The Opposite of Acedia

From “The High Priestly Prayer” (1900) by Eugene Burnand
Readings for 7th Wednesday after Easter (C2)

I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.

John 17:15-17

JMJ

JESUS IS NOT abandoning us to our sins in his prayer, but rather calling us to act in courage through God’s grace. In Romans 8:37 St Paul says we are “more than conquerors” in all things. Then, in the next two verses, he adds, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yet we know life can feel like a continual struggle, a continual slog through the mud of worry, indecision, and second guessing. In the Gospel, our Lord asks his Father to give us victory over the Evil One. What is the challenge? In the slog I just mentioned, the challenge is acedia – we use a more modern word, “sloth,” sometimes but that can seem more like the challenge is to “get outside and do something!” The opposite of acedia is not action. It’s God. The victory is God.

If you hang out on Catholic Social Media at all you will find so many men and women wondering if God’s calling them one way of life or the other, religious life, ordination, or marriage? All I can hear in my head is the priest who pushed me so hard saying, “Discernment is an action verb!” Go this way, very fast. If something gets in your way, turn. (That’s from a RomCom/BratPack movie called, Better Off Dead, 1985, Warner Bros, starring John Cusack. It’s prime discernment formation!)

The temptation to acedia starts with “Well, I don’t know…” and it gets compounded by the “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO). In the end, doing nothing seems the safest choice and our fake humility (which is really our pride) tells us, “I don’t deserve more. I will wait for God to give me a sign.” But then no sign comes or, more often, multiple signs come which we ignore waiting for something better. There is nothing the Evil One loves more than Christians who will do his work for him – meaning, why should he go to the trouble of tempting us or persecuting us, all he needs to do is watch while we do nothing.

St Catherine of Siena asked our Lord for help with a temptation, “Please help me to overcome this temptation. I do not ask you to take it away, but grant me victory over it.” (Libellus, Chapter 4.) St Paul suffered from a “thorn in the flesh” which is sometimes understood as a person bothering him or perhaps an illness or a temptation. Three times he asked the Lord to take away this thorn, but Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is the kicker, “my grace.” As I mentioned the opposite of acedia is not action, it’s God. While sloth is the sin, the solution is not frenetic activity – which can just be more sloth, if all the actions are distracting you. Rather we need a full immersion in God’s abundant life.

Jesus’ prayer gives us the same answer: He asks the Father to consecrate his disciples to the Truth. Who is the Truth? The answer is in the next sentence “your Word (logos) is Truth” and elsewhere Jesus – the logos himself – says, “I am the Truth”. Consecrate the disciples (us) to himself, the Logos who is Truth. Set us apart for him. Reaching out to Jesus who is our Savior, our Life, our Judge, and our Friend is the first and only action we need.

You may have heard of the Daily Examen, filtering your life through a few questions to ask how God was working in your life and how you responded. Let me suggest the best way to prep for that Examen is a daily offering that lets God know what’s up for the day, offering it all to him, and letting him know that you know he’s really in charge. “God I have to XYZ today (and sometimes my list is very long!), but if you have other ways for me to go, I know that the things needed are in your hands. Help me to get up from prayer and run with you.” At the end of the day, the Examen will be more clear because you and God were dancing together from the get-go.

We have the one thing we need – Jesus on our side! We are more than conquerors. Now get out there and do something! If something gets in your way, do something else!

Amen?

Of Bessie’s Butterscotch Pudding and Scriptural Inspiration.

JMJ

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

(Jesu) dixit dari illi manducare.
(Jesus) commanded that something should be given her to eat. 

My late grandmother made this amazing butterscotch pudding. I will ask Jesus for some when I get to the other side. I hope he won’t make her cook it, but.. We can’t find the recipe. When Grandma died on Columbus Day (as it then was), 1984, the pudding passed out of living memory. I’ve tried several internet recipes. I know it involved a double boiler, and a LOT of cooking. I think it may have involved cooking flour, but it may have involved gelatin. Grandma owned a restaurant, that served travellers to her father’s gas station in Edenville, MI (pictured above). That leads me to imagine the gelatin may have been involved – it’s very easy to make for a crowd that way. But Mom says, No, to that. So, research will continue apace.

When someone dies, the line of Oral Tradition is broken. Things get lost. The breathing stops and we have to pick up the story at a later time.

The word εὐθς euthys Immediately occurs 87 times in the New Testament. 46 times are outside of the Gospel of Mark. The other 41 times are used by Mark in his descriptions of just about everything. We get the word four times in our passage today (there are only five uses of it in all of the fifth chapter) although the NABRE doesn’t convey it very well. 

The woman is healed immediately.
And immediately Jesus realizes something has happened.
The little girl immediately gets up
And immediately all are amazed.

Add to that that this story is really one miracle story inside another miracle story: like “Hey this happened, but oh yeah that happened too, and this happened along as well.” It’s an odd turn for a religious text: it’s not very orderly, it’s not very sensible. You should tell one miracle story. You move on to the next. 

Some folks have theorized we can hear the “Marcan community” talking here: that this is someone taking almost literal dictation of a bunch of folks trying to remember Jesus, trying to get it all written down before the elders die off and we lose these stories of this guy we like so much. They don’t need these stories to get lost like Grandma’s butterscotch pudding.

And so the date of composition of the Gospels becomes terribly important: was the Gospel written by witnesses? By someone interviewing witnesses? By someone recalling stories they heard from witnesses? Or was it even further back?

To a Christian these questions are meaningless. We have to believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Church: the Church is called the ground and the pillar of the Truth. If we don’t believe the Holy Spirit could have (and did) protect the stories within his bosom until they were written down, then what are we even doing here?

The scriptural texts were written to make points (some spiritual, some political). Yes.
The communities that produced the texts seem to have disagreed on some points. Yes.
We know that oral tradition and human memory are failable. Yes.
Therefore the scriptures are, at best, historically suspect if not highly so. No.

St Paul says all scripture is God breathed. He said so at a time when he was writing scripture! (Did he or did he not know he was is another issue.) But if you claim to believe in an all powerful God who can do anything… why can’t he keep the right stories intact, even calling different stories from different communities? Why cannot this all powerful God move his Church to make the right choices in this context?

We’re not talking Grandma Bessie Mae’s butterscotch pudding, here, nor even the guessing about the Founders’ intent in writing the 2nd Amendment. We’re talking the boundary between Salvation and Death. Coming from another tradition, you may not think that is so: but for a Christian it must be so.

This is not a plea for inerrancy, or reading the Bible as a science or even history text. This is a plea for not ditching or even dissing the text because of Oral Histories and human weakness. Either the Holy Spirit works through the Church, or he does not. If he doesn’t, all those assumptions are still on the table. If he does, though, work through the Church, then you have come to the text asking why is this here and what does it mean? Not how does this get here and can I ignore it? It is this latter question that many are asking, either covertly or overtly. They want to ignore the scripture (or some part of them) as the Product only of humans and our biases. We can’t point to culture, either: oh, well, that’s just a cultural bias and Jesus wouldn’t have done anything else. So Jesus is not God then? Jesus, who is about to toss out swathes of the Mosaic code and Rabbinic teachings, is bound by culture?

Raising such claims, in order to discount the Bible’s text, is a dogpile of three different heresies: 1) Arianism, that taught Jesus was not God; 2) Marcianism that taught the Old Testament was written by the wrong God; and, 3) Pneumatomachianism, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The braid of all three is woven through with the Heresy of Modernism, and the assumption of Chronological Arrogance; that we in these latter days, finally, know what was really going on.

In a Bible as literature class, or in a textual discussion of the contents, all bets are off: but that’s not the Church. Did Grandma use gelatin or flour? Was the butterscotch all made in one batch or over time? Does this recipe in a wartime cookbook come close? Is the Joy of Cooking better? How about this modern one with a crockpot and sweetened condensed milk? It’s not the way to liturgically read the Bible, though. Nor is it the way to teach it in Church. An historical debate about pudding will not get dessert on the table. The Bible must be read through the Church’s eyes and with the Church’s heart because it is, cover to cover, the Church’s book and she knows what it means. She put it together, she canonized it – even that portion we call the Old Testament: for she has kept certain parts that are not used in the Jewish Community and reads all of it in ways that are different.

Mark’s Gospel is quite possibly a compilation of many stories, remembered by members of his community and, perhaps, edited together with an over-zealous use of the word Euthys in the way a child would tell a story about the day at school. That in nowise makes it less inspired, or less God breathed. The breathing has never stopped. In fact, it is in our weakness that God’s strength is made known. 

It is our trust in that breathing that is the sign of the Church in the world but not of it. Without that breathing we build a bridge from heaven to earth, and, crossing over to earth, we burn it behind ourselves so that no one can get back across.