Being a Chooser


WALKING TO WORK YESTERDAY I saw one of the multitudes of unhoused that roam our streets. He was hunched over, draped in his blanket, and wearing a large floppy hat. He looked, it struck me, exactly like so many ancient engravings (such as heads up this post). And as he passed me, he was engaged in a very adamant discussion with unseen partners. The craziness of the homeless is not legendary but real.

Two things came to me.

On the one hand, the thing that stands between him and me, that prevents my craziness from ending up in the street is no mystery.

I’ve only worked with the homeless for (nearly) two years, but I also worked in a rehab clinic in North Carolina for four years as well. The painful reality is I suffer from many of the same issues expressed in the lives of our guests: OCD, control issues, depression, addictive tendencies, PTSD, shattered families, financial risk, etc. Once, chatting with our guests, it felt as if I were looking into a mirror. It’s not the choices we make – this man had made many of the same ones as myself – rather there must be something else. But, again, it is no mystery: I have family and friends to call on who are not addicts, etc. I have a community of support in the Church and in my jobs. Even living thousands of miles from my parents, I have a strong enough relationship with them that I can ask for help. Before I fell too far, strong hands would lift me up. I took the job I currently have exactly because a predecessor told a friend of mine, “You’re a member of this parish. You will not be homeless.” That’s what love is all about: and many of our guests do not know love in their lives. Love stands between us and them.

And it’s our job to show them love even though they are so broken that they cannot now even see what we offer as love. We must love them even if it hurts us to do so. Over and over. For they are the abandoned icons of God, that need calling home.

And as these thoughts ripped through my brain the second thing arrived, as it were, from God.

As that man is in his addiction, I see all of you in your sins.

We are all that crazy man, wandering the streets wrapped in smelly blankets of our sins. Some of us decided on sexual sins, some on financial ones. We pick sins of infidelity or pride. We take up blankets of greed, gluttony, or sloth. Yet the deeper we fall into our sins the more – spiritually – we just become raving lunatics. We are all of us wrapped in the odor of our immorality and repellant to God and to each other.

And God chooses to show us love even though we are so broken that we cannot now even see what he offers us as love. He loves us to the point that it hurts him to do so. Over and over. He will not abandon his icons even as we scream against his voice and block our ears, preferring to talk to our imaginary friends which are – in fact – the demons instead of listening to our Divine Eternal Lover whispering our names: calling us home.

Homeless Life in SF


Homo quidam erat dives…
There was a certain rich man…

WE HAVE A HUGE HOMELESS problem in San Francisco. 
The problem is we have a huge, wealthy population that’s scared of homeless people.
They are scared that property values might fall.
They are scared that job candidates might get turned off.
They are scared that poor people might cause crimes.
They are scared that someone might say something uncomfortable-making to them on the street.
They are scared that some people smell.
They are scared that some people are not on meds.
They are scared that living in tents make us look bad as a city.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we don’t remember them.
We don’t remember that the second set of shoes we have belongs to the poor – not to the consignment store.
We don’t remember that the extra clothes we have belong to the naked – not to Goodwill.
We don’t remember that the extra food in our fridge belongs to the hungry – not to the dog or compost.
We don’t remember that the extra anything we have belongs to the poor – or else we are stealing it.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we tend to trust gov’t blindly without calling it to account for failure.
If we manage to elect persons of all colors, genders, and sexual orientations we feel good about ourselves – even though they are as unjust to the poor as anyone else. 
If we manage to elect only one party (we really only have one party in SF) we feel good about ourselves – even if they are just as beholden to big corporations, property developers, and the wealthy as the party we don’t have. 
If we manage to elect people who actually try to do something we pass ballot measures that undo their good works.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is we ask too many questions.
How did he get that way?
Did he do drugs?
Is she abusing the system?
If I give her money will she just buy drugs?
Is that even any of my business?
If I give money to that organization how much of it goes for wages?
Won’t the gov’t support them so  that if I give them money, it’s  just double.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we nullify any moral teaching that might make us feel obligated.
We are obligated to charity in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hindusm, and several others. We prefer instead an odd combo of Prosperity Gospel and Newage, Neognostic Victim Blaming that allows us to imagine no deity will hold us responsible as long as we feel good about things.
This coupled with an entitled NIMBYism means that no one is obligated to care if they don’t feel like it and those that do care can be called to the carpet for making the rest of us feel guilty.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
It has nothing to do with homeless folks.
It has nothing to do with the govt.
It has everything to do with the rest of us.

And in the end, we will find ourselves beyond Abraham’s bosom on the wrong side of the great abyss. The Fathers are not kind here:

AMBROSE; From this we learn then, that we are not ourselves the masters, but rather the stewards of the property of others.
THEOPHYLACT. Next, that when we exercise not the management of our wealth according to our Lord’s pleasure, but abuse our trust to our own pleasures, we are guilty stewards. 
CYRIL. This discourse concerning the rich man and Lazarus was written after the manner of a comparison in a parable, to declare that they who abound in earthly riches, unless they will relieve the necessities of the poor, shall meet with a heavy condemnation.
AMBROSE. But the insolence and pride of the wealthy is manifested afterwards by the clearest tokens, for it follows, and no one gave to him. For so unmindful are they of the condition of mankind, that as if placed above nature they derive from the wretchedness of the poor an incitement to their own pleasure, they laugh at the destitute, they mock the needy, and rob those whom they ought to pity. 
AUGUSTINE. For the covetousness of the rich is insatiable, it neither fears God nor regards man, spares not a father, keeps not its fealty to a friend, oppresses the widow, attacks the property of a ward.
Pope GREGORY. Moreover the poor man saw the rich as he went forth surrounded by flatterers, while he himself lay in sickness and want, visited by no one. For that no one came to visit him, the dogs witness, who fearlessly licked his sores, for it follows, moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. By one thing Almighty God displayed two judgments. He permitted Lazarus to lie before the rich man’s gate, both that the wicked rich man might increase the vengeance of his condemnation, and the poor man by his trials enhance his reward; the one saw daily him on whom he should show mercy, the other that for which he might be approved.
 CHRYSOSTOM. He died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before. For he did none of the works of the soul. All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body. But not because he was rich was he tormented, but because he was not merciful.
Pope GREGORY. We may gather from this, with what torments he will be punished who robs another, if he is smitten with the condemnation to hell, who does not distribute what is his own. 

In San Francisco, each one of us has the nearly unique opportunity to be Dives to our own private Lazarus. I think, though, most of us would rather banquet in linen and purple robes. We’re doomed.

(Originally published in these pages on 1 March 2019)

Open Letter: California Emerging


The Honorable Gavin Newsom,
Governor of the great state of California
Sacramento, CA

Honorable Sir,

BANNING GASOLINE VEHICLES is a great step in reducing California’s carbon emissions. However, it is not the first step we should be taking. While well-intentioned doing so would only be a pat on the back for the wealthy in our state who can afford non-gasoline vehicles while punishing those who are too poor to afford them. Largely the poor in this case are people of color, farmers, the underemployed, the unjustly underpaid, and persons in the service industries. If this is not to be a purely cosmetic gesture (which may well need to be fought out in the courts and so become a partisan gesture as well) it needs to be preceded by a few very important items:

  1. A statewide system of transportation must be created:
    1. This must include inter- as well as intra-city
    2. This must be affordable, subsidized if not free
    3. This will probably be busses at first but trains should grow up across the state
      1. Look at New Jersey’s Train/Bus System or the entire transportation system around NYC’s ecosystem and think of that as a state-wide goal
  2. You can use the meridian on all freeways and other divided highways as an already-leveled place to build train tracks.
  3. When you are building this system it must be sold in two ways:
    1. As a long-term project towards keeping our state employed and lowering our carbon footprint
    2. When you run your first bus line or train tracks into wealthy, white neighborhoods they will complain about noise and construction. What they are really worried about is poor people being able to get into their locales. YOU MUST CALL BULLSHIT on this when you hear it. This is racism and classism of the worst kind. It is not good. Not at all.
    3. Gonna say it again: you must run bus lines and train tracks into wealthy, white neighborhoods as well as poor areas: transportation makes for a free people.
  4. “Those kind of people ride trains.” WE MUST BE THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE.
    1. There is a perception that cars=freedoms and mass transit is for poor folks
    2. California needs education and public communication around why trains and busses are better for all of us
    3. It is the proper, California thing to do.
  5. Then you can ban cars in the right order.

I do realize you’ve already signed the order, but sir, there are so many steps to take before 2035. WE are California and we create culture here. WE can totally do this with an education campaign that goes beyond mere reaction to climate science into teaching us better ways to inculcate these realities in our daily life.

Respectfully yours,

D. Huw Richardson
San Francisco, California

A New SF Calendar


ONE FORGETS IN WHICH of her books she did this, but Starhawk commented on how Lunar Calendars all have regional names and she suggested one for SF. Legit, I’ve read almost all of her books except the most recent couple, I can’t remember which one this was. But it was back in the 80s before climate change brought us the annual heatwave + smokewave & droughts were a regular thing in Northern California. So I’ve decided to make a new Lunar Calendar for us. I’m doing this purely out of spite. I realize that Orthodox SFers will stay on their old calendar anyway and Trumpettes will say, “There is no climate change in Ba Sing Sae.”

Each month starts on the new moon, but it’s the full moon that sets the title as is tradition. Since it’s for SF, the first month is which ever full moon follows the Summer Solstice.

1st Full Moon after Solstice: Rainbow Moon 5 July 2020
2nd Full Moon: Karl’s Moon 3 Aug 2020
3rd Full Moon: Karl’s BBQ Moon 2 Sep 2020
4th Full Moon: Karl’s Brother Smarl’s Full Moon 1 Oct 2020
5th Full Moon: Keep Away Rain Moon 31 Oct 2020
6th Full Moon: No, really, it should be raining by now Moon 30 Nov 2020
7th Full Moon: Crabfeed Moon 29 Dec 202o
8th Full Moon: Microbrew Moon 28 Jan 2021
9th Full Moon: Rain! Bout Damn Time Moon 27 Feb 2021
10th Full Moon: Drought Moon 28 Mar 2021
11th Full Moon: Spring Moon 27 Apr 2021
12th Full Moon: Wow! Look at this Weather! Moon 26 May 2021
13th Full Moon: Glitch in the Matrix Moon (For years with 13 Full Moons between Summer Solstices)

Have fun with that.

For me, the best parts of Starhawk’s writings have always been her future dreaming where she imagines what the future could be like. The Fifth Sacred Thing seemed to be impossible back in the day, but it feels very current now.

Day 100. Facie ad Faciem


QUARANTINE’S FIRST TERRIFIED PANIC led to a tedium where days blent together in disordered shades of fog. This, in turn, parted like a curtain on a sort of political theater which allows us to pass the time with a modicum of excitement unrelated to our sickness or death. In my fear at the beginning of this excitement, I did not realize but I was watching political theater. Only as things settled into a new normal did I begin to realize that some of this was merely drama and entirely unnecessary. The Theatre has been (for me) most prevalent in the Church. My friends were not fighting for toilet paper or hand sanitizer, but they were arguing over how “The Rules” (health orders, etc) are “oppressing” the Church. There were some who felt otherwise, and so they fought online. I’ve learned that many who are Catholics and proud of our intellectual tradition become just as keen to deny science when it serves their political (theatrical) ends. Also, as wealthy, mostly-white Americans we have a very distorted view of what “oppression” actually is. This is playing out in our reactions to other cultural moments right now. While oppressed people are actually demanding justice, some – politicians, clergy, and laity – are simply reacting to the demand in a theatrical manner. This political theatre even though it’s inside the church had to be ignored as the worldly distraction it really is. Even the debate about socialism was only more political theatre.

One hundred days into this new cultural pattern things are more than beginning to fray around the edges. First, when I and almost all of my friends who lived through the 80s noticed the parallel with AIDS, it seemed sort of OK but even so, every reaction was fear-driven. Then, for a while, there was a depression that wasn’t letting go. One day I realized I could offer this cross to God – that I should offer it to him – and then things got markedly better. Then I learned that I have one extroverted quality above all others: processing things externally with the help of others. It’s not just being around others that’s important, but rather processing around others. Going to the park is not just fun, but the maddening crowd forms a meditative space where thoughts, feelings, and process all happen.

Additionally, my extroverted self is not just struggling to process things in public, but struggling to be seen from an external point of view: when you see me, I can be. Somehow this seems to be part of my struggles around intimacy, sex, friendship, and love. Being alone means for me non-being: how can there be any being if there is no validation, no interaction? This struggle arises at work as well as when a whole day goes by without any Slack interactions. How can today have gone well? No one spoke to me. In these mental habits living alone means never having time to think. Destructive, sinful patterns that come and go in my life are resurfacing and – like depression – it took forever to realize these are crosses that need to be offered up.

Writing to the Corinthians, in the concluding passages of “The Love Chapter” St Paul turns a curious phrase:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away… For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12 (AV)

We only know in part, he says, starting out, seemingly, with something theological, mystical, but then it suddenly jumps to first-person intimacy: Face to face, I shall know even as I am known.

The Greek here for face-to-face is πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον and yes, it means “Face to Face” but it also means so very much more. Πρόσωπον prosopon is the mask an actor wears in Greek theatre – which theatre was often a religious act. It means not just “face” (as in I put on a mask to look like someone else) but rather it means the entire persona that the actor became when wearing the mask. Prosopon means the intimate personhood of a being. Paul means here, person to person, divine to mortal, God to Man. What that would be like, Paul does not say here, although it is related to love, to charity, to agape. Yet in his next letter he has cause to use prosopon one more time. Saying that God has given us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face (prosopon) of Jesus Christ. In the very person of Jesus the Messiah, we have the very knowledge of the glory of God. In looking into the face of Jesus – the full prosopon of God – we are each revealed as prosopon. We have become ourselves, knowing as we are known. God sees us as subject of his gaze and offers himself as subject for ours as well.

The desire to be known which pretends to offer validation to me is but a corruption of this revelation that each of us – in his fullness – is known (and validated) exactly in this way by God. Not only that, but God does not seek just to see us in an omnidirectional panopticon. He’s not watching: he’s relating. He seeks to reveal himself to us, person to person. God reveals himself in the personhood, the prosopon of Jesus.

That this should be done in the context of an offered cross should come as no surprise since that’s the way God revealed himself to us, stretched out on the beams of a cross, pierced in hands and feet and side. That this should come a personal cost should be no surprise either, vide supra. That this should come as a gift of a very personal weakness, a very personal failing: that’s what we call grace.

Meeting in Public

Not a Meeting of Pint Pipe and Cross, SF


For nearly 2 years Orthodox and Catholic men have joined in the Pint Pipe and Cross, SF, (Not Pictured). We have been meeting in a local bar, the Edinburgh Castle Pub, for enjoyment of a book, a beer, and pipe, as well as for fellowship. This has been a growing experience for all involved. It continues to be a source of support and prayer, although sometimes we don’t much talk about the book we’re reading. (If you’d like to know more, reach out to me on FB for an invite to our next meeting.)

So I was overjoyed to hear a friend who felt that she would like to start the same sort of group for women. I had one piece of advice for her: meet in public. I had two reasons for this. Recent events have actually made the Public Catholicism even more important and so I will bring up a third reason further down in the post.

  • There is no host. Asking someone to host (even on a rotating basis) leads to stress for that person. You want them to read the book (ideally) and have some prepared points to discuss, questions to raise, etc. Asking them to stress out (even only once a few months) about playing host is to add too much trouble. Also what if they have family or flatmates? What if their living situation is radically different enough to be of concern to them should other people see it? Meeting in public means no one has to be “It” this month, or any month.
  • More importantly, People can see you doing your Catholic Thing. Evangelism is so important and at least once every couple of months, someone butts into our book group at the bar asking questions. It was even-more interesting the night a priest showed up in clericals. Going out in public as Catholics tags you and your group. Going to the same place month after month means that people expect you. You become a representative of the faith in that bar, coffee shop, or diner. People wonder who you are. They may want to be one of you.

It’s the latter point that is most important to me. Since becoming Catholic I’ve met so many local, native people. They were a rarity in the “newcomer” communities I’ve been a part of for the last 20 years. Newcomers are always present in SF. They’ve been beatniks, hippies, bankers/real estate people, gays, artists, and techies. Each group has found a new place to live here but has somehow managed to stay isolated from the rooted natives. It seems that the natives like it that way. Inasmuch as all the natives actually pride themselves on how much SF was, at one time, a Catholic City (25% of the Bay Area population still identifies as Catholic) this isolation is a failure of evangelism. We were tolerant – getting out of the way – when we should have been hospitable: telling these newcomers, Look, if you want to live in a City named for St Francis, come to church and hang. Become a real San Franciscan. Instead, natives have tended to hide away, to slowly retreat from the public square – except in politics.

It was the same in Buffalo: dozens of Catholic orgs hiding behind history and unwilling to reach out to the hippies, artists, and travelers who were moving in and taking over the tumbling-down Victorians. They might change things you know. Now that they have changed things, the OG folks are left in the dust.

It may not be the same where you are. But if you have a new industry in town, why are your evangelists not plotting to hold outreach? This brings me to my third point about going-public:

  • Coronavirus / COVID-19 means that people are terrified of going out in public. Local businesses are feeling the pain caused by the panic. Being willing to go to a coffee shop or bar repeatedly when no one else is there will make you a hero. You’ll own the place when people start to creep back out in public. (The advice is for people who are sick to stay home… )

You’re Not From Jerusalem, Are You?


When I moved here in 1997, I was told that I would have to have been here for 6 months before anyone would believe I was staying. Until I hit six months, even with a job, I was just a tourist. In no time at all, it was evident that there were a lot of tourists here. It had not been 10 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake had scared the world during the World Series. After that tremblor, all the Bay Area ingenues pulled up stakes and hied hence to other coasts where plate tectonics are more constipated making room here for my new generation of not quite hippies and cultural creatives. Once, working at a bookstore, I met the rarest of gems: a native. Larry worked parttime at Borders and full time for the City. Born and raised in this 49 square miles woven of urban posh, temperate clime, natural beauty, and sex he was always game to admit he was the last native. No, everyone else is gone. It’s a line I’ve heard several times now.

Then when I began working in higher ed and tech support, I was again surrounded by out-of-towners and transients. The California Institute of Integral Studies is a classic SF institution: catering as it does to upper-middle-class folks from everywhere but here. Then I moved into working in the Tech community, and if there is anywhere not-from-here it’s Tech. Yes, the industry was practically invented here on an afternoon commuter train over cocktails with a banker, but the workers are from somewhere else. Orthodoxy was no change: the cradle-born are mostly (not all but mostly…) from elsewhere. The converts are – like me – transients who may have found a home, but we keep moving. We are a city of immigrants, transients, and rootless cosmopolitans. And, apart from Larry, all the natives are gone.

Then I joined the Catholic Church. It feels as though all the clergy in this archdiocese were introduced to each other in pre-school. The social structure of this Archdiocese is, across all ethnic lines, local and native. Yes, there are some folks from elsewhere. We would not be a living city if that were not the case. Some even work in tech or higher ed, but did I mention Larry is Catholic? Generations of families buried in the cemeteries of Colma. Decades – if not centuries – of history in family names that link back to the first folks on boats watching shores warily.

At the consecration of Bishop Robert last year, we sang “The Holy City” as a communion hymn. It may seem an odd choice, true, but have you ever watched the movie San Francisco? At a crucial point, in a Catholic Church a beautiful and young… mmmmmm. Wait, don’t tell me… *checks notes*

Jeanette MacDonald (that’s right) sings this:

It was never clear until that day in a Cathedral filled with folks from here, but while the rest of the world may think of this city as the Capitol City of Neo-Liberal and Capitalist Hedonism, the reality is this is a holy city in our self-conception. The city is filled with Holy Ground. Saints have walked here from “both lungs” of the Church: St Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow and St Peter the Martyr of Alaska, St John of San Francisco and St Raphael of Brooklyn, St Sebastian and Fr Seraphim Rose in “The East”; St Junipero Serra, St Theresa of Calcutta, Ven Fulton Sheen, Pope St John Paul II, Dorothy Day, and others in “The West”. This is a city of Saints worthy of the name. The natives know this very well. This self-image is parodied in a New Age dream of some secret Atlantis calling all the crystal folks back to the sea, the foundations of several occult movements, the People’s Temple, and one of the wealthiest lodges in the State, but where there is much that is holy, the other side will shout all the louder.

That other side has deeper roots than just the 60s as well: yes our city was built by Missionaries, but the Gold Rush made it rowdy, the Railroad made it racy, the Silver Boom built mansions and ballrooms. 1906 tore it all down and we built up even better: a pre-Disney Land of the American Dream for the Panama–Pacific Exhibition in the Marina and the World’s Fair on Treasure Island. The Beatnicks, the Hippies, and then the sexual revolution, and the fiscal booms of Banking, Real Estate, and Tech. It’s one long chain of that energy. It’s not all evil, no. But it’s rowdy and it’s the other side. it’s an economic engine that drives both Jerusalem and the Barbary Coast.

Like all Cities, not everyone who is rooted here was born here, but everyone who is rooted here can’t seem to get away: God knows I’ve tried several times. But something here keeps calling me home, deeper and deeper.  In someplace there must one day be an icon of the Synaxis of the Saints of San Francisco. It will show this holy slice of the Kingdom, the Eucharist, a bread made from the grain on many hillsides into one loaf, the Body of God, this is home.

Here’s more context…

Stanley & Becoming a (Lay) Dominican (Tertiary)


I’m too old. Roman Catholic orders want young men. They all seem to max out at guys 15 years younger than me. Some don’t want guys more than 20 years younger than me. This is a sad reality for me. For while my experience in a monastery proved to me I wanted to try in another community rather quickly, it also proved to me that I was not yet at home. When Coming Home to Rome, as they say, a community, a rule of life, a structure of prayer and study was also needed. But I’m too old to be welcomed in the religious orders that I might like. So it was that when – last year – I thought I’d found one that might be a fit, after sniffing around the edges for a while I realized they made Fr James Martin look very conservative. And decided that wasn’t a good match. All this by way of back story…

When I was moving back to SF in 2016 I asked Twitter for Church recommendations. Given my home and my job my only concern was that I should be able to get between house, Mass, and work rather easily. So there was this tweet. It posted moments after Fr Thomas Petri had tweeted something, if I remember correctly, about reading his Midday Office on California’s famous Hwy 1, overlooking the Pacific while on a drive away from San Francisco.  Someone pointed out this coincidence and said, “Go to St Dominic’s”.  Looking on a map, St D’s was one bus ride away from both work and home. I had also heard of St Dom’s in two very different contexts prior to that – but both were good, prayerful connections. St Dominic’s had a daily mass and also had daily morning and evening prayer. And so it seemed as though it was good to the Holy Spirit, to Twitter, and me at the same time. I arrived at St Dominic’s on the Saturday before the 2nd Sunday of Advent, 2016. And, I’ve been told, 3 days later I moved in.

There have been places that felt like home before but somehow this is home in ways beyond description. In time past I’ve needed to be invited, to wait. It felt as if hesitation was proper until something was needed; on;y then putting myself forward. (This is the case in most of my world, to be honest.) At St Dom’s though, I had put my hand to the plough and there was no looking back. This is a sign of growing up, perhaps. Also “Convert glee”. It’s also a sign of dealing with internal demons. But something at St Dominic’s keeps not only calling me out, but also giving me the courage to act.

So it was that when it was announced there was a chapter forming at St Dominic’s I craved admission. (There are many names: Dominican Laity, Lay Dominicans, Dominican Tertiaries, Third Order Dominicans, Lay Fraternity.) The Dominican charism of Preaching, based on a foundation of Prayer, Community, and Study, of Contemplation and taking the fruits of the Contemplation to the World… these all resonated with my journey, my blogging, my teaching… there was connection here that begged for exploration and deeper digging.

Discernment is a process, an action verb. To begin this there was first required an entrance (there are a total of at least five years of formation). Except to be admitted as an Inquirer, one needed to have been a practicing Catholic for two years. It had only been 6 months since swimming the Tiber. But I asked for a dispensation: the reason is because Orthodox are considered Catholics – a favor not returned, usually – so by Church teaching I had been a curious form of Catholic since my Chrismation in 2002, albeit a cranky, anti-western one for a large part of that time. The Church moving slowly, the dispensation did not arrive until about 2/3 of the way through the first year. But it did come through and so, lo, there’s a Dominican Journey happening.

And now there’s another step: candidacy. In terms of monastic parallels, it is candidacy rather than inquirer that is like my time as a novice at St Laurence’s. One is a Candidate for at least a year and also there’s a new name. I’ve had so many new names in my life… although the last one – Dunstan – I gave back. Any saint is ok, but if there is not a Dominican connection, there also needs to be a Dominican name picked. 

So, my Dominican saint is Robert: for Blessed Robert Nutter, a Dominican Martyr under the English Crown. A devotion to the English martyrs began while I was at St Laurence’s Monastery. As I cleaned I would listen to the life of St Edmund Campion, and the other stories of that time – including R.H. Benson’s brilliant Come Rack! Come Rope! Considering how much Anglicans – and thus a certain species of WR Orthodox – lionize the English Reformation and the English Monarchs, it’s really an embarrassment to realize their greatest gift to the western Church was a huge passel of martyrs and some good hymnody. Also furthering this devotion an ancestor, Blessed William Richardson, is another of the English Martyrs. So, Robert Nutter: who may or may not have been an actual Dominican Friar. But was attached to the Order in some way – possibly as a priest received in, or as a member of the priestly fraternity which would make him a tertiary. This is purported to be a holy card… but although the hagiographic elements are correct, the time is all wrong. I’ve seen the same image linked with other Dominican Martyrs. But  ok:

Stanley, however, for Blessed Stanley Rother, is the name I’m picking. The first time I saw this image of Stanley Rother, at his beatification, something reached out and touched my heart.

Both Stanley and Robert received martyr crowns via the hands of people we tend to lionize: Robert was slain under Elizabeth I. And Stanley was martyred by right-wing hit squads in Guatemala, enjoying the patronage of the School of the Americas and Our Glorious Leader, Ronald Reagan. Both men are one of several martyrs created by the same politician. Both men seem models (along with Blessed William) of the sort of Catholic men we need today: willing to go the extra mile, to endure rough life consequences, to live in bad political situations standing athwart the accepted leaders’ intentions, and, in the end, to die for the faith if needed.  Both men knew that when the leader goes bad, the Church must stand with the people. Both men knew the dignity of the human person stood above the secular government, and that human rights proceed from God – not from Caesar. Both men knew the Church’s ministry to her people must continue at any cost. Since Reagan, we’ve continued to have some pretty bad leaders in this country and I can’t imagine them getting better. That’s not the way the political landscape works. We need men like this to guide us in our prayers and to intercede for us in heaven.

This seems like a good fit. In term of Signal Graces and Peace of Mind, and even mad passionate love, this feels like the right thing. Yes: post-conversion bliss, and also a few other things, but also, peace. Also: the age thing is not important.

I’ve a personal reason to pick this name as well: Stanley is the middle name of my stepfather and his father also. The Church needs more men like them also: faithful, loving, caring, generous to a fault, strong, centered in Christ, and good at raising kids (who are anything but good, most of the time). While Richardson is from my Mom’s side, Stanley is from Dad’s side.  This Candidacy Year begins on the 10th of November at the 5:30 Mass, if you’re around (or about and about) I welcome your prayers.

Update: This showed up, a new video about Blessed Stanley Rother.

Pie in the Sky By and By When You Die

Today’s readings:

Beati pauperes, quia vestrum est regnum Dei.
Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Luke 6:20b
It seems entirely possible to read this and other passages as if God likes poor people and hates the rich, as if there are so many ways that the poor are blessed in the afterlife – and the rich are damned – that it must be quite easy to “buy your way into heaven” by getting rid of all your stuff. That reading can work really well for a certain sort of activist who wants to overthrow the system and make everyone “equal”, whatever that might mean. It also works equally well for another sort of activist who wants to condemn all religion as the opiate of the masses.

It is not so: there is no state on this life that will “fix” us in this problem. St Basil says (emphasis added):

Not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us. For the Lord Himself has fulfilled every work which leads to happiness, leaving Himself an example for us to follow.

You are not virtuous simply because you are poor. Wealth, per se, is not listed among the sins, but pride and envy are, both.

In the Gospel, however, we have a huge problem with those sorts of activism. Because we know God wants to save everyone: rich and poor, men and women, all races, all religions, all tribes, nations, and tongues. God doesn’t have time to care about our political squabbles.

St Ambrose of Milan notes (emphasis again added):

But although in the abundance of wealth many are the allurements to crime, yet many also are the incitements to virtue. Although virtue requires no support, and the offering of the poor man is more commendable than the liberality of the rich, still it is not those who possess riches, but those who know not how to use them, that are condemned by the authority of the heavenly sentence. For as that poor man is more praiseworthy who gives without grudging, so is the rich man more guilty, who ought to return thanks for what he has received, and not to hide without using it the sum which was given him for the common good. It is not therefore the money, but the heart of the possessor which is in fault. And though there be no heavier punishment than to be preserving with anxious fear what is to serve for the advantage of successors, yet since the covetous desires are fed by a certain pleasure of amassing, they who have had their consolation in the present life, have lost an eternal reward. 

St John Chrysostom would warn that all of us are in danger of condemnation:

The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.

I’ve noted, often, a desire to care for the poor in abstract, but not in specifics. A desire to run charities, while at the same time a fear of the poor procreating; a desire to educate, but not to evangelize (cuz, why would they want to come to our church?). There are people who smell out there. The first time I heard Christians not wanting to let “them” into “our” church was not with Joel Osteen was worried about Hurricane Harvey, but rather back at the turn of the century when a nice Episcopal congregation was afraid that feeding the homeless on Friday would mess things up too much for liturgy Sunday.

We’re really scared of the lower classes in this country: see how easily a populist political movement that, a few years ago, would have been called part of the 99%, is now called “deplorables”. We’re ok with poverty in the abstract, but not in the particular.

Jesus was, I think, mostly poor and perhaps often homeless. But not always. But he was always from among the laboring class: lower class, smelly, sweaty. Pious. But not always the “best class”. God has no preferential option for the poor in terms of salvation. And, even if there was such a thing, here in the first world, with you reading my essays on the internet, neither of us qualify. We’re rich.

And condemned. We can all be equally warned by the words of St Paul, Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

Jesus wants to draw us all into his Kingdom. With man – and our political aspirations – this is not possible. But with God, all things are possible. We’re left holding the bag of junk and our job is to give the junk away to those who have none and then offer all of it to Christ. 

Seven Storey Mountain – reading along

At the tweeted suggestion of Steve, aka Steve the Missionary, as part of my post-RCIA Catechesis (Adult Reading for the Catholic N00b) I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith (from which edition all the page numbers are cited below). I very much dislike autobiography, to be honest, as of course would anyone like me who spends hours a week blogging a real-time autobiography. My ego is too big to make room for another’s… but I first met Thomas in high school, reading The Sign of Jonas, and although the meaning of that book escaped my young self, this one punches in the gut from nearly every page, and not occasionally takes away breath, rips out tears, and stuns with phasers aimed at the heart.

It’s not expected. More Merton is heard from Liberal Mainlines than one cares to note. Merton is the Liberal Mainline’s go-to Catholic. I had no idea at all that the warm, fluffy, nearly New Age Merton I keep hearing quoted by the Spiritual but Not Religious would ever rip a new one like this:

How did it ever happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in western Europe, when Goth and Frank and Norman and Lombard had mingles with the rot of old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all of them notable for ferocity, hatred, stupidity, craftiness, lust and brutality — how did it happen that, form all this, there should come Gregorian chant, monasteries and cathedrals, the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, the Moralia of Gregory the Great, Augustine’s City of God, and his Trinity, the writings of St Anslem, S Bernard’s sermons on the Canticles, the poetry of Caedmon and Cynewulf and Langlad and Dante, St Thomas’ Summa, and the Oceniense of Duns Scotus?
How does it happen that event today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice, and put a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grows up at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American Universities? (7SM, p33)

Yet it is not cultural punches but the Spiritual Journey for which one goes to Merton. Journey is not the right word: Merton is not on a happy-go-lucky labyrinth-winding pilgrimage without possibility of failure here. Merton’s engaged in Jihad, a spiritual struggle, a Podvig as the Slavs would say.

Souls are like athletes, that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers, and rewarded according to their capacity. (7SM, p92)

He’s aware in hindsight (even though he was not in real-time) that he had lived on the edge of a precipice, that he needed only to stumble one way too far and all would have been lost. He knows, again in hindsight, that the world almost got him.

And so I became the complete twentieth-century man. I now belonged to the world in which I live. I became a true citizen of my own disgusting century: the century of poison gas and atomic bombs. A man living on the doorsill of the Apocalypse, a man with veins full of poison, living in death. (p94)

Then he quotes Baudelaire, but he’s talking to the reader… Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère… (??).  Thomas puts the reader in his own life: this is not the ego of the blogger who puts his own life before the reader to say “look at me” this is the kenotic love of a spiritual writer who says, “you are where I was and I’m worried, praying, holding a little light…”

There’s more anon… I’m 256 pages in already, but it’s so stunning that I have to take time to digest.