3 Rules that Always Apply

JMJ

This is the text of a presentation on ¶1789 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These are just notes, but the talk was good!

My paragraph comes in the section of the catechism dealing with the human conscience.

Very briefly – for the sake of this presentation – the conscience is that part of you which – in the moment of choice – tells you which choice is right and which choice is wrong.

This paragraph, 1789 is asking (or answering) When things are not so clearly black and white how can I make a choice? Prayer and consultation with wise friends are suggested and then this paragraph gives us three rules that apply in every case.

These are practices but you should follow always when asking questions of your conscience. But they are rules that apply to all parts of our Christian life and, for us as men who want to be teachers of the faith, they apply to our preaching.

The first rule is very solid.

One may never do evil so that good may result from it;

Catholic teaching is clear: the ends do not justify the means. It is never acceptable to do something evil in order that a good result might happen. This plays out differently than you might expect. While it is never possible to kill someone in order good things might happen (Grandpa is sick and suffering, let’s kill him to put him out of his misery). But then in her meditation on the idea of a Just War the Church has discerned that sometimes it may be that killing the enemy is not an evil thing, but a class of Good, that a greater Good may arise.

The second rule turns inward: the Golden Rule: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.

This is common teaching in many religions and philosophies around the world. In your heart of hearts, you know how you would want to be treated in a given situation and so, in a way, you know how to treat others in that same situation.

But then comes the third rule which turns outward. Choices of my conscience are never just about me.

The rule of charity. This goes all the way back to the prologue and ¶25: without charity everything else is useless. And ¶1827 The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”; Charity is the form of the virtues.

In this ¶1789 charity is manifested by one of my favorite sayings from Saint Paul: do not cause the weaker brother to stumble.

The choice of your conscience cannot cause another person to stumble. What does that mean? This is where this paragraph opens up in application to our Christian lives and to our teaching of the faith.

These rules, especially #3, are really the heart of how Christianity is intended to be lived.

Look in the Book of Acts for the times when the good news is being shared with folks who are not yet Christian. For the Gentiles, the Council of Jerusalem lays aside the onerous burdens of circumcision and keeping kosher. Saint Paul and the other evangelists are gentle with the heathens.

In addressing pagans in the marketplace of Athens St. Paul does not call them idolaters. Rather he compliments them for their various religious practices and says let me show you a better way. When Saint Philip is addressing the Ethiopian eunuch he offers to explain a confusing scripture that is being read. Over and over again, evangelism walks non-believers forward from where they are to where the gospel can be received.

Throughout the New Testament, the strong words addressing sins and failures are spoken to Christians, to those already schooled in the faith.

For the contrary point, think of a Street Preacher yelling at people walking by and accusing them of various sins. Which one of these two methods of preaching do you think would least cause someone to stumble?

I think of a fight I had with a co-worker back in the 90s. We were both liberal, mainline protestants – worshipping in the same parish. We were arguing over religion at work: we worked in a Christian bookstore. And she used a few words that pushed a few of my buttons and I hauled off and use a word to make a point that I regret to this day, which actually made her cry.

We made up, we’re friends still to this day. But that’s making the weaker sister stumble. the choices in our faith, in our preaching or teaching, should never hit someone else like a punch to the gut. that’s not acting in charity.

You’re making a choice in your conscience you can never let it hurt someone else that’s rule 1. Rule two shows you how best not to hurt others. You know inside.

Then rule 3 shows you the deeper meaning. This rule assumes everyone is being drawn forward to God. If you make a choice or say something that makes someone stumble in their forward motion, you’ve hindered their salvation.

This stumble, this hindering, becomes “the evil we do in order that good may come out of it.”

As my pastor, Fr Michael Hurley, says on his weekly YouTube this week, we should be “not shouting at error, but inviting it to come to the truth of the Gospel”.

I will leave you with one thought to explore applications: making people stumble seems to be our Prime political tool.

Day 151: Parthenos

JMJ

But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
– St Paul, I Corinthians 7:32-33

THESE THREE ESSAYS BEGAN with a High School remembrance from my discernment process while in the Episcopal Church. I was only just beginning to “discover” sex at that point in my life. Like all things misused, it can get out of control. The next essay was the learnings from misuse. All of this started, though, from that coversation in Clerically Speaking which I mentioned on Day 149. It left me meditating on the connection – and then the disconnect – between Marriage and Celibacy. These two paths are available to the Christian. There is no vocation to “the single life” although one does not need to be “under vows” to be a “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven”, neither can one just be “chillin’ but not married.” At best, one must be either working on one’s self for marriage or working on one’s self for celibacy. It was Father Harrison and Father Anthony that made the connection for me. I have written in the past that “virginity can be lost, but chastity can be restored.” My two ghostly fathers said, no, in fact, living a fully celibate life and making a commitment to it is a restoration of virginity. And then I remembered the Greek word used to describe the Most Holy Theotokos, παρθένος parthenos. Not only is this a title of the Blessed Virgin, it is also a title for the goddess Athena. It is from this title that the temple in Athens, the Parthenon, gets its name.

It is this word, parthenos, that is used in the Septuagint to translate Isaiah’s troublesome word, almah. Does that mean virgin or just young woman? In the Septuagint, coming with all the cultural implications of Athena, the Greek at least intends to imply virgin. But virgin how? Occult commentaries on the Greek Pagan world have tended to suggest that parthenos implies self-contained, or all-in-one. The virgin, therefore, be they a man or woman, is not necessarily someone who has never had sex but rather someone who is living in (or having restored) their self-integrity. The Fathers of the Clerical Pod are talking about men and women who are, by choice, living as parthenos.

St Paul, quoted at the beginning of this article, says that it is the unmarried man who is concerned with the things of the Lord. Saint Paul uses the Greek word ἄγαμος agamos which literally means without-marriage, not someone who has never had sex. Traditionally that has been understood as before marriage, but it can also be descriptive of anyone who is living outside of the bonds of matrimony, either through widowhood or choice. The problem is that for some folks in this world, living outside of marriage is not chosen for their spiritual growth but rather for their spiritual dalliance. In a conversation a with a friend of mine over pizza on a recent “cheat day” from my diet: he noted that some single, ordained men are celibate while others are merely bachelors. They both obey the Church’s rules on sex, but something divides them. Later, using those exact words a Dominican priest posted the same distinction on Facebook. Fr Harrison and Fr Anthony also took this up in an earlier episode of their podcast.

In the Courage to be Chaste, Fr Benedict Groeschel, CFR, recognizes that there’s a type of person who just stopped having sex because they can’t anymore. Perhaps they’re too old, or unattractive to the people around them, or maybe they’re scared.  Whatever the reason they stop having sex. Father Benedict finds this very disturbing: he recognizes that they’re following the rules, they may even have chosen to follow the rules, but in the end, they’re only not-having sex. Christian chastity requires the full integration of the human person’s sexuality into the human person’s spiritual life – parthenos. Marriage is one way to express Chastity. Celibacy is equally a way to express this full integration of the human person’s sexuality into his spiritual life.

Recent events, especially the medical quarantine, have underscored that I can stay alone and follow the rules. However, alone is not the same thing as celibate. Being alone simply means alone: free to do whatever I want. I can come and go as I please, free. Cool. However, this is a bachelor’s life. I have been living as a bachelor for much of my adult life. I have my obligations, which I meet, do my work, go to church. Then I am free to be me; doing whatever. This is bachelorhood. Sometimes you read about The Eccentric Old Man as a stereotypical citizen of San Francisco. I was, honestly, well on my way to being that. I don’t want that life.

There is a way in which such a man is “chaste”, as Fr benedict notes, without relying on the graces of the virtue of chastity. It follows the law, but there is no Spirit. Following the rules, alone, is not a way to Salvation. 

Marriage is about a graced commitment to an exclusive love. Celibacy is about a graced expression of a diffuse, universal, love. Bachelorhood, if you will, is about neither. The Bachelor can love you or not. He can commit or walk away. Anyone can stumble on the path to virtue, but a bachelor might decide, tomorrow, you know, this isn’t working for me. It’s “discerning a vocation to the single life”. I can stay here, but maybe I can move on. Marriage is a commitment. Celibacy is as well. “The Single Life”, Bachelorhood, is shenanigans.

When I reached a decision to bring my sexuality into my spiritual life as an integral whole, to adhere to the Church’s revealed teaching on sexuality, I realized the way, not to simply follow the rules, but to give my entire self to God; so that God, through me, could give his love to other people. Celibacy, like marriage, is a vocation:  a way to live the Christian Life in the world through God’s grace manifesting his kingdom here by means of our human sexuality. Vocation, here, does not mean “magical calling” that God gave me one day like a voice from off-camera in a TV Sitcom. Vocation here means “my job.” It’s a choice, the choice is “follow the church’s teaching this way… or follow the church’s teaching the other way.”

Celibacy, then is a way to integrate the entire human life into the Gospel and escape (or undo) bachelorhood. The energies that were once used inappropriately or mistakenly are now offered up in this daily sacramental action. The charism doesn’t protect one from falling, nor does it provide a handrail to hold on to with white knuckles, but it means that there is a key with which to unlock a whole other realm of action. Using the key everything around one is still the same: it is the self who is different. One becomes Parthenos. Hospitality is not an accident nor is it an obligation: rather it’s a gift. Celibacy allows the Parthenos to make an hospitable gift of self and of all. It allows one to make a sacramental action with everything around and with everything that one is, everything that one hope to be in God’s grace.

Self-gift is the meaning of love. Bachelorhood means I can give to you if I choose to, if feel like it but I’m not obligated. You may give to me something, I might give something back to you. Celibacy says I’m free to give away everything without expecting return because unlocking that secret, hidden realm means that in God’s grace I never run out: it’s no longer me giving. The cure for the “ungood” state of bachelorhood (It is not good for the earthling to be alone, says God to themself) is a commitment to communion, to love. We are either working towards this or not. I’ve known people in their 50s to be graced with a marriage towards which they were working that long. But I’ve known people in their 20s working towards neither salvation because of a great fear of missing out. They are afraid to take the risk either way – hurting others on the path as they go.

Vowed celibacy is neither a guard nor a “magical” protection against sexual sin. That protection is only in and through God’s grace. We are powerless to do anything without Christ. Neither steadfast faithfulness in sacramental marriage nor continual celibacy are possible otherwise. Neither of these are simply following the rules – but rather participation in grace. To paraphrase the Tao Teh Ching, water flows downward because that’s its proper, natural course. “Leaning in” to the vocation of celibacy means that this becomes my proper, natural course, my supranatural course, which I can follow only if I let God’s grace lead me there.

In this world, the choice for a celibate life is like marriage but in fact higher than marriage. Celibacy points to the kingdom in which we are to be, like the Angels, neither married nor given in marriage. Celibacy is laying aside the tools of this life in this life and living, as the Eastern Church puts it, the life of the Angels here and now. Celibacy requires the exact same self-gift that marriage requires. However, celibacy does not have the benefit of the sexual union of one person with one other person: the tool of the conjugal union is no longer an option. Instead, celibacy requires agape, eros, and philia to be all turned God-ward for the salvation of others. All of the human race, under our Father God, become our storge. Celibacy demands of her adherents a continual gift of self not limited by the same strictures that enclose marital love within a monogamous union. Instead, this love is to be given to all with the same intensity of eros and agape that arise within a marriage. We are called to the same desire for union and the same sacrifice as the married couple, but we are free to be concerned about the things of the Lord – everyone.

Ideally, a married person learns love in the school of love – the Christian family – and then carries that grace to the world. They can do this because God’s grace flows through their family and outward. What they offer to others is replenished by God’s grace when they “go home at night”. Celibacy calls her children to rely only on God for the continual replenishment of the same internal resources without the comfort of someone to go home to at night. It is the DIY School of Love: throw yourself into service, learn to love the hard way – without being loved back. Marriage unlocks the Love of God to flow through one to one spouse in a continual act of self-emptying, and thence to one’s children. Celibacy unlocks this same Grace so that God’s love can flow, self-emptying through one to all. Meaning no scandal at all, as Agape is Eros, Marriage is God’s monogamous love, celibacy is God’s polyamorous love.


HOW WE MOVE FORWARD in our lives from this choice between monogamy and polyamory is the working out of our salvation. Our self-gift must be poured out as the Father is, as Christ is, as the Spirit is. Until we are the chalice of the Mass filled to overflowing with blessings for others, we are not yet fully begun on the way, although within time we are always beginners. Until we select the path for ἄγαμος (without-marriage) or γαμος (marriage), we are not yet on the path: we have to pick in order to know how to go. Only then can we know how we are to be ordered toward the Good we have chosen.

God’s plan for you is your salvation: however he waits for your choice.

Let us then begin in Love.

Day 150: Self Gift

Picking up from yesterday’s post

JMJ

BUT COVET EARNESTLY THE BETTER GIFTS: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way (I Corinthians 12:31). With this promise of showing us a more excellent way, Saint Paul opens the passage in 1st Corinthians known as the Love Chapter. He goes on to explain all the ways that Love is:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

I Corinthians 13:4-8a

You’ve heard the whole thing if you’ve been to a Christian wedding in almost any denomination: it’s a pretty standard text for such an event. But the love that Saint Paul is talking about here is not the Greek word for familial love, storge, nor is it the Greek word for sexual love, eros, but rather it is the Greek word for divine love or charity, agape. This point, too, is very common at a Christian wedding after reading this text from Saint Paul. All the love (of all types) moving within a marriage is supposed to bring us to Agape. The human family of mother and father and children – extended over generations – is a school of love, a community in which we become graced embodiments of Agape, the human manifestations of the Divine love. It is something we’re all supposed to strive to achieve and it is exactly the struggle to achieve Agape that is the working out of our Salvation. Agape is the more excellent way. Anything that does not lead to Agape is not the right answer.

We can, in some ways, think of sex as the goal, or the end of relationships. It is what comes after getting to third base. So we imagine marriage as “the Church’s permission to have sex”, to hit home runs nightly (or more). Some popular publications and even doctors seem obsessed with how many times we have sex: often used as a metric for how our healthy our relationship is. We end up looking at marriage as making an “unrighteous sexual union” into a “righteous sexual union.” This is especially true for couples who have lived together before getting married. We speak of having “made a righteous wo/man out of him/her” by finally getting married. The licitness or illicitness of sex is not the purpose of marriage.

Sexual activity is a tool, as I mentioned yesterday. The sexual act within a marriage is only a means to an end: it is not an end, in and of itself, nor is it the only means to the ends it achieves. The purpose of sex is twofold: the procreative function (having children) and the unitive function (growing closer or “grokking” as Heinlein put it). Yet both of those ends can be achieved by other means. For example, adoption can bring children into a marriage, and men and women also speak of “spiritual” parenting, of mentoring, etc as non-sexual ways of bringing children into the world. Surviving terrible hardship – such as war – together can make a closer union, as can struggling through various things like marital infidelity or addiction. Sex is not even the best way in all cases: illness, power plays, unhealthy attachments can cause sex to be the worst possible choice.

We confuse Eros with sex all the time. This is why we go looking for someone who “is hot” to use for sexual purposes. Sometimes we get married to this hot person. This is called a trophy wife. This is why our culture does not understand how men and women in earlier days who experienced same-sex attraction still got married: marriage in those earlier days was not about sex nor “hotness”. It wasn’t even about romance until very late in time. Marriage was about familial duty. Yet there was always Eros. Eros is the love that craves union. It’s a desire, but it’s much more than sex. On one level it’s always a movement towards a physical action, but it echoes through our whole person. Our hearts are crying out and, as St Augustine said, “our hearts are restless” until they rest in God. A husband and wife can only grow together as they grow closer to God. It’s not based on “hotness”, but on shared holiness. If we focus on “righteous sex” as the telos or end of a relationship then it is logical to ask why all people can’t have sex. If we can form bonded, loving relationships then it seems we should all have a right to the highest good. Yet if salvation is the highest good, the purpose of children and of sex, of relationships themselves then sexual situations where salvation is not possible are logically (and theologically) excluded from this consideration. Yet that does not limit eros, only sexual activity.

If we focus on the purpose or telos of sex then it becomes obvious why some people are not to have sex – at least within Christian morality. Procreation and union are a higher good than and the reason for sex. If Thing 1 is the reason for Thing 2, then Thing 1 is of higher or greater good than Thing 2. This goes further, however: the purpose of children and of communion in a marriage is the salvation of the man and the woman involved in the union. It is not enough to get married and to have children and even to be faithful forever if you do so selfishly, unsacrificially, and begrudgingly. Marriage is about kenosis (self-emptying). This is a gift of self that mirrors Christ’s self-gift to us on the Cross. The telos or proper end of sex is children/union which has its own telos in the salvation of the parties involved who cannot be saved alone. A man and wife and their children are all saved together – in fact even that draws the circle too small: for a man and wife is properly a symbol of the Church and Christ. Each familial chain of salvation-in-relationship is a part of the world’s salvation. They are on the Cross.

It may seem strange to compare marriage to the Cross. Go, ask any married couple. If they are honest, they will confirm that the wedding was the beginning of a martyrdom. This is why in the Byzantine Catholic & Eastern Orthodox marriage rite the couple is crowned (as the martyrs are) and one of the hymns sung at that time is the hymn for the martyrs. Marriage is the cross on which the married couple is to die for each other and for their children all in the name of love. This is not at all about sex. The sexual activity within a marriage may happen only a handful of times, yet the erotic content – the content of desire for deeper communion – within the marriage is on-going. Only if you think of sex as the highest good do you imagine that Marital Eros is about sex rather than martyrdom.

Erotic content is present in a marriage with or without sex, and in that context, for the salvation of all involved, sexual action becomes kenosis, a self-emptying. I sacrifice my eros for my beloved. Agape craves this sacrifice and self-gift: these are two sides of the same coin. My desire for union (Eros) leads me to self-sacrifice (Agape). We do this growing together in response (only) to God’s erotic love for us – craving union with us.

St Ignatius of Antioch, writing an Epistle to the Romans early in the 2nd Century, commented ὁ ἐμὸς ἔρως ἐσταύρωται My eros is crucified. Charles Williams the poet/mystic/writer (an Inkling and mentor of Lewis, Tolkien, and Sayers) has this to say on St Ignatius:

Ignatius of Antioch in the early second century, had tossed it out on his way to martyrdom: ‘My Eros is crucified.’ Learned men have disputed on the exact meaning of the word: can it refer, with its intensity of allusion to physical passion, to Christ? or does it rather refer to his own physical nature? We, who have too much separated our own physical nature from Christ’s, cannot easily read an identity into the two meanings. But they unite, and others spring from them. ‘My love is crucified’; ‘My Love is crucified’: ‘My love for my Love is crucified’; ‘My Love in my love is crucified.’ The physical and the spiritual are no longer divided: he who is Theos is Anthropos, and all the images of anthropos are in him. The Eros that is crucified lives again and the Eros lives after a new style: this was the discovery of the operation of faith. The Eros of five hundred years of Greece and Rome was to live after a new style; unexpected as yet, the great Romantic vision approached. ‘My’ Eros is crucified; incredible as yet, the great doctrines of interchange, of the City, approached. ‘Another is in me’; ‘your life and death are in your neighbour’; ‘they in Me and I in them.’

Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church 

Then, following on Williams, consider what Pope Benedict XVI gives us as an image of God’s love for us – eros!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God’s love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as “Lord and God” when he put his hand into the wound of his side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God’s eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of his agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy which eases the heaviest of burdens. Jesus said: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12: 32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome his love and allow ourselves to be drawn to him.

Message of H.H. Pope Benedict XVI for Lent 2007

It is not enough that we allow ourselves to be desired by God and drawn into Union with him. For the closer we come to him the more like him we become. We desire to draw others into this Union as well. This, too, is erotic love. The Pope continues, Accepting his love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ “draws me to himself” in order to unite himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with his own love. I learn to love not with mere human eros but with the Divine Eros which is Agape.

Christian Eros, then, is not concerned with permission to have sex. All four of the loves – friendship, familial, erotic, and charitable – become ordered toward our salvation and the salvation of others. This their proper telos before the fall and to which they are restored in Christ. Christ is not the suppression of erotic love, but rather the liberation and salvation of it. Christ restores erotic love to its proper end among the other three loves. It is part of the constellation of love that God gives us to lead us home. It’s not the pagan “venereal religion” of the fallen world, but rather the proper telos of all of our body and soul (our entire person) in God’s service.

It is still possible to have sex without this proper erotic content and this proper end in mind. But, it should now be evident that such sex is not salvific and why it is not as well. Anything that cannot be brought to its proper telos is leading us away from salvation.

Yesterday and today are leading up to a discussion of celibacy and marriage. Yes, both are equally paths to salvation, but celibacy is a sign of the next world in which men and woman are “neither married nor given in marriage”. Celibacy is chosen for the kingdom. And a sign that all the things of this world – including sexual activity and marriage – all pass away but it is is our communion that will bring us to eternity.

See you tomorrow.

Day 149: Only A Tool

JMJ

WHEN I WAS FIRST CONSIDERING the priesthood in the Episcopal Church (as a teenager) the most common response was around marriage. “Can they get married?” “But you’re able to get married, right?” “Well at least that kind of priest can still get married.” It did not take long before I realized that what they were talking about was not marriage but sex. So my snarky, teenaged self begin to reply, “Yes. And I can have sex too.” This sort of dialogue continued as I identified and began to explore my same-sex attraction. At that time the Episcopal Church was publicly divided on this issue, but the reality in private was rather more progressive: the most conservative of Episcopal Bishops were mostly “gay friendly” even if they pretended otherwise in public, sometimes even signing documents. So when this topic came up I always replied, “No worries”.

Almost all of these conversations were with other Christians. These conversations all made an assumption about the importance of sex, And how important having sex is to the life of the Christian person. The life of the human person – created in the image and likeness of God – is the field in which Christian teaching is sown. The right end of this seed is the Salvation of the human person, but what that salvation might be is often up for debate. Salvation is often understood as meaning a sort of get out of hell free card, an easy passport to heaven. But in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin the word for salvation always means health and wholeness. Salvation – being saved – means becoming whole, becoming a whole person as God intended each of us to be.

In our world today, outside of the church, much of, if not the entirety of this whole person is often understood as engaging in sexual activity. If you’re not having sex somehow you are not a whole person. This secular understanding of sex has crept into the church as well. We see it in the discussion around marriage and celibacy as well as around how same-sex attracted men and women are perceived in the church. These conversations not only assume that sexuality is a Divine gift but that sexual activity is also a Divine gift. In fact, these conversations often assume that sexuality and sexual activity are the same thing.

We see this assumption about sexuality in the idea (expressed both by “conservatives” and “liberals”) that not all people are called by God to celibacy. Some people just “don’t have that gift”. Then we ask everyone to abstain from sex outside of marriage – even those who will never get married. This leads to a logical contradiction: if God has not given one this other, special gift of celibacy then why cannot one use the “regular gift” of sexuality (by which is meant engaging in sexual activity). With this mindset, the question is usually phrased as how can sexual activity be included in any current situation.


My own questions arise since I have lived my life alone, not within the grace of a sacramental marriage. To me this seems to be where the charism of celibacy should come in as a needed salve, but it does not. That’s not what a charism is. At the same time, celibacy is certainly a denial or a sacrifice of what our culture imagines to be the highest good. Even if you limit sex to a monogamous, life-long union you still “get” to have sex. What about my needs? Please note that the minute you start asking about my needs you’re not asking about love. I recognize that. Please continue in this conversation with me anyway.

I was having this conversation with a friend the other day who wondered why (according to the Church’s morality) some people were allowed to have sex and others were not. I struggled to find an answer that was applicable to anyone other than myself. You can’t appeal to authority here: “Because God says so” even though that is true. Sometime later, (after a lifetime of struggling) it comes to me that we are asking the wrong question. The clue came listening to a podcast called Clerically Speaking. In Episode 101 Golf, Virginity, Gossip, Fr Harrison never got around to saying this but it dawned on me listening: sexual activity is not the highest good of a relationship, it’s not even the best thing or the second best thing about a relationship. The four loves, Philia (friendship), Eros (sexual desire), Storge (familial), and Agape (divine charity) are the highest goods and they lead one to the other. Sexual activity is not any one of those. Sex most clearly assumes eros but that’s not the same thing as saying “sex is eros” or even “eros is sex”.

This conversation needs to be framed in another way in order to see not only God’s holiness but also our rightful place and our own restoration to wholeness as his image. If we ask the right questions with openness to Christian teaching, we hear answers that can help us grow on that path, embodying all four of the loves in godly ways.

For Christians this working out of our salvation – our wholeness – is rooted in our communion with God. Further, since no one is saved alone our salvation is also rooted in our communion with other people. Salvation is not an individual action or process but rather a communal action, and action of a progressive unity of heart and mind with God and with each other as humans which therefore also includes Jesus (who is God). This also works in the other direction, as it were: we work out our unity with Christ (a human person) and through him, we work out our communion with God the Father in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. You simply cannot get to this latter point if you begin with a question about permission to engage in sexual activity. Since this union with God and each other is our ultimate purpose as human beings everything must be framed this way: does this situation, action, relationship lead to my salvation, to my wholeness, to my communion with God and others? In that very different light sexual activity is rightly judged as only a tool or function which may or may not lead to a deeper working out of our salvation. It is not the pinnacle of anything: but rather just another step on the way up – or down.

(This is the first post of a three-parter. Come back tomorrow.)

The Burning Bush

JMJ

MOSES’ VISION OF THE BURNING BUSH is read as a typological prefigurement of the Incarnation. God enters the womb of the Most Holy Theotokos without damage or corruption just as the bush was burned yet was not consumed. This, along with reading through Pope Emeritus Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth, and today’s feast of the Transfiguration, all joined together into a meditation. It is not a complete meditation, it’s open for you to follow in many directions.

All of history can be read as a typological echo from the Burning Bush, or, more to the point, the Burning Bush is the earliest shockwave of this cosmic chain. Walk with me through this process. It’s rather like a tree of life actually. I mean that in the kabbalistic sense.

The Burning Bush pairs well with the Incarnation itself. As I mentioned Mary echoes this in that she is not harmed or corrupted by the Incarnation happening in her womb. But the Heavenly Fire does not stop with the bush in the story of Moses. The next time we see the Heavenly Fire is as the Pillar of Fire that defends the Israelites. Next, we see it on the face of Moses himself as he comes from the presence of God with the divinely-inscribed tablets. We finally see it as the Shekinah Glory hovering over the Mercy Seat in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

Likewise, the Heavenly Fire does not stop with the Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. We see it again at the Transfiguration and again at the Cross. We see it at Pentecost and we see it in the Eucharist.

As the fiery pillar was a manifestation of the presence of God for the purpose of defending the Israelites or directing them, so too the Transfiguration was for the express purpose of defending the Apostles from the shame of the Cross and directing them to the heavenly vision.

As the Heavenly Fire was seen on Moses face departing so too Jesus breathed his Spirit forth from the cross and the fire fled into all the world. As Moses at Pentecost handed down the divine fire to the Israelites so Jesus at Pentecost handed the divine fire of the Holy Spirit to our hearts in the Church. And as the Shekinah came to rest in the Temple hovering over The Mercy Seat, the Eucharist by the Holy Spirit has come to rest in our churches, hovering over the altar.

And so from Moses at the bush, to the people of Israel, through the Blessed Virgin, from the Cross, through the Holy Spirit to the Church, and to you comes the divine fire of transfiguration. The shockwaves do not stop there, though. As the bush was burned yet not consumed, as the tablets were inscribed, as the Temple was filled with the glory that cannot be contained in all of the Universe – and so also as the womb of the Most Holy was made more spacious than the heavens; as Jesus was Transfigured revealing the glory of God enrobed in human flesh, so you, if you will let it, can house the holy fire and let it shine through you. This is the Shockwave of the Eschaton echoing through history and you: God’s fire bursting in and through us. The everlasting flames of God’s all-consuming love stand ready to receive us if we will but let him have us.

Of Masks, Statues, and Jehoshaphat

JMJ

FRIDAY IN THE 15th WEEK, Tempus per Annum, the readings in the Daily Office all conspire as if someone had set up it on purpose. In the Office of Readings, David and the story of Jehoshaphat, in Morning Prayer, David again, Jeremiah and St Paul all come together in one great story.

In the Office of Readings we say Psalm 69, split into 3 parts. The says that he feels betrayed by his friends and all those around him. He prays to never be a cause of shame to those who love the Lord. But then he says that even in his poverty and pain he will bless the Lord.

I will praise God’s name with a song;
I will glorify him with thanksgiving,
a gift pleasing God more than oxen,
more than beasts prepared for sacrifice.
The poor when they see it will be glad
and God-seeking hearts will revive;
for the Lord listens to the needy
and does not spurn his servants in their chains.
Let the heavens and the earth give him praise,
the sea and all its living creatures.

In this praise, the writer knows

For God will bring help to Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah
and men shall dwell there in possession.
The sons of his servants shall inherit it;
those who love his name shall dwell there.

Then comes the reading about King Jehoshaphat. A whole bunch of Gentiles – from several nations – came together to slay the people of Judah. The King was very afraid, called a day of fasting and prayer and sought help from God. The whole nation gathered in Jerusalem at the Temple and prayed. And God spoke through the mouth of one of the men of the Tribe of Levi saying:

Do not fear or lose heart at the sight of this vast multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Go down against them tomorrow. You will see them coming up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will come upon them at the end of the wadi which opens on the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not have to fight in this encounter. Take your places, stand firm, and see how the Lord will be with you to deliver you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not fear or lose heart. Tomorrow go out to meet them, and the Lord will be with you.

So Jehoshaphat organizes the Army and, instead of spears or chariots, he put singers in front. They sang: “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” The second half of that verse, כִּ֥י לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּֽוֹ ke l’olam khasdo, is the refrain to many of the Psalms, especially Psalm 136 where it is repeated in each verse, celebrating God’s victories on behalf of Israel. I would like to imagine it was this Psalm the singers were chanting as they went. No sooner did they start to sing – no doubt the song echoing off the mountainsides – than the army of the enemy was put to confusion and began killing each other! This is like the three Trolls in The Hobbit, great terrors easily made silly by their own greed and some crafty voices.

When Judah arrives on the scene, the only thing left is to step over the bodies and get their loot. Judah was three days gathering the spoils from the army that they conquered by singing.

Today (the 17th as I write) is also the feast of the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne: 16 Carmelite nuns executed by French revolutionaries on this day in 1794, for refusing to accept state control over the Catholic Church. They were beheading singing the Te Deum.

In today’s Morning Prayer, after confessing our sins with Psalm 51, we sing this mournful Canticle from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.

If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
if I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.

Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?

We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O Lord, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.

For your name’s sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.

While this comes up every four weeks or so, I remember singing it last year in the smokes of wild fires and weeping as I felt like precious things were passing away. This time, it stirred up memories of violent mobs and parties that cannot be repeated, of being at Church with a rejoicing throng or even going to the Rosary Rally last year or my Birthday Party in Dolores Park. These things will not be again this Summer. What will happen? I had forgotten all about Jehoshaphat, from only a few pages ago. So St Paul had to remind me.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

II Corinthians 12:7-10 (AV)

And so were tied together Jehoshaphat, Jeremiah, David, the Carmelites, and St Paul: it is when we are weak that God is strongest. Always he is saying to us, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

My Mom’s friends worship with a Baptist community where the preacher keeps a gun with him in the pulpit. He has done so since the first Obama administration and that says something. But his attitude is spreading. Recently I heard of a priest inviting men of his parish to get ready to defend the place in case of attack. It struck me then that something was off, that we are missing an opportunity to evangelize here. Friday morning’s office underscored this to me. God never once asked all the Christian to Man-UpTM in case the Romans would arrive. No. In fact, the Christians then tended to look like the Carmelites in Paris:

And yet we chafe at masks and mourn our statues. God’s strength will be seen in our weakness. In fear, though, we arm ourselves.

When we should be singing.

Fractal Structures of Hell

JMJ

1865 Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

Peccatum exercitationem constituit ad peccatum; per eorumdem actuum repetitionem vitium generat.

IF YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO THE Every Knee Shall Bow podcast you should be. Right now they are in the middle of a series on the struggle against habitual sins that is astounding. (Like: you walk down the road with your headphones on and Gomer says something and you are catapulted into the heavenly contemplation and you’re crying because God’s grace is so amazing.) In the most recent episode, I was struck as Gomer discussed something that will be familiar to my Orthodox and Eastern Catholic readers: sin is not only a discreet action. Rather, sin is a web of antecedents, a cultural context, of personal weaknesses and history, and – yes – discreet actions as well. Sin is a violation of our relationship with God. More than that, as mentioned in Paragraph 1865 of the Catechism, Sin leads to sin. Sin clouds the mind and corrupts our conscience. The more habitual a sin is the more habitual sin becomes. As was said on the podcast a trillion venial sins are not “worth” one mortal sin, but sin leads to sin: and a venial sin is a pathway to damnation.

If we think in terms only of discrete actions then our confession becomes just a laundry list where we have no self-awareness. Where we are not aware of why we sin, of when a sin began, of which actions first launched us into sin. If we are to root out sin entirely, we need to be aware of when the relationship with God started to go wrong.

And so back to Paragraph 1865.

Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts.

This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. We no longer think in terms of identifiable Good and Evil. Suddenly, since we’ve already discarded one moral law on the basis of feeling good, we find it easier to discard others for the same reason. Our conscience ceases to function not only along the lines of our chosen sin, rather it ceases to function at all. We have successfully silenced it – seemingly – or rather we have successfully stuffed enough cotton in our ears to ignore it.

Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

This is where it’s important to realize that “a sin” is not a discrete act but rather part of a web, as Gomer said, or a fractal pattern. All sin is a manifestation of the same destruction of the relationship we have with God. Sometimes the destruction is only partial and sometimes it is total. Sometimes it’s only a minor rip in the fabric and sometimes it’s a case of “burn it all down”. Yet, all sin is a fractal of itself: all sin is an action of pride. The fruit was looked good to eat and she took and ate it. That’s all we do, over and over again.

Read the rest of the Catechism’s Part III Section 1 Chapter I Article 8.V. on the proliferation of sin. After detailing a list of capital sins and ways in which we can participate in another’s sin, it says, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” If we let sin have its way, soon it creates a rut, if you will, that we just follow: this is the way it’s always been. Like an addict, we just go along without questioning what (now) seems perfectly normal. We are sinning not because we are tempted, not because we make a choice, but because this is what we do. The conception of another way to act is entirely lost. We might even convince ourselves that we “are” this thing that we’re trapped in.

The Catechism clearly says there are structures of sin, there is social sin: there would have to be. We are not individuals, rather we are persons. Persons only exist in communion. The communion is not broken: it sours and the infection spreads.

Day 100. Facie ad Faciem

JMJ

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.

Day 75. What Has Been Learned?

JMJ

Very early in this I learned that I can go quite a long time on autopilot without realizing this is not “the new normal” but rather this is the rut I let myself make and it’s only that I’m calling it the New Normal. For a while my two emotions were fear and snark. Sometimes, all up in there, God would manage to punch through with some emotions, like during the Papal Holy Hour. I wept like Tammy Faye in uncontrolled sobs. But mostly I was running on fear and snark. That was not the new normal: that was the rut.

For a while, my entire life was from the apartment, to Grace Cathedral’s Labyrinth, to Nob Hill Market, to back home.

If you had told me in February how important this would become to me, I would have laughed.

Labyrinths are curious. Why bother: it’s a walk in circles. But it forces you to watch your feet, to look down, to not be distracted. It’s perfect for praying a rosary or the Jesus Psalter. It’s a place for zoning out: in broad daylight, people will watch you like you’re a TV show. They will talk to you when you’re done as if you’re a TV star. Then they go on with their day. The first time I looked into the center and saw death, I cried. I’ve since become friends with her by walking into her at least once every other day or so. And praying.

The Market was another trip: do you remember the time before we washed groceries? Then they stopped taking cash. I learned how to make sourdough bread with a half teaspoon of commercial yeast that I’m still using to make things. It bubbles up nicely when I need it to.

Alone on the streets of SF before sunrise.

But there’s also been a slow, painful learning process.

First: I was taking mass for granted. It was a badge of honor that I was going to daily mass – not a daily coming into deeper relationship with God. This was something I did… a box to check off. Not a desire from my heart. Now that I cannot go (or rather, that I can only go on-screen) I’ve learned that you should only eat when you’re hungry.

Second: I’m really afraid of prayer. God teaches us a vocabulary. God gets us going… and then God rocks it. This thing happens when God reaches in and takes over. Grace works your prayer life like this scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (EMI 1977):

We are taking over this conversation… now.

But that’s terrifying. While there are few things as glorious, it’s also one thing as terrfying… even the prophets ran away from it. In a deep relationship of love, why do we hurt each other so? My child you cannot hurt me, but you are wounded by Love because you do not trust me. Light can only hurt if your eyes are not strong enough. But I can heal your eyes: and your heart. Only trust.

Third. We asked God to purify His Church but we didn’t really mean it. This is like the item above on prayer: When God has something to do, he does it. I’ve come to believe that’s what’s happening now. God is fixing things, refocusing things, getting things lined up for a future that may even be worse. These words from 1969 are familiar to some:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so she will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more like a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.

In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship. The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

Father Joseph Ratzinger (as he then was) speaking on German Radio

But in the midst of the process it that really sucks, you know? We don’t like it. Worse some of us actually decided – after yelling and screaming about purifying the Church – that we needed to tell God where to get off – especially if he wanted to take out some other things in the process, like ‘Muruka.

Fourth, now that I can’t run away, I’ve realized that all the running away I did in the past was a form of suicide. I would reach a point of disconnect, or dislike, find myself trapped in some way or another, and then I would just go: dropping friends, religions, jobs, lovers, whatever… and reinvent myself. Except the self I’d reinvent was often someone else: a new name, a new religion, a new backstory. The old one was killed.

That’s… not a healthy thing. Not at all. And I’m only learning that now because I can’t escape. Where could I go that’s not here? Or like here? So now I just get out and walk 15 miles. In the past I would drive 400 miles, sleeping in the car, and figure out something to do before coming back (if I came back).

Fifth, American healthcare sucks, and we’ve now shown that to the world. Literally everyone knew this, but no one laughs at the bully until it’s safe to do so. Now it’s safe and we’ve made it clear: millions of people lost healthcare in this crisis, but only in America. Only because their bosses – on whom they depend for health care – were too stingy to care for their workers in times of loss. We need a nationalized – socialized – healthcare system now: from the local pharmacy and privatized “Urgent Care” clinics to the big HMOs and the Pharmaceutical companies. They all need to be torn down, nationalized, and purged. But we will not get it. The next crisis will be worse.

Before this all started in the States, one priest on FB was convinced that the only reason Italy was suffering was because – unlike America – Italy had very few hospital beds to care for the ill. Mostly because of Europe’s socialized Health Care. He didn’t care that per-capita number proved that Italy had more beds than America, or that even our medical experts were saying we didn’t have enough beds. That level of denial is common in America: we know we’re the best so if something bad happens it must be someone else’s fault.

That was before NYC started to bring in refrigerator trucks to hold the dead bodies that they had no other room for. That was before:

The population of China is 1.435 Billion people. They’ve had 4,634 deaths.
The population of the USA is 328.2 Million people. We’ve had 97,647 deaths.
How did we get ~24 times more deaths despite having only a 5th as many people?
We’re NUMBER ONE! USA! USA! USA! (Source).
There are other places with worse stats. We’re not the worst. I get that. But still.. we’re certainly not the best.

Sixth, the American Economy is dysfunctional AF. The cries of “only old people need to stay home”, “let’s risk the deaths…”, “keep our cities open!” and “Meat slaughtering is essential work – even if workers are dying” are, as one person on twitter put it, a sign that America, confronted with the classic Trolley problem elected to save the streetcar named capitalism at all costs. Sorry, wrong answer.

Finally, we really live in a banana republic.

In economics, a banana republic is a country with an economy of state capitalism, whereby the country is operated as a private commercial enterprise for the exclusive profit of the ruling class. Such exploitation is enabled by collusion between the state and favored economic monopolies, in which the profit, derived from the private exploitation of public lands, as private property, while the debts incurred thereby are the financial responsibility of the public treasury. Such an imbalanced economy remains limited by the uneven economic development of town and country, and usually reduces the national currency into devalued banknotes (paper money), rendering the country ineligible for international development credit.

Remember, civilized countries did far more than just give out $1k checks so that people could shop some more – to prop up the economy. All the Feds did was give us more money (as individuals) to give to Jeff Bezos (and some others). And while millions of us sat home unemployed, the stock market had one of its best months ever. That’s where we live. If the Caldera in Yellowstone blew up – because, you know, 2020 – the main loss would be elk, bears, and Old Faithful.

Day 66. Acedia & Depression

JMJ

I am neither a spiritual director nor a psych-anything. This is a meditation.

Two of my favorite podcasters (who do not podcast together), Fr Harrison and Gomer, have been talking about acedia in their podcasts and/or social media. This topic has interested me since before I was Catholic. My first visit to an Orthodox monastery, a priest was reading The Noonday Devil by Dom Jean-Charles Nault, OSB. Although Fr David and I had a brief talk about it at that time and the title stuck with me and I was able to buy it on Amazon. It was my first grasp at understanding that the sin of “sloth” is not really the same thing as being lazy.

Acedia, according to St Thomas, is:

It should be said that acedia, according to Damascene, is a certain oppressive sadness, which so depresses man’s mind that he can do nothing freely, as things which are acidic are also cold. And therefore acedia implies a certain weariness in working, as is evident from what the Gloss says about Psalm 106:8, “their soul abhorred all meat”; and some say that acedia is a torpor of the mind that neglects to begin good things. Now such sadness is always bad, sometimes in itself, sometimes with respect to its effect. For sadness in itself is bad when it concerns that which is apparently bad and truly good, as conversely delight is bad when it concerns that which is apparently good and truly bad. Therefore since spiritual good is truly good, sadness that concerns spiritual good is bad in itself. But also sadness that concerns something truly bad is bad with respect to its effect if it weighs a man down so much as to draw him totally away from good work; hence the Apostle in 2 Cor 2:7, does not want “the penitent to be absorbed by greater sadness” about sin. But since acedia, as we take it here, names sadness regarding spiritual good, it is bad in both ways: in itself, and with respect to its effect. And therefore acedia is a sin, since evil in appetitive movements we call a sin, as is evident from what was said above.

Summa Theologiae, II-II 35:1

St John Cassian has an entire book on the subject, writing of a Monk who, instead of praying, “looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness.”

Other Fathers have written about this sin. They have something like St Thomas’ description: “a certain oppressive sadness, which so depresses man’s mind”. And yet… does that not sound like what we, today, in psychological terms might call clinical depression?

Remember this Zoloft commercial from 2005 (ish)?

I know a lot of folks who take anti-depression meds, many with the approval of their confessor or spiritual director. So, meds can’t get rid of sins.

What’s the difference between depression and acedia? I’ve asked this on Twitter and in other places… I’ve not gotten an answer at all. Then, early in the Quarantine, my HMO assessed me as living with mild depression which can be managed without meds. My response was something along the lines of, “This is only MILD?!?!?! I don’t even want to know what cross is borne by those who have the sort of depression that needs meds. OMG THIS SUCKS. Or words to that effect. This question of the difference between acedia and depression became personal.

It seems to me that – as with other sins – one must have a tendency or a weakness that needs exploiting. This tendency can be styled, perhaps, a Melancholic temperament, although not always – many folks deal with depression right now. But the tendency, once present, allows for temptations to be triggered.

Depression is not acedia. But the Noonday Devil can use depression for its own ends.

So: sometimes I wake up and don’t feel up to getting out of bed. Sometimes, I’m just too down to get dressed and get on with the day. Sometimes, I’d rather sit and sit, and sit. And I can actually see that happening… I might be able to catch myself, to be able to move away from that… or perhaps, like the gif above, it feels like it follows me anyway. That’s depression.

But I know I can and should get up and pray. I can ask for help: St Catherine of Siena is my go-to intercessor for my mental health, as is my patron, Stanley Rother. But asking for help takes. just. too. much. time. and. I. can. lie. here. for. a. long. time…

But I should ask for help… too… much… work…

It strikes me that’s acedia.

The blog post two weeks ago on NSFW Satanism took me nearly 4 months to write (even from before Covid). It was a struggle. I knew it was important, but I kept avoiding writing it. I would sit down and get up again. That was acedia. This post was about to become hard to write: but I decided to put my foot down. It seemed important to note.

Depression is a cross. Manageable or not, medicated or not, it is a cross to bear – and one to offer to God. It’s ok to ask for help (God has help for us, as solid as St Simon of Cyrene was for Our Lord). But it’s not ok to use any tendency, any psychological state, struggle, or damage to fall into sin. The addict may or may not be spiritually culpable for actions committed in the throes of his passion, but that does not mean those actions are free of harm to himself or others. That harm may be physical, mental, or emotional but it is also, often, spiritual in which latter case, it’s sin. I think acedia can show the same pattern: it can arise where one crosses the line from depression to causing harm (of a spiritual sort) to oneself or to others. I can be depressed: I can pray and go to bed. Or I can sit and not-move until I find myself watching NSFW content… when I should be praying. The process by which I go from depression to triggering my addictive behaviors seems to be where acedia feeds in.

I could be wrong: I am open to correction. As I said at the top, I’m neither a spiritual director nor a psych-anything. I didn’t even take psych 101 in college.