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.

Why Not Fast?


A Patristic Homily for the Friday after Ash Wednesday.

From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Jerome, Rabanus, Augustine, Hillary.

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but thy disciples fast not?”

This is arrogance – to take pride in one’s piety; to boast, as it were, in one’s humility, if such were possible. Nor can we excuse John’s disciples for they sided with the Pharisees whom they knew had been condemned by John. Still here they are, bringing a false accusation against Jesus, whom they knew their master had preached. What they say is only this, Since you are the Physician of souls, why do your disciples neglect fasting and eat with sinners? And to augment the weight of their charge by comparison, they put themselves first, and then the Pharisees. They fasted as they learnt out of the Law, as the Pharisee spoke, “I fast twice in the week;” the others learnt it of John.

John drank neither wine, nor strong drink, increasing his merit by abstinence, because he had no power over nature. But Jesus has power to forgive sins. Why should He avoid eating with sinners? He has power to make them righteous – which none others have. Certainly Christ fasts – for he follows the law and you should not avoid the command; but He eats with sinners that you may know His grace and power.

Observe how when strangers, as before the Publicans, were to be defended, He accuses heavily those that blamed them; but when these same outsiders brought a charge against His own disciples, He makes answer with mildness. “And Jesus saith unto them, Can the children of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Before He had styled Himself Physician, now Bridegroom, calling to mind the words of John which he had said,  “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom.”  Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride. Of this spiritual union the Apostles were born; they cannot mourn so long as they see the Bridegroom in the chamber with the Bride. But when the nuptials are past, and the time of passion and resurrection is come, then shall the children of the Bridegroom fast.

Everyone who rightly fasts, either humbles his soul in the groaning of prayer, and bodily chastisement, or suspends the motion of carnal desire by the joys of spiritual meditation. And the Lord here makes answer respecting both kinds of fasting; concerning the first, which is in humiliation of soul, He says, “The children of the bridegroom cannot mourn.”  Then we must mourn because the Bridegroom is taken away from us. And we rightly mourn if we burn with desire of Him. Blessed they to whom it was granted before His passion to have Him present with them, to enquire of Him what they would, to hear what they ought to hear. Those days the fathers before His coming sought to see, and saw them not, because they were placed in another dispensation, one in which He was proclaimed as coming, not one in which He was heard as present. For in us was fulfilled that He speaks of, “The days shall come when ye shall desire to see one of these days, and shall not be able.” Who then will not mourn this? Who will not say, “My tears have been my meat day and night, while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?” With reason then did the Apostle seek “to die and to be with Christ.”

Figuratively, this His answer, that while the Bridegroom was present with them, His disciples needed not to fast, teaches us the joy of His presence, and the sacrament of the holy food, which none shall lack, while He is present, that is, while one keeps Christ in the eye of the mind. He says, they shall fast when He is taken away from them, because all who do not believe that Christ is risen, shall not have the food of life. For in the faith of the resurrection the sacrament of the heavenly bread is received.

Do not Display Yourself

For the Gospel for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18):

A homily from the works of St John Chrysostom, Bishop. 

And when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.

Here we do well to sigh aloud, and to wail bitterly: for not only do we imitate the hypocrites, but we have even surpassed them. For, brothers and sisters, I know many, not merely fasting and making a display of it, but instead they neglect to fast, and yet still make a show as if being one of them that fast. They cloak themselves with an excuse worse than their sin. For “I do this,” say they, “that I may not offend everyone.” What? There is a law of God which commands these things, and you’re worried about “offense”? You imagine, I think, that in the keeping of God’s law there is offense, and in not keeping God’s law you are saving your neighbors from offense? And what can be worse than this folly?

When the Lord Jesus said, “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,” it was not of hands that he was speaking, of course, but of our duty to keep our piety hidden from all. When he commanded us to enter into our closet for prayer, he didn’t say to go there alone all the time, nor even to go there primarily. He command us to pray, but he reminded us to be private. So likewise here, in commanding us “to be anointed” when we fast, he is not giving us a new command to anoint ourselves! As one can see clearly from David and from Daniel it was the fashion, for festive occasions to anoint oneself. Jesus says that we must anoint ourselves, not that we should positively do this, but that by all means we might endeavor, with great strictness, to hide what we were doing from others. If we were to always anoint ourselves when fasting that would just as surely proclaim it before others as fake morbidity.

Jesus does not make the fast more strict, nor command us to practice more of it, but he does command us that we should not lose our reward because of our pride and vainglory. Of course both hypocrites and the pious have the same command – to fast. Yet to those who actually follow Jesus the command is made all the more easy: he adds nothing to our toils, but only insists that we gather our wages with all security. Jesus  will not suffer us to go away unrewarded, as these others do.

Think of an athlete, a gymnast in the Olympic games. Though he works before so great a multitude sitting there, and so many princes, he desires to please only one: the judge; and this though the judge be much the inferior to the athletes. We have a twofold motive for displaying the our victory only to Christ. Jesus is the one supreme Judge. Also he is beyond compare fully superior to all that are sitting in the theatre.  Yet we still greatly enjoy making our display before others – and these cannot only not give us the prize, but they can also take it away from us!