ask God whether you should continue to live this way, or whether change is needed. And wait for an answer: it will come; the signs will be “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”
    You can grow and use all your gifts this way. 

    And if you can’t then try again. Be faithful in piety and love, God will give you ways to use your gifts and you will see them and fulfill them.

    Scribes AND Pharisees


    Today’s readings:

    Dicunt enim, et non faciunt
    For they preach but they do not practice.
    Matthew 23:3b
    Oh this is so rich. The Greek word play is between “using words” (logos) and “making” (poetas). They use their words, yeah, but they’re certainly not poets…
    As a Catholic (and before, as Eastern Orthodox) a common lament heard all over the place from all sorts of people: to my liberal friends, I am too conservative. To my conservative friends, I’m too liberal. The Church can’t fit into modern cultural categories very easily. This thing of “loving the sinner but hating the sin” leaves us sort of stranded a lot. We have to welcome all comers – especially the outcasts who don’t fit into any of society’s power agenda. But we leave none of them unchanged. When you realize the important struggles are not about power, your heart opens to Love.
    I hear the word Pharisee thrown around a lot. No one gets called a “Scribe”. But there are a lot of folks accused of being Pharisee. Yet, in Jesus’s time, those would have been the Good Guys for a lot of the culture. They were the liberals. You could play with the Bible in their tradition. You could make up stuff based on cultural guesses. They were sticklers about the rules they made up, but they were way more liberal about it than the other party, the Sadducees. These were literalists – only what was in the Bible, thank you: none of that finagling around! If the Sadducees were fundies, the Pharisees were more, pardon me, Jesuitical.
    In one of my favorite stories from the Talmud, the liberal camp – meaning the camp that says they can debate the meaning of words – wins an argument with God who admits defeat by saying “My children have bested me.”

    In one way of looking at things, the division between Jews and Christians is simply this: one group of Rabbis says Jesus is the Messiah. Two other groups of Rabbis (both Conservative Sadducees and liberal Pharisees) say he is not the Messiah. In the end the Pharisees win the debate within Judaism, even recasting the scriptures to fit their modes of debate. The Messianic rabbis drifted off and became the Church.

    And so there: they preach and yet they do not practice. Sure, they are using all their words… but they don’t know what those words actually mean.

    On the Road to Emmaus, Jesus opens the minds of Luke and Cleopus to his presence in all the scriptures. Jesus wants us to listen to the teachings of Israel. But he wants us to know what those teachings really mean – not the empty words of the Pharisees, or the Scribes, or the Sadducees.  We cannot find our common ground with either the fundamentalist Sadducees of our time who would deny the mysteries of our faith, or with the liberal Pharisees of our time who would deny the doctrines God has revealed. We’re not to fall in the fundamentalist literalism of either the left or of the right. We must hold fast to both words (the logos) and the poetry (poetas) of scripture and tradition, the both/and of Catholicism.  We must follow our vocational call to the poetas, the poetry and dance of the real meanings of the scriptural words.

    The poetry of the Logos, the making of all things new, is the rite of the Faith dancing through the world. We spin like dervishes, opening our minds and hearts to the wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit. Bread is made flesh. Wine is made blood. God made man. What is old made new.

    God has opened the eyes of the blind. Meanwhile those who claim to see are shown to be liars who walk in darkness.

    Lo, Mercy is Feasting.

    A Patristic Homily for the Saturday after Ash WednesdayFrom the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts Bede the Venerable, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Theophylact.

    Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?

    Luke and Mark, for the honor of the Evangelist, are silent as to his common name, but Matthew is the first to accuse himself, and gives the name of Matthew and publican, that no one might despair of salvation because of the enormity of his sins, when he himself was changed from a publican to an Apostle. Levi had been a publican, a rapacious man, of unbridled desires after vain things, a lover of other men’s goods, for this is the character of the publican, but snatched from the very worship of malice by Christ’s call. Hence it follows, And he said to him, Follow me. He bids him follow Him, not with bodily step, but with the soul’s affections. Matthew therefore, being called by the Word, left his own, who was wont to seize the things of others, as it follows, And having left all, he rose, and followed him. Here mark both the power of the caller, and the obedience of him that was called. For he neither resisted nor wavered, but forthwith obeyed; and like the fishermen, he did not even wish to go into his own house that he might tell it to his friends.

    The Lord honored Levi, whom He had called, by immediately going to his feast. This testified the greater confidence in him. Hence it follows, And Levi made him a great feast in his own house. Nor did Jesus sit down to meat with Matthew alone, but with many: And there was a great company of Publicans and others that sat down with them. All the publicans came to Levi as to their colleague, and a man in the same line with themselves. Matthew glorified in the presence of Christ, and called his friends all together. For

    Christ displayed every sort of remedy, and not only by discoursing and displaying cures, or even by rebuking the envious, but also by eating with them, He corrected the faults of some, thereby giving us a lesson, that every time and occasion brings with it its own profit. But He shunned not the company of Publicans, for the sake of the advantage that might ensue, like a physician, who unless he touch the afflicted part cannot cure the disease. By his eating with sinners he thus in no way forbids us from doing the same.

    In his charity, the Lord was blamed by the Pharisees, who were envious, and wished to but division between Christ and His disciples – the long time and the new.  And the Pharisees murmured, saying, Why do you eat with Publicans, &c. This was the voice of the Devil. This was the first word the Serpent uttered to Eve, Yea has God said, You shall not eat. So they diffuse the poison of their father.

    The Lord Jesus refutes all their charges, showing, that so far from its being a fault to mix with sinners, it is but a part of His merciful design. Jesus answering said to them, They that are whole need not a physician; He reminds them of their common infirmities, and shows them that they are of the number of the sick, but adds, He is the Physician. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. As if He should say, So far am I from hating sinners, that for their sakes only I came, not that they should remain sinners, but be converted and become righteous. Yet, we know well how God loves righteousness and David has never seen the righteous man forsaken. So certainly this “calling of sinners” does not mean that the righteous are excluded! You must understand that Jesus meant “righteous” rather ironically: those who boast of the law and do not seek the grace of the Gospel. There was none righteous upon the earth St. Paul shows, saying, All have sinned, and need the grace of God. Those who claim to be justified in themselves. If grace is for repentance, surely those who despise repentance renounce grace. And even so, He calls those “sinners”, who considering their guilt, and feeling that they cannot be justified by the law, submit themselves by repentance to the grace of Christ.

    The publican is he who serves the prince of this world, and is debtor to the flesh, to which the glutton gives his food, the adulterer his pleasure, and another something else. When Jesus saw this publican sitting at the receipt of custom, and not stirring himself to greater wickedness, He calls him that he might be snatched from the evil, and follow Jesus, and receive the Lord into the house of his soul. He who receives Christ into his inner chamber, is fed with the greatest delights of overflowing pleasures. The Lord therefore willingly enters, and reposes in his affection; but again the envy of the treacherous is kindled, and the form of their future punishment is prefigured; for while all the faithful are feasting in the kingdom of heaven, the faithless will be cast out hungry. At the same time also is shown the difference between those who are zealous for the law and those who are for grace, that they who follow the law shall suffer eternal hunger of soul, while they who have received the word into the inmost soul, refreshed with abundance of heavenly meat and drink, can neither hunger nor thirst.