Pauline Slang


The Readings for the 14th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.

Galatians 6:15 (NABRE)

UNCIRCUMCISION Is such an odd word. Of course, it means “gentile”, that is, person without a circumcision. But that’s really the natural condition. So, it seems strange to discuss it as “un-” something. However the Greek is actually kind of vulgar: it’s a technical term that literally refers to the foreskin. And – unsurprisingly? –  Greek-speaking Jews would use this technical term as a slang word for Gentile men. “Hey, look at that foreskin over there…” Mind you, modern Yiddish is no kinder: a Gentile male is called “Shagetz” (Pl: shkotzim) and comes from the word meaning “Abomination”. The abomination in question being the aforementioned part of the male anatomy. (Let’s all sing “Tradition!” from Fiddler on the Roof.) St Paul is speaking in slang because he knows his audience will hear him. We, on the other hand, get the odd and elevated-sounding English word, “uncircumcision”.

In the preceding verses, though, the slang finds the reason for its use: some members of the congregation wanted everyone in the congregation to get circumcised. Why?

There are two theories as to why they wanted everyone to look like Jews. And it was exactly to look like Jews that they were trying for. Paul calls them, “those who want to make a good appearance in the flesh” (v12) and notes that “Not even those having themselves circumcised observe the law themselves; they only want you to be circumcised so that they may boast of your flesh.” (v13) These are people who want to look like Jews. To whom? So, two theories:

One suggestion is that they want to look like Jews to other Jews. This could be read to mean that members of the synagogue were pestering (Messianic) Jews for hanging out with Gentiles. Some Jews did this to Peter as mentioned earlier in this letter. (See Galatians 2:11ff.) Another suggestion is that Romans – who knew Jews and Gentiles should not worship together – were persecuting the Messianic Jews for not being “really Jews” since they ate with Gentiles. As Jews enjoyed a sort of privileged outsider status in the Empire, doing things that risked that statues was not good. If everyone would only get circumcised then we’d all blend in and it would be better for us all.

I don’t know which of these is true and it needn’t be either or. Regardless of the reason, the call was to blend in with Non-Christians. And Paul says

We get called to blend in all the time: by the world, certainly, and also by those Catholics who just want to play along to get along. They want an easy life where “Catholic” is just another word for the “perfectly normal people who live next door”. They can’t have that easy life if Catholic teachers make comments about politicians and abortion, or the homeless, or immigrants, or same sex marriage. If you’re Catholic and rock the cultural boat, they think, all of us will get wet. They don’t want to get wet. Please don’t rock the boat.

That leads us to what I noted yesterday. (Yes, these are the Sunday readings and I’m writing on Thursday.) An unwillingness to “lean in” on the full Truth of the proclamation of the kingdom means people are not always coming into the same place: if we don’t proclaim the Gospel, people cant accept the Gospel. Full stop. We also thereby provide an inoculation against the real thing. Paul calls us to boast in the Cross. And the world has been crucified: so even if we don’t rock its boat, it’s sinking.

Worse than 1867


The Readings for the 14th Thursday, Tempus per Annum

Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Matthew 10:15

1867 OF THE CATECHISM is one of those hard ones. It lists the “‘sins that cry to heaven‘: the blood of Abel139, the sin of the Sodomites140, the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt141, the cry of the foreigner142, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner143.” And whilst it is heavily footnoted, there are no other explanations offered than these Bible verses:

  • 139 Cf. Gen 4:10. And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
  • 140 Cf. Gen 18:20; And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
    Gen. 19:13. For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.
  • 141 Cf. Ex 3:7-10. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; (etc)
  • 142 Cf. Ex 20:20-22. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. etc
  • 143 Cf. Deut 24:14-15; Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
    Jas 5:4. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the teachings on the Church on these matters. I’m not here to debate the gravity of them: some – along with me – agree with the Church on these things. Some disagree – citing misunderstandings, heretical teachings, or even Satanic distortions – to approve unjust wages, oppressing strangers, and sexual sins. Some approve one while rejecting others. It’s important to see that the Catechism lists them all together as the most grievous sins.

And Jesus says hindering the Gospel of the Kingdom is worse.

Jesus is clear about what this proclamation looks like: “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:7-8) We don’t do much of that, tbh, anymore. (The CFRs did a podcast about this recently.) But, apart from what some confuse with “Charismatic stuff”, backing away from or hindering the Gospel can come in many forms from flat out refusing to say Jesus’ name to just letting others (coworkers, for ex) abuse it without correction; from open support for cultural lies to making RCIA easier or “inclusive” because of an attachment to “the numbers”. We walk a fine line always. An unwillingness to “lean in” on the full Truth of the proclamation of the kingdom means people are not always coming into the same place: if we don’t proclaim the Gospel, people cant accept the Gospel. Full stop. We also thereby provide an inoculation against the real thing.

This is worthy of Jesus’ condemnation.

Again, after yesterday’s post about Hosea (where I filled in the missing verses) the same is true today: if, instead of 11:1-4, 8E-9, if you read 11:1-11 you’ll see a very disturbing image: God’s love shows up as wrath.

They shall follow the LORD, who roars like a lion; When he roars, his children shall come frightened from the west, Out of Egypt they shall come trembling, like birds, like doves, from the land of Assyria; And I will resettle them in their homes, oracle of the LORD.

Hosea 11:10-11

God hates the distance Israel puts between the people and God. God hates the distance we put between ourselves and him. He lets us suffer the distance we put there. We will come trembling. But we will come.

God wants us to be with him. But running away isn’t really the best option.

Letting others stay away – because we’re uncomfortable – is selfish and worse than Sodom.



The Readings for the 14th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum

Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 10:6-7

JESUS SENDS His disciples ahead of him to the towns the plans to visit: let them know the Kingdom is at hand. What is the Kingdom? The odd Greek title for this post, autobasileia, is (for me) the most compelling answer. We’ll get to the meaning in a moment, but first there are some other contenders for the meaning of “The Kingdom”.

Readers are probably very familiar with two very American, or at least Western, ideas of the Kingdom: both are political. First is that Jesus wants us to build the kingdom here and now. Pick your political model, left or right, woke or reactionary, prove that Jesus loves them and get to work. The Kingdom of God needs you to vote, shop, struggle in the political arena in only this way. To do else is to oppose God. The second option is a modification of the first: it assumes that America (or some other empire in the past) actually is the Kingdom and we need only get it right. Bring back the Hapsburgs, or Make America Great Again, or Why did Kennedy Have to Die, or any one of a hundred other political structures that should have been, could have been, can be again the Kingdom here on Earth.

Theses readings tend to provoke cries about the Separation of Church and State, but one rarely objects to political changes one likes in those terms. If my religion teaches no-abortion, but I ignore social justice issues, the Social Justice Warriors will cry about Church and State. But they will never notice my religion also teaches many of their SJW stances. I can work for racial integration because I’m a Catholic and no one will talk about Church and State.

Two other readings are less political: the Kingdom is in your heart. Ironically, this is the most modern and American reading. The Kingdom being “in your heart” means there’s no political reaction needed. You can do whatever you want, but it’s “in your heart” that counts. This is the Sunday Christian who is very pious at Mass and then evicts tenants on Monday, supports the Death Penalty, and abortion. But he is pious. The second non-political reading is “the Kingdom is the Church”. This also tends to result in apolitical non-activism. Just leave the Church alone and let us ride our horse-and-buggies as we avoid any contact with the world. This last reading, though, brings us closest to the meaning of the Greek word, and so we go there next.

Autobasileia is a title for Jesus, used by the Church Father, Origen and cited in this century by Pope Benedict XVI in his exhortation, Verbum Domini (that is, The Word of the Lord) ¶93:

The word and the Kingdom of God

Consequently, the Church’s mission cannot be considered as an optional or supplementary element in her life. Rather it entails letting the Holy Spirit assimilate us to Christ himself, and thus to share in his own mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21) to share the word with your entire life. It is the word itself which impels us towards our brothers and sisters: it is the word which illuminates, purifies, converts; we are only its servants.

We need, then, to discover ever anew the urgency and the beauty of the proclamation of the word for the coming of the Kingdom of God which Christ himself preached. Thus we grow in the realization, so clear to the Fathers of the Church, that the proclamation of the word has as its content the Kingdom of God (cf. Mk 1:14-15), which, in the memorable phrase of Origen, is the very person of Jesus (Autobasileia). The Lord offers salvation to men and women in every age. All of us recognize how much the light of Christ needs to illumine every area of human life: the family, schools, culture, work, leisure and the other aspects of social life. It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers.

Verbum Domini 30 Sep 2010

Please note that complete lack of warm fuzzies here: It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts.

The Kingdom of God, that is Jesus, is not something that stays home and minds its own business. The light of Christ needs to illumine every area of human life: the family, schools, culture, work, leisure and the other aspects of social life. When we rest in the kingdom (that is, Jesus) we become his action in the world. The Church, then, is a sacrament of the Kingdom, but not the whole Kingdom: which is Christ himself, the second person of the Trinity, and his action through grace in your life.

In this light, the parsing out of the reading from Hosea is interesting (thinking about the verses skipped).

In the text as provided for reading today (10:1-3, 7-8, 12) it sounds as if God had some trouble with Israel and they saw his anger (v8) and he closed out with some good advice (in v12). But taken all together with the rest of Chapter 10, v1-8 are about how bad Israel has been. Verse 12 is what they were supposed to have done instead. And God’s going to let them suffer the consequences of ignoring him.

I honestly believe we are there right now. God’s beginning to let us experience the consequences of ignoring him. And it’s only just beginning. The Bible Project folks call this “decreation” – an undoing of the blessings outlined at the beginning of Genesis. It’s a natural, logical consequence of ignoring God.

The people who want to keep Jesus in their hearts (but go on doing whatever they want) are leading us all amok. And it won’t be pretty because the Kingdom of God came near – we ignored him by searching for our own kingdoms, by trusting in our own power, making up our own rules, trying to decide on our own what was right and what was wrong.

The only hope is in the Gospel.

Repent – as the Alleluia Verse says – get a new mind, think different. Put your full trust (and all your actions) in the Good News.



The Readings for the 13th Saturday, Tempus per Annum

The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the vintager, him who sows the seed.

Amos 9:13 (NABRE)

SHABBAT SHALOM! Nerdy side note: in all romance languages, the days are numbered: Day 2, Day 3. Day seven is usually always some form of “Sabbath” (which is from the Hebrew for seven). Sunday is always “Lord’s Day.” So, Shabbat Shalom! ANYWAY…

It’s interesting that Church puts Amos 9 and Matthew 9 side by side, don’t you think? Israel is coming back and is going to rebuild their ruins and Jesus says don’t put new wine in old wineskins. What are ruins but old wineskins?

San Francisco is a city rebuilt from the ruins of an earthquake and a great fire. When calamity struck in the early morning of 18 April 1906 most of the city fell down. Half of it burned. And it was rebuilt. In many places the older bricks were used. If you look closely at the above photo of our Armory, you can see bricks sticking out at irregular intervals.

These are bricks that have been warped by the 1906 fire. You can see these all over the parts of the city that were rebuilt: all the bricks from the tumbled buildings were collected – including the warped ones – and reused in the post-1906 world. They make an interesting artistic statement about our resiliency and pluck. Evidently, in some ways, their irregular shapes make the masonry stronger because there are no uniform seams that run the full length or height of any wall. So they also say something like, “Try to knock me down again. Just try.”

So it is possible to rebuild on some ruins to the improvement of the ruins and the new construction.

On the other hand, much of San Francisco needed to be fully razed to the ground, the foundations remade, and whole neighborhoods flattened before any renewal could begin.

Sometimes you cannot rebuild until you tear down. This is where the wineskins come in, he said, proudly mixing metaphors.

“Gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit,” said Aquinas. Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it. So there are some things that are part of my nature and some things that are not. We must learn to distinguish. The Church is pretty clear about what is mine versus what is the damage done to mine, the disorder caused by myself and the world.

I started a series of posts on identity a few weeks ago. I have not yet finished it:

I’ve been wondering how to wrap up with Identity IV and these readings came up. See there are some things that can be reused like these bricks. There are somethings that don’t belong: that don’t make the structure stronger. In fact, they will tear it down. They’re not part of the original plan, but rather are brought in by the chiefest and greatest of calamities: sin.

Thus, someone coming to the Church has to explore their heart and be ready to accept things like teachings on sexuality and the person, like teachings on divorce and remarriage, like teachings on abortion. I mention these because their are target issues today, certainly, but they have been hot-button issues for the last 2000 years. The Church’s teachings on sexual purity were one of the things that set her apart from the pagan world around her and made people feel safe, unexploited, and able to reach out to God.

We must learn what the Dominicans teach (sometimes erroneously credited to Aquinas), “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish.” So it comes to me that the ruins of my past need to be razed. I need to show the deconstruction process in part IV which is now nearly ready to go.

Yes, there may be a few bricks that can be reused, but some may be like the old wineskins: ready to explode if we put in the new wine of Christ’s blood. It’s time to distinguish.

Shabbat Shalom!



The Readings for the 13th Friday, Tempus per Annum
– Memorial of Junipero Serra

Learn the meaning of the saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Matthew 9:13 (NABRE)

THE JESUS PSALTER has become my favorite devotion. There are many editions of it online and off although the first one I found was this one. I have an as-yet incomplete series of posts on this prayer which begins with this introduction. Arising from Mediaeval devotions to the Holy Name of Jesus, it flourished in England during the anti-Church persecutions under Henry and his family and became one of the main pillars of English Catholic Piety. It’s not very popular now, although it should be: a devotion that supported a generation of Martyrs is perfect for us now. It centers around multiple repetitions of Our Lord Name, together with a series of 15 petitions. Most of them begin with “give me the grace”: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, give me the grace to call for help to Thee. …give me the grace to fix my mind on Thee, …to fly evil company… persevere in virtue… to love Thee.”

We ask our Lord constantly for the grace we need to follow him. We should do this more and more in these latter days. Without that grace, how else do you go from being a Tax Collector to being a disciple?

In The Miracle Worker (1962) you can watch Anne Sullivan teach Hellen Keller. Hellen is deaf, dumb, blind… she has no words, no language. We know now enough about brain science to realize that having no words at all means there are no synapses in her brain to connect concepts with things. The world without words literally does not exist. Anne Sullivan has to physically form the words in Hellen’s hands whilst somehow also planting them in her brain. The internal dialogue is not there. But through patience (and a lot of pain) Anne and Hellen together bring it to be. And then, in the most moving scene, suddenly Hellen knows. “She KNOWS!” cries Anne Sullivan. “She Knows!”

That’s how Our Lord called Matthew. The tax collector had no words or concepts, and no synapses ready to connect them. Then, in one moment – Follow Me – he knows.

This is called grace.

And this is the actual meaning of what Our Lord says. Learn the meaning of I desire mercy, not sacrifice. The line in Hosea 6:6 actually uses the word for lovingkindness or grace, Hesed. “I desire Hesed.” The whole verse is a parallel construction:

I desire hesed not sacrifice
knowledge of God, not Olah.

Sacrifice and Olah are things that go up: smoke rising, incense, etc, sent by us upwards to God. Hesed and Knowledge (Da’at) of God are things that come down from heaven to us. Hesed is grace.

We need the grace mentioned in the Jesus Psalter at every turn. Some of the prayers, “help me”, “strengthen me”, “make me constant” are all variations on the prayer for Mercy (that is, Hesed, grace). We need the thing that pours down on us like water, freely and without measure.

I desire grace (a gift from God) not sacrifice: in other words there’s nothing you can do to win God’s love. God’s love is given freely (while we were yet sinners).

You are already infinitely loved.

Do you continue to struggle like Hellen Keller because you have no synapses, no words, no concepts to connect, or will you let God spell the words out on your fingers.

And follow him?

Plumb and Level

“The Plumb Line and the City” (portion) by Clark Fitzgerald at Coventry Cathedral


The Readings for the 13th Thursday, Tempus per Annum
– Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

But never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.

Matthew 8:25 (NABRE)

SUNDAY I was able to attend Mass at our Cathedral. This was the first time I’ve been there for a Sunday. The homily was quite good, calling us all to being Catholics who confess the Whole Faith and to avoid becoming “Catholic, but…” Most interesting was the way the preacher linked “Catholic, but…” to all extremes in the Church from the “Catholic, but traditionalist” which I took to mean those folks who reject the Novus Ordo Mass and have serious doubts about Pope France, as well as those who are “Catholic, but I reject…” certain teachings. It was interesting to me (as well as edifying) that he saw fit to warn us about both camps and saw them as equally dangerous.

Notice that the priest in our reading who warns Amos about the King’s Anger is also the priest who reported Amos to the King. Although it was not read on Wednesday because of the Solemnity, today’s reading follows on the passage where Amos sees a plumb line or a “plummet” as the NABRE has it. It’s a sign of how out of whack everything is in Israel: nothing is right and God can see it.

See, I am laying the plummet
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will forgive them no longer.

Amos 7:8

The Man In Charge, Amaziah, didn’t want Amos rocking his boat so he kicked him out. But, also, he didn’t want the King to think he was coddling this troublemaker, so he reported him. It’s very likely that if Amaziah had not reported Amos someone else would have. But if Amos is doing God’s work, shouldn’t Amaziah have listened? And he’s a priest and so should know better, right?

Recent events have dropped a plumbline into the middle of the Church and our nation. I don’t mean to take a side on the recent court case, for I believe that was as pyrrhic a victory as we could have ever imagined. See this essay by my brother in Christ. This sentence is so good that I quote it to urge you to read the entire essay: “Furthermore, to ban abortion (which, of course, Dobbs only permits, but does not do) without any jurisprudence of natural law, without any teleology of nature, and without ascribing any meaning to the human body is only accidentally similar to the Divine Law on one subject.” Then from that sentence, I harvest this but one phrase to continue on: accidentally similar to the Divine Law on one subject.

When Amos’s prophecy drops a plumb line in the midst of Israel it shows how out of kilter all of Israel is when compared to God’s law. The recent court decision, “accidentally similar to the Divine Law on one subject” can now serve the same purpose for it shows out totally out of whack literally everything else (including our pro-life movement) is when compared to God’s law. We cannot but fail to see how we’ve propped up an entire social order on liberal economic assumptions but have done nothing to correct the social order (save by one very minor cosmetic action). Most of the folks I know rabidly supporting abortion at this time are not, themselves, going to benefit from this decision: they are too old, they are male, they are not married, or, they don’t have sex with women. But they recognize that this decision puts a kink in the liberal social order which they know is of a piece. The lack of plumb is not visible to those who have eyes to see.

And so they cry foul to the prophet and, at the same time, report the prophet to the authorities just to be on the safe side. When the full extent of Catholic Social Teaching includes not only sexual issues, but also injunctions against usurious capital, hoarding of wealth, and lack of hospitality to the stranger (eg), people who pick from the list like a menu will object to those who insist on the whole banquet. The banquet itself contains many things that we just can’t have in our modern world, like the absolute dignity of all persons as defined by God, and not by our economic system.

We are entering a phase in the late decline of our society when those – Clergy or Laity, politicians or pundits – who say they are “Catholic, but…” will begin to point fingers at actual Catholics to protect themselves. They will be like Amaziah: seeking to protect their social standing they will tell the prophets to hush up – and report them to the Authorities. Those who insist on the whole faith (that is the meaning of Catholic – whole) will find themselves to be rather like Amos in the coming days. Let us pray to be whole.

It will be an interesting time.

Three Singers, One Song


The Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, Apostles

It was the feast of the Unleavened Bread

Acts 12:3 (NABRE)

TODAY’S FEAST CELEBRATES TWO Men who sang the same song. They were both martyred for the song because they refused to change the tune when the empire demanded they do so. They didn’t change the tune even when their fellow Jews rejected them and tried to have them slain.

Peter gets arrested and an angel leads him out of prison. Roman prisons are (mostly) underground: holes in the ground like graves actually. What does this remind you of? So, it’s Easter and Peter gets loosed from his underground chains and returned to freedom. Who is this God that frees people from their chains? Peter never changed the Tune.

Paul’s moment of conversion, of course, was more like the Transfiguration than Easter. Like Peter, Paul got to see Christ in his glory. But Paul gave up his entire life – including his religion – to go teach about this man he saw once in a vision. He insisted that in some way we cannot fully understand Jesus had died for him. And then Paul went and died for Jesus. Paul never changed the tune.

The Roman Church has two patrons, Peter and Paul, whom tradition teaches were both martyred at Rome. They were only part of the crew, as it were: tomorrow we celebrate all the earliest Martyrs of Rome. If you listen to Folks Who Know Things™, they will let you know that Jesus was pretty cool but Peter and Paul got it all wrong. We all know of demagogues who preach falsities and lure others to their doom. People who want us to ignore the Church tell us that Peter and Paul were such men. They got it all wrong. Everything is fine. Follow your bliss and do your own thing. It’s only a pinch of incense after all.

Today’s solemnity celebrates two men who sang a common harmony, but there was a third voice in their song. In fact, the Third Voice was the driving force behind Peter and Paul. They only sang the songs that were written for them and their harmony would have fallen apart except for their Master, Jesus. It was he who composed the tunes and wrote the harmonies, who called them to sing, who gave them their voices, who blessed them with all the gifts they needed to do the work he called them to do. To ignore Peter and Paul is exactly to ignore Jesus, the Dominant Third Voice in this trio.

People who know things will try to tell you that Jesus was all about love and Peter and Paul ruined it.

People who say know nothing about love.

Some Magic Bennies


The Readings for the 13th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum
– Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr

They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”

Matthew 8:25 (NABRE)

EARLIER POSTS HAVE DISCUSSED the link between the prayer, “Lord have mercy” and olive oil. It’s an ongoing theme. But in today’s reading the apostles cry out “save us” (soson) which carries the meanings, also, of “heal us” and “make us whole”. These meanings (save/heal/make whole) are also carried in the the Hebrew word, and this last happens to be Jesus’ name in Hebrew, but that’s not where I’m going today. Let’s talk about Ben Franklin. Mr Franklin’s first name means “son of the right hand” and his last name means “free landholder” and is a word used by the Anglo-Saxons to describe their Norman Conquistadores, but that’s also not the point today.

Ben once did an experiment where he calmed the ripples on a body of water by adding olive oil. He then went a little bonkers, trying to figure out how much water would covered (and calmed) by a teaspoon of oil. Makes me think of angels and pinheads!

The link between Jesus calming the sea and the idea of mercy being olive oil and oil on the water is where I’m going.

This image comes to mind when I pray any version of the Jesus prayer:
– the ByzCath on, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
– the one from the period of English Persecution, “Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, have mercy on me”
– or in Latin, Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu

I see Jesus spreading the oil of the Holy Spirit out on the water to calm the sea.

But lately, I’ve also heard him chide me, “Have you no faith at all? Why are you afraid?”

After more than 50 years in this journey with Jesus, I want to say, “Why are you afraid?” I have learned, time and time again, that even when it’s a mess that I have made all by myself, God’s actually in charge. The full meaning of “lead us not into the test” is not “don’t give me more than I can handle” but rather, “Don’t put me in a place where I think I can fix it… cuz I will try and that will make it worse! If you’re going to put me someplace, put me someplace where only you can fix it, and give me the grace to trust you more.”

Lord give me the faith to let you fix things – and to let you fix them in your own time and way. You’ve never let me fall and you won’t start now. But let me only walk where you would have me walk (or sail, if that’s what you want). When the going gets tough, let me keep on going because you’ve got this. Cast your oil on the water – or not – as you see fit. I know you won’t let go even if I slip and slide.

I may never end up where I thought I was going – or where I want to go – but I will end up where God would have me be.

That’s enough.

Freedom Ain’t a State of Mind


The Readings for the 13th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.

Galatians 5:13a (NABRE)

BROADWAY’S SHENANDOAH (1975) had this great number, “Freedom is a State of Mind” and there was dancing and, if I remember correctly, a raft floating down the river – actual water on the stage at the Alvin Theatre. It was a spectacle! The legendary John Cullum also got to sing “Papa’s going to make it all right” – a thing that might not get sung today without some not-so-gentle irony. Anyway it’s the theme of Freedom I want to point out. Here in the good ol’USA we like Freedom. It’s part of our national mythology, in fact it may be all of our national mythology… everything is couched in terms of freedom and please don’t ask too many questions about who is paying for my freedom if I’m not actually paying myself.

St Paul was writing to the Galatians about not being obligated to follow the liturgical laws of the Torah: most especially circumcision, specific days, and rules about kosher food. And, since Rabbinic legal teaching was a live project at the time, how should they treat any new decisions? Paul said Gentiles, at least, were exempt. It seems in places that Paul may have kept Kosher from time to time, but not as a legal dictate – but as a way to not cause a scandal when preaching the Gospel to Jews. It was freedom from such laws, though, that Paul is preaching here.

Paul says Gentile followers of God in Jesus are free to follow God in their own cultural context. We get excited about that “cultural context” but the emphasis in Paul’s mind is on the “Free to follow”. All the saints agree: freedom is not the freedom to do whatever I want, it’s the freedom to do the good.

Our idea of freedom has evolved.

Christians are not free to be greedy, selfish, or prideful. We’re not free to engage in unchastity nor uncharitableness. To follow Christ in our cultural context means to jettison everything that is not his.

Because the other thing that Freedom means is we’re no longer in chains to what post-moderns might call “social constructs”, but I mean that ironically: our body’s sex is not a social construct, but our attitude today is exactly that. Our feelings about sex and sexuality are only a social construct. For freedom from the culture, Christ has set us free. We’re free to follow him now.

And that takes courage as well.

Our ancestors would not have been free to follow Christ if they treated him as just another member of the Greco-Roman pantheon, subject to the same superstitions and taboos. We’re not actually free to make Christ out to be just another of our American Gods, subject to our ad hoc cultural judgments and political whims. We’re set free from such social constructs as well.

Freedom, contrary to the world – and to Broadway – is a state of Spirit, of God’s Spirit in our lives: for the Spirit of God given to us in Baptism and sealed in us by the other sacraments, begins to conform our mind, heart, our flesh, and entire life to Christ. Again: we’re not free to do whatever, we’re free to actually be who God made us to be. St Catherine says if we do that – become who God made us to be – we will set the world on Fire. While we can’t do that simply by following rules, it’s not a case that there are no rules at all.

But many of us chose to return to our slavery to the culture of sin that surrounds us. Paul reminds us that the Spirit and the Flesh are opposed to each other. What the world tells us is right is nearly always in opposition to what the Spirit requires.

The secret is that, outside of the liturgical law, the Spirit and the Law say the same thing. But with the Torah written on our hearts by the Spirit of God in us, we’re free.

Hearts Like Mom’s


The Readings for the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Blessed is the Virgin Mary who kept the word of God and pondered it in her heart.

Alleluia Verse

MARY’S TITLES ARE Innumerable. In the Byzantine Rites, in the Akathist (a hymn) to her she is called over and over by the titles:

Rejoice, through whom joy shall shine forth;
Rejoice, through whom the curse shall vanish.
Rejoice, fallen Adam’s restoration;
Rejoice, redemption of Eve’s tears.
Rejoice, height that is too difficult for human thought to ascend;
Rejoice, depth that is too strenuous for Angels’ eyes to perceive
Rejoice, for you are the throne of the King;
Rejoice, for you hold him Who sustains everything.
Rejoice, star that shows forth the Sun;
Rejoice, womb in which God became incarnate.
Rejoice, through whom creation is renewed;
Rejoice, through whom the Creator becomes an infant.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.


Today’s memorial of the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Mother celebrates her purity, and her love for her son and – through him – for us as well. But we can get so wrapped up in her superlativisity that we may forget she is a human person. What is in her is by God’s Grace, not her own merit. And we are called to that sanctity too.

By God’s Grace, at the moment of her conception, the Immaculate Virgin was protected from the stain of Original Sin. This means that she was not pulled away from God as we all are. Her will was free to make choices entirely on her own, unwounded by the common would we all share. Her will was still free to choose. She chooses God over and over. As we are called to do.

In Luke 1:28 she is called “Full of Grace”. The Greek is κεχαριτωμένη kexaritomene (Strong’s 5487). This word, indicating the bestowal of grace, is used twice in the New Testament: once to describe Mary as she is when Gabriel meets her and then in Ephesians 1:6 to describe us as God makes us in Jesus, his beloved Son. What Mary has by God’s grace from her conception is given to us in Jesus through Baptism and the other sacraments.

Now, yes, we are all sinners who have that wound of Original Sin. We walk towards God with a limp, like Jacob. We cannot make this choice on our own, but God’s grace can move us in his will. And so we are called not to be like Mary but to become like Mary. (I think the internetniks would say “begome” here.)

Mary loves us as the brothers and sisters of her Divine Son and we are called to grow up to be like our Mother – and our Oldest Brother, Jesus. We are called to this sanctity no matter who we are or where we are in life: single, married, celibate, lay, clergy, or monastic.

This was driven home by today’s second reading in the Daily Office, from a sermon by Saint Laurence Justinian, bishop:

Imitate her, O faithful soul. Enter into the deep recesses of your heart so that you may be purified spiritually and cleansed from your sins. God places more value on good will in all we do than on the works themselves.

Therefore, whether we give ourselves to God in the work of contemplation or whether we serve the needs of our neighbor by good works, we accomplish these things because the love of Christ urges us on. The acceptable offering of the spiritual purification is accomplished not in a man-made temple but in the recesses of the heart where the Lord Jesus freely enters.

Let us ask Mary’s prayers that God may make us more faithful sons and daughters of such a loving and immaculate mother.