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.

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!