Lent’s Here. Let’s talk food.

+JMJ+

BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet is one of my most favourite things, right after whiskers on kittens and Atmospheric River Events on roses. They travel the UK looking for regional specialties and sharing cooking advice. Most of the members of the panel are from some part of the UK (I think), but they even have a token American who is called on to explain things like corn dogs. I love them not just because they read one of my recipes on the air (and raved…) but also because I keep learning stuff from them. Some cooking shows only make me hungry, this one makes me laugh and also put on that “thinking emoji” face that spins.

The recipe they shared from me involved split peas, or, as they seem to prefer it spelled, pease. You’ve heard the nursery rhyme, “peas porridge hot”. Or, to use the correct spelling,

Pease porridge hot. 
Pease porridge cold.
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

The Wiki notes that “pease” was the original mass noun like “sheep”. Pea is a neologism and “peas” is even newer.

To make pease porridge, one uses yellow split pease. The nutrition information for this is really quite surprising. In 100 grams (uncooked) we find:

Dietary fiber 50g
Sugar 16g
Protein 48g

Fiber and protein far out-weigh the sugars. That same cup of uncooked veggies has a tiny bit of fat and a whopping 341 calories. (100 grams of brussel sprouts has 46 calories. 100g of russet potatoes has 79 calories.) Pease are high energy, high protein treats! No wonder they were a huge part of the diet not only in the Mediaeval period but also in the many parts of the world right up until the modern era. They don’t have a lot of different vitamins, but they are very high in magnesium and iron (nearly 50% RDA of each). This is a good food value for folks.

It’s simple to make: soak 200g yellow split pease in water overnight. (It’s the 21st century, folks. Buy a scale. If you prefer traditional imperial weight measurements: .03 stone.) Drain but don’t rinse. My rice cooker is perfect for this: just add water to cover and then run in through a cycle, stir, add water to cover again, and one more cycle. Done. Texture is an issue for some folks: if you like it bit on the chewy side and you can add about a quarter cup of raw pease before the second cycle. Other’s like it very smooth and will run an immersion blender through it. Simple, right? As it cools it turns into a think goop rather like very stiff mashed potatoes. Add butter if you want. The trick is how you decide to flavor it.

Traditionally, you would dice a carrot and a small onion, add salt and paper and a bay leaf or two. There is a California Bay in the back yard and I can vouch for the goodness of this recipe. You upscale with bacon or ham. Serve it on bread, toast, biscuits, etc. Some Bisto gravy makes this completely amazing. It seems it’s also traditional to use this as a sandwich spread of some sort, but I can’t figure that out.

But flavoring, or flavouring…

The first time there was no ham so broth was made with red miso paste. It was amazing.
The second time there was no miso, so only bacon went in. That was astounding.
The third time I used a packet of onion soup mix in the water. Sooo good! Add garlic!

And this time, going a little crazy, a packet of mild chili mix was whisked into the second addition of water.
Also: evidently the Greek food “Fava” is sometimes made with split peas… but I don’t know if that’s really the case. I can see this being used  for hummus, too.
When it gets cold it’s quite like mashed taters. I’ve fried it up in pancakes at that point. It’s really good on toast and my best way of eating it has involved a garlic naan (from TJ’s) with a mound of pease. Put a deep divet in the pease and break an egg into it. Put it in the toaster oven until you’re ready to eat the egg: sunny side, over easy, over medium, etc… it just takes getting used to your oven.
Some like it hot.
Some like it cold.
I like it in the pot
Nine days old.
Benedicto benedicatur!

Who’s Coming to Dinner?

JMJ

The Readings for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at San Augustino

Et fecit ei convivium magnum Levi in domo sua : et erat turba multa publicanorum, et aliorum qui cum illis erant discumbentes.
And Levi made him a great feast in his own house; and there was a great company of publicans, and of others, that were at table with them. 

My grandfather died in 2002. On the first anniversary of his death, I went to my new priest, Fr V, and asked if we could have a Panikhida said for him. This is a memorial service prayed after death and on the anniversary every year. It’s not a mass or full-on requiem. It takes about 15-20 mins to sing. But it’s a nice memorial. Many ultra-Orthodox do not allow such things to be prayed for Protestants, so I asked Fr V if one would be possible. Of course! Why not? Because he was not Orthodox, Father. His reply, which I can still hear, “Raphael, if we didn’t pray for the non-Orthodox, who would we have to pray for?”

Jesus sits and eats with anyone. This table fellowship (which is not the same as communion fellowship – which he shares only with his apostles) is an important hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. This eating-with the unclean was a serious thing. It proceeds through the New Testament, marking not that “there is no chosen people” any more, but the realization that we are all sinners.  Jesus is God, communing with us. We find in that not only our salvation, but the will, the desire to eat with others.

But Jesus’ actions are not isolated one-offs. We must eat with sinners too, not just nightly at the supper table, but in all parts of our lives. We don’t just eat with sinners because we are sinners, we are evangelizing. In fact, since communion fellowship is becoming at-one with Christ in the Holy Mysteries, we can say that Table Fellowship is Christ continuing his work of evangelism. By inviting strangers to eat with me, Christ continues to eat with us sinners. This invitation to fellowship is a covert invitation to come see a Christian up close. Isaiah wants someone who will feed the hungry and keep the Sabbath. We are to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God – ie be generous and easy to all except in the first person. Eating with sinners does not override the universal call to holiness, but it does focus it in the first person. We must each be able to say, “We’re all called to sainthood, you’re closer than I will ever be.”

My friend, T, used to get on the Subway in NYC with a bag of Sandwiches. He would give a sandwich to anyone who needed (or just wanted) food. And he would take money from anyone who would donate to help. There’s a model for you. My friend, J, would make piles of pancakes on Saturday Mornings and give them away in a park in San Francisco until he was out. Who’s coming to dinner? Or Lunch? Or coffee with you? Don’t just give ’em $5, bring them to Taco Bell and ask what’s up with their lives. Awkward for everyone, I know. But so good for everyone too.

Of course, it’s Lent, so I talked about food.

Why We Fast

JMJ

The Readings for the Friday after Ash Wednesday (B2)

Station at Santi Giovanni e Paulo

Ecce ad lites et contentiones jejunatis, et percutitis pugno impie.  
Behold you fast for debates and strife. and strike with the fist wickedly.

I have to be fast. It’s far too late for me to be up writing. So, here’s a sketch.  On Ash Wednesday, an Atheist tweeted something mildly off-putting to a Catholic Nun. And Catholic Twitter played Dogpile on the Rabbit. Then, for most of yesterday, there was some fight between two groups who shall remain nameless. All in all it’s been a good Christian Lent already, here on Day Three.

St John says “let the mouth fast from criticism…”

St Paul says (in I Corinthians 6:1) Audet aliquis vestrum habens negotium adversus alterum, judicari apud iniquos, et non apud sanctos? Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to be judged before the unjust, and not before the saints? 

And yet we expose each other before the Unjust on Twitter and Facebook.

And that’s only after one day of fasting for most of us, because the Roman Practice in the USA is Way Lenient.

Food, however, is not the point, as St John says and so does Isaiah. 

Look, I know: it’s the internet and everyone does it. I do it, making fun of My Favorite Martin. Forgive me. I don’t mention it to scandalize anyone, but to say there’s a difference between mature adult discussion of faith and disagreements entre nous and airing our dirty laundry where the media and the nattering nabobs of negativity can get at it.

So rend your hearts (and not the garments of the church). We totally have work to do before we can get to our Easter Joy:
Dissolve colligationes impietatis, solve fasciculos deprimentes, dimitte eos qui confracti sunt liberos, et omne opus dirumpe; frange esurienti panem tuum, et egenos vagosque induc in domum tuam; cum videris nudum, operi eum, et carnem tuam ne despexeris. Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. 
One reason for giving up actual food during lent (and not chocolate or coffee, etc) is so that there is actually money left in your hands to feed the poor. As the Pope has taught: after you pay your bills, and set aside a small stash for emergencies, the rest of your money is for feeding the poor.

Fr Alexander Schmemann said the same: after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations.

So giving up the food is logical – as would be giving up netflix, or internet etc, as long as it saved you money to give to the poor.

Peace.

Stop fighting with each other.
Stop fighting in public.
Feed some poor people with your left-over money.


This week was next week last week.

JMJ

The Readings for Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at Santa Sabina

Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile, ecce nunc dies salutis.
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

What is your life worth today?
What if I told you it is worth an infinity of love and light.
That all the death you have ever eaten and all the light you have ever snuffed out.
Is ready to be turned to Life and Light by he who is Life and Light himself.

All the doors you’ve ever slammed shut.
All the escape hatches you’ve sealed.
All the bridges you’ve burnt.
To lock yourself away.
To hide yourself.
To close yourself off.
Can be blown open, repaired, and repurposed.

All the hate you’ve received.
All the lies you’ve been told.
All the pain that has been inflicted on you.
Can be healed and given to you as Strength for the Journey.

There is nothing that cannot be done today, not because it is Ash Wednesday, but because it is Today.

Today is the only day of all eternity on which any of these are possible.

Today. Tomorrow is the stuff of pride – even “I will see you tomorrow” is hella prideful. Yesterday is not a day on which action is possible. Today.

So NOW is the day of salvation. Paul said that at at time when a letter might take weeks or months to get to where it was going. When is now? It is always now.

Sorry for all the Timey Wimey stuff. But it is now Ash Wednesday again, as it has been in the Liturgical West since the 8th Century, at least, back before the Schism. It’s a way to make holy the passage of time between now and Easter. 

What is salvation? Today is the day, but what is it? In short it is the Human Being, restoring the Icon of God (which we all bear) and doing the work of God, which is Love, yes, but a very special kind of Love. In customer service (where I’ve been for 25 years, give or take) we use a special sort of skill called Unconditional Positive Regard.  It’s defined as “Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does.” This way you can deal with customers, assuming their best intentions, and always leading them to the best choices made in their relationship with your company. Some agents do this better than others, to be honest, but most of us do it, also, as a means of self defense: I can interact with you on a professional level without having to emotionally get involved.

It is to be noted that this is not love. It is also to be noted that this is, basically, the attitude of most of our culture. This is why crying on the subway is, basically, a breaking of the rules. Nearly all of us want to help someone who is hurting… or in danger… but we can’t let anyone else see our involvement. We play the Unconditional Positive Regard card and we benignly pass by. We do this for homeless families on the street. We do this for elderly folks who need a seat on the subway (when no kids will get up). We do this when people are rude to one another. We just smile and decide not to judge and benignly pass by.

Love would leap to the defense of the injured.
Love would sacrifice itself for the good of the other (even if the good wasn’t willed by the other).
Love would rather die than see someone else do so.

Love is not Unconditional Positive Regard and this is life, not a call center phone call. Life and death hang in the balance when most of us wake up. And for many of us, by the end of the day, death has won and there is no tomorrow ever. 

Love then, is the benchmark. God is love, but specifically, God is this this self-emptying love as the Father pours out everything on the Son and the Son pours it back to the Father and on us in the person of the Holy Spirit. God empties himself and models for us the same resources. Love dares for us to pour ourselves out in a constant stream of giving!

This constant loving, self giving, pour out of all our self for the good of another: this is love and this is salvation.

Imagine if every Christian could work in one act of love a day from to Lent’s end in Holy Week. Imagine that, trickling out across the culture, across the world. Today. Now. Here.

Now is the day of salvation.

There is a custom among the Byzantines that the vespers on the night before Lent begins, all the congregation gathers round the church and begs forgiveness each of the other. And each, prostrating, says, “Forgive me, a sinner.” and the other says the same, and they embrace saying, “God forgives, and I forgive.” This custom is, it seems to me, worthy of all men to be received: that we should start Lent asking forgiveness. We don’t just skip over someone who is a good friend and “I know I’ve done nothing to hurt them…” for all sins hurt all of us. Every sin I commit draws the venom of evil just a bit deeper into our common life. So even the sins I commit and take to confession so that the only folks who know are me and the priest… they hurt us all. 

So forgive me. All of it. I know bunches. And some of you know me well enough to be affected by it. I beg your prayers.

The Hunger Games

Westin St Francis Hotel in SF, 1904

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Tuesday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras

Nemo cum tentatur, dicat quoniam a Deo tentatur : Deus enim intentator malorum est : ipse autem neminem tentat.
Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man. 

The Apostle, St James, points out here the oldest bugaboo: Original Sin or, as the Byzantines call it, Ancestral Sin. It’s a weakness – not a “mark” on the soul, but more like that shopping cart that has one wheel that’s wonky and always pulls to the right as you make the first left  at the end of the bakery aisle in Ingles. The cart just will not drive the way you want it. God does not tempt us, nor did God make the wheel go wobbly wobbly to the right at the end of the aisle.  

For the Mediaeval philosophers, it was the eyes that led the soul astray: the eyes are the windows of the soul! Temptation comes in (like rocks thrown in from outside) when we see something we might want – be that a physical thing, or a thing to do, or a person, the idea is first cast in through the eyes.  Our temptations are not of God, nor are they a call from God to indulge. Maybe you really do want more stuff in the bakery aisle. Unusquisque vero tentatur a concupiscentia sua abstractus, et illectus. Every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured.  You are tempted to get the Red Velvet Cake…

This is the patience we began talking about yesterday. Beatus vir qui suffert tentationem. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation. Temptation is not pretty. It’s boring usually. It’s the same thing, over and over, working against the will: one thought pestering you until you swear you will go mad if it doesn’t stop or you don’t give in.

In CS Lewis’ Perelandra there is this most frightening of scenes which I’ve referenced before. In this scene, Dr Ransom, the protagonist, is tempted by Dr Weston, the antagonist (who is possessed by the devil). In the absolute darkness of a night with no artificial light and no stars, the Devil calls out Dr Ransom’s name.

Ransom.
What?
Silence.

Ransom.
What?
Silence.


Ransom.
(Obstinate refusal to reply)
Ransom.

Ransom.
Ransom.

What?
Silence.


This repeats all night long. When Dr Ransom gets used to ignoring the voice, the voice changes: and becomes a woman’s voice in horror, or a child’s voice, or a growl to frighten him.

Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.

I swear to you this is the scariest scene I have ever read in a book! Scary, because it is so real. It takes patience and perseverance to get through that. And giving in to your desires is not the answer. This is the patience we were talking about yesterday. To sit there, asking for help, while something inside is calling out your name, over and over. And over. Again. That power to call out your name does not mean it is you.

In fact, the concept of Original Sin means we don’t have the ability to self-diagnose in these areas. Quite the contrary: we are most susceptible to this Weston Effect in those places where we feel most secure, where we are mostly blind to the possibility of error. (This is true of things that might be called “evil” as well as things that might be called “good”! Is that call to marriage really what God wants for you? What about that call to ordination? This is why we have father confessors, spiritual directors, and processes of discernment in the Church: to weed out Weston.)

So what are you giving up for Lent? A reminder, by the way: in the West the traditional fast is still to say “Carnivale” today. To give up meat from now to Easter. It’s ok if you want to substitute another sort of penance: but meatlessness seems to scare a lot of folks.

In both the East and the West it is traditional to Fast – meaning to give up some part of your food. Until about 60 years ago, the fasting rules were rather more extreme than just “no meat on Friday”. 

From the Key of Heaven, a Roman Catholic book of prayers and piety. Published in 1901


Read that! No meat all Lent (except Sundays) and one meal a day plus one side salad. My understanding is that by the mid 20th century the only change was “two side salads”. At the Monastery we kept the 1 side salad rule.

In the East, Lent is, essentially, Vegan. No fish is allowed, nor dairy, nor eggs (this even on Sundays). There is no alcohol allowed either, although some folks bend the rule for beer. 

The purpose of any of these fasts was not because food was bad, but because we tend to over indulge all the time. This is increasingly true: we eat most meals as if we were feasting (when compared to the rest of the world). The function of saying no to things we want is to train the will to say no to other things we might want as well. Avoiding hamburgers and milkshakes for 40 days does not save one or make one pious. It makes one stronger willed. And with that will, then, to avoid the Weston Affectus, the simple responding to each call of one’s name by the desires within. Giving up something for Lent is not intended to make one holy. But it is intended to give one a tool for becoming holy. 

So what are you giving up tomorrow? If it’s something easy, maybe it’s time to think about something else. As long as you realize your not doing itYou’re the shopping cart and, even with a wobbly wheel, God will get you to the Feast of Pascha. God will give you the strength to compete in this game as long as you rely on him. 

Ransom.

(Obstinate refusal to reply)

Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom.
Ransom….




























































Ransom.

God’s Family Servants.

The Holy Family Window, St Joseph, a young Jesus, and the BVM.

Today’s readings:

The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12

Continuing from yesterday, where Lust is the fruit of Pride, we have today’s reading on humility. Yes, the whole Father-Teacher-Master package is about humility. And it could be about “titles” and the claim that we should have none as Christians, but this is not true. From the earliest, Paul spoke of himself as his disciples’ Father – and even allowing that they may have many fathers, but he was their Father in the spirit. The Church has always had titles and offices, functions within the community. I may disagree with you about what those titles mean but you will agree with me that we’ve always had titles: Presbyteros, Episkopos, Dulos, Apostolos, etc. Our community functions in an hierarchy: which doesn’t mean “some are better than/more important than others” but rather “rule” (archy) “of priests” (hieros). Yet Jesus says: the greatest must serve. Jesus embodies this, washing our feet. Jesus calls us to this service.

How, mindful, again, of lust and pride, does this work for us?  Let’s look at the next three prayers from the Angelic Warfare Confraternity:

For our imagination, that we may be preserved from any fantasies that defile us, that all impure images may vanish, and that we may be protected from all the assaults of demons. 

For our memory, that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord may touch and heal us through hope for a better future. 

For our estimation, that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them, that we may never turn away from higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods for the sake of sinful self-indulgence.

If we read carefully, these three prayers are about the future, the past, and the present, respectively.  We ask God not to let us be troubled with the future, not to let us be haunted by the past, and – most importantly – not to be tripped up in the present. You know, we have all sinned in the past. The future doesn’t exist. The question is where will you be now? What are you doing, now?

Pride plans the future. Pride exults in the past. Pride is not having a conversation – pride is planning a rebuttal. Pride is not listening in the present: pride is grinding the past down to counter attack in the future.

Yet our sins are only in the present.

Mindful what I said yesterday about pride denying intimacy and creating a passionate addiction, here’s the method: yes we sinned in the past, wasn’t that fun? Let’s plan something interesting in the future! (And I can tell you how often those plans do NOT come to fruition.) But what does happen is something by the way, the sex of happenstance, in the present: a hookup app or a personal ad. And Boom. Our plans waylaid, our memories hijacked, we sin only in the present. Yet consent was given to that sin in our planning and our ruminating. Our pride has given birth to something way less exciting than we had imagined. Yet if we recap the story around the watercooler – or even in our diary – wow how awesome!

Who would be first, must be servant to all.

We cannot be a servant if we’re planning to have sex, or to get a promotion, or to get something else “out of” them. It can even seem to be very innocent. It may only be a crush, but if it’s not what it supposed to be – chastity, love, service – then something’s going wrong. Wash away our sins with justice: which, in this case, is service, humility, redressing the wrongs done.

Some folks have asked me about coming into the Catholic Church at a time such as now, when there is seeming chaos. Of course I laugh: I’ve been around enough blocks to know that there is chaos everywhere. If it’s not the Papal Monarchy, it’s the constant infighting and simony of the petty city states of Orthodoxy, or the chaotically heretical, Everyone’s a Pope world of Protestantism.  If I didn’t believe that the Holy Spirit is running the Church I’d be off in the mountains someplace, hiding, or else learning the I Ching and being Shinto (actually, that’s probably more like it).

Pope Francis (whose four year anniversary was yesterday) has struck me since the very beginning, as worthy of his Patron Saint. So, to be honest, have Popes Benedict and St John Paul II. I’ve never known the possibility that the leader of such an empire could be so humble.  And yet I’ve seen it three times in my lifetime.  Yes, Francis can go off-topic sometimes and cause toes to curl, but he’s no Medici. Yes, he can raise a few eyebrows, but he’s no Avignon Papacy. I’m not worried.Benedict XVI is the scholar of that tradition, John Paul had a gift for bringing that scholarship to the masses. Francis has a gift for going to the masses. God sends the Church what she needs when she needs it. These three servants of the servants of God have been blessings to the world since St John Paul was elected in October 1978.

These men, of course, are not the only ones – such leaders are not found only in the Catholic Church or even only in Christianity. Yet, they seem to be always found in the religious world: never among the “spiritual but not religious” nor among the secular. Humility (like chastity) is not a value highly sought in the world.  We would do well to learn from these men what it means to be humble – even with great power; what it means to be a servant, – even when a leader.

If we tie our memories down, if we sacrifice our dreams: if we live only in the present, then we can be humble servants, like our Lady and St Joseph. Then we can be servants at their table, of all their guests.

Don’t judge me, bro.


Today’s Readings:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Luke 6:36-37a

This verse can be thrown in our faces at times. Anytime a comment about morality is made it can turn into a “Don’t judge me, bro” sort of conversation. Yet the Greek word rendered “Judge” can mean more like dividing the grain from the chaff. In fact, Jesus – who often made moral statements regarding sex, anger, finance, etc, – told several parables in keeping with this idea of division. We’re not to cut off people except as a very last resort. That avoidance of division would include making moral judgements about persons, certainly, but it doesn’t mean not making moral judgements at all.

So I posted on Facebook on Saturday night:

I believe that people should be free, that traditional morality was invented by people and we should be free to make new morals now that we know more. We can come up with anything we want. We can invent ourselves anew, we can ignore cultural norms and expectations, we can pass laws we like and ignore the ones we don’t like. Every one should be free to paint their pictures anyway they want.
Except Donald Trump.

My point was not that I believe that crap (obviously) nor that anyone does, but usually at some point in a conversation on morals it will come down to that and “don’t judge me, bro.” Especially around sex. But even there, as I pointed out on FB, we are not at all judgement free – ask anyone about the President’s locker-room talk, and there’s going to be a lot of judgement.

A priest mentioned a “throwaway” line in a book he had been reading, “Lust is the result/fruit/punishment of/for pride.” I’ve googled several permutation of that with no avail, but it’s kept me thinking for a while. Lust is the fruit of pride: for pride puts me before everyone and makes me want to have others serve my needs. At the same time pride denies me the intimacy that can come from real love, and I’m left not caring for people with whom I crave contact, sharing, human warmth. The end result is that sex works for everyone – you don’t need to worry if I’m a nice guy, just boink’n’bye. In turn, that level of disconnect, of misuse of the divine gift of our bodies, results in a passionate addiction. And so lust blossoms. It doesn’t matter if that’s a lot of activity with other persons, or with one person, or with oneself. Its root is pride, its symptoms are narcissism and a lack of intimacy, and the result is lust.

Or, to read it differently, the prideful person put himself before others, judging himself (dividing himself off) from them. And because he has judge them (divided them) off from himself, he can no longer be intimate with them. If you divide off others – you’ve really only divided off yourself. This is why the heretic, the one who teaches heresy, is not “kicked out of the church” but rather excommunicates himself: you cannot hold on to someone who doesn’t want to be held. Women feel judged by people who are opposed to abortion. Men who have sex with other men feel judged by people opposed to same sex marriage laws. These two statements can be true – that people feel judged – even when nothing but love has been expressed; when no division has happened. This is their own conscience speaking against their actions: calling them to repentance. That’s rather different than judgement. (Don’t get me wrong as I know the latter happens, too, but it’s different.)

Yet, at the same time, Jesus says we are to be merciful. That reminds me of a ditty from a book on word play that I read in High School:

The Lord makes it
to rain On the Just
and the unjust fellow
But mostly on the Just
For the unjust steals
The just’s umbrella.

We are to be merciful. God waits, wounded by our sins, waiting for us to come to him and ask for healing. God waits, pierced by the nails of our anger, for us to love him. God waits, not judging us – not dividing us off from himself – even though we have divided ourselves off from him. And we must aspire to do the same, to be perfect as our father is perfect:

We must be constant in the aspiring to the perfection of holy love, in order that love may be perfect; for the love which seeks anything less than perfection cannot fail to be less than perfect.
– St Francis de Sales

The Ur-Leaving


Today’s readings:

Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:1b

At the Stations of the Cross on Friday night we were meditating on the woes of Migrants, leaving their families and homelands and seeking a better life. One is tempted to hear “in America” but that’s not always the case: for America is not the Shining Star she once was and others have also eclipsed her. Migrants go to Saudi Arabia, to South Africa, to the UAE, to Germany, to England. It’s not, as we tell ourselves here, a case of “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” but rather, let’s be honest, we Moderns have crafted a picture of financial success as the highest value and people can find that success in other ways in other places. Sometimes, though, a Migrant is not out to “make a better life” for themselves. Some migrants (most?) in these times are fleeing a crappy place in the “third world” that is crappy exactly because the first world has made it that way. We’ve set up a gov’t that provides us with cheap oil, or cheap produce.

“We”, here, does not mean America, but pretty much anyone who lives in a nation that does not produce the goods it consumes. And migrants tend to be the people most hurt by our Consumption. That’s why they come here – because all their stuff ended up here, so they might as well come here too.

Abram’s journey is an interesting one: for God called him out of the First World of his day, into the Fertile Crescent. What God didn’t tell Abram, was that every Army in the world – until the invention of airplanes – would need to march through that land for ever to get to anyplace that was cool. And, of course, any time an Army Marches Through, they can’t help but rape and pillage. God set Israel up: tiny, unloved, and easy to march through on your way to someplace else.

I will make a great nation of you. God has got a seriously warped sense of humor – or else he’s trying to teach us something. “Us” here is the Church, called “Israel of God” and the “New Israel” by the Apostles. We are the Children of Abraham – and that should not be a good thing, really, in the eyes of the world. But we do our darnedest to make it out to be good, we want to be successful.

St Paul had to tell even his own disciple, St Timothy, “bear your share of hardship for the gospel”. Whatever it is, we don’t want it to be hard.

Abram, leaving the first world of his day, and wandering into the hinterlands is a sign for us. This sign was repeated when the Israelites left the first world of their day (Egypt) and wandered into the hinterlands. This sign was repeated again when the Jews left their captivity in the first world of their day and, again, wandered into the hinterlands. This is the pattern set up for the Church but her application has to be different – for the Church is sent into all the world, the Hinterlands, and the Innerlands, the Thitherlands and the Interlands.

The Church has no choice but to be everywhere. That’s why today’s Gospel is so important. In fact, it’s so important that those who carry the Gospel cannot be trapped in the first world: we cannot be successful in the eyes of the world because that success comes at the price of the lives of others.

What is today’s Gospel? That if we bear our cross, the Transfiguration is not far away. But if we drop our cross onto the backs of others – to make our lives easier. well. In the Tenth Station on Friday, “Jesus is stripped of his garments”, the following was offered:

Tenth Station

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments Violation of Human Rights and Human Trafficking

“After the crucifixion, his clothes were distributed by lot and he sat there covering himself.”Matthew 27:35-36 

Meditation 
The body of many immigrant, men, women and children, are often business objects to be sold and trafficked by criminal groups (smugglers) who operate with impunity in the transit countries of immigrants. Many suffer physical and sexual abuse, are forced into prostitution and unworthy work. They are stripped of their rights, their belongings, and even their lives. Like Jesus, boys and girls are battered reflections of our evil world. 

PrayerJesus, deliver us from the temptations of pornography and immorality. Clean our anxious hearts from earthly pleasures. Stop the desire for profit and goods made at any price and give us a decent heart like yours. Amen.
(Source)

I have lately been wondering lately if those “earthly pleasures” must be seen to include cheap veggies available year round at SafeWay, Ingles, or ShopRite. What are we doing to the bodies of our migrant brothers and sisters when we sell them into slavery to farmers? What about the clothes we wear, our electronics. What if the cars we drive are moved by oil that is delivered at the cost of Native lives and freedom? What if our whole method of consumption comes at the cost of our damnation? What if our greed for consumption comes at the cost of human icons of God? What if our very way of moving in the world comes at the self-sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Ironically, in turn, setting up temptations for them to come here and live off the same unjust system? What if we gain the world and yet give up our souls?

How can we say we’ve left our city to follow God, if, instead of being Transfigured into his likeness, we are destroying his likeness in ourselves and others?

Who is my Brethren?

A Patristic Homily for the Monday in the First Week of Lent. From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Remigius, Gregory the Great, Rabanus, and Origen, the Teacher of the Fathers.

Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

To this most sweet section of Scripture which we cease not continually to ponder, let us now listen with all attention and compunction of spirit, for Christ does indeed clothe this discourse with more terrors and vividness. He does not accordingly say of this as of the others, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” but shews of Himself by direct revelation, saying, “When the Son of man shall come in his majesty.” Jesus gives us this story as he, himself, is within two days to celebrate the passover, to be delivered to the cross, and mocked by men. He now fitly now holds out the glory of His triumph, that He may overbalance the offences that were to follow by the promise of reward.

Both the wicked and they also who shall be set on His right hand shall see Him in human shape, for He shall appear in the judgment just when he was incarnate: in a form like ours. He shall come down with the Angels whom He shall call from heavenly places to hold judgment. “For all his Angels shall be with him” to bear witness to the things wherein they have administered to men’s salvation at His bidding. “And all nations shall be gathered before Him.” (Proving also that the resurrection of men shall be a real and bodily event.)

The wicked are called goats, because they climb rough and rugged rocks, and walk in dangerous places. Under the figure of a sheep in Scripture is signified simplicity and innocence. Beautifully then in this place are the elect denoted by sheep. The goat is a salacious animal, and was the offering for sins in the Law; and He says not ‘she goats’ which can produce young, and “come up shorn from the washing.” Then He separates them in place. For the Saints who have wrought right works, shall receive in recompense of their right works the King’s right hand, at which is rest and glory; but the wicked for their evil and sinister deeds have fallen to the left hand, that is, into the misery of torments. Then shall the King say to those who are on “his right hand, Come,” that in whatsoever they are behind they may make it up when they are more perfectly united to Christ. He adds, “ye blessed of my Father,” to shew how eminently blessed they were, being of old “blessed of the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

Observe that He says not ‘Receive,’ but “possess,” or “inherit,” as due to you from of old. This “prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” is to be understood as of the foreknowledge of God, with whom things to come are as already done.

The Saints obtain the boon of this heavenly kingdom because, says Jesus, the Judge, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me to eat.” In fact, Our Lord here enumerates six works of mercy which whoso shall study to accomplish shall be entitled to the kingdom prepared for the chosen from the foundation of the world. These are they who are judged on the side of the elect, and who reign; who wash away the stains of their life with tears; who redeem former sins by good deeds following; who, whatever unlawful thing they have at any time done, have covered it from the Judge’s eyes by a cloak of alms. It is from humility that they declare themselves unworthy of any praise for their good deeds, not that they are forgetful of what they have done. “Lord, when saw we thee &c.” They say not because they distrust the Lord’s words, but they are in amaze at so great exaltation, and at the greatness of their own glory; or because the good which they have done will seem to them to be so small according to that of the Apostle, “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

It is Christ in every poor man whom we feed when he is hungry, or give drink to when he is thirsty, and so of other things; but when He says, “In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren,” He seems to me not to speak of the poor generally, but of the poor in spirit, those to whom He pointed and said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother.”Yet if they are His brethren, why does He call them “the least?” Because they are lowly, poor, and outcast. By these He means not only the monks who have retired to the mountains, but every believer though he should be secular, though an hungred, or the like, yet He would have him obtain merciful succours, for baptism and communication of the Divine mysteries makes him a brother.

Lo, Mercy is Feasting.

A Patristic Homily for the Saturday after Ash WednesdayFrom the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts Bede the Venerable, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Theophylact.

Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?

Luke and Mark, for the honor of the Evangelist, are silent as to his common name, but Matthew is the first to accuse himself, and gives the name of Matthew and publican, that no one might despair of salvation because of the enormity of his sins, when he himself was changed from a publican to an Apostle. Levi had been a publican, a rapacious man, of unbridled desires after vain things, a lover of other men’s goods, for this is the character of the publican, but snatched from the very worship of malice by Christ’s call. Hence it follows, And he said to him, Follow me. He bids him follow Him, not with bodily step, but with the soul’s affections. Matthew therefore, being called by the Word, left his own, who was wont to seize the things of others, as it follows, And having left all, he rose, and followed him. Here mark both the power of the caller, and the obedience of him that was called. For he neither resisted nor wavered, but forthwith obeyed; and like the fishermen, he did not even wish to go into his own house that he might tell it to his friends.

The Lord honored Levi, whom He had called, by immediately going to his feast. This testified the greater confidence in him. Hence it follows, And Levi made him a great feast in his own house. Nor did Jesus sit down to meat with Matthew alone, but with many: And there was a great company of Publicans and others that sat down with them. All the publicans came to Levi as to their colleague, and a man in the same line with themselves. Matthew glorified in the presence of Christ, and called his friends all together. For

Christ displayed every sort of remedy, and not only by discoursing and displaying cures, or even by rebuking the envious, but also by eating with them, He corrected the faults of some, thereby giving us a lesson, that every time and occasion brings with it its own profit. But He shunned not the company of Publicans, for the sake of the advantage that might ensue, like a physician, who unless he touch the afflicted part cannot cure the disease. By his eating with sinners he thus in no way forbids us from doing the same.

In his charity, the Lord was blamed by the Pharisees, who were envious, and wished to but division between Christ and His disciples – the long time and the new.  And the Pharisees murmured, saying, Why do you eat with Publicans, &c. This was the voice of the Devil. This was the first word the Serpent uttered to Eve, Yea has God said, You shall not eat. So they diffuse the poison of their father.

The Lord Jesus refutes all their charges, showing, that so far from its being a fault to mix with sinners, it is but a part of His merciful design. Jesus answering said to them, They that are whole need not a physician; He reminds them of their common infirmities, and shows them that they are of the number of the sick, but adds, He is the Physician. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. As if He should say, So far am I from hating sinners, that for their sakes only I came, not that they should remain sinners, but be converted and become righteous. Yet, we know well how God loves righteousness and David has never seen the righteous man forsaken. So certainly this “calling of sinners” does not mean that the righteous are excluded! You must understand that Jesus meant “righteous” rather ironically: those who boast of the law and do not seek the grace of the Gospel. There was none righteous upon the earth St. Paul shows, saying, All have sinned, and need the grace of God. Those who claim to be justified in themselves. If grace is for repentance, surely those who despise repentance renounce grace. And even so, He calls those “sinners”, who considering their guilt, and feeling that they cannot be justified by the law, submit themselves by repentance to the grace of Christ.

The publican is he who serves the prince of this world, and is debtor to the flesh, to which the glutton gives his food, the adulterer his pleasure, and another something else. When Jesus saw this publican sitting at the receipt of custom, and not stirring himself to greater wickedness, He calls him that he might be snatched from the evil, and follow Jesus, and receive the Lord into the house of his soul. He who receives Christ into his inner chamber, is fed with the greatest delights of overflowing pleasures. The Lord therefore willingly enters, and reposes in his affection; but again the envy of the treacherous is kindled, and the form of their future punishment is prefigured; for while all the faithful are feasting in the kingdom of heaven, the faithless will be cast out hungry. At the same time also is shown the difference between those who are zealous for the law and those who are for grace, that they who follow the law shall suffer eternal hunger of soul, while they who have received the word into the inmost soul, refreshed with abundance of heavenly meat and drink, can neither hunger nor thirst.