Totally Radical Dude

ORadix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office

JMJ

There is a tendency to read the entire Gospel as Spiritual Content and to overlook the, if you will, political implications of the plain sense of Scripture. This tendency is so common that when we hear political readings of text we instantly think it can’t be so. As I mentioned in my first post, the response is often, “Don’t be so (insert political bias): Jesus came to save souls.” This is true regardless of any political bias you may have: if you lean left or right, your “political reading” of the scripture may be discounted by your opponents as “worldly” and unrelated to the “true, spiritual meaning”. Curiously the tendency is often reversed as well: there are those who say God is only political and there is no spiritual implication involved. This Jesus was a (insert political bias) and the theology is unimportant, added later, made up.

Today’s verse can be read in response to both of these false dichotomies of theology and politics.

The motto of this blog displayed on the banner is “Deo Optimo Maximo Et Christo Liberatori”. It is usually translated as “To the Most Excellent God and to Christ the Liberator”. It is an ancient motto, found in Rome and other places from the earliest times, but I first heard of it look up historic photos of the Episcopal parish I attended in college, St Luke in the Fields, Greenwich Village. Although the text was missing in the structure where I worshipped it was, before a fire that burned it all down, originally emblazoned around the altar.

The first part of that line, Deo Optimo Maximo, was once a title of the Roman God, Jupiter. It was seen as a fitting title of the One True God, the source of all being. In the early church, though, it was not God the Father but Jesus to whom the saints gave the qualities and titles of the pagan deities. And so, while we might want to read the motto as something about God the Father and then something about God the Son, that would be wrong. This motto says “To the (great God and Messiah) the Liberator”. Jesus is both the Great God (or “Maximum God”) and the Christ. He is the Liberator. Jesus is, as Rosie the Robot used to say on The Jetsons, “The Most Ut.”

Liberate us, or as the Antiphon says, deliver us – yes, from our sins, certainly – but what about the other sort of liberation? Why would kings stand silent before a religious teacher? Why did the Romans want to kill Jesus? You can, if you want, make it all about religion – and then fall back on blaming the Jews. Or, you can see what the Jews saw – and what they made the Romans see: Jesus was a theological threat to Jewry, yes, but he was a political threat to Pilate and the Romans. I don’t care if you’re an anarchist, a Marxist, or a Republican: Jesus clearly offered a political choice to the oppressed peoples of his backwater Roman colony.

Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says the world will hate them because they are not of this world using the Greek phrase ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου οὐκ ἐστέ ek tou kosmou ouk este (John 15:19). A few pages later, Jesus uses the same phrase, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου, to describe his Kingdom (John 18:36). When Jesus says his disciples are “not of this world” we know it means we do not live according to this worldly system, we are counter-cultural. We still live in the world. There is neither Jew nor Greek – but we are still our ethnicities. They are no longer important. Our identity is not “American Catholics” but Catholics. We are in the world but not of it – so is the Kingdom. Yet so many times when we hear Jesus say the same words about his Kingdom we imagine him to mean “Well, my kingdom is in heaven, not here on earth…” and then we go on to say he has no political plans. We say this especially if we have our own plans… Our antiphon today seems to indicate quite the opposite.

As we have seen, these Advent Antiphons attribute their qualities to Jesus himself: Adonai, Wisdom, etc. These verses are not singing to God the Father at all. So it is Jesus whom the Gentiles seek, before whom kings are silent, and who is our banner (ensign) to wave. Jesus will come and deliver us. He is the liberator. Notice there is not much talk of spiritual content in this antiphon – it can be seen as nearly all political if we want.

Before readers get upset I want to be clear about something: Jesus is not taking sides here. There is no right humans and wrong humans here. There are right and wrong systems, however. When we are brought into the kingdom of God we are taken out of the world. Yet we are still in the world and must make political choices here. Some worldly systems may mirror certain aspects of the Kingdom, but none of them are the Kingdom. Democracy is nice and all but capitalism sucks. Socialism can destroy private property but it seems to promote better economic justice. Mob rule (democracy) can lead to some really horrid oppressions but monarchy isn’t always the right solution and dictatorships fail – even goodly minded ones. No human system, based in this world, is the right solution. And the only way the Kingdom will be the final solution of Heaven: it’s when everyone is a member of the Kingdom and that’s not happening in this world at all.

Christians have choices to make. This antiphon mirrors the virtue of Justice. Christians have to find ways to walk through the world embodying the Justice of the Kingdom in our actions and our relationships. We constantly, however, confuse God’s justice with simply this-worldly ideas of Justice. Refusing to apply Christian teaching and morality, many people act as if anyone who claims to be oppressed in our society deserves Christian liberation. It is unjust to oppress anyone however telling someone they cannot sin is not oppression. In God’s law all humans have the freedom to commit sin but they do not have the right to commit sin. It is not unjust to pass laws against sin. It is unjust to rob anyone, however, in the Kingdom, refusing to share one’s surplus is robbing the poor – and one never needs as much as one claims. The Fathers say if you have more than one pair of shoes and you never wear the others you’re robbing the poor of that pair of shoes. If you have clothes that you do not wear you are robbing the poor of those clothes. The only reason God gives you wealth is so that you can give it to others thereby being God-like. It is not unjust to find ways to redistribute wealth. This gets us to the root – the radix – of our problems: we are constantly trying to do something of this world when we should do everything not of this world. Even using the tools of this world, we must be not of this world at all in the use of them.

Holy wisdom teaches us prudence, the Holy Spirit gives us fortitude, and now we can begin to learn to live in Justice thanks to the Incarnation of God. Yet it is not a worldly Justice based on “rights” imagined by the state but it is an otherworldly Justice based in the kingdom of God.

Kadoshem

OAdonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the Law in Sinai: come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office

JMJ

IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES when the Four-Letter Name of God is written, it is not pronounced. The reader will say “Adonai” or, outside of the scriptures, he will say “Ha Shem” meaning, “the Name”. In time even “Ha Shem” became so sacred that if it is being used outside of a sacred context (such as as a concert in a secular hall) the word is obscured by a contraction pronounced as “Kado’shem” from”Kadosh Shem” meaning “Holy Name” (but in Hebrew it would be “Ha Shem Ha Kadosh” so this is an interesting construction, itself). In most English translations this tradition is continued. When the Four-Letter Name is used, the English will, most often, say “the LORD” rather than “the Lord”. My own favorite translation, the Jerusalem Bible, comes right out and says “Yahweh” but the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, urged Catholics to avoid that out of respect for the Jewish tradition so the current edition of the JB says “The Lord” instead. I prefer my old-school one from the 1960s. Other Bible translations such as The Complete Jewish Bible make it clear when Adonai is being used to replace The Name. The Name is also used in regular prayers – although it’s obscured by “Adonai” just as noted above. This prayer will be prayed tonight (Sunday 28 November) before lighting one candle for Hanukkah, for example:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vitzivanu lehadlik neir shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are you LORD, our God king of the universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy mitzvahs and hast commended us to light the lamps of Hanukkah.

That “adonai” there is hiding the Holy Name.

This tradition is known to the composers of Church Liturgy: calling Jesus here Adonai is naming him by the Sacred Name. This is underscored by the parallel, “qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti” and “in Sina legem dedisti”. It was not some random “Lord” who appeared in the Burning Bush to Moses or who gave the Law on Sinai. Moses was addressing the Burning Bush when he asked, “I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you’. But if they ask me what his name is what am I to tell them?” And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you’.” And God said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons od Israel: ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for all time; buy this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.” (Exodus 3:13-15, Jerusalem Bible) A footnote comments, “The formula ‘I Am who I Am’ becomes, in the third person, Yahweh, ‘He is'”. In the Greek Septuagint this is rendered as ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on, meaning I am the one who is. And so, on icons of Jesus, he bears the greek letters, ὁ ὤν (ho on) meaning “the one who is.”

In the previous post, citing Josef Pieper I noted that prudence was referring to “the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man”. Pieper goes on to say this ordered structure is “Being precedes Truth, Truth precedes the Good.” And so, here, Jesus is being cited at the root: the beingness of all creation. We know from the Gospel of John that all things were created through Jesus and by Jesus. Without Jesus was not anything made that has been made. All beingness is rooted in Jesus. Anything that participates in Being has this fire at its center. This fire is a participation in the eternal Trinity (albeit in a mortal, partial way). Pieper says, “Indeed, the living fire at the heart of the dictum is the central mystery of Christian theology: that the Father begets the Eternal Word, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Father and the Word.” The Thomists would tell us the Trinity lives in our own heart – even though we may not know how to enter there.

And so, as yesterday’s invocation brought us to prudence, Adonai, the fire of being that is the Logos, Jesus, brings us to Fortitude: which is to say the courage that arises from our own heart but not from ourself. It is the courage that comes from reliance on God. As indicated above, tonight is the first night of the Festival of Hanukkah. After lighting the candle for tonight (and so, each night), Sephardic Jews may, according to their custom, recite Psalm 30:

I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast drawn me up,
    and hast not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to thee for help,
    and thou hast healed me.
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By thy favor, O Lord,
    thou hadst established me as a strong mountain;
thou didst hide thy face,
    I was dismayed.

To thee, O Lord, I cried;
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise thee?
    Will it tell of thy faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be thou my helper!”

11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    thou hast loosed my sackcloth
    and girded me with gladness,
12 that my soul may praise thee and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to thee for ever.

This Psalm celebrates God as our deliverer. We can be courageous, not because we are each strong enough or good enough or, Gosh Darnit, because people like us, but rather because God stands with us. In my beingness, God stands with me. This is part of my inherent dignity as a Human, created in God’s image and likeness.

When I wonder at how things are falling apart (as I did in my first post) and then realize the dignity God has given me, I can find the courage, the fortitude to stand – but only in him. This is how we are called forward by Adonai. This is how he comes with an outstretched arm to deliver us.

Our Suave God

OSapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things; come and teach us the way of prudence.
– English from Divine Worship: Daily Office

JMJ

The Antiphon speaks of God disposing of all things sweetly or even suavely, to render the Latin in a more literal way. Fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia “strongly and suavely ordering all things.” Our God is the suavest. But how can that be? Evil is, right? I hoped to point out in my first post that something had touched my life that I think of as evil – the deaths of two close friends and my own brother over the course of 13 months. Even now, 40 years later, I wonder what it might be like to have had a brother for my whole life. While I have fallen out of touch with nearly everyone from that time in my life, I am not sure if it’s because of my sense of disconnection caused by that year of death. Certainly two families were thrown into chaos, as was our whole community. The murder of a young girl in her own home, in a quiet mountain village… it’s all too disturbing.

Way to be suave, God.

Such was my thought for a couple of years: I remember walking from work, a long walk around a golf course, yelling at God and asking him what he was doing. It was dark and chilly and there were homes along the walk – nice, well-lit homes with warm glows in them. Certainly nothing evil was happening there. Why are the wealthy untroubled by evil? That was my Freshman year in college. I took up smoking and some other things happened. You could smoke in your office in those days. My parents went on a trip and I spent two weeks in a panic, PTSD after the motorcycle accident. There were no cell phones in those days.

Anway… everything changed. Way to be suave. 40 years later those events still seem evil to me. But a young girl murdered in her own home is – certainly – real, actual evil? Right?

And so I languished before and eventually left behind the God that would let things like that happen. Of course, we are never told what could have been. I lost the idea that this was “the best of all possible worlds” early on, though. I learned during the rest of my college life and for much of the last 40 years, that God will really let anything happen. I can quite literally do anything I want. I am entirely free to do so. As was the man that murdered Michelle in her own bathtub, and as were the drunk boys riding motorcycles in the ran on a rural Pennsylvania two lane used as a trucking route. We are all free.

How does God work with that? The answer is in the crucifix that I carry around my neck but it is still a mystery. How can the most pure, the most just, the most innocent be condemned to death in the most horrible and public way, bringing pain to his family and friends and the horror of state oppression on all who watch? How does God work with that?

This antiphon is not about that though. This text is a prayer to Holy Wisdom to come and teach us prudence. What is prudence? It’s the beginning of our life, really: the life of being holy. Here’s the opening of Josef Pieper’s The Four Cardinal Virtues:

No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.

Our uneasiness and alienation would be only the greater if we were to take the proposition as seriously as it is meant. But we have grown accustomed to disregarding such hierarchic rankings among spiritual and ethical qualities. This is especially true for the “virtues.” We assume that they are allegories, and that there is really no need to assign them an order of rank. We tend to think that it does not matter at all which of the four cardinal virtues may have drawn first prize in the lottery arranged by “scholastic” theologians.

Yet the fact is that nothing less than the whole ordered structure of the Occidental Christian view of man rests upon the pre-eminence of prudence over the other virtues…

So it’s sounding important that we get this prudence – the whole ordered structure depends on it! But how can that be if in the “ordering of all things” God lets things fall apart?

But prudence is a virtue, and God is all virtue, so all prudence must be in him – every action of God is prudent: it is the right action at the right time, the right place, at the right speed.

I cannot write these evils off with any other philosophy I’ve learned. In 40 years the one thing that helps the most is the idea that what we humans think of as evil is not always actually evil: we only call it evil because we don’t like whatever it is. No, I don’t like the murder of a young girl in her own home, no I don’t like the death of my friend and my brother, and no I don’t like all the things it did to my family, my town, myself… but in some mysterious way, God is always prudent and I can be too if I pray for it to be given to me by God’s holy wisdom.

The questions handed to Job by God are valid (Job 38, Revised Standard):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed[a] like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man;
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?

“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.

“Can you bind the chains of the Plei′ades,
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Maz′zaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the clouds,[b]
or given understanding to the mists?[c]
Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cleave fast together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?

Our Faith does not provide answers for why or how. Those are – in many, if not most – cases the most imprudent questions possible. Think of all of salvation history and, taking the Bible as literal for just a moment, explain why the crucifixion did not happen in the garden of Eden just after the fall? Why was all of salvation history, with its pains and slaveries, exiles, tortures, killings, conquests, etc, needed for the thing to happen? And yet it happened in exactly the right place and time. And yet the most innocent, the most just, the most pure had to die in the most horrible way.

It was prudent.

Our faith does not ask us to take comfort in our inability to know, even with divine wisdomcoming to us. Rather our faith asks us to know our place, to know God’s place, and to know they are not the same. To reach beyond those places is imprudent. It’s painful and humiliating, but in the end, our faith asks us to accept that it will be to our salvation.

There’s no answer other than God’s glory.

And that is pure joy.

Vero Cras

JMJ

Generally, during the period from 15 November until 20 December, I have posted meditations (every 5 days or so) on the Great O Antiphons, including the 8thg Antiphon tradition in the Sarum Rite (O Virgo). I have been lax in recent years because Western Advent does not begin on the 15th of November (as it does in the Byzantine Tradition). Nevertheless, I have found myself meditating on the O verses each year. In light of a recent post I made on Facebook, the Problem of Evil seems to be coming to my heart, paired with a comment I overheard in Diaconal Formation. We’ll get to this quote in a bit, but by way of introduction, here’s the text of the post from Facebook, which explains the Crucifix displayed in the header image above. This post seems to have triggered a lot of people. I don’t usually talk about this story, but it was very formative, both for my Faith Journey as well as my emotional journey in my family and my world. It is one sure time I can look at in my life and see a Touch of Evil.


In 1977 or 78 we moved into a house at the north end of town that had an odd attic with a door about 4′ high and a sloping ceiling. Only in the middle of the room could you stand up… This became my bedroom.

On move-in day, as my brother, Jimmy, and I were discussing who would get which bedroom, we saw something silver wedged on the floor under the molding. We both dived at the glint! It was this crucifix. He had no use for anything religious and, even though we were not Catholic, I kept it in my treasures as a kid does.

In 1981 or so, my friend, Brian, had no gift to give his sister, Michelle, for her birthday. That family was Catholic and he asked me if he could give the cross to her. So he added a chain of his own and it became her birthday present. She was murdered a year or so later, and Brian kept this on his dresser in his room… Which is where I found it in May of 1983 after he and Jimmy had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Brian’s mother let me keep it and so I still have it and wear it.

It’s been here for a while now, but it seems good to tell the story today. Pray for Jimmy, Brian, and Michelle.


Michelle’s murder (I left off a key word there on purpose) in her own home, let the reader understand, and then her brother’s death, together with my brother, only a year later surpasses all other things in my life as truly evil. As if someone wanted to put a punctuation on the event, the headline in our local paper, in the wee hours after the motorcycle accident, announced the conviction by jury of Michelle’s murderer in very large type. Our town, which had previously been one of those places where doors were never locked, where cars were left running while you dashed inside for errands, and where children would sleigh ride into streets firm in the knowledge that cars would stop suddenly changed that year. Evil had touched us.

And so, Advent, which always carries a hint of Apocalypse, comes to me today along with a quote: “Jesus came to save souls, not the politics…” and I only wish it was that easy.

While it is a commonplace to say the Jews were expecting a different Messiah (different from Jesus) it is also an oversimplification. There had developed in some traditions of Judaism an expectation of two Messiahs: a reigning King who would restore the empire and Jewish freedom from oppression called “Messiah ben David” and a suffering servant, who would be more of a spiritual savior, called “Messiah be Yosef”. The “plot twist” if you will, for the Jesus Story is that Jesus, the suffering servant, was the son of David. He had no plans for empire at all. “Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo. ” My kingdom is not of this world, he said to Pilate. Jews rejecting Jesus as the Messiah did so not only because he was different from what was expected, but because he was from the wrong tribe for what he was.

This did not stop the early Church – Jews and Gentiles – from making precisely political claims about this backwater itinerant preacher. “Jesus is Lord” is a rip-off from “Caesar is Lord”. The “Evangelion” is what the empire sends to a town to announce they’ve been conquered. “Good news! You have a new king…” Jesus is God, not Caesar. Literally, “There is no God, but God, and he’s this Jewish guy you tried to kill. By the way, Christ is Risen!” There’s a reason the Romans thought Christians were trouble and it’s not theology or soteriology – it’s politics and economics. Which exactly are theology and soteriology as everyone knew then. Even the Great O Antiphons themselves are political claims, as well as economic, theological, and soteriological ones.

So this Advent, as I post on my own erratic schedule to meditate on the Great O antiphons, I will think about Evil and Politics.

By way of introduction and comment on the Antiphons themselves, they are used in Vespers (Evening Prayer) in the last few days before Christmas. The Tradition ones are:
– O Wisdom (in Latin, Sapientia)
– O Adonai (Adonai)
– O Root of Jesse (Radix Iesse)
– O Key of David (Clavis David)
– O Sunrise or Dayspring (Oriens)
– O King (Rex)
– O Emmanuel (Emmanuel)

The Latin words form an acrostic in reverse: Ero Cras. It means “tomorrow I will be there.” This formulation is rather late, though, and limited to Rome. There were other “Great O’s” in other liturgical traditions such as “O Jerusalem”, “O Joseph”, and “O Queen of the World”. The tradition of the Sarum rite, which is now used in the Anglican Ordinariates, includes the verse “O Virgo” as well. This makes the acrostic Vero Cras, meaning Truly Tomorrow.

It may not be tomorrow, but I will post on all of the antiphons between now and Christmas Eve. Let us pray for each other as we make the journey this Advent.

Gotta Start Somewhere

OVirgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

JMJ

SPOILER ALERT: the answer to the question, “Mary, did you know?” Is yes, in no uncertain terms. God told her, through the Angel, everything she needed to know. Further, you would not know to ask (or sing) the question at all if she did not know in the first place. You’ve got to start somewhere and God started here. Every human being is born into the world carrying Original Sin. Properly understood this is a weakness or an illness. You may have seen a sunflower turning towards the Sun as the latter moved across the sky. This is caused by some Curious change in the cell structure of the stem which enables the plant to always receive the full force of available sunlight. Imagine, if you will, or sunflower that was missing the gene that allowed it to always turn towards the left. That would be original sin in a sunflower. For all that we would expect it to move, it cannot. For all that we might imagine it to stand in a field with its brothers and sisters desiring to move like them, it cannot. The analogy breaks down here for in reality there is none of us that can turn towards the light: all of us are missing the gene, if you will, that allows us to do so. All the flowers – human souls – in all of history since our first parents failed has been like this: parents cannot pass on more genes than they have.

This failure leaves us unable to turn to God at our weakest moments without his help and inclined to say “no” when the help is offered. It’s a weakness that we all share and – like any social pressure – we feel a “natural, human urge” to not break ranks, to blend in, to be like everyone else: no one wants to be the one sunflower in the field pointing in another direction from everyone else – even if that direction happens to be right.

Jesus was sent to save us from this spiritually congenital failure – and more. In his life, death, resurrection, and ascension he reconnects humanity to the one source, the one life, the one love we all must have in order to live and love properly at all. In the gift of baptism he lets us be open to his grace. In the Eucharist he lets us embody the temple of his flesh in our lives. But it all had to start somewhere.

This is the Divine Mystery of the Holy Virgin.

God came to her and asked her if she would participate in this divine action. He knew the truth of the saying, “My body, my choice.” He would never force her hand in this action. But He also knew that all humans, congenitally, were unfree to make that choice. All humans were slaves to the failure that we are all born with. Mary could say “Yes” but it wouldn’t be a free, open, and full yes. The song “Mary did you know” would be perfect there. And so the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception: from the moment of her conception God gave Mary the grace of Baptism, preserving her free of original sin from the very moment her life began. When Gabriel came to Mary to invite her to participate in salvation, her gift of self was free and total. Her yes was a true yes, a submission to the will of God in a way that we – even after baptism – often have trouble with.

And that yes changed the world.

The story of Jesus starts further back that Mary, of course. We’ve just walked through all the “O” Antiphons and so you know: Jesus comes from Jesse’s family. But even before Jesus is Adonai, the one who spoke to Moses. Jesus is God’s wisdom, forming us out of the dust.

Jesus is the Logos ordering the Chaos, the meaning of all, in all, and through all.

But for everything that Jesus is, Mary is the vessel, the container, the gate. Jesus is the Dawn, Mary the morning star. Jesus is the King, Mary the gates lifting high their heads. Jesus is the water of life, Mary is the well from whence he is drawn. Jesus is the bread of life, Mary is the field in which the grain was grown. Jesus is the new wine, Mary is the chalice. Jesus is the Life, the Zoe, Mary is the womb in which Zoe is birthed for the world.

Her choice for life, for God, for yes had to be freely offered – neither cajoled, nor tricked out of her. And so, it was. Yes, it took God’s grace even so: but it was the grace that makes us truly free from even our own mental misgivings. God gave Mary the freedom to the yes we all need.

And that freedom sets us all free.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

We have reached the end of another series of Advent postins on the Great O Antiphons. Thank you for reading along! I pray you and your family will have a blessed feast – and may 2021 be a tad less interesting for us all.

This Changes Everything

OEmmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

JMJ

GOD WITH US: what can that mean? How can the infinite be with us? How can there even be a God – as most folks understand that word – and him be “with us”? Nietzsche rightly point out that having a God With Us means that he can die. He goes on to suggest there for God is dead and that Christians killed him by insisting he enter history. What is this God With Us stuff?

I mentioned in the last post that your very being is a sign that God loves you: you would not exist without that love. I also mentioned the heart or soul, the core of your being. This is actually where God lives in you: the wholy Holy Trinity, living in you, sustaining your being. You cannot be without this. God is with you, like it or not. But that’s not what “Emmanuel” means here. Or is it? In the East, at Compline before the Nativity, the Choir sings “God is with us! Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves. God is with us!” That sounds rather martial until you realize that “understand and submit” is the primary action of faith. The act of belief to which we are called is not merely a doctrinal affirmation. The creed is not a checklist of things: it is descriptive of reality. We commit to a lifetime of growth in “understanding” and ever more deeply “submitting” to this reality in which we find ourselves where “God is with us.” God with us has ever a new meaning:

If God’s first sign of love is our being, what can we say about the world around us, which clearly shares in beingness? Yes, God is present there – albeit in a different order. Only humanity shares fully in the image and likeness, but angels and rocks, seraphim and dolphins, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, everything that lives and moves and has its being in God. All that is is grace. God is with us. It was this way in the Garden and we lost it – or more rightly gave it up.

So then something new had to happen. And it did and God is with us has a new meaning: a Baby. One of us. The God who slobbers. The God who forgets eternity and nurses on his mother’s breast. The God who loves us so much that he poured out all of infinity and became a cell, then two, then four, then eight. How can he love us so much? This is God with us. And acne, and changing voices, and hormones. Neighborhood bullies who won’t let him forget that his mother was pregnant too early. Soldiers that won’t let him forget he’s only a Jew. Traveling Romans who won’t let him forget he’s a hick and the son of a tradesman and that he smells like fish.

God. Wiping his butt with his hand. God with us.

We killed him. And so a new thing had to happen. And it did and God is with us has a new meaning: our daily bread. If this seems like a RETVRN (as the cool kids say) to the way it was in the garden, it is. The very stuff of Creation, the work of human hands, is God. God everywhere and here, walking with us in the shard of the evening or sitting down with us to a nice Sunday brunch.

Now think it through: God, the infinite, eternal, and radiant IS, can enter time, space, and darkness. Yet he is still infinite, eternal, and light himself. He is truth, life, the way, and yet he dies and we consume him. The smallest part of infinity is still infinity though: God is with us and what we are what we eat.

Take, eat. Understand and submit yourself for God is with us! Merry Christmas!

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Power of the King

O REX Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

JMJ

MODERN DEMOCRACIES from Athens and England, to latecomers like France and America, are pretty much brainwashed into thinking we have finally gotten it right, politically speaking. We have finally figured out the best, purest, and most just form of government. Those who came before us may have had a few good ideas, which we’re happy to claim for ourselves, but overall democracy is the best way to go. We are quite happy to have crawled out of the slimy pit of our darkest past to the new light of this political system. Never mind, of course that democracy is hardly new: it was discovered in ancient Athens (at least). Further, since it involves a tyranny of the majority over the minority it is almost never actually just – meaning “giving to each what is his due”. The majority has the power to inflict pain if they feel like it whether it is just or not. They have the power to inflict pleasure if they feel like it whether it is just or not and history is filled with examples of majorities doing exactly that, but we are trained to ignore those and, instead, to point at the gross errors of dictators, juntas, and monarchs. So strong is our brainwashing that even these dictators insist on democratic elections and we must resort to saying, “No no! That’s not democracy you’re doing it wrong.” Now, however, the King is coming.

We really have no idea of Kingship any more. Even in countries where there are monarchs, they have sort of become cartoons of their ancestors. Some are comic, like Mel Brooks and feel more like fake kings, but with real crowns. Some are far more serious. Her Britanic Majesty is, really, quite Majestic and Britanic. But she is reduced to a mere shadow of the power that even her father had, and one daren’t compare her to the previous monarch of the same name. Anti-Catholic though she was, she was, at least, a real Monarch and entirely not democratic.

In fact, so strong is our brainwashing about democracy that speaking of a governing authority like this could get one labeled “Fascist” – a word with nearly no content at this point, although we all agree it’s bad. It seems to really only mean “anti-democracy.” Now, however, there is a King coming and many look like the Old Woman talking to Dennis in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “I didn’t vote for you!” We’re appalled when the answer is, “You don’t vote for kings.”

At the core of this political debate is a question of self-rule. I should have the right to do what I want, when I want, and as I want. And right now I want to have a new elected leader. We think of power as arising from the self and, when collected with other selves, forming power blocks. That block can then (by a collective action) bestow power on an individual or group of individuals. Later that power can be removed. This conception of the self as source of action and power is the root of our political conceptions now and also, our theological ones. For we think that we can freely elect to give ourselves over to a religious path, to freely choose to follow – or not. And we imagine that free choice to be constitutive, constructive: that nothing was before that and, should elect to end it, it will be over. We enter into all personal and business relationships with this mindset and we hold God to the same standards: I’m here because I like you, but don’t cross me. But a King is coming. You don’t vote for kings. They rule by divine right.

In the King James Bible, the word “heart” is used 826 times. It is important to note that it seems interchangeable with “soul”. It’s also important to note that’s not the original language. The Hebrew for this inner part of us is heart: Lev (לֵב) and for soul: Nefesh (נֶפֶשׁ). Together they are used a total of 1,347 times in the Hebrew text of the scriptures. This part of the human (whatever it is) is very important! For Christian Anthropology this is the part of us that lives in communion with God. For some of us we never get to this. The communion is always there (one would cease to exist at all, otherwise) but we never engage in this communion, we never draw from it or strengthen it. It is (and cannot but be) the very source of our very existence, but we can freely elect to shove it away, lock it away, cram it away and drown out its voice. In place of the Heart, we build a “self” and we get very prideful of it. We build into it cosmetic decorations, we make choices, we create an entire “life” and then – in our mistaken Anthropology – if we should happen to get religion, we may deign to offer this self to God and say, “Here look what I’ve built for you. Now, don’t touch it or play with it as you may break it. I’ve still got more work to do.” We never realize that this self – which we have constructed – is a false self. This face we present to God, inviting him to make use of (but not break!) is a false offering, a blemished sacrifice. The offering he wants is the one he formed out of clay, not the fake one we’ve built out of ego. A divine King is coming. And he will rule without our votes.

The source of us, in our heart or soul, is not the fake self we’ve built. But rather it is the very act of communion which we cannot break. God is the ground of all being, the source of existence itself. In that you exist you are in communion with this loving God – like it or not, choose it or not. The choice we all must make, though, is what to do now? I’ve described the first option already. I spent 45 years or so living out that pattern – and most of it quite consciously. I was fully aware that I was making choices, performing actions, engaging (or not) with other people both in and out of religions. I was fully aware that I was “constructing my life”, “being my best self”, and “following my bliss.” Occasionally I would turn, raise it up like Mufasa in The Lion King and say, “Look what I’ve birthed, God! Bless it.” Then I’d go about my business. I can tell you it was a lot of fun: but it was not joy, it was not happiness, and, in the end, it nearly killed me. I don’t mean I would have died any sooner (we all die). I mean there was no “me” left. I nearly killed the core.

But a king is coming who made me out of clay – long before I got around to ruining things into the ground.

For a Christian the heart is the source and summit of all that happens: it is the place of communion with God. Even if you never go there – never enter your own heart – the very being-ness of you is connected to God irrevocably. God loves you or you wouldn’t even be. And God will never unmake you – even when that beingness and love become for you the sheer torture of hell. You will still be and be loved.

From this heart flows all actions: you cannot “create a new self” you can only create a false self if it does not arise from this communion with the King who already reigns in your heart. There’s no being arising from your actions, there’s no other person possible other than the one he’s making for you. And though we can break that person and add scars for an eternity by our addiction to sin and self direction, we can never destroy our heart.

And the person we become constantly bears this heart up to the King. Who is coming. But is already here.

He has formed you and me out of clay – literally the humus of the earth, we are humans. Adam means “earthling”. We are little creatures of dirt. And God lives in us.

The king is here: will you serve him or try to walk away? To walk away ultimately is to destroy your heart – which will destroy your ego as well, making it a hollow shell, a Qliphoth into which Satan can move and have his being. But to stay, well: your self will die then so that you can live forever, your heart in communion with the King. But then you will know – finally – your True Self. You too, will reign.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Power of light

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.
O Rising Dawn, splendour of light eternal
and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

JMJ

RBUCKMINSTER FULLER, aka Bucky, was an American architect whose gigantic, dome-shapes are probably familiar to you. You’ve probably seen a photo, at least, of Epcot Center at Disney World. He thought we could cover cities with domes to protect us from the elements. He never thought about the expense of his amazing ideas, but you’ll notice he only wanted to cover the rich, powerful business-center of Manhattan with his dome. Over the course of his life, he wrote a series of essays on how science – especially Geometry – could help humans solve all the world’s problems. There is no energy crisis, food crisis, or environmental crisis, he said. Only a crisis of ignorance. Because he was using geometry instead of test tubes and microscopes his work tends to sound more esoteric, spiritual. It is from Bucky’s work that we get the word “Universe” as a replacement for “God” in many a popular usage. “Looks like the Universe wanted me here now.” Or, even more esoterically, “Looks like Universe wants me here now.” For most folks, that’s meaningless pop drivel that fills in for saying something religious, but Fuller thought the universe was complicated enough to run on its own and be quite a magical place. We only needed to apply our intellect to it to discover root causes and ways to manipulate it, to make its complications easy to understand, predict, and use. He assumed the root was geometry.

But his ideas always seemed fear-based: if the universe is based on geometry, why do we need to use geometry to protect ourselves from the universe and its elements? Why not use geometry to fix the universe so it’s not always attacking us? One of his essays was the “Omnidirectional Halo” which sounds like it might be spiritual-but-not-religious enough, but he wasn’t talking about Light: he was talking about a geometrically constructed dome (like Epcot). Do we need halos of steel and concrete to close us in and protect us from this wonderful Universe?

I will admit the universe – while amazing and beautiful – can be a sucky place. This is 2020 after all. Many ancient religions seemed to think the universe was a sucky place. Pope Benedict XVI writes that all of the gods of the modern world are either Bread, Sex, or Power. Gods needed to be placated. Powers like the wind and the rain needed to be manipulated to do our bidding sometime divinities needed to be invoked or moved out of the way politely. These divinities fought with humanity for a place in a limited resource, for a seat at a table with limited food.

To this the Hebrew Prophets respond, “Codswallop.” A new light is dawning.

The ancient Hebrews worshipped the ground and source of all being. He chose the pronouns he/him in his own self-revelation to his people. He spoke from fire. He rained down food. Water flowed from rocks and the land flowed with milk and honey. He was not in competition with us for limited resources. He was the source of unlimited life – even for those who rejected him. We are not suffering from a crisis of Intelligence, but rather a crisis of faith in the source of all. We look at the all, itself – the Universe – and think it is enough. We must look beyond until we come to the source of unlimited love.

A new light is dawning.

The thing about light is it always starts dim. Even if you turn on a light switch it doesn’t just pop on: the filament for a microsecond or two begins to glow and brighten. If you could slow it down you would see the light dawn in each of the bulbs in your house. There was a moment before our Central Star, Sol, was lit. And even in the explosion microsecond by microsecond the light grew and dawned. Until for each of us the light of Faith doesn’t just turn on one moment. It grows. As it grows everything around us can be seen more clearly.

Our professor, Dr Anthony Lilles, showed us this clip yesterday. While this conversation between Dr Tolkien and Dr CS Lewis never happened this way, the movie shows us exactly the process Tolkien used to bring Lewis to Christ.

I love how the friends call each other “Jack” and “Tollers”. Then Lewis described how the light dawned slowly:

WHEN WE SET OUT I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.” So wrote C.S. Lewis, describing his conversion to Christianity in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s motorbike, which took place on this day, 22 September 1931. 

Lewis had been reaching this understanding for some time. Reared an Irish Protestant, he rebelled against Christianity following the early death of his mother. While obtaining his education, he slid into outright atheism. However, encounters with Christian friends and reading the works of George MacDonald and G. K. Chesterton drew him back to theism (the belief in God). He wrote of that return to God, “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” But he did not yet believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. 

Three days before he came to that belief, he had a long talk with two Christian colleagues: J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. Tolkien argued that some myths might originate with God, as a means of preserving a rudimentary level of truth. Lewis said he did not believe there was any truth in them at all. They were still talking at 3AM when Tolkien had to go home. Dyson continued the conversation, pointing out the practicality of Christianity—a religion with power to actually free from sin, instill peace, and provide genuine outside help to change one’s character. 

Evidently, these ideas were percolating in Lewis’s mind as he rode to the zoo. Three months later, on Christmas Day, he expressed his new faith publicly by returning to the Anglican church in which he had been confirmed, joining his local parish and taking Communion for the first time since his childhood.

It Happened TodayChristian History Institute retrieved on 6 Dec 2020

The light dawns.

We have this process: we are convinced we must “make converts” when, in fact, we must only make disciples – people who are learning. It is God who makes converts, God who dawns, God who shows the way forward.

Tolkien saw the light dawning in his own heart from the Catholicism of his youth, he wrote in On Fairy Stories (1947), “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.” As the light grows, we see that our past was wrongful: but now we are seeing more-clearly. “The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.” Tolkien, again. He knows that even the ways we are broken – the ways we rejected the light in the past – become ways for the light to grow in the world!

We follow the same gods today: food, sex, and power. They are as capricious as they ever were. They give us hunger and disease, encourage selfishness and pride, and leave us addicted to things that do us no good – even as they fail to kill us, so we only consume more. And we now think we can fix it, only with different sciences: psychology, drugs, and data. We need to be computers now, instead of mathematicians. God actually wants to make us more human: so much so that he became one of us.

Bucky thought his artifice would fix a broken Creation and make it manageable. Tolkien knew that we humans are the broken parts: it we who need fixing. We humans (particularly one human, Jesus) are the tools God is using to fix us. God is fixing things exactly how they were broken. That’s how he works: nothing is lost, rejected, or left behind. Everything of value is redeemed, given purpose, and used to save others.

Christmas is dawning, off in the distance. I’m a day late as I get this posted. But it’s coming! Not just the failed retail holiday that this year will have no holiday parties, not only the celebration of a day off and far too much food. The real Christmas is dawning if you can but see it with the eyes of faith. The light is growing stronger, always.

One day: it will burst in and all that is not light will burn away like so many fading ashes. And Christmas will finally come, for real and forever.

If you are still, you can see the dawn rising now and you can almost hear the angels singing the carols.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

NOTE: Apart from the fact that I saw this video in class yesterday, Tolkien was on my mind. I lean so heavily on Tolkien for this essay because this antiphon is one of the ways God drew me to him and his church. I have been a Tolkien geek since junior high school. In Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth, one of the great messianic figures is Earendel. The name, Earendel, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word used to translate this Antiphon: the Latin O Oriens is rendered, Eala earendel. Read more here.

Power of the Keys

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

LET US SEE How the world is overthrown. What is the Key of David? It’s a reference to Isaiah 22:22 – which is said of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, but fulfilled in the Messiah. I’ve been wondering about this “key” though. What is it? Walk everything back to King Saul, David’s immediate predecessor and the first King of Israel. The Israelites had been ruled only by judges – and that only when necessary. The Torah was their governance and it was enforced by everyone (including the priests and Levites) with an appeal to the Judges or Prophets as needed. Then the people decided they wanted a king. The Prophet Samuel said he wouldn’t do it, but God told Samuel to go ahead and do it. The people were not rejecting Samuel’s judgeship – but rather God’s Kingship over them. So Samuel followed God’s command and gave the people King Saul who turned out to be a right putz.

Then came King David whom God described as “A man after my own heart.” God seemed to use Saul to prove a point but then used David (and Solomon) to raise Israel to previously unknown heights. What is the Key of David? How is it fulfilled in Messiah?

While these Antiphons for Advent are based on Scripture, they are not actually scripture – this one verse, sung once a year, pulls from three different places in Isaiah and weaves in some images later used in the Gospels. They are, more than anything, meditations. So they are worth mulling over with that in mind: they are like Dream Images, subject to many readings.

This is 2020 and what has happened has happened, so that’s where my brain is now. This year, for me, has raised the question of governance and how God participates in human actions. So at this point in time, the Key of David seems to be governance of the social order. The Messiah is named here as exactly the ruler of Temporal Order, what we now call mistakenly the “Secular” order. I say mistakenly for there was literally no concept of this “secular” order until the time between the American and the French Revolutions. There was no concept anywhere of “Church and State” prior to that time – even in places that were not Christian. For everywhere, the social order was governed by Authority and that Authority was partially religious.

Ancient Rome had laws and religious taboos had did all cultures until the modern mind broke these apart. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon he was not being “revolutionary” but rather he was committing an act of impiety – which signaled revolution. He was disrupting the divinely-instituted structures of Roman society. Likewise, Jesus was fully aware that his actions of impiety against both the Jewish and Roman structures would be seen as “politcal” as well as “theological”. These are the same things. Christianity teaches that all authority is God’s and he graciously allows men to participate in that. Only we moderns try to divorce Divine and Human Authority – and we fail. American has her own secular religion. We are unable to govern without it.

So, I think the “Key of David” signifies this joint rulership of “Church and State” which were not divided in Jesus’ day nor at any point in history until the latter part of the 18th Century amid the people of the “Enlightenment”.

The King of Israel held a religious function, an eternal as well as temporal one. And so the Key of David, the rulership of both the Sacred and the Secular, falls into the hands of Messiah. From him it passes to his body, the Church. Only modern, enlightened people in our pride imagine that these two things can be ruled separately. Most of the world and all people have known to the contrary for all of human history. And has our delusion done us so much better? Hardly. Our people are uncared for, our economy has run amok, the unrestrained content of our dreams, imaginings, and nightmares pours forth around us with never a thought to “should” only “could”. And when asked why “because it’s there” or “I wanted to” is the only answer possible. Because all other options have been removed from the table.

This is the darkness and the shadow of death in which we live and move and lose our being.

We need someone with the Key of David to close and lock away those things which are unhealthy for us, to open those ways which are good, true, and beautiful. We need someone with the Key of David to come and lead us from the prison house we have made for ourselves with – as the Orthodox/Byzantine prayer says – our “slavery to our own reasoning”.

This is prayer the Church offers here to the Messiah who is coming: rule us, lead us, take us out of our own traps and set us free.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Jesus: the Great Reset

Central image from O Root by Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

JMJ

WALKING THROUGH the Great Os this year, a pattern I’m seeing is (1) opening prayer, (2) God responding, then 2 parts describing exactly who and how this response is coming – invoking Jesse & David (Father and Son). So we’re at Jesse – the root of Jesse. It’s logical, knowing biology, to think of root as meaning the start of a tree. In fact in the present usage it is metaphorical and Jesse, himself, is root that we’re talking about. Jesus arrises from Jesse: but Jesse’s “root” goes all the way back to Adam. We are all descended from our common parents, one family, one people.

I’ve read Catholic and Orthodox writers who are biblical literalists, who think the Earth can only be about 6,000 years old and that humans have only been around for about the same amount of time. I’ve read others who simply graft Genesis onto a copy of Darwin’s work and shrug their shoulders at “mystery”. However, my first exposure to actually Catholic teaching on the subject came from a Dominican whose lecture on the topic explained that literalism (and Young Earth things) are right out. But we must accept that all humans are descended from the same two parents. So I struggled with this for a while.

Then, listening to Fr John Nepil on the Catholic Stuff podcast (back in February), I found a way to wrap the two concepts together – both evolution and two parents. Fr John suggested that as primates evolved, God picked two and gave them something: Father suggested it was the gift of speech/language. These two continued their evolutionary journey as animals, as bipeds, as mammals, as primates, and now as humans. Fr John discusses the possibility of this human family marrying others, teaching them speech, interbreeding, this all makes perfect sense. You don’t need 2 humans to be the physical genetic source of humanity – only the intellectual and spiritual teachers of what became humanity. The intent was something else, but things fall apart, and so now we continue our evolutionary journey as animals, as bipeds, as mammals, as primates, and now as fallen humans.

I like the symmetry of this pious theological opinion: it includes all the things the Church says we need and excludes all the nutters who want to deny things like millennia of evolution, Pangaea, and a round earth. It accounts for a lot of things that make no sense as merely physical phenomena like the fact that Original Sin is clearly evident to anyone – even someone who is an atheist and rejects the idea of “sin”. Things fall apart: it’s scientific.

And that’s why we need a reset.

St Paul says, “Since by man came death by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:21-22). We did this and it is fitting that one of us undoes this. Yet this is a curious mystery: A Son of Adam must undo Adam’s Fall, but Adam’s Fall prevents any Son of Adam from being able to undo it. So we need to root of Jesse: a Son of Adam who is also the Son of Promise.

As in Adam all fall, even so in Christ are all started over again.

Christmas is the Beginning of Something New and the passing away of something old: For in Christ, the Son of Adam, the Son of Promise, is also the Son of God and God Himself. The solution to the Mystery of the Fall is a newer and greater Mystery: the Incarnation. As we learned last time, this is Adonai himself. The world becomes silent, then, for two reasons: that we should all fall down in prayer before God Himself makes sense. But now all the kings of the earth fall silent before the son of a sheep farmer and – in the person of Jesus – a carpenter. I’ve heard several times (but I don’t know if it’s true) that shepherds like King David were considered unclean. I assume they smelled like their sheep, either way. I’ve also heard that in Roman times men who worked with their hands such as carpenters were also considered lower class even if they had successful businesses. Again, I don’t know that this is true, but it says a lot about the God we worship: that he would pick the lower class to become a King and then would come among us himself as the lower class son of that same King.

Jesus, the Carpenter Son of the Shepherd, the smelly and sweaty lower class God of all heaven and earth, has reset everything by making the sons and daughters of our fallen first parents what we could not become otherwise.

And let us see how the world is overthrown.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.