Now with 20% Less Mercy

John J McNeill – in need of a corrective.


The Readings for Saturday in the 6th Week of Easter:

Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.

Took him aside and explained… we nearly never do that these days. We go looking for “constructive feedback” or at worst something called a “Sh*t Sandwich” which is bad stuff sandwiched between two bits of praise. We get offended not only when people tell us we’re wrong but also when people imply that we are wrong, even when people hint there might be a right way (that’s not the way we did it). 

Telling someone they’re mistaken and bringing them to the truth of the fullness of the faith is 3 of the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, and 3 of the 17 Works of Mercy all together, about 20 percent of all mercy is showing someone their missteps. 

Of the Works of Mercy we have:
  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish the sinners.
  4. To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  5. To forgive offenses.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.
  8. To feed the hungry.
  9. To give water to the thirsty.
  10. To clothe the naked.
  11. To shelter the homeless.
  12. To visit the sick.
  13. To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  14. To bury the dead.
The second 7 are seen as “Corporal” in that they deal with the body, whilst the first batch are the “Spiritual” works of mercy. It does us no good to pit them against each other; to decide one is more important than the other. The body and the soul are, together, one being. The corporal may be seen as easier, or the spiritual as more important, but that’s not the case. It’s a matter of qualifications: I can dig graves, but I am terrible at bearing patiently with those who wrong me. I might not be the right person to lead a retreat on forgiveness. Praying for the dead, though, I’m good at. And, to be honest, 25 years in customer service has totally prepped me for finding a compassionate, gentle way to say, “You’re so very wrong, Bucko.” Such as: 

While a number of different settings on this device are possible, we have found that these settings listed in this help center article work best for our device and also your hi fi reciever. Other settings, while possible, are not supported although you’re of course free to use them if you wish. 

It has also prepped me for pulling out all the stops and saying, “I know you’re looking for a different answer here, but I have to tell you again, you’re very wrong, Bucko.”

As Bishop Barron has noted, while we’re very willing to let someone tell us how best to play golf, or make a pumpkin muffin, we seem to be horribly unwilling to let someone tell us that in matters of religion. We go looking for agreement in the first person: You might say that, but I can’t agree with what you’re saying. It’s not merciful to let that person off the hook. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of mercy. Letting someone give up their soul because you feel uncomfortable correcting them (or because they feel uncomfortable if you do so) is decidedly not merciful. Parents fail in this all the time.

But we also fail in other ways: Priscilla took Apollos aside. They didn’t open up a series of Facebook Posts or a long tweetstorm. They did not engage in those wonderful, modern practices: a whisper campaign or character assassination. Elsewhere we are advised to talk to someone in error one on one, then, failing that, maybe two on one. If that fails, we might even try a larger intervention. If all else fails, then we can ignore them and allow them to go their own way.

We like to come on strong because it makes us feel good to do so: self-righteous may be too uncharitable, but there’s something enjoyable about pitching corrective so fast and so furious that the party ducks and runs for cover. We did our best, right? but the wouldn’t listen, eh?  So… next project.

This is not mercy either. It’s mercy if we gain our brother back. Yet if we drive them away, we’re both lost.

We are surrounded on all sides, both inside and outside of the church, with those who are perishing for lack of mercy. How do we do mercy in the way that Priscilla and Aquilla did? Can we gently offer correctives without losing the souls of those we’re trying to save; without, as a friend of mine used to say, “Shattering the Crystal”?

To bestow mercy we must first be “under the mercy” ourselves. Are you? Am I? Do we submit – daily – to the Church’s teaching even (especially) when we find it at odds with our life experience and desires? How’s our prayer lives? Are we engaged in a living and regular (ongoing) conversation with God? Do we exercise ourselves daily in charity and humility? Can we say the truth in ways that do not sound like “look what I found” but rather reflect the Church’s magisterium and God’s love?

We need to know each our own strengths and weaknesses so that we don’t overstep our own callings. Let me bury the dead. Someone else can take on apologetics or forgiving others. Right? None of us need to preach alone or at all for we’re all in this together let’s pool our resources and see what we can do. Let’s be 100% merciful 100% of the time. 

Movin on Up!


The Readings for Ascension Day

…the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh…

On the calendar of some ecclesial Jurisdictions, today is the Ascension. Others will commemorate it on the Sunday within the Octave. Catholicism, like Orthodoxy, has calendar issues as well. Although the Archdiocese of SF and our daily office observe this feast on Sunday, I’ll do the mass readings here and now. That way we get the other readings for Sunday.

At every Mass, after the priest consecrates the host, making it the very Flesh of God, he genuflects and then elevates Our Lord for Adoration. From the priest, the sacred ministers, and the altar boys who serve on the altar with him, to the women and men in the congregation every eye elevates and adores. The whole body of the faithful is drawn upward to gaze at the Humble God, silent in his glory. A few moments later these actions are repeated as, after consecration, the priest elevates the chalice containing the Blood of God shed for us. Again, the whole assembly is drawn upwards, momentarily, to the contemplation of Love, Mercy, and Truth in the presence of the Divine Person.

This is the Mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord.

What we tend to think of is that a mass of individuals becomes what we call “humanity” or “the human race”. A bunch of men becomes Mankind. The Church sees humanity rather like a mirror image of the Trinity: many persons, one nature. We are all one in a way we cannot fathom, just as our Creator is 3 persons in one divine nature. In that we are one each of our petty and personal sins drags all of us down. We are each and everyone diminished by any death that ends a life at any moment after it begins. Each loss of wisdom, each loss of experience, each loss of possibility destroys all of us, robs us of something precious. Each sin drags us all down and each righteous action, each life lived, each love transcending the fleshly lusts, each action of charity and grace moves us upward.

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
– John Donne

So the Ascension affecting one man, Jesus of Nazareth, affects us all – even those who reject its implications. In this, they have no choice in the matter for Jesus is a man as we all are and what affects us one so affects us all. One of the common nature that we share is Ascended. That one of us is also God is of the heaviest implication. For now mankind sits enthroned not next to God, but as God, at the right hand of the Father.

As we gaze upon the elevated host, the nature of man is forever altered in this altaring. What we offer is one of us and in him our very selves. The Church as his body offers herself to God. We are the body of Christ, that is the Body of Christ. I once asked a wise priest, “When I distribute the host and say, ‘The body of Christ’ am I saying something about the bread or the person to whom I give it?” The response was, “Yes.” Bread is made flesh. Sarx: the human flesh, is made divine. 

Our Lord’s Ascension is the first evidence that the “key has changed” after the Incarnation: the Eastern liturgical texts speak of how amazed the Angels are at seeing one of our race of men entering into the Heavens. The Psalm text, “Who is this king of glory?” is read as the angels asking each other “Look! Who is this? Who comes here? Who?”

It’s a mortal man now immortal and a divine being now dead and alive again. The King of All the Ages, by gift of his Father, is one of us. And there is no “one of us” there is only “All of Us”. As in Adam, all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Here are some Byzantine (Orthodox) liturgical texts for your meditation. Today or Sunday, a glorious feast!

Behold the Lamb of God goes up who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are they who are called… 

The choirs of Angels were astounded when they saw Christ, the mediator between God and mankind in the highest with his flesh, while with one voice they sang a hymn of victory. To God, who appeared on mount Sinai and gave the law to Moses, who saw God, and who was taken up in the flesh from the mount of Olives, let us all sing; for gloriously he has been glorified.

O Christ, Giver of life, lover of humankind, thou wentest up to the Father and exalted our race in thine ineffable compassion. The ranks of Angels, as they saw thy mortal nature going up, O Saviour, were astounded and without ceasing sang thy praise. 

The choirs of Angels were amazed, O Christ, as they saw thee being taken up with thy body, and they sang the praise of your holy Ascension. Human nature, which had fallen by corruption, thou didst raise, O Christ, and by thine ascension thou hast exalted and glorified us with thyself. 

Lift up the heavenly gates, for see, Christ the King and Lord, wearing his earthly body, is at hand, said the powers below to those above. When thou soughtest Adam, who had been led astray by the deceit of the serpent, O Christ, as thou hadst clothed thyself in him, thou ascendedst and took thy seat as equal sovereign on the Father’s right hand, while the Angels sang thy praise. 

As the Saviour had ascended to the Father with his flesh, the hosts of Angels were struck with amazement, and cried out: Glory, O Christ, to thine ascension! The angelic Powers cried out to those above: Lift up the gates for Christ, our King; whose praise we sing, together with the Father and the Spirit. 

Jesus the Giver of life, taking those he loved, ascended the mount of Olives and blessed them and, riding on a cloud, he came to the Father’s bosom, which he had never left. The whole world, visible and invisible, keeps the feast with gladness; Angels and humans leap for joy as they glorify without ceasing the Ascension of the One who by his goodness was united to us in the flesh. 

Thou didst fill the universe with gladness, merciful Lord, taking thy place in mortal flesh among the powers on high. The angelic powers, seeing thee thus lifted up, cried out: Lift up the gates for our King! 

Strange was thy Birth, strange thy Resurrection, strange and fearful thy divine Ascension from the mount, O Giver of life, of which Elias was an icon when he went up in a four-horse chariot, singing thy praise, O Lover of Mankind. 

The Angels came and cried out, O Christ, to thy Disciples: In the same way ye have seen Christ going up, he will come in the flesh as just Judge of all. 

Appearing in the flesh, thou didst join in one things that were formerly separated, O Lover of mankind; and as thy Disciples watched, O Merciful, thou wert taken up to the heavenly places. Why are the garments red of the One who was united to the solidity of flesh? said the holy Angels, as they saw Christ bearing the divine marks of his precious passion.


Revelation 22:1-7
Luke 21:34-36

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
Luke 21:34

Jesus was quite aware of our weakened human mental map. He knows that it is the “anxieties of daily life” that lead us to “drunkenness”. He knows that drunkenness leads us to being “drowsy”. And he knows, as do we all, that we don’t need a fine – or even cheap – liquor to to get there. How much did you sleep after that huge meal on Thursday? Ever had sex because you couldn’t sleep? I started heavily smoking when my brother was killed in a motorcycle accident: from there it was a pack a day for nearly 25 years. Lately I’ve been overeating and putting on weight because I am unemployed. The anxieties of daily life are a rough battle and meds, man, meds are everywhere to help.

Sex, Wine, all the joys and blessings of this life, have their proper uses: teetotalling is a drug, too. But our purpose in experiencing life – pain, sorrow, bumpy bits, rough bits, rock bottom bits – is to work out our salvation. Jesus knows that we can use “carousing” and “drunkenness” to miss our chances to work out our salvation. It’s just too hard, too rough, too difficult… which may be really what God knows you need.

God on the cross refused painkillers (vinegar and gall). We will kill ourselves figuratively – or literally – to avoid pain.

The solution to sleeping trouble is nearly never simply taking a sleeping pill: a sleeping problem usually means there’s something going on in one’s life, or body, that needs addressing. Most of us are willing to settle for keeping our eyes medically sealed for 6-8 hours. We’ll let our lives burn down as long as we can pretend to sleep through it.

We take drugs just because they exist. Really. Someone invents a drug and finds out what it does – and then creates – and markets – a medical name for the thing it undoes. It’s to be noted that nearly all drugs only cure symptoms. We are quite happy living in a high-stress environment as long as we don’t feel the stress.

We fail to understand the divine purpose of pain, of discomfort, of sadness, of sorrow. If it makes us sad, we decide it’s evil. We run away from things that make us “feel bad” and towards things that make us “feel good”. Very quickly that can lead to addiction. It’s the definition of sin becoming a passion. Over and over we do what makes us feel good until that’s all we do, even if it’s not good for us. We shop. We sex. We porn. We self-pleasure. We gamble. We ride roller coasters and thrill seek. We do anything at all, to “Feel good”. We will take anything. We’ve become a culture of drugs, OTC and prescription, both doctor- and self-prescribed. We are a culture of addicts.

Yesterday, before I knew about today’s readings, I read an article on Al Jazeera, being a history of Drug Use in war.

What we need is also a history of the Drug War being fought on civilians: pain killers, psych meds, hormonal pills that stave off various parts and stages of life. We seek to control the beginning and end of life itself. We are trained to take pills, to try and be “euphoric”, to be “our best”, to “stay happy” and to only participate fully in normal life when we feel like it. We turn natural life into a “medical condition” so we can make a use for the latest drug. (Eg: there was never a restless leg syndrome, no doctor ever talked about it until we invented a drug that cured it, and fell for the marketing.) Following our training, we self-medicate with just about everything from food to sex. And we will file lawsuits, change laws, and even riot to get what we want when we want it. We will even change our body with a lifetime of daily doses chemicals the long-term, multigenerational effects of which we do not know, just to get what we want.

In the Rehab Clinic where I worked, we often “cured” an addiction to illegal drugs by transmuting it into an addiction to a legal drug. We taught the clients the problem was they were medicating to deal with problems that needed to be faced rather than forgotten; then we just gave them different meds. The only people living rich off my high blood pressure meds are pharmaceutical companies. All you need to do to make a fighter out of a housewife is change her meds – be that housewife in Mosul or Minneapolis.

It’s a trap! These things make us drowsy: enabling us to sleep through the most important things. Our society is creating a culture of drug-enablement: enabled to deny our feelings, to deny our sadness, to deny our sense of guilt. The faith of Christ is of a different sort.

Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.
Luke 21:36

If your strength comes from a drug… they can take it away from you. Vigilate. Be vigilant.

Indeed, it’s Just a Pinch

Revelation 20:1-4, 11—21:2
Luke 21:29-33

I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
Revelation 20:12

Totally counting down now: today and tomorrow morning: sunset tomorrow and it’s Advent. Boom. The trump it shall sounds and the dead shall be raised… and judged according to their deeds. What have you done?

I had a meeting after the recent troubles began and my companion said, “I’ve read MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail several times this week. I don’t want to be the White Moderate.” The moderates thought they could change the system from the inside… make Jesus’ Kingdom happen in the midst of Babylon, raise up Israel to be happy in Egypt.

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you all you need to do is pray the sinner’s prayer, they are telling you lies.

The problem is we can’t just say “I’m sorry…” A priest on twitter on thanksgiving was complaining that his own family (fleeing persecution in their homeland) only got here in 1910. He had nothing to say about the slaughter of Native persons. Certainly I never owned slaves or had anything to do with the ways persons now long dead treated anyone.

But I can’t just say, “I’m sorry”:

I’m trapped in a culture that built its homes by the hands of slaves on lands stolen at the point of a gun from others who were deported. It’s not enough to say “I’m sorry” when the very clothes on my back, the house in which I eat, the food I’m given to consume are all the products of injustice.

We start by not doing it any more. Then we move on to undoing it. Today is Black Friday in the USA, so called because the retail companies often fall “into the black” because of all the craziness that happens today. How unjustly they pay their workers, their laborers, their manufacturing sources – these should all be our concerns as Christians: not do they say  Merry Christmas” to us at the register. If we refused to spend so much money… we might be on the way to building justice.

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you it’s all about love and can’t we all just get along, they are telling you lies.

To be certain, Jesus does not call us to a violent revolution, nor to overthrow massive institutions by force. But he does call us – indeed he models for us – sedition and sabotage.

In my youth there was a huge panic about “The Cults”. People were convinced their children were going off to college and being “kidnapped” by various religious movements and “brainwashed”. They would send “deprogrammers” out to rescue the lost children. It was a serious thing. And, although there was some serious abuse, you can understand the parents’ concern: their son or daughter had been divorced from the common view of the world. Up was down. Left was right. Wrong was suddenly right.

It was love that wanted them to rescue their children. If all your friend were trapped in a matrix of lies – wouldn’t love call you to rescue them? wouldn’t you do anything to open their eyes, to rip holes in their mental armor, to at least let them see there is another way, even if they were screaming “NO” the whole time?

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you it’s about this political view or that, they are telling you lies.

The politics of this world are all tied into the same system, the world system (in Greek, the “Kosmou”) that is built, brick by brick, from the first injustice (stealing food) and the first murder: until we have what we have now. No secular politician will get you out of it or even bring you close. The very purpose of secular politics is to keep you enslaved. Fascist, Communist, Marxist, Capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Monarchist, Anarchist – all human sinners – you, personally, may find it easier or preferable to work out your salvation in fear and trembling under one or the other of these philosophies, but none of them has a divine mandate and all were created to avoid living in the Kingdom of God.

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you that some part of this world is fine – even though the rest sucks – they are telling you lies.

An Episcopal Priest once said he thought that, if it would save a life, he saw no problem with offering a pinch of incense to Caesar. (Those were his exact words.) He thought any sensible person today would see that.

When Confessing Christians gather, we hear the stories of the saints, we pray for the world, and we break bread. We live in love – merciful and just – with each other. And when we find we have listened to the world, and been lured to some other place… we confess and come back. Confessing Christians are not sensible people. They do not even think of just a pinch of incense worth of cooperation with the beast… it’s unthinkable.

It is our deeds. Not changing the world, but our deeds. Not overthrowing the system but making day by day seditious acts of love – merciful and just – that will sabotage the whole thing, liberate our friends and… let’s be honest now:

Cost us our lives.

I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands.
Rev 20:4

According to their deeds. Refusing to worship this world, not even with a pinch of smoke, refusing to do its dirty work, refusing to even pretend to do so: this is the deed we need. But we will die.

Dont Ruin Thanksgiving!

Ben Sira 50:22-24
I Corinthians 1:3-9
Luke 17:11-19

Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?
Luke 17:18

The NABRE renders this as “give thanks to God” but the Greek, the Latin, and just about every other translation says “give glory to God” or “give praise”. I think it could easily be “give worship to God”.

Jesus sent the 10 guys he had healed off to the temple, as was their duty. But this guy came back. So: I think it’s interesting that the comment is not “9 guys went to the temple to give glory to God, but this guy came back to say thanks.” Rather, what Jesus says is, “9 guys did what was culturally expected, but this guy, prostrate at my feet, is giving glory to God.” The temple is pretty awesome, but something greater than the temple is here: God himself.

The place where Jesus, God incarnate, is is the place to render thanks.

There’s something else. The disease of leprosy makes one an outcast. All the outcasts are together in a colony. They don’t really care where you were before or what you were “in the world”. They live together and die away from the world. When these ten were cleansed, something happened: the 9 that walked away were Jews, they realized their 10th party was a Samaritan. Now that they were all clean, they had nothing in common, nor would they dare be seen with each other. So recently outcasts together, suddenly the Samaritan was, alone, himself the outcast.

The place where Jesus, God incarnate, is is the place outcasts come home.

We are, all, outcasts in the theological sense. Certainly we hope to hear from Jesus, fides tua te salvum fecit. “Your faith has made you whole – has ‘saved’ you”. The only way to be “whole”, to be “Saved” is, for us, to cast off all the desires of culture and, falling at Jesus’ feet, to come home, to be restored to communion with God.

I saw a posting on twitter recently, the writer urging us all not to post pictures of our Thanksgiving Day because – literally – everyone will be doing the same thing. So much so, that for very little money, it’s possible to order a “Thanksgiving Feast” at many stores. The cost may vary, but the menu will not: we’re all eating the same stuff today, minor variations here and there, but without much change all the usual stuff will be on every plate today. Even homeless people, finding themselves in shelters and such today will have the same menu as almost the entire rest of the nation.

Except for outcasts.

Who are “our” outcasts: we might be able to point at a few sorts and conditions of people who, nationwide, would fit the bill. But, mindful of Jews and Samaritans, let me ask more directly – who are your outcasts? Who is not welcomed at your table today? If they are outcasts then so are you… for you cannot offer your gift at the altar until you reconcile with your brother. What are you going to do about it?

In the Eastern Liturgical tradition, the evening before Lent begins, many parishes and monasteries practice the Rite of Mutual Forgiveness during which members of the Church prostrate themselves before each other asking forgiveness. It may take a long while, depending on how many folks are there, but sometime serious wounds begin healing on that night.

There is no such rite at the beginning of Advent, the season preceding Christmas, but there should be! We in America, at least, have a chance today: when people come to our house, when people won’t come… I think we may each have people to forgive: people who voted “wrong”, people who “explained” too many things on their talking points list last year (#Libsplaining). I’m sure the list goes on.

What would it be like to welcome home the outcasts and beg mutual forgiveness before offering your thanksgiving at the altar of your family table?

Little Purple Seeds of Fire

Revelation 15:1-4
Luke 21:12-19

You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.
Luke 21:16-19

Near the turn of the century, a friend and fellow-convert to the Orthodox Church, said he felt that as a faithful Christian, he was too conservative for his liberal friends, but too liberal for his conservative friends. Several of us identified with that saying. It seems to still be the case. Those who try to be faithful to the teachings of Christ (regardless of their denomination or community) will find themselves opposed in our society by more libertine parties who don’t like rules, but also by parties who want more rules in more places. These days, Christians find ourselves at odds with the “Sexual Revolution” on one hand and the “Alt-Right” on the other. Christians see both immoral excess (sex, drugs, and rock and roll!) and abuse of persons for race, religion, sex, or any other reason at all as a denial of the Image of God in each individual person and in all human people together.

To paraphrase an old lefty slogan, for the Christian, no one can be saved while others are oppressed; be that oppression internalised addiction to the passions that destroy the Divine Icon within us, or externalised addiction (via culture, economics, or politics) to the destruction of the Divine Icon in those around us. In today’s political terminology, Confessing Christians are not so much red or blue, as they are purple.

As the divisions between these Red and Blue camps both increase and mutate in our world the Confessing Christians will be in danger. One can be a sexual libertine and also a racist at the same time. One can be a strident nationalist “War Hawk” and also strident Pro-Choice campaigner together. One can be a hater of the Church and a lover of the State all at once. But one can be none of those things and be faithful to the Gospel of Christ. As Red and Blue creep more and more into our parishes, conferences, and synods, the Purple will even be hated by fellow Church-goers. Our lesson from the Apocalypse imagines everyone hating Christians. Increasingly, as one who prays to be faithful to the orthodox, catholic faith of the Martyrs, I fear life in Alabama as much as life in San Francisco.

On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast and its image and the number that signified its name.
Revelation 15:2b

This political purple, however, given today’s climate is perfect for us if we remain faithful to the end. (Although I fear to be too explicit in this post, even now, by your prayers may I be included in the Confessing Church’s band.) Purple is the color traditionally assigned to Royalty and the Church has long praised the ennobling sacrifice of her martyrs. St Cyprian sings the praises of this band thus:

How blessed is our Church, which the greatness of the divine favour thus illuminates, on which in these our times the glorious blood of the martyrs sheds radiance! Aforetime she was white in the good works of the brethren, now is she empurpled in the blood of the martyrs. Her garlands lack neither the lily nor the rose. Now let every one contend for the fullest meed of either honor. Let them win a crown either white with good works or purple with suffering. In the heavenly camp both peace and war have their own garlands wherewith the soldier of Christ may be crowned for victory. (St Cyprian – Letter viii.). 

The Church may have grown lax in all places, unable to withstand the cultural assaults, but “Aforetime she was white in the good works of the brethren, now is she empurpled in the blood of the martyrs.” There’s hope for one yet, who has lived a life in dissolution and excess, there’s hope for one yet who has hated and destroyed the Icon of God wherever he found it, in himself or in others: lacking good works (the lily, the white crown), I think we may find ourselves, shortly perhaps, able to avail ourselves of the rose, and be made purple with suffering. On the whole, it may be my only hope, really.

By our prayers for each other, and the prayers of the empurpled band gone before us, may we finally sing the Song of Moses (which I never realized was to the tune of “Tzena Tzena”) and of the Lamb.

PS (relative to an earlier post): In the lection from the Apocalypse, there is this phrase: a sea of glass mingled with fire (15:2). The footnote in the NABRE says, “fire symbolizes the sanctity involved in facing God, reflected in the trials that have prepared the victorious Christians or in God’s wrath.” We have two choices: facing the fire of God as dry kindling, or, as Abba Joseph said, “You can become all flame.”

Lectio Apocalypse!

Revelation 14:14-19
Luke 21:5-11

“Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.” So the one who was sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
Revelation 14:15b-16

Your host honestly got excited Monday morning when Pope Francis released an Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera: it’s the first “magisterial document” to come out since I started attending a Roman Catholic parish. But your host is a church geek and such events usually get him in a heady mood, regardless of one’s ecclesial status. Most of it was about stuff that was meaningless to me. Certainly the events and the scripture citations were understood, but a lot of the cultural context, the “Catholic Meaning” was unsurprisingly lost on me.

Section 7, however, spoke in a very direct way to my heart, as I write these posts:

The Bible is the great story of the marvels of God’s mercy. Every one of its pages is steeped in the love of the Father who from the moment of creation wished to impress the signs of his love on the universe. Through the words of the prophets and the wisdom writings, the Holy Spirit shaped the history of Israel as a recognition of God’s closeness and love, despite the people’s infidelity. Jesus’ life and preaching decisively marked the history of the Christian community, which has viewed its mission in terms of Christ’s command to be a permanent instrument of his mercy and forgiveness (cf. Jn 20:23). Through Sacred Scripture, kept alive by the faith of the Church, the Lord continues to speak to his Bride, showing her the path she must take to enable the Gospel of salvation to reach all mankind. I greatly desire that God’s word be increasingly celebrated, known and disseminated, so that the mystery of love streaming from this font of mercy may be ever better understood. As the Apostle tells us clearly: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). 

It would be beneficial if every Christian community, on one Sunday of the liturgical year, could renew its efforts to make the Sacred Scriptures better known and more widely diffused. It would be a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people. Creative initiatives can help make this an opportunity for the faithful to become living vessels for the transmission of God’s word. Initiatives of this sort would certainly include the practice of lectio divina, so that the prayerful reading of the sacred text will help support and strengthen the spiritual life. Such a reading, centred on themes relating to mercy, will enable a personal experience of the great fruitfulness of the biblical text – read in the light of the Church’s spiritual tradition – and thus give rise to concrete gestures and works of charity.

It was so wonderful to read Pope Francis recommending Lectio Divina – a traditional Benedictine monastic meditational practice – to the wider Catholic World. Lectio uses the words of the scripture as a point of meditation, sometimes singularly, sometimes in phrases. It is so hard for one as inexperienced as I to describe this practice, but it’s like a cow chewing its cud: each word becomes part of the meditation, slowly. BY way of example, the Venerable St Bede, an Benedictine Monk from the northern part of England, wrote an extended Lectio on the Book of Revelation, taking, for example our verse at the head of this post in this wise:

15. angel. The angels, of whom we read in the Gospel as “the reapers of the earth,” are all sent forth to minister for those who have the inheritance of salvation,” and they take account of the several merits of the Church, and report them daily to the Lord 

reap. Behold, He says, “Through iniquity abounding, the love of many has waxed cold,” and through the burning heat of evils falling upon it, the harvest of the earth has now almost ceased to be green. So, then, for the elect’s sake, the days are shortened, in order that grains already ripe may not fall off. And do thou commit the tares and the chaff to the flames, but the heavenly fruit to the garners of bliss.

A verse or two later, still chewing, St Bede gives us this:

“Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth’s vines, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage. He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury.
Revelation 14:18b-19

18. fire. The office of the angels, as Jerome says, is twofold. For some assign rewards to the righteous, while others preside over the several torments; as it is said, “Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a burning fire.” The two angels who proclaim that the harvest is dry, and the corn ripe, may be understood to be the prayers of the Church, which, with a great voice, that is, with a great desire, prays daily that the kingdom of the Lord may come, and with these words. 

Thrust in. As the harvest, so also the vintage is partly earthly, partly heavenly. But the maturity of both indicates the end of the world. 

ripe. That is, her sins are complete. But the perfection of the good may also be called ripeness. For, as the holy Gregory says, although the end of the world depends on its own course, yet by overtaking such as are more perverse, because they are deservedly overwhelmed in its ruin, it becomes known through them. 

19. sickle. He who has the sickle of the reaper has also that of the grape-gatherer. For the judgment is one, and will take place at one time; but in the harvest and the vintage he shews the beginning and the end of the same affliction. 

winepress. If this harvest also of the vintage pertain only to the bad, the winepress signifies punishment; but if to the good as well, the treading of the winepress, as the threshing of the floor, crushes what is useless, and proves what is of use. And so the Apostle says that the precious metals are preserved by fire, while the hay and the stubble are consumed, both which are done without the heavenly Jerusalem. But the winepress of wrath is so named in the same form of speech, as it is said, “The Lord delivered him in the evil day.”

Notice it’s not so much an exegesis (‘this text in Greek means this… blah blah, but in Latin it reads this way… blah blah blah) as it is a poetic unfolding. “Winepress could mean this – in which case this follows, unless it means that other thing… in which case this other follows.” St Bede is not telling us the “Real and final meaning” of the Apocalypse. He is walking us through a garden planted by the Evangelist and pointing out the more interesting flowers, asking us to smell them and commenting on the scents and colors. This is the way the Church Fathers all read the Bible: what I compared it to “Bible as Tarot Deck”, if that doesn’t cause too much of a shock in the saying of it.

It’s a different way to open the Bible, far from “Study” per se and closer to “Contemplation.” It can take, as you might imagine, a week or more to get through a chapter – longer if you’re writing it down! It is more fruitful to the prayer life than simple study, though. The realization that there is another way to approach this (or any difficult) text may lead to more comfort with the Bible, opening it with less fear.

Go to the Temple, then this happened!

Revelation 14:1-3, 4b-5
Luke 21:1-4

I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.
Luke 21:3b-4

Today is the memorial of the Entry of Our Lady into the Temple. To me this feast is a test of faith. The is a story taken from the Protoevagelium of St James. It is non-canonical scripture. In other words, it is not in the Canon, but the Church has decided that parts of it are divinely inspired. It is where we learn, for example, of Our Lady’s parents, Sts Joachim and Anne, and their prayers for a child in their old age. It is from this text the undivided Church drew the story of this feast as well, teaching in our liturgy that when she was a young girl (aged 3 or so), the Blessed Virgin was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to be schooled. As they welcomed her to the community she ran and entered the Holy of Holies and grew up there, fed by angels.

To me this feast is a test of faith. There are so many things wrong with this feast: so many things that clearly could not have ever happened. And yet: what of anything else in her life that we claim to know could have actually happened? Why are we willing to accept the miracle of an Angel visiting her, of her Virginal conception, of the unborn Divine Child blessing, from within her womb, the unborn Forerunner in the womb of his own mother, Elizabeth? Why do we so willingly accept all those things and yet not this thing?

How willingly we all are to know what God can’t do.

By “we”, I don’t just mean Protestants: this feast raises hackles even among Orthodox Clergy – and probably some Roman Catholic clergy, too. I remember when Father Tom Hopko spoke long ago at my parish on the evening of this feast, saying it couldn’t have happened; causing such a scandal. (Update: I was right, some RCs are in this camp as well.)

A friend of mine, long ago, left her convent. She came out as a lesbian and lived with a woman for a while. When that relationship failed, she did some reflection and ended up in the the “Holiness Movement” churches. Eventually she married a man. She accused me always of being willing to know what God can’t do. We fell out of touch as I entered Orthodoxy.

Tell me what your god can’t do, and you will unwittingly tell me about your life.

To me, this feast is a test of faith. There are so many things wrong with it, celebrating so many things that clearly could not have happened. A child? a girl? a person at all? Entering the Holy of Holies?

Typologically, this feast speaks very truly of Mary as she is the new Holy of Holies: as Jesus, God himself, dwells in her womb. Mary is the new Temple and, through her, the Church is the Holiest of Holies housing, on her Altars, in her tabernacles throughout the world, the presence of God on earth. Mary enters the Holy of Holies to fulfill it, to complete it, to become it. Although Jesus was not speaking in Typology, both his grandmother and his mother fulfilled his living-parable of the “Widow’s Mite”. As poor women they offered all they had, all they could offer, to God: themselves, their wombs, their children. They became channels of divine grace to the whole world; and to all eternity ontologically changed all of mankind by their offerings.

And to that, in my ego I’m to say, “but this one thing, God can’t do.”

Lord, have mercy.

Ecce Rex Noster Dilecto

II Samuel 5:1-3
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

When I went away to college, my freshman year, I was at an Evangelical liberal arts college called “The King’s College“. Two guys named David shared the room with me. A huge bunch of stuff had been given to me to go to college with, but one thing I asked for was a wall crucifix. We got it at the more-expensive “gift shop” at Sullivan’s in the mall, it was maybe $20. It looked a little like this:

The cross was wood, the corpus was from Italy, but was certainly plastic. It was very white. I hung it over the door because that’s what they did in the movies. I was a good Anglo-Catholic and I wanted some part of my world to look like things did in The Bishop’s Wife. (Note to self: need copy of said movie.) Anyway, after we were all moved in, the floor manager… or whatever they called him, showed up and inspected the room. And walking out he saw the Crucifix. He looked at it for a moment and then said, “Shouldn’t you show Jesus more triumphant?”

“That is Jesus,” I replied. “at his most triumphant.”

I had just got to college, you understand: I clearly knew everything.

The Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom is a glory. The Paschal Canon makes me weep. The first singing “Shine, Shine, O New Jerusalem” is one of the high points of the Byzantine liturgical year. When the whole church lights up with the Easter Vigil Gloria, bells ringing and people shouting, I get shivers. When the organ blasts its way through a solemn Te Deum I am prostrate with the incense and the joy. Yet St Paul says nothing about the Resurrection that is so strong as this line: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Or this one: I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified…. we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.”

But for us, Our King.

Imagine meeting an Apostle, imagine meeting anyone from the Jerusalem Church at the time, really. They have seen the most horrid execution the gov’t of that period could divise. To know someone who was so treated, to have witnessed it, to have lived through the torture, the ignominy, the horror.

And then to hear her or him say, “That is God.”

That’s why he was so scary to the Romans: these Christians saying “this guy you hung up is Lord, God, and King,” not Caesar. No Caesar’s Palace or Trump Tower contains the real power. Christ is King.  Power is not in the palace, not in the tower: but hung on the Cross. And Risen.

There are a few people who insist the Resurrection of Jesus is a myth. One Episcopal priest even shared from the pulpit that he sided with those who knew – knew, mind you – that after Jesus had died his body was tossed onto a garbage heap and dogs ate it. And all this stuff about a Resurrection was just backfill because the apostles felt guilty about abandoning Jesus in the hour of his need. He had told them to take swords, right? We make up for that abandonment by claiming he was God and assuaging our guilt.

“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”

When you look at the Crucifix, and hear people deny him even now while feigning love for the “real” Jesus that they just made up, you get it: that God became so weak, so powerless, that even those he came to save could deny him at the moment of his triumph.

And yet he loves them.

I hear all the time that we can’t forgive sinners who don’t repent… but Jesus does: “Father forgive them…” from the cross. And you know no one was repenting.

So our King is merciful.
So our King is love.
So our King is truth itself.

That Dead Guy on the Cross, victim of capital punishment, hated by his own and subjected to torture by his oppressors, really is God: crucified, dead, buried. Risen. It’s your choice. Make him your King, know his Resurrection, and you will become the object of scorn and derision, reviled even by people who claim to follow him. To them that derision is hate. But to us their derision is a sign of life.

That derision is probably about to get worse as those from the left and right who confuse real, faithful Christians, the Confessing Church, with those apostates who sold their souls for worldly gain: sexual, or political. The Faithful will be oppressed by the Progressive and the Fascist, both. And the faithful shall pray, love and die, for those who hate us as our King did. Even then we have only done our duty: we are unworthy servants.

The Prophet Malachi says that when the Day of the King shall come it “shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But for the righteous, it’ll be totally different, unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts. 

The fire is both Furnace and Sun of Justice. (Malachias 4:1-3) It’s really up to you which one it is. The Day of the King is coming. It is here already: at Liturgy we can see it.

These Three are One

Revelation 11:4-12
Luke 20:27-40

…those who deny that there is a resurrection…
Luke 20:27

The Sadducees insisted on the literal meaning of the text, following only the first five books of the Bible (excluding the Prophets, the Wisdom books, and the Historical books from their sense of “Scripture”). They also insisted there was no bodily resurrection, no spirits, and no demons. They had some other teachings – they were Pelagian before Pelagius – but these were their two main hallmarks: Scripture and Resurrection. It is these that are most beloved today. As regards the Bible and the Resurrection, world has become filled with Sadducees.

Most people insist what they see as a literal reading of the Bible: they refuse to allow the Church to teach her teachings without asking, “How is that in the Bible?” They deny the idea of oral tradition, of teachings evolved from discussions about the Bible rather than some odd idea of Sola Scriptura. While they are, often, interpreting the Bible in their own way (and insisting that’s the literal meaning) they ignore that for 4,000 years the Jewish community, and for 2000 years the Christian community have been engaged in discussions about what it means. These are two different discussions one growing out of and beyond the other. One cannot set up camp outside them. Even in the Churches this can be the case, where persons will reject the teachings of the Church based (a la Luther) on their private sense of what the scripture means… but calling it the “literal meaning of the text”. These are Sadducees in spirit. The Jesus Seminar people are Sadducees, insisting that most of the New Testament is Oral Traditions accreted onto some sort of Ur Jesus Story.

Many Christians are Sadducees in regards to the Resurrection.  Christian theology is very clear: humanity is both soul and body. Angels are pure spirit, with no physical body. Animals are pure matter with no spiritual content. (This is why all dogs do not go to heaven, contra certain evangelical silliness.) Man is both a Soul and a Body, as Jesus was both God and Man.  We are not so much as a Body with a Soul as we are a Soul with a Body.  As a person, Jesus was  Eternal, Uncreated Beingness in an immortal Soul-Mortal Body unity. And you and I are that latter part: an Immortal (meaning undying) and Mortal (meaning dying) unity.

Many Christians of the more conservative sort (and I’ve heard this in Orthodox and Catholic conversations as well as Protestant) make us out to be Spirits that happen to have bodies right now. “When we die we will all go to heaven.”  “Grandma’s an Angel with Jesus, now.”  While we certainly believe the Saints are granted a foretaste, it is only in the General Resurrection and after the Judgement that, by God’s mercy, most of us will “get to go to heaven”.  But when we do, it will be in our bodies, in the flesh. This mortal flesh will put on immortality and, whatever he is, we shall be as Jesus is. This is why the Orthodox do not cremate, although I think a mortal body can corrupt in a fire just as easily as in the dirt.

Many Christians of the more progressive sort deny any spiritual function at all. Honestly, I have no idea what they’re doing in the Church b/c they’re functional Atheists, as far as I’m concerned. If there is no resurrection for all of us there is none for Jesus. And if Jesus didn’t rise, then this is all malarky. Again, the Jesus Seminar fits into this category so they are doubly Sadducees.

It’s easy to pretend there is no resurrection. But why? There’s no hope, there’s nothing to live for, no reason to imagine good to have a point. What makes me giggle is the idea that you can then say “there is still a reason to do good in the world” and “there is a literal definition of things that are good.”  The world is filled with Sadducees. (Easy mnemonic: because they don’t believe in the resurrection, they’re Sad, you see?)

If your God is not the God of the Living, then why bother?