Sometimes it’s totally needed

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Verba quae ego loquor vobis, a meipso non loquor.
Pater autem in me manens, ipse fecit opera.

The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. 

The Father who abideth in me, he doth the works.


The Father speaks… the Father does… the Father abides in me. And elsewhere, “I and the Father are one.”

Jesus is God acting for us, but equally important: Jesus is God acting with us. This is so central to Christianity: the incarnation. If Jesus is not God, Christianity is entirely meaningless. What we have left – without the incarnation – is a few platitudes you can get from Socrates, the Hebrew Scriptures, Lao Tzu… pretty much anyone, really. And they are spoken by a total nut case that repeatedly makes the blasphemous claim that he is God. I don’t need a nut case to teach me to love my neighbor, neither do you.

But if Jesus is God acting for us, acting with us, then something important is happening.

Once I read a book called Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. Drawing on primary sources, the writer claims – happily enough –  it was because of all the things we believe about him as Christians. The man made blasphemous claims. He misinterpreted scriptures. He made poor political choices. He was a nut case.

So you have a choice to make: to side with those who say all these claims are false. Or to side with those who say all these claims are true. To say he never made these claims is a red herring: both his enemies and his friends say he made these claims.

You choice is who do you trust.

Elsewhere St Paul says that in rejecting Jesus, the people of Israel allowed the Gospel to be brought to the Gentiles. Today’s reading from Acts is the same: Vobis oportebat primum loqui verbum Dei : sed quoniam repellitis illud, et indignos vos judicatis aeternae vitae, ecce convertimur ad gentes. To you [the Jews] it behoved us first to speak the word of God: but because you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles. 

Paul says, elsewhere, that he would give anything to bring his own people to the Gospel. But he knows God will work that out in the end – and through their rejection, a beautiful thing has happened. The Gospel has gone into all the world. And this has come up in the last few days’ readings: the persecution in Jerusalem spread the Church all over the Eastern Mediterranean world. The persecution in Damascus and Antioch pushed the Church to the edges of the known world. In rejection the Gospel is not weakened, but rather is pushed further in God’s grace.


We forget that in Christ we are not doing things, but rather letting God do through us. We are not speaking or teaching, but rather letting God teach through us.  Our success or failure is not on the worldly plan (did we keep that Job, get that mortgage, win the big game) but rather on the heavenly plan; Was the Kingdom of God advanced?

This is only true because this was God acting with us; because Jesus is God acting with us. In the Gospel we are drawn out of the machinations of this world, out of the power plays in this world, into the action of God. We don’t just “get a job” by “acing an interview”. We get a new group of souls to shepherd. We don’t simply find a a new home, or get a lucky parking space: we are given a new mission field. When we turn to these places (instead of God) as sources of comfort, as possessions instead of commissions, we compromise our souls. It takes full on rejection to get us back on track.

Tertullian says, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. We needn’t go that far, but if we need that reminder, it is God’s grace that brings it to us. Let us be open to that dance. 

Deep Data from before the Beginning of Time.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Hujus Deus ex semine secundum promissionem eduxit Israel salvatorem Jesum,
Of this man’s seed God according to his promise, hath raised up to Israel a Saviour, Jesus. 

Of this man’s seed. This one guy. God doesn’t do abstractions. God does particularities. One particular family (Abraham, not Lot), one particular son (Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau); one People, Israel; one particular tribe, Judah. One Family, Jesse. One Son, David. One Family, One Son, One God: Jesus.

This is the thing that always drives people crazy: the God of the Bible does not work in vague abstractions but in solid particularities.

Our lives are rather the same: being very devoid of abstractions and filled with particularities. This makes sense for we are made in God’s image. But what child, if asked, would ever say, “I’m a toddler”? Would she not rather say,  “I’m two and three quarter years old!” Only with vanity does culture teach us how to say “Twenty Nine Again…” We confuse data points with reality, forgetting that data is made up on anecdotes and anecdotes are people. Lives. Human lives of particularities.

God doesn’t care about data points: God loves you.

Christianity: the doctrine that an infinite, omniscient, and omnipotent person created a universe literally billions of light years across, filled with a near infinity of galaxies, stars, planets, and even, maybe, beings all to have a deeply personal and intimate relationship with you.

Particularities. Not Abstraction.

You, my dear reader, are not a data point. 

I watch my “hit meter”.  I don’t know much about my blogger stats, but I do know that when I use the Arabic word for the Greek ascesis or the Slavonic, podvig; when I use the Arabic word I can get a few extra hundred hits. I don’t know who they are, they are all Data Points. But my average is about 40-50 hits per post. Hits. Clicks. Views. Actually: People, right? Abstractions are cool and all, but each view is actually a pair of eyes with one brain behind them. There is one person, one image of God reading my blog.

How much of life is only abstractions rather than particularities? How many times are we willing to see the forest, but not the trees? How many websites make choices based on percentage points rather than pain points; on click bait and not content? How many media companies make choices based on eye balls and not morals? How many politicians make promises based on polls and not values?

If you clicked through to this post from Facebook or Twitter it was because some Media Data put my post in front of your eyes. And you clicked: making a data point in someone’s dossier on you. And me. This is not a privacy rant: I don’t care. I have to use social media to evangelize just as St Paul did. But I’m never writing for abstractions: only for persons.

God has created you, Dear Reader, for a purpose, a mission. God has given you a specific set of experiences, of challenges, of gifts, of weaknesses, to be of particular use in a certain way at a certain time. You are not a random accident waiting to happen. You are a particularity, a scandal of particularity, whom God loves deeply and personally.

A challenge: as God raised up one man of one house of one tribe of one people, can you move through the world focused instead of diffused, looking at instead of “seeing”, connecting with persons instead of “being present”? Can you be one person talking to one person, not points in a continuum?


A Community of Christians in Charity with the World


JMJ

The Readings for in Easter Week (B2)


Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos.
For neither was there any one needy among them.

They will know we are Christians by our love, y’all.  So where are there needy folks sitting in the pew next to you, or on the bus next to you, wait: I bet you drive to work. You don’t notice unless they ask for money at the exit ramp, I bet.


By a blessing of liturgics we get the same lesson from Acts as we had on Sunday. Even if you think the idea of “holding all things in common” is anachronistic, surely this idea of “no one needy among them” must be a good and moral end, right? Yet the poor you will always have with you will be quoted by some wag. The wags who quote the poor you will always have with you you will always have with you. And while he’s rattling off scripture he’s damning his own soul.


Our oddly American fascination with my stuff is a moral infection with multiple vectors.  We labor for money to buy stuff: this is not wrong. But the infection arises when the labor is not for its proper end (provision for the family, the church, and the needed, together with the expiation of sin [qv: Adam and Eve]) and, instead, made as a means to get even more stuff, as is done with Marketing and all the other tools of late-model capitalism. Our desires wake and the acquisition of stuff for the sake of stuff, to appear wealthy, to match our neighbors, etc) takes over. We need more stuff to “feel safe” to be “secure”. We hoard our money and our stuff.


We want to buy stuff at the best value. The end result is foreign labor making cheap stuff which is good value in the short term, but bad value in the long term. We are happy buying a $3 gadget at WalMart instead of a $10 gadget somewhere else, even though it won’t last, was made overseas by slave labor (or robots keeping even the slaves unemployed). The end results are social injustice and junk in landfills. The exception to this being electronics where we are happy to pay top dollar because it feels better and looks better. Ironically it was made by the same slave labor and the electronics companies are getting rich of your band consciousness. And poor workers are no better off working on things we pay $5k for than they are working on things we pay $5 for.


Do I want a new $10 off-market watch that tells time, or do I want a $400 apple watch made by the same folks for the same environmental damage? That’s an easy one: I work in tech so I know which one I’d pick!


We’ve made our money and we’ve bought our stuff, certainly it stops there? Sadly: no. For there is always more stuff to have. Children raised by parents who said “no” – because they were too poor to say “yes” – very often want to say “yes” to their own kids all the time. Curiously, anyone raised by parents who always said “yes” suffers from the same problem. Our homes fill with stuff as quickly as a hoarder’s shed or a meth addict’s mobile home. Meanwhile, the needy are sitting right next to us on the bus, in the pew, or in front of our office. 


Lending to people who can repay the loan and the favor is not charity.


Think it through: how much is it costing you to read these words? Electricity, internet, Google’s data sponge, the device you are using, with it’s own data sponges, the social cost (unless you’re really alone, there is an icon of God, a human being next to you whom you’re ignoring, even on the bus. All this is only the beginning.


There was no needy person among them.


How do we get there as a Church? While this may seem abstract for you know, just one of Huw’s political rants, I firmly believe this will be a crucial question for us in the near future. How do we get to a place where they know we are Christians by our Love, by our Love?

The image at the top of this post is of a housing Co-op that I used to live in, in Buffalo, New York. It’s not a religious org. But it is a model that – in experience and  actions – is rather like the communities discussed in the Book of Acts. What if singles in local parishes banded together to form housing co-ops on the same model?

These co-ops could acquire housing, build out and save, and, in time, take care of others. As singles marry, bringing other folks into the co-op, they stay in the community, raising their children as Catholics among other Catholics. These growing communities sharing all things in common,  could care for the elderly in the parish, the sick, the homeless. They could form the front lines in Catholic Social Outreach. 


Singles come in all ages, not just young adults, but also the divorced, the widowed, the single parents, the same-sex attracted trying to live (as all these singles) chastely. This is a healthy mix that would prevent these communities from becoming speed dating societies (as many young adult ministries do). These would require true Christian charity often missing from our world. These would call us to actively live our baptismal vows with our Sisters and Brothers to the end that we could even live in Love and Charity with our neighbors. They will know we are Christians by our Love.


Could we do it?

Sola Scriptura Anonymous

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in Easter Week (B2)

Tunc aperuit illis sensum ut intelligerent Scripturas
Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. 

The first three classes of my (original) RCIA group, meeting in Columbus, GA, were spent addressing the Church’s teaching on the Bible. Since we were in the Bible Belt, talking about how Catholics talk about the Bible is crucial. We don’t think the thing fell down from heaven, highlighted passages in red and yellow, ready to go. And nearly every discussion in that class, no matter what the question was, usually ended up with the asker saying something like “But the Bible says…” and Fr Brian would have to bring them gently back to “but the Church says…” sometimes over a couple of discussions.


So today’s passage from St Luke – wherein Jesus has to enlighten the Apostles so that they understand the scriptures – might be especially troublesome to such a one, or to anyone who thinks they can divine the sense of Scripture just by reading it. There are other such passages after the Resurrection, such as yesterday’s reading when Jesus was at Emmaus. St Paul and Jesus rarely say anything in the first person singular. It is to the whole Church, to All Y’all, that the Spirit is given.

I attend a weekly meeting of a bunch of Catholics.  I’m not there every week, but I try to be. In fact I will go tonight! I hope it’s there tonight, but I may not be. Some Thursdays around holidays it gets a little hard to schedule. But anyway, there’s a member of the group who talks about Bible as if he were a Fundamentalist. From time to time we have a heated discussion where I’m happy to cite from my religious journey, but he is only willing to say “go read the Bible, that’s not in there…” A couple of weeks ago he wanted to quote “Vatican 2” to me, but that at least, I was ready for! (Thanks, Fr Brian!)

You really might like to read the document,  Dei Verbum (18 November 1965). But I’ve got the important passage below. I’ve added emphasis.


8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.
This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.
The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).
9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.
10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.
But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on,  has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.


It is to this that I assented when I entered the Roman Catholic Church a year ago: I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. If this is not so, why would I bother? The idea that I can still make it up as I go along haunts me though. I’ve read the Bible. I know what that passage really means. I can do what I feel is right here. I’ve been doing things my way for so long (even in the Orthodox Church) that I want to do more of the same now. One Orthodox publisher asked me over pizza once why the Catholics didn’t buy his books. Well, because your stuff isn’t approved. But that didn’t dawn on him because most of the clergy he knew didn’t function that way. 


Closing with one more passage from Dei VerbumIt is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

One cannot stand without the others.

There needs to be a 12 Step Program for Sola Scripturas. 

I want that. No. Wait.

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Day in the 8va of Christmas:

Et mundus transit, et concupiscentia ejus
And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof

I’m late in posting I know. Actually I wasn’t going to make a post today, then I didn’t make one yesterday either. But when these readings came up at Mass this morning, I was like wait… there’s something there, in the phrase “the world passeth away”.  

We think of “passing away” like “”yes, the world will end”.  Yet for all that we might want to see the Apostles waiting for the world to end next week, it’s throw away lines like this one that make me feel they were on to something seriously important and timely. The Greek word used for “passing” παράγω parago, is the same word used to describe Jesus passing by the tax collector’s station or the crowd blowing past blind Bartimaeus. This is the word that Paul would have used to describe a car passing him on the freeway into Thessaloniki. 

And I thought of my favourite Latin Motto: stat crux dum volvitur orbis, the cross stands still while the world turns. 

The wold is just whizzing by, is it not? Perhaps more now than every before. And Christ on the Cross is the only still point in all of eternity.

The world is passing with his lusts. 

All the things that we want today, that we didn’t even know existed yesterday, that we will have forgotten tomorrow like toys on Christmas that are forgotten by the new year, this world passes by. I’ve enjoyed, over the last three decades, watching fashion pass from the gay world in to the straight world, be that shoe styles, popped collars, goatees, whatever. If it’s too gay this year, it will be all Joe the Plumber next year. But the gays will have moved on to a new thing. Tech is this way as well. What we didn’t even imagine as possible last month is all the rage now. And then tomorrow something new will come along. 

The world just passes by.

And the cross is the center of stillness.

So, yes, the world will end at some point. But that’s not why Paul wants us to not be attached to it. This present-tense verb is ongoing. The world and all its lust whizzes along. We get torn away, tossed about on winds of doctrine. 

We are still in the center: if we cling to the cross.


Thus was fulfilled.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Audite ergo, domus David. Numquid parum vobis est molestos esse hominibus, quia molesti estis et Deo meo? Propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum: ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel.

Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
Our verse from Isaiah says, ecce virgo concipiet, behold a virgin shall conceive. But St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was working with, at first, the Greek text of the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text as we know it. In Greek, the word used for the person who will conceive is “παρθένος” parthenos which not only means “virgin,” but also caries echoes of Artemis and Athene, and includes the concept of virgo intacta, The Hebrew, however, uses only the word עַלְמָ֗ה almah. It means only “young woman” or the rather formal title of “Maiden” without meaning, specifically, “virgin”.

There is a story from the Church’s tradition that, when the LXX was being translated, a young worker came to this passage and wanted to write the Greek word for girl, νύμφη nymphe but the Holy Spirit intervened and said parthenos. The young man said, “But Lord, that word means young girl.” And the Holy Spirit said, “Write parthenos and I will show you the fulfillment of it.” This young man, so the Tradition states, was Simeon, who was kept alive to a great age to see the fulfillment of this promise when the Blessed Virgin presented Our Lord in the Temple at Candlemas.

But even so, the story discussed has nothing to do with Jesus or Mary, right? There’s a war going on, and the King wants to know if God is with us or against us in this war. Isaiah says, God is with David. And ask anything you want as a sign.  The king says he dares not tempt God – even though it is at God’s own command. But God says, “Fine, if you will not ask, I will show anyway…” This has nothing to do with Messiah or anything. But the Angel says it does. How is that?

For the early Church and for the Holy Spirit, for the Apostles and the Patristic communities, the entire world was pointing to Jesus. The quest was to find out how. The Old Testament must, in all its ways, prefigure Messiah. So we must meditate and pray to open the text. The same way that the Angel said this unrelated verse from Isaiah is a Messianic Prophecy, so also is the passage from Genesis about the head of the serpent, so also the making-mute of Zachariah is a sign that the Old Covenant is done, so also Samson is a sign of John the Baptist, Judith of the Blessed Virgin, Daniel in the Lions’ Den of Christ in Hell, the Red Sea of Baptism, Manna of the Eucharist, Egypt or Babylon a sign of “this world” and the escape therefrom a sign of our Christian growth… the list goes on.

The image at the top of the page is of the Welsh Poet, Taliesin. Taliesin seems a bridge between the pagan darkness in Wales and the Christian revolution of Arthur. In fact, the poetry of Taliesin (as we have it) weaves together the two Wales into a unified whole that allows us to the see the Christian truth foreshadowed in the past, a Pagan Old Testament, if you will, in the myths and stories the Cymry told each other in their camps and homes long before St David and the missionaries ever got there.

Certainly the ancient Bards of Wales never intended or imagined Christian context for their stories, but once the Truth was revealed, all could see He had been present all along in their quest.

So it can be in our lives: once Christ is revealed as not “a true story” but as “The Truth” then anything that was true before is, lo, a bit of Christ present and still true. Yet a fuller, deeper, and more complex meaning is revealed.

This was how the first Christians read the Bible. We inherit their readings in our Tradition, but the skill seems lost. It’s hard to look at a Biblical Story and not want to see the literal truth or untruth of the letters. If the Bible is not History what good is it? But the Bible is history. That’s just not all it is.  If that’s all it is, it might as well be any other history text.

But the Bible, to the Church Fathers, is more like a Tarot Deck than a History Book. Prophecies are Fulfilled not because they were literal predictions that literally came true in a verbatim, literal way. So boring. They are fulfilled, they are Made Full of the Holy Spirit and bring forth the Word of God like Mary.  They are signs that await the explication of their fullest meaning in Christ’s teaching, in the Church, in the action of the Holy Spirit, in the lives of the Saints.

I said Tarot Deck and I mean no scandal: anyone can go out and buy a book of “the meanings of the Tarot Cards” and learn that the Ace of Cups means a new love affair, but a proper reading of cards, of stars, of the I Ching… of anything, really… is not just “fortune telling” but rather visual meditation. Done right any discussion of any set of Symbols should lead us to Christ (if we’re telling the Truth). This is why those who Translate the Bible to be “inclusive” are missing the point. We’re not the message, the subject, or topic of the Bible: Jesus is.

Like Taliesin wove his text of Pagan Past into a Christian Future, the Church has done the same with the Old Testament, missionaries have done where ever the Gospel has gone, and you need to do the same with your life in the Church. Where has God acted that brought you to the Faith you now have? If you are not in the faith, how has your life brought you at all to reading these words? Here God is acting.

The music is playing all around us, and all we need to do is sing.

A translation of Deus Duw Delwat

O God, the God of formation,
Ruler, strengthener of blood.
Christ Jesus, that guards.
Princes loud-proclaiming go their course
For a decaying acquisition.
The praising thy mercy.
There hath not been here;
O supreme Ruler;
There hath not been; there will not be,
One so good as the Lord.
There hath not been born in the day of the people
Any one equal to God.
And no one will acknowledge
Any one equal to him.
Above heaven, below heaven,
There is no Ruler but he.
Above sea, below sea,
He created us.
When God comes
A great noise will pierce us,
The day of judgment terribly.
Messengers from the door,
Wind, and sea, and fire.
lightning and thunder
A number without flattery.
The people of the world groaning
Will be concealed.
Kings will shudder [that] day,
Woe awaits them!
When the recompenser shall appear,
Let the heaven appear below.
A ruddy wind will be brought
Out to the cinder,
Until the world is as desolate
As when created.

Do not thy passions counteract
What thy lips utter?
Thy going in thy course into valleys,
Dark without lights.
The love-diffusing [Lord] will separate us.
The land of worldly weather,
A wind will melt the trees:
There will pass away every tranquillity
When the mountains are burnt.
There will be again inhabitants
With horns before kings;
The mighty One will send them,
Sea, and land, and lake.
There will be again a trembling terror,
And a moving of the earth,
And above every field,
And ashes the rocks will be;
With violent exertion, concealment,
And burning of lake.
A wave do ye displace,
A shield do ye extend
To the travelling woe,
And violent exertion through grief.
And inflaming through fury
Between heaven and earth.

I have not been without battle.
Bitter affliction was frequent
Between me and my cousins.
Songs and minstrels.
And the hymns of angels,
Will raise from the graves,
They will entreat from the beginning.
They will entreat together publicly,
On so great a destiny.
Those whom the sea has destroyed
Will make a great shout,
At the time when cometh
He, that will separate them.
Do not thy passions counteract
What thy lips utter?
Thy going in thy course into valleys,
Dark without lights.
And mine were his words.
And mine were his languages.

The lance was struck
And my side was pierced.
It will be struck to you also…
I have not been without battle.
Bitter affliction was frequent
Between me and my cousins.
Frequent trials fell
Between me and my fellow-countrymen.
There was frequent contention
Between me and the wretched.
Those that placed me on the cross
I knew when young.
That drove me on the tree,
My head hung down.
Stretched were my two feet,
So sad their destiny.
Stretched with extreme pain
The bones of my feet.
Stretched were my two arms,
Their burden will not be.
Stretched were my two shoulders,
So diligently it was done.
Stretched were the nails,
Within my heart.
Stretched was the spiking,
Between my two eyes.
Thick are the holes
Of the crown of thorns in my head.
The lance was struck
And my side was pierced.
It will be struck to you also,
As your right hand (struck me).
To you there will be no forgiveness,
For piercing me with spears.
And the Ruler we knew not
When thou wert hung.
Ruler of heaven, Ruler of every people!
We knew not, O Christ! that it was thou.
If we had known thee,
Christ, we should have refrained from thee.

Do not the brave know
The greatness of their progeny?
Ye have committed wickedness
Against the Creator.
A hundred thousand angels
Are to me witnesses,
Who came to conduct me
After my hanging,
When hanging cruelly,
Myself to deliver me
In heaven there was trembling
When I had been hung.
When I cried out Eli!
Do not the brave know
The greatness of their progeny?
A country present will meet thee,
And while it may possibly be yours,
Three hundred thousand years save one,
A short hour of the day of everlasting life.

This time I got away with it! Right?

JMJ


The Readings for Wednesday 2 Advent (Year 2):
Memorial of St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Quare dicis, Jacob, et loqueris, Israël: Abscondita est via mea a Domino, et a Deo meo judicium meum transivit?
Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel: My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?

Recently, visiting my parents house for a vacation, I was “triggered” a number of times towards, as the morning prayer says, “my accustomed failings”. But I had just read Matt Frad’s The Porn Myth and he points out that when we are triggered, we need to call it out. When we feel the old patterns of sin forming up we need to say it is so, out loud, verbally (not just think to ourselves) and ask for help. The entire time I was on vacation I named triggers out loud, mostly in the moment. The experiment was a success in that I got home without having any grave matter to worry about.

Of course once I got home, this all fell apart. Work, normal life, riding the bus, and maybe doing things I shouldn’t have, interrupted this process. In sum, vacation gave me time to struggle, but, of course lack of a real schedule disrupted my devotional life. Coming home restored my schedule, but disrupted tye ascesis, the struggle, the jihad.

But God hasn’t punished me yet, so he’s giving me a free pass, right?

Abscondita est via mea a Domino, et a Deo meo judicium meum transivit.

In the Hebrew and the Greek, this verse says, essentially, God’s not watching. He missed me in the judgment. The rest of the passage is God saying “you’re an idiot.” Today we could add a third option: God’s not watching, if he is he has skipped me… and there is no God any way. God still says, “You’re an idiot.” But we do have more choices now… You’ll remember from earlier in the week: God only delays judgement to give us more of a chance to repent.

It’s easy to forget that the purposes of space and time are to work out our salvation. Forgetting that, any delay seems like a reprieve. I don’t need to struggle with sin right now: I’m on vacation. I don’t have time to pray right now, I have to go to work. I can feed the poor later. I can say I love you, Dad, tomorrow. 

Today, though, is the day of salvation; because today is judgement day. If we think in theological terms, God is outside of Time. God is omnipresent in time as well as space. Judgement day is happening for God at the same “time” as my next sin. Judgement is happening now. Today is the day to be damned. Today is the day to be saved.

God does not delay, as some of us imagine delay. God sees our every action – not only our sins but also our repentance. Why not make the struggle glorious today, brother? Why not destroy that sin today? Why not wage war against the unfleshly powers of evil in heavenly places by destroying their hold on you today? My way is not hid from the Lord, in fact, quite the reverse. And so he loves you even still.

Why not say I love you today?

Wherein We Snap & Play Guitar at Folk Mass

Christ the King Sunday, when it was instituted by Pius the XI in 1925, was placed on the Last Sunday in October. That made it a little awkward for Bible Readings (which still had to be doubled up) and for Calendar keeping. But it made perfect sense: it always came before All Saints Day and All Souls Day. You had Christ the King, and then the Saints, and then the Holy Souls.

Vatican II moved this feast to the last Sunday of the Church Year. This, happened in 1970 and, along with other things, cause d a bit of a kerfuffle with those who like Liturgy to stay the same for at least one generation at a time. But it dawned on me today that Christ the King has been in the new place, now, for 3 years longer than it was in the old place.

That tells us something perhaps rather hopeful about Vatican II and the liturgy that grew out of it. 

A friend of mine, who is Orthodox, asked me a pointed question about Catholic worship the other day. Thankfully it was in text, so I had a moment to pray before I replied.


Why, he asked, does most Catholic worship look like dressed-up Protestant worship?


Now, to be fair: I get it. This very question was why I didn’t enter the Catholic Church when I was running away from ECUSA. Even ECUSA (bereft of most things historically Christian) does the Western Liturgy rather better than many Catholic parishes. Orthodoxy, too, has a largely traditional liturgy. Yes, certainly, some of the modern recensions are from the era between the two world wars, and, yes, certainly, there are more things skipped in more places than one might care to admit, but it’s still kinda all there, although only New Skete (with its mid-1980s archaeological liturgy) comes anywhere near the glory of the great rites of Hagia Sophia. Still, even in the worst places, Byzantine Liturgy is rather more stately than not, rather more high church than not. 

Then there’s the Novus Ordo Missae of Vatican II – and all the things that happened that should not have happened: clown masses, folk masses, guitar masses, priest celebrating in their stoles without the rest of the vestments. (Face it, a “cassock-alb” plus a stole is liturgically the same as wearing only your underpants and a necktie to a wedding.)

So I honestly get it. The question is legit. And, implied complaining aside, it is coming from a place of love.

I prayed for help.

In 1967 the standard of Protestant worship was what is known as the Hymn Sandwich: 

  1. Entrance hymn, 
  2. Some prayers and Bible readings
  3. Offering (with music from the Choir and/or the Congregation) 
  4. Sermon (30 – 60 mins)
  5. Exit hymn

On a Communion Sunday (once a month, once a quarter, or once a year – if ever) the above would be slightly modified to have (usually) a shorter sermon and a brief communion plug-in before the last hymn.

This is still the standard in many denominations, although there are now “contemporary” service options, with overhead projectors, and extra instruments, some speakers and entertaining lighting.

Today, however in a vast number of Protestant congregations, from Methodist and Presbyterian, to ECUSA and Lutheran flavors, the style has changed. It may still be a hymn sandwich most Sundays (outside of ELCA and Lutherans) but the pastor is probably wearing only underpants and a necktie. That’s very new.

In ECUSAn and Lutheran worlds (which are in full communion, now) the style is a basic communion service that anyone who has gone to an RC Mass since the 1960s would recognize. This is a huge change. Read any of the liturgy books for Anglicans or Lutherans from before 1967 and you’ll see: they were hymn sandwiches. Highly decorated ones, yes, and very much more structured as liturgies than their fellow Protestants, yes, but hymn sandwiches. And communion was once a month in these times – or maybe always at the 8:30 Sunday service, but not at 11:00.

Communion suddenly became the center point of Protestant worship, just as it was for Catholics. From the outside looking in, 50 years after the fact, this totally escapes us.

Vatican II fixed that.

Did you know that the vast majority of Protestants use a three year Sunday lectionary that runs on the same cycle as ours, that it has most of the same readings (but not all) and that it replaced the absolute chaos that had preceded it? Some communities had lectionaries, but none were the same from denomination to denomination, but now, on any given Sunday, in most ECUSA, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and even some flavors of Baptist, you’re likely to hear much the same readings you hear in the Catholic Church.

In many cases, even the ones who had big blowouts for Reformation Sunday on the the last Sunday of October are celebrating Christ the King with us on the Sunday before Advent. A feast invented by the Pope in the early 20th century to combat Marxism and Fascism, is a common celebration in Catholic and Protestant worlds.

Vatican II fixed that.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that (as I told my friend) Vatican II has subtly evangelized the Protestant world. The question is not “Why do Catholic Masses look so Protestant?” but rather “How has it come to pass that 50 years after Vatican II most Christians in the world use the Vatican II liturgy, locally adapted?

Certainly the local folks in their underpants and neck ties don’t think they’re doing the Novus Ordo Missae, but they are. (And as of a few years ago, the Liturgy of the Hours – a.k.a. the Little Office of Paul VI – is essentially the standard format for all liturgical Daily Offices in the Protestant world, previously it was the BCP.)

Certainly if, for all eternity, Eagles Wings and Pass It On were lost in some great mental purification I would not weep (even if it involved the burnination of guitars). And if I never again hear a priest improvise an opening to the liturgy, I won’t care. If all hands raised or held during the Our Father were, tomorrow, chopped off by some divinely appointed Torquemada, I would, to be honest, ROFLMAO.

Burninating your guitars

Certainly there is a lot of theological work that still needs to be done, But the Holy Spirit has done a heck of a lot of work in 50 years. I think it’s ok to say he’s got this.

We wanna go back to Egypt.

+
JMJ

Today’s readings:

Cur eduxisti nos de Ægypto, ut moreremur in solitudine? deest panis, non sunt aquæ: anima nostra jam nauseat super cibo isto levissimo.
Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!
Number 21:5b
We would never raise our voices against the Lord and against Lord’s anointed like they did in Moses’ day!
Certainly not.
You can’t count complaining about the current president.
Or the congress.
Nor the economy.
These are not the same thing
You can’t count our complaining about the weather.
About the state of the culture.
You can’t count our complaining about the Bishops.
Or about what the Pope may or may not do when he’s on an airplane.
This has nothing to do with whining about crime
Or about persecution of Catholics.
Surely we should be ok moaning about the healthcare system
or the state of sexual morals and murdered babies.
We would never
Then again, we might.
And God calls us to look at the Cross and be healed.
But, you will say, such contemplative action cannot fix healthcare or the climate.
It will never stop monks who murder in hospitals
Or bishops who want to juggle at mass.
It cannot heal the racial divide or wound to death our sexual pride.
We must do something.
Yes: look at the Cross and be healed.
Have you even tried?
Do you even contemplate, bro?
Be quiet before the Cross
As Mary and John were
As time stands still and opens up across all dimensions at every liturgy.
Behold the wood on which hung the price of the world’s salvation.
Just there, the eye of the storm of all time and space.
There.
Silence and stillness.
It is finished.
Have you even tried this?
Really.
It’s the answer.

Populus tuus populus meus

Today’s Readings:

Quocumque enim perrexeris, pergam, et ubi morata fueris, et ego pariter morabor. 
Populus tuus populus meus, et Deus tuus Deus meus.
For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. 
Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Ruth 1:16B
Ruth says this after being married to Naomi’s son for quite a while. Ruth is familiar with Jewish practices, Jewish piety, and Jewish oddness by this point. She is, certainly, “the stranger dwelling among” God’s people. She’s willing to make this step because she knows God’s people will care for her, will support her in her journey, but also because she knows Naomi will need her help, will need her support, will need her (Ruth’s) strength on the rest of the journey. This is a conversion out of love for the Jewish people and for the Jewish faith. This was not a conversion out of fear, or out of obligation. This was not a conversion running away from Moabitish religion, but rather a moving towards family, towards community, even perhaps towards the relative freedom a woman might have in Judaism compared to the more pagan sorts of religion practiced in the area.
Adults who come into the Catholic faith, likewise, may come for many reasons: some good, some bad. But once you’re here, there’s some things you need to be honest about, realistic about, truthful about. When you converted you got this – not “also”, not “as well”, but this is what you converted to.

Community: the Catholic Church is huge. I don’t mean large. I mean huge. There are catholics everywhere and in large numbers. There may not be enough to fill up a pew in your local parish right now… but come Easter, there are a lot of Catholics. There are Catholics at work, you just don’t know it. There are Catholics on your softball league, in your bowling alley, at your bank, in your kids’ scouting groups, on the bus in your commute. In fact, the only group noticeably larger than Catholics in all these areas is going to be people who call themselves “ex catholics”. The Catholic Church is HUGE. Cross yourself at a diner. You may project a bit of self-conscious embarrassment, but the largest feedback you’re going to generate will be, “I’m Catholic. Wait, should I/Why didn’t I/I’m glad I didn’t cross myself like that guy.” When I started to cross myself at work for lunch so many Catholics “came out of the sacristy closet” and started to cross themselves too! In fact, I was Orthodox at the time and doing it backwards.  Nobody cared: they started to do it.
Do it, and see what happens: these people are now your people.
Struggles: my church has been classed as one of the “most beautiful in America”. But the parish I worshipped at in Columbus, GA, was compared (by their now late Bishop) to a Pizza Hut. God’s still there. The Holy Father yesterday said that we should celebrate Vatican II by “overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions and the practices that disfigure it.” I’m down with that, because following the documents of V2, we should all face East, be using chant and not guitars, and taking communion on the tongue not the hand.
But some people think it means exactly the reverse. shrug These people are now your people. No family is 100% harmonious 100% of the time. And this family is huge and you’re going to need to wear a flame-retardant suit sometimes, online and off.

When you’ve journeyed far and yet have come home, you know, somehow, you may have betrayed someone along the way. Somewhere some person or other may feel hurt at your joy. So what can you do? Ruth knew her obligations were not in Moab. She had to wait. Because this God was now her God. Naomi was a Jewish woman, faithful daughter of Israel. Ruth, though, was a Gentile.

That’s your job now – my job – for the Church is Israel and yet we are those Gentiles recently come in. This God is now our God. Whither the Church goes, whither Naomi goes, we go with her. Where she lodges, we lodge. Her people are now our people. Her God is our God.

In love you stand up and profess that what the Catholic Church believes and teaches, this is what you accept, follow, and live. You don’t get to dine a la carte, either. You’re stuck with the whole nine yards. (Else, why are you here?) You can’t say you didn’t know. Ruth may have had pork as a child, but I’m sure she gave it up long before saying, Populus tuus populus meus. You need all of the commandments before the two greatest make sense.

We’ve known for a while that this was right, but now we have to live it. We’ve known that this is God’s house and the Gate of Heaven. Loving God and neighbor means living this way now.

Now we are here. On this road of wandering with Israel, we are now home.