Yeah, that Streetcar.

Today’s Readings:

  • Genesis 49:2, 8-10 
  • Matthew 1:1-17 

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other mass texts

Sapientia Altissimi, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentire. The Alleluia Verse

Today’s Alleluia Verse is a condensed version of tonight’s Antiphon on the Magnificat (sung at Vespers on the 17th for both Catholic and Orthodox users of the Western Liturgy). That text in full is:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

From 5th Grade, at least, I wanted to be a minister. Our family was Methodist. I’ve no idea what the Methodist “Ordination Process” was like in 1974, but it was probably some low-church version of “lunch with the Bishop.” If the meeting ended with “you’re a nice young man, perhaps you should consider seminary?” You were on you way. That lunch would not happen for me until late in High School when I was Episcopalian, but from fifth grade on I was teaching Sunday School and preaching the “Youth Sunday” Sermon. Pastor Bob was a great encouragement to me in Wurtsboro, NY, as was Pastor Jim when we moved to Acworth, GA. But somehow, 40 years later, I’m not ordained.

This self-evident fact was given to me like a hard face slap a couple of years ago, just after my 49th birthday, as a friend was ordained to the priesthood. I realized that given all the same choices as I, he had taken them differently in several places and his choices had led him to where I had claimed to want to go. Another friend was ordained two Summers ago and his mother commented regarding her pride in the choices he had made to get there. She used the words “Sacrifice” and “Integrity”. These are not words I would be able to use to describe my life’s journey.

The invocation of Divine Wisdom – Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in the Greek – is to a specific end: the inculcation of Prudence in the worshipers. But what is Prudence? It is one of the four Cardinal Virtues which also include Justice, Temperance, and Courage. (There are also three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity.) Prudence is primarily about foresight, about seeing which of several possible choices is the moral choice, the right choice. By the correct actions we can grow the other virtues as well. Prudence is regarded as a prime virtue for this reason: you can’t get the others without it. What is “correct action”?

In Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the human person man’s natural state of being, his φύσις or phusis is according to God’s plan for his life. In this natural state – that state “according to our nature”, the nature God intended for us – man makes prudent (correct) choices and from this correct action flows. Correct action is according to our nature. Our failures are because we are imprudent. We can make a given choice based on other things: and so our choices are then against nature, παρά φύσιν (para phusin) which really means “to the side” of nature. We’re missing the mark. We’re off to the side. Again, that nature is the one God made for us: and all human nature is, shall we say, slightly dented. Some settling has occurred in transit. We’re not measuring up to the serving suggestions on the box.

Paul uses παρά φύσιν in his epistle to the Roman to describe a number of things including same-sex sexual activities and men pretending to be women or vice versa. Our answer to that charge, today, is usually “Yes, but this is my nature. Paul had no idea about my nature. For me to pretend to be something else would be against my nature.” To this individualistic claim, the Alleluia verse, the Antiphon, and Christmas itself is a Divine Slapdown. Human nature is one ontological whole: yes there are many persons who are human, but there is only one Human Nature. Just as there are three persons in the One Divinity, so there are many persons in One Humanity. In the Incarnation at Christmas that one Divinity became One of Us, part of the One Humanity, and so the natures are joined. There is no “my” nature: there’s just nature. “Your” nature is no different from “mine” save in the ways each of us fails in the path of prudence – of making choices based not on the Divine Plan but rather on our own plans, our emotions, or our feelings. We cannot have different natures, different odd quirks or we are not saved because Jesus is not one with us, just another guy.

Human freedom granted us by God lies not in the ability to choose to do anything we want (which is properly called license), but rather our freedom to be the most amazing humanity possible lies in the choice for God’s plan – not our own. That’s the only choice: God’s way or the low way. When we choose otherwise we are not being free: we are led away as slaves to our own reasonings, our body’s cravings, our appetites, our sins, our lusts, or on our Passions, as the theologians would say. When we convince ourselves that This thing in me contrary to God’s plan is really who I am we are exposing our own lack of understanding of our shared human nature. We are rather like a street car refusing to ride on the tracks laid out for it – and insisting that it’s a better street car because of its ability to jump the rails. How many people will die?

The first Great O Antiphon is a prayer for Divine Sophia, to teach us prudence, to show us the way to go. We want her to include our lives in that “all things mightily and sweetly” dance into which she orders the world. We want her to make our lives, to borrow a pun from the Latin, suave. As Sophia is Christ, the Incarnation itself is an answer to this prayer. Jesus becomes man to restore our sanity, to restore to us our natural, inborn ability to make the prudent choices, to have right action, become fully human (like Christ); the first step to becoming divine. We are becoming suave and debonair, that last meaning “meek and humble,” not well-dressed. See what our passions do to even the meanings of words?

To get right action again – after we’ve jumped the rails – requires a metanoia, often translated as “changed mind” or “repentance”, as in “If you sin, you must repent”. But it’s not just a “changed mind” but “beyond mind”. We need to get beyond our own thinking, our own little box of ideas about “who I really am”. Christmas is the only way out: God becomes us so we may join him in the dance. God reveals to us in himself the fullness of humanity and, by becoming man, restores to all of us our natural humanity.

When I look at my life I see that my choices were imprudent because they were para-phusis, where phusis is properly understood as a divine revelation. My choices caused me and others some temporary happiness, but I cannot say that they have made me into the person I wanted to be way back in fifth grade. Nor, to judge by my active life in the confessional, have they made me into the person God wanted me to be. They led to what is called “False Consolations”. I’m not me, I’m a false me, a me created by sins and illness.

A return to the confessional. A return to the Nature God gave me. A return to life. This is the way by to hitting the mark, the path of Prudence.


Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 54:1-10
  • Luke 7:24-30

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Et omnis populus audiens et publicani, justificaverunt Deum, baptizati baptismo Joannis. Pharisaei autem et legisperiti consilium Dei spreverunt in semetipsos, non baptizati ab eo.
And all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with John’s baptism. But the Pharisees and the lawyers despised the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized by him.
Luke 7:29-30

…all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God… It’s such a curious phrase, no?  It is not a wonky translation in the Douay, many of the extant English versions render this phrase in Luke 7:29 as some version of the people “justified God.” The Greek word is ἐδικαίωσαν and it means “I declare righteous”.  In other words, the Bible is saying that the masses of people Baptized by John said that God was justified in his condemnation of those very people. On the other hand, the Pharisees “despised the counsel of God against themselves.” Imagine coming to court and saying to the Judge, “My accuser is correct.”  That’s what’s happening here.

It comes up in another place, in the Old Testament: in Psalm 50 (or 51, New Style).  In Verse 4 (or Verse 6, if you’re counting like in the LXX) the holy Prophet David pictures God in a court case and says, “that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst overcome when thou art judged.”  The word rendered “Justified” is the same Greek word we have in the Gospel today. It’s represented by the same word in Latin as well.  A lot of translations, however, dodget this one – try to make it sound like “When God judges, he’s right” rather than “when we look at God’s actions, we see he’s right.”

See, in the abstract, it’s ok to say, “God’s right”. Everyone says that – even, really, the demons say that.  It’s really hard to say, “From where I am in my life, I can see you’re right, God.” Do you see the difference? The beginning of repentance may be the realization that “Something’s wrong here.” But when you look around, when you investigate all the options, the second step in repentance has to be saying, “God’s right.” We cannot fully acknowledge that we have missed the mark until we first admit that there is mark to miss. All else is just a show. Before you can say, “My life is unmanageable” you have to know what a rightly managed life looks like and you have to admit that that other option is way better than the one you have so recently been taking.

The Pharisees, be they the ancient Jewish legal sort, the modern political activist sort, the classic capitalist short, or whatever other sort there may be are all quite happy with saying, “God’s right” but they don’t want God to speak: they will deny his revelation. If someone else should point out the revelation of God, they have a good excuse. We can ignore that because we know XYZ to be the case now, and we know so much better than this God person. We can ignore what he says about life because this isn’t a life growing in me, it is a lump of tissue. We can ignore what he says about loving your brother because that’s an oppressor (capitalist, racist, sexist, homophobe, nazit, trupist, clintonista, abortionist, rigid traditionalist, whateverist). We can ignore what he says about sex because Freud. We can ignore what he says about welcoming the stranger because they’re Muslims. We can ignore what he says about loving your enemy because 9/11.Pharisees always have a reason to ignore God. They even make up stories about how they can argue better than God. And, boy, didn’t they get one over on him then?

It’s really important to ask oneself where one stands with God. If the answer is not “prostrate before him begging mercy” one is standing in the wrong place, I think.

Before you get there, you have to admit God is the right person to judge you.

He didn’t make those.

Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 45:6C-8, 18, 21C-25
  • Luke 7:18B-23

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Formans lucem et creans tenebras, faciens pacem et creans malum.
I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil.
Isaiah 45:7

I struggled with this verse, sitting and wondering what it could mean, for clearly the English and the Latin both say God creates evil and that cannot be. So chewing upon it for a while I opted to look closer into the earlier text and, in the Greek LXX, as well as in the Hebrew it says God creates evil. Yet in that last, having a better interlinear text, a few things were gleaned. The Hebrew uses an adjective, not a noun. Ra “Evil” is an adjective without an complement. It’s like saying “God didn’t make little green” and leaving off the “apples”. So the Hebrew dictionary offers a secondary reading of “Adversity”.

Then, coming forward, the Greek, kaka, is also an adjective, as is the Latin, malum. In English, when it says “God creates evil”, it sounds to our ears like a noun because it’s an incomplete adjectival phrase. We want to make sense of it as “God Creates Evil” but really it says, “God creates evil…” OK.  “God creates evil….” what? To make up for this, the NABRE has “I make well-being and create woe” and the RSV has ” I make weal and create woe”. It avoids the awkward floating adjective.

The second clue is in the first part of the verse: because Hebrew poetry is often composed in couplets that have parallel meanings. “I form the light, and create darkness.” Darkness is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of light. We have God as source of Positive Quality, and also as source of the Absence of Positive Quality. And so, I suggest, the “evil” in the second part of the verse is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of peace.

Light : absence of light : : Peace : absence of peace.

A former coworker discussed with me her lack of empathy. She knows life sucks, but she has gotten through so many things that one more sucky thing isn’t going to ruin her. She is a boundless source of humor and love, and yeah, life sucks. She and I have both come to the conclusion that we have a 100% success rate getting through sucky things in the past, and so we’re, on average, set to get through the next sucky thing as well. Although she comes at it with the cynical joy of a cancer survivor, I tend to just hit it with the humility of faith.

It’s a very different attitude than our world of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”. It’s a different world from our pain killers and opioids, as well. It’s a far cry from our pot and alcohol consumption too. Facing reality with no buffer scares people enough that some people are teaching there is no such thing as reality at all. But neither drug-induced nor philosophical gnosticism can successfully banish the reality of suckiness around us. What is important is how to face it.

Elsewhere the Bible teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus and that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Consider how revolutionary that would sound to a 1st Century Roman for whom all is heartless fate and fickle gods. Now, imagine how that might sound to your random cosmic accident believing coworkers and friends. How can laying off half your coworkers be a good thing? Or losing your family in a car accident? Cancer? AIDS? How can we face the things that happen and keep the peace that our souls crave? How can we live in God’s goodness or the absence of the same.

Here is a prayer called the “Prayer of the Optina Elders” from the Byzantine tradition wherein we ask God to remind us that good things come from him, and the things we call bad, and also the unexpected things that no one wanted (or maybe even imagined) until they happened.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by Thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the labours of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen.

God creates peace and also the absence of peace. But we are commanded to have peace in our hearts – even when there is none in the world. That can only be accomplished with God’s help.

A Big Slice of Humble Pie

Today’s readings:

  • Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13
  • Matthew 21:28-32

In the Douay, RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Vae provocatrix, et redempta civitas, columba! non audivit vocem, et non suscepit disciplinam; in Domino non est confisa, ad Deum suum non appropinquavit.
Woe to the provoking and redeemed city, the dove. She hath not hearkened to the voice, neither hath she received discipline: she hath not trusted in the Lord, she drew not near to her God.
Zephaniah 3:1-2

In the Gospel today we hear of the two sons.

A certain man had two sons: and coming to the first, he said: Son, go work to day in my vineyard. And he answering, said: I will not. But afterwards, being moved with repentance, he went. And coming to the other, he said in like manner. And he answering said: I go, Sir. And he went not.
Matthew 21:28b-30

Most of us are that second son. We say yes but we don’t do it at all. We know what we promised, but we can’t quite get up the gumption to live up to our Baptism. I am thankful that God is merciful, but he’s got a lot of fun in store.

I notice the Douay, following on St Jerome’s Vulgate, in turn following the LXX, ends Zephaniah 3:1 with the word “Dove” (columba, περιστερά).

Vae provocatrix, et redempta civitas, columba!ὦ ἡ ἐπιφανὴς καὶ ἀπολελυτρωμένη ἡ πόλις ἡ περιστερά

Translations that follow the later Masoretic Hebrew Bible render these verses in some variation of this:

Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city! She hears no voice,
accepts no correction; In the LORD she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near.

The Dove (or Pigeon) seems important because the Holy One certainly loves this city. She’s just messed up, that’s all. She’s redeemed, but all kinds of ungrateful. She’s rebellious and polluted. Evidently she houses prideful people who tell lies. They are prideful because of the Lord’s House in the midst of Israel. In other words, they look like religious people. But they are boastful, hateful, arrogant, oppressive, and all because of the Church in the midst of them. Not that they do much by way of piety beyond the show of it. She’s a Dove. But a dirty one.

I don’t have much to say by way of supporting American Exceptionalism, as I wrote a couple of days ago, but because quite a few of us believe it, this prophecy sounds like it could be aimed at us. This is how we act, despite the claim that we have our special mission from God. We don’t really care about the morals – but it looks nice to say “one of us” is in power. The Church caved in to politics early on, as far as divorce goes – that’s why the Eastern Churches allow for divorce and remarriage. In the Byzantine Rite there is even a service for a “second marriage”! It’s there because some Byzantine Officials wanted remarriage. The Church said, “eh… ok”

It’s the same way here in the USA. The Church in America – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant – is like the Second Son. We keep saying yes to God, but damn it all, if we don’t just go do whatever we want. I might expect that of the Protestant Mainline, but even the conservative Protestants do it. Mormons changed their teaching on marriage (Polygamy) just to be let in to the Union! Catholic politicians, Orthodox ones… they all sell out. And we want them to: because we want an excuse to sell out as well. See: we treat our politicians as Moral Arbiters. This is why there are so many pro-choice Catholic politicians and why a Pro-Choice Orthodox Senator is an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We are like a beloved dove – which is a pigeon: rats with wings, my old NYC friends used to call them. They are pretty and all. But they love garbage. We are a “City on a Hill”, so we claim. Well, if that’s who we say we are, then we’re the South Bronx on a Hill. 1960s Riot-Era Newark On a Hill.

Prostitutes and Tax Collectors will all get into heaven before we do. Even Tax Collectors. The IRS. Think about it.

God’s got a good thing planned, however: he says he’ll feed his people crow until they learn to be humble and depend entirely on him. He says he’ll bring in strangers from a foreign land to weaken the pride of his people. He says, in the end, there’s nothing for his people to be ashamed of, because he’ll have fixed it.

Mind you, as hopeful as all that sounds, it also doesn’t sound pretty. It sounds like the classic solution for mis-formed bones: break them, and force them to heal straight, maybe by forcing them into braces that hold the bones in certain painful – but correct – ways. Yeah, salvation by orthotics… we can walk correct, but our feet bleed.

Sounds about right.

Who painted it?

Today’s readings:

  • Zechariah 2:10-13
  • Luke 1:26-38

In Douay, RSV, and NABRE with other Mass texts.

Let all flesh be silent at the presence of the Lord: for he is risen up out of his holy habitation.
Zechariah 2:13

Today is the feast of the Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. By the Roman Church she is designated as the Patroness of the Americas and, so important is this feast to certain communities that, on the DL, of course, she is even commemorated by some Orthodox in the WR, and perhaps in the ER.

The image on the cloth looks very much like the image described in St John vision, which is an alternative reading for our feast:

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Rev 12:1-2

The miraculous image on the cloth weaves in such cunning ways the attributes of the Mother of God and the deities the local Aztecs would have known. The symbolism is easy to read for them although we – and their Spanish teachers – might miss it. And there are many more miraculous points to the image. My favorite being that if you photographically enlarge the eyes of the Virgin, you find that there are human images reflected in those eyes: It is believed to be the images of Juan Diego, Bishop Juan de Zummaraga, Juan Gonzales, the interpreter and others.

All of this may sound really quite surprising to you and decidedly unscientific, and even just clearly superstitious. These words are all useful if you don’t want to say “miraculous”.  I prefer to say “miraculous”.

In all her apparitions, as approved by the Church, Mary has appeared to the powerless – be they starving Irish, or oppressed Indians, Christians oppressed by Muslim invaders, or else the poor of Portugal or France.  Always Mary appears to the weakest, the least and not always to their benefit: sometimes they are abused for their visions, sometimes they ridiculed and scorned by their families and neighbors. They may be, for a time, rejected by the Church. But always she reminds them that, though they are poor in the eyes of the world, they are, in her heart, richly blessed beyond measure.

I wonder why the rich never get that message? I can’t imagine we don’t need it.

Maybe, though, we don’t want it?

Wrong God, Wrong Pew

Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10
  • James 5:7-10
  • Matthew 11:2-11

In the Douay, the RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts

Confortamini, et nolite timere: ecce Deus vester ultionem adducet retributionis; Deus ipse veniet, et salvabit vos.
Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.
Isaiah 35:4b

Behold your God!

I’ve got little clips of the Messiah running through my head at this time of year. Not unexpected, but constant.  This “Behold your God” is one of the places where the soloist can cut loose, embellishments happen, trills and runs, arpeggios and whatall, making a point of this prophetic utterance: BEHOLD YOUR GOD.  This God with vengeance and healing is going to be a baby laying in a pile of cow fodder, born in blood and filth. And he will need his mother’s milk to survive.

Behold your God.

There are some reasons not to like this guy – that whole vengeance part sounds scary, but verses 5 and 6 sound nice, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness.”

Isaiah, however, puts the “Behold” right before the vengeance. As if to say, “Yeah, this is going to, on the whole, sound so very good that I’ll need to put the tough bit first so you don’t miss it: VENGEANCE.” Gulp.

Maybe he means it for our enemies – like, all the people that beat up Israel will get punished.  No, that can’t be it: because most of the people that beat up on Israel God took the credit for. God was using them on us. Goodness. he means Vengeance on Us! Let’s skip that part when we write up the music.

We like to edit God to make him conform to our ideas. I’ve been thinking about a few common edits popular today. I’ve decided to reject them. Here’s why:

The first edited god I reject is the nearly-gnostic nudger.  This dud planted hints in all our mind/world and wants us to just sort of get along. At the end of the day it’s expected that this nudger will say, “Yeah, that wasn’t the important part. Welcome to the important part now! Everyone’s going to be there.”

Were I to arrive at the Big and Pearlies and meet this party, I’d want to go to the other place: because this god is mute and powerless. I’d say to him, “You’ve seen us down here flummoxing along for millennia and all you could give us was a vague sense of “be excellent to each other” and that you might be here? Satan at least had the balls to try something more direct.”

A wee bit further down the scale of desirable deities we find the Bipolar Holy Humbug: this one seems to have spoken once or twice, but not definitively. He has up days and down days. He’s seemingly told the Jews to kill all the pagans, and told the Christians not to kill anyone, and told the Muslims to kill everyone except the Christians and the Jews, unless some politics intervene. He’s told the Native Americans next to nothing, and together with all the pagans of Europe, they got bollox for not having a deity that could write.

Heaven for this guy will look like the Simpsons’ version, with different clouds for different people, all having been promised different heavenly enjoyments. He will have to point out where each path got the “primal tradition” wrong. We’ll all get heavenly treats, but we’ll discover all our demerits too. Were I to arrive at the Sorting Supper for this archipelago, I’d let everyone know that this god has no power. Evidently once humans heard the Real Message, he couldn’t stop us from making edits to the better passages. He left no authority and no teachers.

Finally, the Nihilistic Sociopathic Deity and Partier: the one that says “All are welcome, cross over! Everything is forgiven! Come to the banquet: the party is just starting! This deity has no rules and no one will get left out. He’s either powerless to reveal any rules, or else he’s made a lot of them (because we do have a lot of them) yet they are of no value at all. I might think sex is holy one way, but not another… this deity doesn’t care. You might think ideas of justice and peace are important, but this god doesn’t care. The liberal sort might imagine that they should be saving the world. This god doesn’t care. This god doesn’t care if you’re Donald Trump, Mother Teresa, Larry Flint, or you and me. There is no punishment. There is no justice.

Were I asked to belly up to this bully’s buffet, I’d throw the tray in his face: millennia of striving for various ideas of perfection (and, yes, some of them overlap, while some of them are mutually exclusive) when all we needed to do was kill, maim, grab all the bootie and the bootay and then we’d all get to heaven anyway. Yeah, this guy hates us. Totally hates us.

In the end, however, all three of these demonic delusions have one trap left to spring: you can’t say no to them. Unless they change their minds – they could you know. We could all end up in hell just because they were passive aggressive as well as bullies. Unless they do that though, you’re trapped with them though all eternity. They intend to save us all even if we don’t want them to: eternal damnation in heaven.

I’ll take a God who loves us so much as to give us the freedom to say no. I will follow a God who loves us so much that he gives us instructions for how to follow him and, from time to time, offers correctives when we step out of line. I will love a God who loves us so much that when we had fallen into sin and death he took sin and death upon himself to destroy them. I will dance with a God who says that my choices matter, my choices have consequences, and my choices might be good – or bad. Yet they are my choices to make, my consequences, my real life.

The God of Vengeance is the God who can do something. Anything less is a god it makes no point to follow. Yes to the idea of a God having wooed me without traps, having revealed himself to me with only a Baby and expected me to follow… yes. That’s a God I need: vulnerable and yet omnipotent, just and yet merciful, glorious and awesome, yet humble and meek. That’s a God I not only want to follow, but I want to emulate him.

The Days of Elijah

Today’s Readings:

  • Ben Sira 48:1-4, 9-11
  • Matthew 17:9A, 10-13

In the RSV and the NABRE with other Mass texts.*

And Elias the prophet stood up, as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch. He brought a famine upon them, and they that provoked him in their envy, were reduced to a small number, for they could not endure the commandments of the Lord. 
Et surrexit Elias propheta quasi ignis, et verbum ipsius quasi facula ardebat. Qui induxit in illos famem: et irritantes illum invidia sua pauci facti sunt: non enim poterant sustinere praecepta Domini.
Ben Sira 48:1-2

Advent is a time of hope – but also rightly of fear. God is coming among us. This can’t be all good. Christmas is not only a time of remembrance, it is a time of forgetting all the reasons that God’s presence among us is terrifying. It’s a busy season for Prophets: because each one has a job to do, and the Christmas season not only reminds us of the Babe in the Manger, but also helps us forget the children whose unseen hands strung our lights, and glued the tinsel to our tree. Profits increase and souls are lost: we need Prophets.

I noted yesterday that even those who reject “organized religion” seem to, of their own, create organized religion; even if the process involves making religious claims out of atheism, or dogmatic demands out of relativism. We do this because we are naturally religious. We are created this way with, as Augustine noted, hearts that are restless until they rest in God. We will try many things until we find the one that fits – and there is only one that will work, finally. But we are cursed to try. We will try everything, sometimes.

Elijah’s job is to stop all that. One at a time or all at once, you can’t go that way… that’s a failure. Turn around or fire will rain down. Come back or a famine will follow. Jesus says that John was Elijah. You see: anyone who gives the prophetic warnings – and makes them stick – can be Elijah. Yet prophets die. If they do their job right, they are so damned annoying that they get killed. Every time.

I’m disinclined to believe in what is called “American Exceptionalism”. I don’t think this place is all that special. It’s certainly not doing anything today that Rome wasn’t doing 2000 years ago: trying to run the world and suck all the resources into the center of our cities.  At the same time keeping millions of people enslaved because we’ve ruined their cultures and environments so that they have nothing else to do except make our shoes that we can can sell for $1. Apart from that function as a Roman Surrogate, America is not special at all.

Yet we do have a second special roll, as of a Pharisee, standing up and saying, “I thank thee God that I am not like other countries…” And to the extent that we claim to be first in God’s eyes and duties, God will hit us hard.

Let me say that again, more plainly: we are a nation who can’t go to Church, won’t obey God’s rules for sex and marriage, and murder babies in the womb, all in the name of “freedom”. We dump our garbage and our poor (in the persons of our military) on the ravaged world. We reject the stranger, insist that businesses have the right to oppress their workers, leave the hungry and the homeless on our streets, abandon the poor to their Vick’s Vapo-Rub and their Theraflu – and yet we dare to call ourselves a “Christian Nation”. Every time we do that without moving our laws more Christward, we ensure the wrath to come will be both excruciating for us and true tidings of comfort and joy for our enemies.

I laughed when it was announced that the American intelligence community thinks a foreign power may have tampered with our election. Why should not our laws be changed to reflect what we have done to the laws in other countries? Why should not our businesses be able to treat American workers in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco as they have treated workers in Manila, Taipei, and Seoul with our blessing?

Goose and gander: we get what we deserve. These are the days of Elijah.

And yet… and yet. If God’s call to repentance is heeded. Elijah will reconcile the heart of the Father to his Son… that is, us: the tribes of the New Jacob. It may suck. It may be hard, but the rest of the world has survived and grown strong in their faith. Maybe we will too.

*I cannot offer these readings fully in the Douay because my usual source for Bible Texts is broken in Chapter 48 of Sirach! So here is Chapter 48 of Ecclesiasticus and Matthew 17 from another source. The readings are highlighted in yellow.

Everybody’s looking for something.

Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 48:17-19
  • Matthew 11:16-19

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place. Who crying to their companions say…
Matthew 11:16-17a

I listened to a sermon once, by a professed Atheist, who, having found a new psychological explanation for the idea of God, admitted that he now believed in this “only psychological” God, so he felt in communion with “you believers” even though we still insisted God was a person and he knew, really, that God was only an evolutionarily-necessary psychological construct. We were so lucky he could hang out with us now. Have you noticed that, taken to extreme, the “New” Atheism becomes a religion? Have you noticed that “spiritual but not religious” can become quite dogmatic? Have you ever noticed how new agey Carl Sagan sounded, or how philosophical Neil T can be even as he tries to deride philosophy? Unfounded on moral truths, man does not survive long or well without inventing others.

Of course the alternative is the smorgasbord: they like your religion as long as it agrees with them.

-You must accept LGTB folks because everyone is made in the image of God.
Where do you get that idea?
-From the Bible.
Well the Bible also says there’s no such thing as LGTB people and sex outside of heterosexual marriage is evil.
-Oh, the Bible is all culturally biased, outdated mythology. They didn’t know what we know now.


-Your religion is prolife so you must vote for Donald Trump
My religion also embraces the stranger, rejects untrammeled commerce, and tends to insist on social policies that care for the poor.
-That stuff is just opinion, the Church has no official teaching on those things.

God tells us again and again, that we can only find our peace in his justice. Yet he will let us reject him over and over. We want – crave, even – moral truth, rigidity. But we reject it when it shows up – especially if it leaves us on the outside. So we make up our own rigidity. Human beings, made in the image of God, know there is moral truth in the world and so we reject relativism – even if, as seems popular now, the only strict law there is is the law of relativism.

What is this generation crying out in the market? Over and over I hear, I want to be loved, but only on my terms – when it isn’t even love to do so.

Eva : Ave

Today’s Readings:

  • Genesis 3:9-15, 20
  • Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
  • Luke 1:26-38

In the Douay, the RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts.

And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary. 
Luke 1:26-27

Today, in the Western Liturgies (of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches) is celebrated the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tomorrow (the 9th) is the celebration in the Eastern Rites (both for Eastern Orthodox and for Byzantine Catholics). I’d be curious to know when the two feasts separated, or how – but then I’m a Church Geek. The Byzantines insist that Mary’s conception (the 9th) is celebrated on a different day than her birth (September 8th) because Mary is not perfect. But they didn’t make their Western Rite communities celebrate on the 9th. The Catholic Church doesn’t see the calendar as all that important – because they didn’t make their Byzantine communities change their dates either. I suspect that both East and West picked their days for different reasons and, later, decided to make up theological justifications for them. (A given feast is often celebrated on the day a famous church building was consecrated, though without reference to the building which now, often, no longer exists.)

This feast is a stumbling block for many Protestants, for many Orthodox and for some Catholics, who just don’t get it. Mary’s immaculate conception has nothing to do with the Virgin Birth of Jesus; it has everything to do, rather, with the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the East she is called “immaculate,” “pure,” or “spotless” (achrantos in Greek). Some Orthodox state that she was free from actual sin, some say she never sinned, and others just say she died sinless. The title Our All-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorified Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary (Greek: Τῆς Παναγίας, ἀχράντου, ὑπερευλογημένης, ἐνδόξου, δεσποίνης ἡμῶν Θεοτόκου καὶ ἀειπαρθένου Μαρίας) is used in the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

Yet some object to this feast because they say that it sets Mary apart from the rest of Mankind. I don’t think so: God, in his grace, gave to Mary all that later Christians would have in Baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit. That’s all. One can debate about Augustinian ideas of “Original Sin” but Byzantine Catholics don’t hold to such ideas. They are no less Catholic. Mary is celebrated as being, really, the first and greatest Christian, submitting to God’s will and experiencing his grace. Her other feasts are, as well, manifestations of the life of a Christian: her birth, her presentation in the Temple, her death and assumption, her coronation – these are all events in the life of every Christian. They are writ large and rendered miraculous in Mary’s life, yes, but they are ones we all share: she in her life, by God’s grace, and we in our day by God’s sacraments.

Mary’s willingness to participate in God’s plan for mankind undoes what Eve did, in her decision to step out of that plan. Mary’s choice is to fully glory in her willing submission to as Eve attempted to glory in her willful struggle against God’s command. The one wrecked us all. The other blessed us all.

A blessed feast and may we all, by Mary’s intercession, come to share in her glory!

Not That Song. No!

Today’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 40:25-41
  • Matthew 11:28-30

In the Douay, RSV, or in the NABRE with other Mass Texts

It is he that giveth strength to the weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not.
Isaiah 40:29

There came this moment in my daily grind where I said, “yeah, I’m not doing this any more.” I was partying hard, and working full time. I was also going to college and balancing a relationship on top of that. There was a lot of other stuff going on in my life: a discernment process, financial struggles, my cat was dying. I was pretty pleased to be holding it all together. But, you know: I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Another time, Job, Church and Chastity all in balance, now, and still, not getting anywhere.

Another time: monastic life spinning out of balance, becoming a really annoying struggle of “Gosh I hope I don’t ever have to do that again.” Followed by “Gosh I should go to confession” and then “Gosh this isn’t my fault”… it’s a terrible cycle that totally plays one out, emotionally and physically, and yet one never gets anywhere.

Before I get to the punch line, I admit: there will be more times like the above. Because it’s a lesson I have not learned even now.

But all of these times ended when I prayed. I don’t mean when I said “O God, help me here” although that sort of praying played a part. I mean, when I doubled down, cut a bunch of stupid time wasters out of my life, cleared swaths of time for God and said, “Here. I’m going to add the following things to my life: this weekly church service, that 20 minute devotion daily, this other thing before bed, which means no TV after 7PM.

Suddenly there was more time in my life than I knew what to do with. I can’t explain it without falling into a sort of prosperity Gospel idea, but when something is important we make time for it. And when God is the thing: he makes time for us and when we let him, it sorts out the other stuff.

Yes I know, no one raises kids like I raise my hypothetical ones. And nothing makes for financial obligations like a family. I don’t have an answer for you except I keep seeing it work. It may be that I’m just a lazy fool who, without kids, debt, or property, doesn’t have much to worry about anyway. Or it may be that because of all that I’m just a hat trick, and God would love to resolve your actually-complex time-sink situations too. If I’m a lazy fool, imagine how much someone with actual labor could benefit from “Come to me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”

My friend and Sunday School teacher, Jeanette, was raising three kids and a husband. She even let me live with her one spring when my parents were moving and I wanted to finish out the school year. What I remember about her is, as she kept house, fed her family, and let me listen to music on the headphones: her prayer life. Her secret was her sewing room. It was tiny – about 3 x 4 feet. It was essentially a closet with a window. Her husband had added a built-in table/desk, and there was a chair. It was warm and sunny. She would go into the room, and shut the door and do her business. The whole family knew not to bother her for that time. And she grew, she raised up her family and friends in prayer, and she had time.

If you give God time, he gives it to you.

To be honest: I know the world does, in fact, fall apart, if I don’t hold on to it very well. What I’ve come to realize is, I was not supposed to be holding it together in the first place. Put your hope on Jesus and do not be distracted by the world, the flesh, or the devil. They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.