How to Treat the Richest 1 Percent

Chrysostom Screaming at the Empress

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom, Doctor
24th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.

I Corinthians 12:12

TODAY is the Memorial of St John Chrysostom. By many lights, he is one of the greatest homiletic interpreters of St Paul. He’s a saint to whom any preacher should pray before presuming to preach. Although I’ve never felt him an especial patron, in terms of models and heroes, he’s certainly one I’d like to emulate for his relationship with the Holy Scripture, as is evident in his homilies, was one a personal friendship. And I would seek to cultivate that relationship, to – as the old prayer says – “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Bible. In fact, that is what this blog is mostly about.

But to do that – or to do anything in Christ at all – we must follow St Paul’s advice at the end of today’s readings. “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.” And he’s about to show us, although the lectionary cycle will be interrupted by tomorrow’s Feast of the Holy Cross, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by revealing his end goal: the greatest Spiritual gift is love. We have nothing if we haven’t love. And without love, all we have is worthless – even if we are Apostles, Prophets, Wealthy, Poor, man, woman, slave, free, it matters not. If we have not love, it’s worthless.

John Chrysostom is known for preaching an unvarnished Gospel: if he saw it in the text, it came out of his mouth. But he is also known for having no political savvy: so when he preached against sin, he was clear about what he was condemning. When he preached against greed the wealthy felt conviction individually and personally. He preached using what we would call, today, “hate speech”. If one was a sinner within earshot, Chrysostom had a gift of zeroing in on precisely the right words that would make you feel that your sin was, exactly, sin.

Today we dodge that.

Pray for the greater gift of love, though.

No sinner can be comforted in their sin by love.

No wealthy man can be comforted in his wealth by love just as no one can be comforted in their sexual sins by love. No married couple can be told by love it’s not their fault they picked “fur babies” over children for “economic” reasons. No couple can be told by love it’s ok their not sacramentally married in the Church.

But yet the very act of telling them requires love. John only got to screaming when people who should know better refused to listen.

Inside the Church, see, we’re all sinners. And so we are all parts of the body. Addiction (to sin) is a real disease. But we do not struggle alone: the entire body struggles together. And so the Christian standing next to us at Liturgy or sitting in the next pew is as much a Christian as anyone else in the room even if they refuse to see their sin, even if they are lost in the darkness of a past and cultural present that seemingly leaves them no choice but to choose their sin as their identity. They are part of the body and they must be loved into the fullness of the Gospel – even if they think they have it now.

How? As I said, tomorrow is the feast of the Holy Cross. No spoilers. But the answer is love.

Wrong Communion

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?l

I Corinthians 10:16 (NABRE)

THIS IS NOT REALLY ABOUT The readings (for Saturday, yes, I’m late…) but more “triggered” by the use of “participation” in this verse. That’s why it’s late: more of a ramble than a homily.

In the text Paul is saying, “Look, you know what we celebrate in the communion service, how we participate in Jesus? (Then he mentions the sacrifice of the Temple – see that’s communion, we’re doing that with Jesus.) You don’t want to accidentally or on purpose do that with idols. You can’t celebrate an idol. There is no “Zeus” or “Hera”. So when you eat food offered to idols, what are you doing? Communing with the demons who are pretending to be gods to get the people to worship them! DON’T DO THAT!” In these ancient cultures, the food offered for sale at the market could have been offered to idols. Or the local temple might celebrate a festival and give away food. You could be communing with demons at your table tonight. This is one reason Judaism has its own butcher system. It makes for a simple rule: if the item is not Kosher, don’t eat it. Paul is saying, not quite that, but more like if it’s purposefully unkoshered by offering to idols, you can’t eat it at all. Thankfully, food at your local Publix, Safeway, or Piggly Wiggly is generally not offered to demons (as far as we know). Yet. But demons are crafty. Paul’s condemnation was not because he thought Christians were getting tricked into Demon Worship by crafty friends, but because he was worried they were “playing along to get along”: getting free food like all their neighbors, shopping where others shopped, not wanting to offend the local community by not-supporting powerful people. It’s this – and not meat, per se– that can lead to “communion with demons”. We know the idols are nothing. But the demons are crafty.

So, on to the meditation “triggered” by this.

What is the communion we share with Jesus? What is the participation? So many people try to tone this down or roll it back to something less than it is.

First, there is this undeniable connection we all share: God is the, if you will, beingness of all being. Any thing in the universe that has being receives its beingness from God. A thing cannot be without God willing it; not just willing it into being, but actively and continually, in God’s love, sustaining it. God’s active will keeps you here, keeps your internet device here, keeps the internet here, keeps my server here, keeps me here, and keeps these pixels here for you to parse them out. God’s love wills your brain to be present and active, and mine as well, this entire act of communion and communication from me to you is one not just permitted, but lovingly carried forward by God. Even those things classed as evil share in this beingness sustained in God’s love.The more evil things actually hate that they are sustained thus.

Christians have another level. Through the grace of Baptism, Jesus now dwells in us, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our heart is made a Temple of the Godhead: he has made his home in us (John 14:23). This is true, following baptism, even if we fall away from the faith and pay no further mind to this presence. The humility of God, ignored in the silent and unadorned tabernacle of such a heart, should inspire us because of his evident love and horrify us for the same reason. We should make reparations not only for infractions against the Blessed Sacrament where Jesus is living and active, but for those Christians who ignore God, no less living and active in their own heart.

On this level of participation, something else happens as well: we enter fully into our anointed function of little Christs, of Sons and Daughters of God in the Son of God.

As God the Son rests in contemplation of the Father, we too, resting in the Son, engage in that contemplation. As the love that is the Holy Spirit is aspirated from the Father and the Son, he is also shared with us. Thus we embody in ourselves the active dance that is the Trinity, infinitely impossible to exhaust but carried by each Christian to its fullness, as each is enable by Grace.

This is the content, then, of our participation. Yet it’s not the full implication. This resting in communion with the Trinity is, as I mentioned, present because of our Baptism. We can ignore it or even reject it. From the first mortal sin to the final rejection of death, the Holy Light of Divine Love becomes an ever more-consumming fire. In the end, like the evil creatures mentioned above, we burn with an intense hatred of the eternal fire at the core of our being and, having created hell for ourselves, we have no other place to rest.

St Seraphim of Sarov counseled that if we “acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved”. By our participation in this communion, if we side with the flame, and elect freely to burn with that love, then we set the whole world on fire. Our holiness (which isn’t ours, but rather God’s) pours out into the world and into the lives of those around us.

Our participation in the Body and Blood of Jesus becomes thus a way to actively advance the Kingdom of God in the world. Conversely, any participation in the un-lives of the idol demons, that is active rejection of God’s gift of communion, is antithetical to that same Kingdom. Unsaying St Seraphim, to promote sin is to damn those same thousands around us. As I mentioned, demons are crafty. Our playing along to get along, our consumption of the “meats” offered to sexual sins and other cultural idols is an easy way to lead astray thousands at one time.

It’ll All Work Out

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin
23rd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 (NABRE)

THERE ARE THREE people in the Western Christian Tradition whose birth is commemorated: John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus. In the Eastern or Byzantine tradition, all three also have their conceptions on the Church calendar (in the West the Conception of the Baptist – on 23 September – is not commemorated). If you look at the stories told about these three births and conceptions, you realize God plans in the long range. Generations go by, millennia, before even a small part of a plan comes to fruition and, even then, it can take further millennia before the full scope is realized.

The fullest realization of God’s plan has not yet unfolded. Yet it has, already, done so: “Already/Not Yet” is a thing for us. That unfolding is completed and in Messiah.

Back in February I wrote of the passing of a friend, a Seminary Professor in Biblical Languages. When I first met her, she drew a diagram on a chalkboard.

That weekend she spoke about something that has stuck with me all this time. For me, the meaning has changed, evolving now into something that’s more orthodox and Catholic, but it began there with Minka drawing a chart on the wall. I remember it still. Beginning on the left with “Genesis” and across from left to right a list of a bunch of other books to “Revelation” she pointed out that we think of Biblical history like this. But, in fact, different books were written at different times and not always in chronological order. Here she moved the Gospels to after the Epistles to underscore that Paul was writing first…

Then she drew a horizontal line across the board and bisected the line with a Cross and she wrote, “If anyone is in Christ they are a New Creation”. And, without ever mentioning Patristics or what I’ve come to understand as “recapitulation,” she explained how Christ was the beginning of something new.

That chart still describes my understanding of the Bible and of all history. Last weekend (Saturday 3 September 2022), nearly 40 years later, the same chart was drawn on a board by another professor, this time a Dominican Friar teaching Homiletics. All of history leads up to the Cross and all of history points back to the cross. All of time, BC and AD, is nothing but the shockwave of the incarnation echoing through time and space, giving a cruciform pattern to all of creation.

This is what we mean when we say that the Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Not that minute details of his life were predicted and he. made them true, like someone living out the predictions of an old gypsy woman in an episode of Archer. Rather we mean that at its deepest enfolding all of history comes to a point at the Cross. The deepest meaning in anything in the Torah, the Prophets, or the Writings, the Gospels, the Epistles, or the Apocalypse; the fullest understanding of anything God ever said to his people before or after the Time of Jesus, is found in Jesus. This is why his name means wholeness: all things find their fulfillment, their fullness, their wholeness in him.

This is what we mean when we say all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. The Only Good is salvation in Jesus and all things point to Jesus. All things point to Salvation, all things (if we but let them, even those seemingly the most horrendous) move us to the Only Good that is: Jesus.

Today is the Birthday of the Mother of God. Here is what St Andrew of Crete says (as read in today’s office of readings):

The fulfillment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit. For the law’s consummation was this, that the very lawgiver accomplished his work and changed letter into spirit, summing everything up in himself and, though subject to the law, living by grace. He subordinated the law, yet harmoniously united grace with it, not confusing the distinctive characteristics of the one with the other, but effecting the transition in a way most fitting for God. He changed whatever was burdensome, servile and oppressive to what is light and liberating, so that we should be enslaved no longer under the elemental spirits of the world, as the Apostle says, nor held fast as bondservants under the letter of the law.

This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed. This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages.

Justly, then, do we celebrate this mystery since it signifies for us a double grace. We are led toward the truth, and we are led away from our condition of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? Darkness yields before the coming of the light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom. But midway between the two stands today’s mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new. Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day. Let there be one common festival for saints in heaven and men on earth. Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.

Mary is “the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new.” In Orthodox Hymnody she is referred to as she whose “womb is more spacious than the heavens” for she contained therein the infinite God who cannot be contained. Today is born the new and everlasting temple and “this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things.

In Mary is our antitype, and let us all, by her prayers, be “newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”

All Good things pass through this Gate, and let us welcome them!

Loving is not A Like and Share.

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

Luke 6:26 (NABRE)

THE NEED TO HAVE other speak well of one’s self is, perhaps not always as great as the need to have others speak well of one’s self in one’s own hearing. If word reaches us that so-and-so has said something bad it’s not, perhaps, as bad as if so-and-so had said it directly into our own ears. Possibly. At least for this writer, the constant quest for likes and shares has lead to the death of many a moment of spiritual growth.

More than that, the desire to have people speak well of one has, perhaps, become a way of life: we create tailored self-images on social mediae, sometimes multiple ones, to garner more likes. It’s not that one has a perfect life, but rather one has several perfect lives: social posting on FB, beautiful travel photos on Insta, a very wisdom-laden (or humor-laden) YouTube, a Twitter of perfect snark and spicy takes, and a blog of great vulnerability. They may not all weave well together, but different followers on different planets get views curated for them. And the like pour in. If one, like the present writer, works in tech as well, then one’s own job feels like that as well: doing something for the thumbs-up and for the pleasure of having people speak well within earshot.

Then I got a job where that’s not how things work at all.

Suddenly it was literally not about likes or shares, but about actual service to actual persons (which is what customer service – especially in tech – is exactly not about). Suddenly things were harder because there are real people expressing their own vulnerability and asking for help. And that does not always put people in the best of moods. And even that requires one to be loving.

Suddenly it got hard and that’s literally what it’s supposed to be: loving folks is not about likes and shares. In fact, it’s entirely antithetical to the culture created by likes.

One way to read Jesus’ list of blessing and woes is to see it as a commentary on the World vrs the Gospel. But another way to read it (in our present world) is just simply about the virtual world of the internet: the rich, the filled, the laughing, the being spoken well of are all virtual (because you can tell from Jesus’ words) they are all lies. If a blithering fool, lost in his sins and unaware of God, speaks well of you what value is it? If that same fool speaks ill of you because of God well, then, you’ve perhaps started on the pathway to Truth.

I don’t doubt that the internet is a new mission field. But, in some ways, we blunder into it unaware of the damage it does. We send n00bs in there, unprotected from the wiles of dopamine addictions, and wonder why they get looped into the culture – going native.

We’ve sent former alcoholics as evangelists on a tour of all the distilleries in Scotland. God bless you, go win some souls for Jesus out there among all the malts and barleys.

We should let only the most advanced monastics into the internets as evangelists, and even they might have trouble telling the virtual from the real, telling the likes and shares from the actual winning of souls. The latter is what Jesus sends us out to do, the former will cost us our own.

The Wholly Name

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.

Luke 6:19 (NABRE)

WHEN THE ANGEL Spoke to Mary (in Luke 1:32) she was told she would have a Son and she should call him Jesus. Later, that same angel shared with Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) The linkage of the name “Jesus” to “Joshua” is usually emphasized, the latter meaning “the LORD saves” and “Iesus” is the Greek form of Joshua. But there is something deeper. Much deeper. Jesus was not named in Greek. And while “Iesus” is the Greek form of his name, in Hebrew the name is Yeshua. However, add a silent “h” sound and change the accent and we get ‘yeshuah’ which means Salvation.

It’s not that “Jesus Saves” as the bumper sticker has it, but rather that Jesus is Salvation in his person. What is “Salvation” though? What is the meaning or the content, if you will, of being saved? The Gospel today points it out: There’s calling, there’s accepting the call, there’s the renaming. There’s hearing the teaching and there’s healing.

Please note that everything in this is a sort of dialogue. Jesus calls, we accept the call and Jesus renames us. Jesus teaches and we accept the teaching then Jesus heals us. The whole Gospel is encapsulated in one pericope of 7 verses if we but use our eyes to see it. But salvation is a dance in which God leads, but we follow, in which God heals, but only what we offer him for healing, in which God loves us and gives us the grace to love him in return.

When we open our ears to the call of Jesus and allow ourselves to be drawn into the dance, our entire identity is changed: we go from being trapped in worldly ideas about who we are to entering into a right relationship with God. When I was Chrismated into the Orthodox Church, as the priest was wiping off the sacred oils from my face and eyes, he said to me – quoting St Paul – “you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This was my new identity and I was even given a new name – for St Raphael, the Bishop of Brooklyn. As a saint stands in right relationship to God, so – by the prayers of many – I may one day grow into the fullness of that right relationship. But I have to forego all the things that hold me to the world.

There is no part of me (or perceived part of me) that I can point at and say, “But that one thing I will keep.” I can no longer base my identity on anything that is mine – only on Jesus, who is not Mine save that I am his. And to be his I have to let go of all the brokenness I value, all the things that I think make up “who I really am”. I must let Yeshua be my yeshuah. I must let Jesus be Jesus to me.

Otherwise all this is in vain. Jesus will make me whole but only when and as I let him. If I hold back he will not force his way in – but then I will not be saved.

In the end the things that I thought of as I, me, and mine that are not part of Jesus were never mind in the first place. And the things that are missing from the fallen me, will be found in him and will be mine for all eternity as our love deepens to infinity in contemplation of the Father.

Everything That Is Missing | כל מה שחסר
Shilo Ben Hod

Lyrics in Translation:

Verse 1
I won’t seek what is missing
But I will search for the One who fills
In a dry or fertile land
More than anything, I need You only
Even life is not good
If at the end people die without knowing You
If I could choose anything, I’ll choose You

Chorus
It’s better to lose everything, just to gain You
And to pay the price, in the end everything is Yours
To go all they way until the end, because only in the end I’ll meet You
And then everything that is missing, will be completed in You

Verse 2
I’m not searching for all the answers
But I’m asking for the truth that is in You
When confusion rules or there is clarity
Above all, let me know You
All of the miracles won’t help
If people never experience Your love
If I could choose anything, I’ll choose You

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Dryness in Prayer

Do I WHAT?

JMJ

The Readings for the 22nd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.

Luke 5:4

SO ONCE AGAIN, the CFRs are on point, talking about Dryness in Prayer in their latest Podcast. The full episode is embedded below, but listening, I was struck suddenly with the image of “arranged marriage”. It comes up again in the Gospel today.

Modern relationships are about romance and “love”. This is a very recent invention: 12 Century, at best, and French (naturally). Prior to that the notion that “I feel this, ergo…” was not part of the cultural conversation. Since it’s French we should say, the idea was that “I feel this therefore I should surrender to it”. Of course the French were not the first to teach us to surrender to our passions: Satan’s been doing that for a while, but at least in the area of marriage, the French ruined it. Prior to that time (and in much of the world, still) romance has nothing to do with it.

Thus, in our French-ruined world, we’re inclined to ask “Do I still love him/her?” and if the answer is no, then we leave the relationship.

Yes, we’re all called into the relationship with God on a personal and intimate level, most of us are started out, at least, by default, with our parents’ (and/or our culture’s) ideas about and awareness of God. At a certain point we have to own the responsibility for our side of the relationship but there’s a way in which we had no choice. And, trust me on this, even looking for other deities is a failure: if you’re born into a Jewish or Christian culture, you have no choice at all except to try to relate to God the way Jews and Christians related to the All-Holy Creator of the Universe, Blessed Be He. That idea and relationship is so all-pervasive that we either end up pretending that the deity we’re courting IS the Holy One, or else we change – entirely – our way of relating to deity. There is no way to relate to any other deity in the same way as YHVH. Nor can you relate to YHVH in any other way. And to say this in a different way, YHVH – the ground of all being – is so solid, so real, so heavy as to draw all reality to himself: any real relationship and real love tends towards God. Any non-relationship or non-love tends away.

Is the issue the French Disease? Do we have dryness in prayer because we think it should be about how we feel? Do we feel that the Religious Relationship should be like the Romantic one?

The scriptures – as considered by Jews and also by Christians – repeatedly use the image of marriage to express the relationship of God to People and to the individual person. The relationship is, exactly, person-to-person, but since there is no one person alone, it’s God-to-People as well. We are born into this covenant (as Jews) or baptized into it (as Christians) and, for most of it, no choice at all was involved. Choice only comes later – “do I decide to own this?”

Even in the world of arranged marriages it’s possible to wake up in the middle of the night and ask yourself – or your spouse – do you love me?

God is our arranged marriage. Yet he courts us. We know that Jesus says, “you did not choose me, I chose you.” But he woos, he seduces. He asks, do you love me? In times of dryness you ask, too, and it’s fair for you to do so – as it is fair for him to ask you. We know there are times when it feels like God is not there. We know there are times when it feels like we needn’t bother any more.

And when that happens, what should we do?

Jesus says, row out into the deep water and cast your nets.The blessing of obedience: to do what Jesus says even though you know it won’t work – Lord we’ve been fishing all night, but you told us to so we will again. Fish.

And then suddenly the dryness goes away – not because we feel better, but because we obeyed anyway. To act in accord with your faith even when you feel otherwise is not hypocrisy, but rather integrity.

Still Keeping Watch

The Massa Damnata be like…

JMJ

The Readings for the 21st Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Monica

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.

Matthew 25:19

THE TONE FOR THIS XXIst Week of Ordinary Time was set on Sunday when we heard Jesus answer the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He basically said yes. And he urged us all to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” All week long it’s been advice for how to enter the narrow gate but, as noted yesterday, we started to get this last week with Matthew’s telling about the wedding banquet. If you don’t have the right clothes, you’re out. Even if you were invited. Matthew is winding down his pre-passion Narrative with Jesus as a hell fire preacher. It climaxes with a reading we don’t get in this thread – the Final Judgement and the division of the sheep and the goats. If only that were this Sunday’s reading (it’s not) it would make Weeks 2o-22 quite a powerful end-of-summer Apocalypse!

There’s a pattern in these stories: each one says, essentially, “this is not enough”. How many people will be saved? Jesus hears the hidden meanings. The question about how many will be saved is really asking, “How little do I have to do to get in?” His reply over multiple parables is simply “Why do so little that you just get in?” Some would have us say everyone will be saved. Some would have us say that nearly no one will be saved. Jesus is saying, “What about you?”

The Fathers underscore that while scripture says we are all sinners, there’s only one sinner each of us is permitted to know: our own soul is in a state of sin. We can know this. We can only know this. We are to see Christ in our neighbor and that same Christ has said everyone is our neighbor (yes, even the politicians you don’t like).

I, myself, am the only sinner I am permitted to know.

Everyone else is Christ.

There is a theme in all of these stories:

  • It’s a narrow gate: it’s possible to miss it.
  • The wedding garment suggests it’s possible to be at the banquet (the Mass) and get kicked out.
  • It’s possible to keep within the boundaries of the faith as rigorously as a Pharisee and still miss the point.
  • It’s possible to be in the Church and take everything for granted.
  • It’s possible to be a vowed religious and not have all your ducks in a row.
  • It’s possible, as we learn today, to squander the gifts God gave you and lose it all.
  • If we add the sheep and the goats, it’s possible to be 100% dead on and still get thrown into the fire. (Sheep and goats are both kosher and can be used interchangeably in many of the OT sacrifice rituals)
  • It’s a narrow gate: it’s possible the load of stuff you carry is too wide to get through.

Do these sins make my butt look big?

Jesus drives home the points several times: it’s not enough to be here. It’s not enough to do some of the things. It’s not enough to be very pious. It’s not enough to be doing all the things and be hyper pious. What you need to do is risk it all repeatedly.

And then do more.

Why would you only want to do “just enough”? Do more, and then more, and then more again! Jesus says we are the light of the world. BE THE LIGHT! Shine as bright as you dare, as bright as you can, burn out early.

Except you won’t: you’ll shine that brightly forever.

Keep Keeping Watch

JMJ

The Readings for the 21st Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl. James of Bevagna, OP, friar and priest

Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:14

ONCE AGAIN THE NABRE Renders the Greek as “Stay awake” instead of keep watch or even be watchful. Stay awake is particularly annoying here because even the wise virgins also fell asleep so it can seem petty. But keeping watch means being prepared. The wise virgins could fall asleep in peace and rise again in safety for the Lord was with them (Psalm 3:5) and they had done the necessary prep work.

Doing the prep work is the important part!

What can we read in the symbols of this verse? The wise and foolish are both symbols of believer. They have maintained their fidelity to the doctrines. I get that from the use of the word “Parthenos” in the Greek for “virgin” instead of “nymphos” for young girl or maiden. In terms of the culture of the time, parthenos does not always mean a woman who has not had sex. It means a person (man or woman) who has set apart their sexuality for divine purposes (see more here). The Gospel of course is not talking about “consecrated virgins” as such, but it is implying that these folks (both the wise and the foolish) have set themselves apart for divine purposes.

But the foolish have run out of oil and so they’re worried about their lamps. What is this, then?

In parallel with the man caught at the wedding banquet without the proper clothes, the Church Fathers read the oil and the lighted lamps in this parable to indicate righteous deeds. Mercy in Greek (eleos) comes from the same Greek word as oil. In Hebrew it’s Khesed, Grace. To have oil in the lamp is to be actively engaged in mercy and grace not just for one’s self, but for those around affected by this light.

This is important to me, personally, because I’ve struggled so long with sins of the flesh, with setting my sexuality apart for God. Yet do I have any oil in my lamp? Members of Courage International read the Five Goals at each meeting. I’m thankful that, after the chastity mentioned in the first goal, the second goal of Courage begins with “To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others…” That’s the challenge. Yes, sure, stay pure. But don’t sit there in your purity: do something. My spiritual director had the sense to see that sitting at home was dangerous for me – even though it kept me out of one sort of trouble. The Gospel is not the Gospel unless it’s shared with someone else.

You can set your life apart, certainly, but unless you’re doing the works of mercy, unless you’re shedding your light around you, that is unless you’re reforming your sphere of influence into conformity with the Gospel, then you’re not actually doing anything. Your faith, without works, is dead. You can be Parthenos.

And still be dead.

St Paul makes it clear that preaching the Gospel will make us seem like utter fools to the world: to Jews and Greeks alike. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To be one of those who are being saved in the active present tense (salvation is not something that happens once) is to be engaged in mercy.

Again, this is keeping watch. Jesus tells us to be about his Father’s will until he comes back. We learn in the parable of the Sheep and Goats what these works are – feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, etc – these are the things we are to be about. These are the oil.

Yes, you need the faith. You need to be set apart, to be parthenos. Do these works, though, and you can rest at night without worry.

Keep Watch

JMJ

The Readings for the 21st Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Saint Louis, King of France

Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

Matthew 24:42 (AV)

RUNNING HISTORY through filters of modern politics always leads us into trouble, but today’s Saint, King Louis IX of France, has been on my mind since the 12th when Salmon Rushdie was stabbed at the Chautauqua Institute last week. I have to admit I’m of mixed emotions: I’m opposed to violence at all. Yet I think the anger may be justified. So I’m not sure how I feel. Our Lord’s command to keep watch or “stay awake” as the NABRE has it (poorly) rendered must include all things that are legitimately in one’s sphere: I must watch myself, a parent must not watch only their self, but also their children and their children’s educators. To what extent should a Catholic in a position of civil power “keep watch”?

Blasphemy is a hard thing in a “modern” society. Hate speech against someone’s deity or prophet is not something we conceive of. Think of the number of pieces of “art” or “cinema” that have been actual blasphemy against Jesus. So, like I said, I’m opposed to violence and opposed to the “fatwah” against the person of Salmon Rushdie, but I totally understand the anger caused by the book. And I think about King St Louis. (I’ve been thinking about him for over a year, actually.)

One perception common among Christians today is that we need only explain to a random Jewish person the way to read the Bible rightly and they will totally understand why they should “accept Jesus”. In certain Evangelical circles this is often focused on the Prophets or even, specifically, the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. If only someone understood how to read that properly then they would understand Jesus. Of course this tactic denies that there is an authentically Jewish way to read the scriptures. It also denies that today is 2,000 years after the fact. It’s this second point that seems important to me just now: a Jewish person today is not reading the Bible the same way Jews did in the time of Jesus. It’s impossible for them (or us) to do so without training and even unlearning. There are 2,000 years of conversation intervening. Jewish and Christian conversations diverged between 30 AD and 135 AD. And then those conversations have progressed (most often without any positive connection with each other) since.

I like to think of the Jewish and Christian conversations as two rabbinical councils. This is very simplified! I just want to paint a picture. In 50 AD, there was one sort of conversation going on – there were many differing sects within Judaism. Of these, the followers of the Jesus guy were one. We hear of others (but not all) in the Gospels: Sadducees, Pharisees, Priests, Samaritans, Zealots, Herodians. From extra-biblical sources we know of others as well, like the Hasids, ‎the Hasmoneans, and the Essenes‎. Each Jewish sect had adherents and there were also people who leaned one way or the other. These may overlap more or less. (Some folks think the Essenes may have included John the Baptist and/or Jesus, for example.) By the time we get to 135 or so, though, there’s really only a few of those sects left and by 200 there’s really only two: what we think of as “Christian” and what we think of as “Jewish”. That said, it probably takes another 200 years or so to iron things out. But there are two “groups of rabbis” then. One are the fathers of the Church Councils and one are the fathers of what we call Rabbinic Judaism. They are not talking officially, although as late as St John Chrysostom (late 4th Century) it’s clear that the laity are doing more than just talking: St John’s sermons telling Christians not to do Jewish things would be unneeded if they were not doing them.

St Louis pops into this story in 1200. 800 years earlier than now, but still 1000 years after the bifurcation between the Jewish and Christian conversations. His experience is 1000 years removed from St Paul preaching in synagogues around the Roman Empire. Oddly though, St Louis seems to think a lot like our modern Christian brain: he thinks we need only explain the “right way” to read the scriptures and any Jew would convert. Louis was, therefore, shocked to learn that Jews have their own on-going unfolding of tradition. There were 1000 years of conversation not only “minding their own business” but rejecting Jesus. And, surprisingly to Louis (and the other folks in France), that conversation carries the weight of scripture – just like Christian tradition does for us. The authority of our faith is not “in the book” but in the conversation. For Jews the unfolding of revelation is part of the conversation within the Rabbinic Councils and within the on-going prophetic understanding of the text. Christians believe the Holy Spirit is guiding our conversation – that God is engaged in the unfolding of his own meaning within the Church.

Unsurprisingly, these two different conversations arrive (continually) at different conclusions. It’s not just Jesus: it’s the meaning of the entire text, the whole kit and kaboodle now. What does the Fall of Adam or Original Sin mean to a Jew? What is Shekhinah, Merkabah, or Kabbalah to a Christian?

Moderns don’t like burning books. But, that said, we don’t actually believe in the free marketplace of ideas: some ideas are considered – even now – to be dangerous. We were officially burning books in the USA as recently as 1956. We’re not above silencing folks even now – cancelling social mediae, etc. St Louis enters this story at a point where the official Rabbinic rejection of Jesus had been pretty much codified. The King opens Jewish texts (in Translation) and sees – essentially – blasphemy. How should he react? Mindful that he is a King and that some part (if not the larger part) of his Job is to protect Christians and Christianity in his realm. How should he treat dangerous ideas?

Can we (who would report someone’s Twitter account for just about anything) feel good about “how far we’ve come” since St Louis? Who is more right? I do not legitimately know. Should anyone be allowed to say anything they want about anyone they want (including God)? What is the function of a secular state when accusations of blasphemy arise? Again, I do not legitimately know.

I do not adventure an answer to the questions raised at the top of the post. We must deliver up each man and woman to their inner court of conscience. I will say we should yield likewise for St Louis. He is a man who acted – as a King – as his conscience guided him. By way of confession, my own internal answers kept me out of my mother’s chosen career paths for me: military, law, and politics. In my youth, I was afraid I would not be strong enough to hold to the faith in the face of pressure. Now I think I would have been cancelled long ago. Thus, I will only close where I began.

Our Lord’s command to keep watch must include all things that are legitimately in one’s sphere. To what extent should a Catholic in a position of civil power “keep watch”?

Diapostolic Dispersion

JMJ

The Readings for the 20th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.

Luke 13:24

THIS PAST SUNDAY’S Readings presented an interesting reading of some bad things: The Babylonian Exile, predicted in Isaiah, is imaged as both punishment and plan. Paul points out that God only punishes sons – and that for a reason. At least from my Protestant past, I’m used to reading the Exile as a bad thing. But after my Bible classes and reading God and His Image I’m trying really heard to stick with the truth that, for God, there is no Plan B. Nothing God does is reactive.

Isaiah says God’s going to punish Israel for breaking the covenant. He’s sending them away into exile. However read the text closer: this is still Plan A.

“I will send fugitives to the nations (literally, Gentiles. Hebrew: Goyim) that have never seen my glory.”

Israel is being sent out as Apostles not as victims of punishment.

“and they shall proclaim my glory among the goyim”

And they shall come as an offering to God – and God will even appoint some of them as Priests and Levites.

Israel’s exile from the land is part of the plan of salvation for the world.

Israel’s punishment for idolatry is part of God’s loving action in the world. It’s punishment – but as St Paul notes in Hebrews, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”

Israel proclaiming God’s glory among the Gentiles is a theme in other books of the Bible as well. Sirach 36:4-5 says, “As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory. Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you.” In the Exile the jews were not only taken to Babylon: some ran away to avoid captivity. There are communities of Jews living as far away as what is now Lyons and Central Asia.

The purpose is neither simply punishment nor is it replacement. Rather this is part of the grafting in of the Gentiles. Israel, through the exile, is bringing the narrow gate to the gentiles: showing the nations the moral law of God, not by preaching but by living moral lives among them. They were winning proselytes at the time of the Maccabees, When, after Pentecost, the Apostles are sent out to proclaim the Gospel, they will go to these far-flung communities of the Diaspora. They will find Jews as well as righteous Gentiles there ready for faith in Messiah, ready for full participation in the New Covenant.