Barren Trees Die


The Readings for the 8th Friday of Ordinary Time

And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Mark 11:14 (RSVCE)

SO MANY SERMONS ON this passage make it out to be about Israel, or the Temple priesthood. In fact, the footnotes on the USCCB website say this as well. If we read the entire pericope we might see a different interpretation. If every pericope is supposed to teach the whole Gospel, then what can we see here? Certainly condemning those who say they reject Jesus might make feel good those who say they accept him. What does Jesus actually say though?

Pull back a bit and you’ll see that the story of the cursed fig tree is framed. He’s leaving Bethany, which name means House of Figs. And he sees a fig tree… It also means House of Affliction. Interesting. So we’re about to afflict this fig tree, right? Jesus is hungry. He wants a fig. It’s not the time for figs though. So he curses the tree. And yes, then he cleanses the temple. But when his disciples ask him about the tree, what’s he make it out to be? Not the temple but rather about the fruit of righteousness in the hearts of the disciples: prayer. Forgiveness. Mercy.

Yes, it would seem the Temple is a visible parallel to the fig tree. But we need to be consistent in our readings: if Israel is a type and foreshadow of the universal (Catholic) Community of the Messiah, then what is done in the Temple is not “done to them…” but to all of us in symbol. Figs are Israel, I get it: but the Church is the Israel of God. The House of Figs is filled with followers of the Messiah.

That means that it is his followers from whom the Messiah is driving out the money changers. It is we who are in danger of being cursed if we do not bear fruit, “in season and out of season.”

Jesus comes to the Temple. He sees what’s going on. He goes to the house of Figs. He – also there – sees what’s going on. He curses the barren tree, drives out the money changers, and the tree dies.

Jesus cleanses us from our sins, restores us to God. But if we are bare, we will die.

Nothing Ordinary


The Readings for the Visitation of Mary
8th Wednesday of Ordinary Time

The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 (RSVCE)

WHEN MARY Visits Elizabeth their unborn children greet each other: the Forerunner leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, his mother, at the presence of the Savior come in the womb of the Latter’s mother, Mary. The Church celebrates this today as a feast, but it comes rather late in the history of the Church. It’s from about the middle of the 13th Century, at least in the West. It shows up in the East only in the 19th! It’s the newness of the feast that I want to run with today.

Pascha was new at one time (seemingly it arose in the communities around St John in Ephesus). Christmas arose in the West. Epiphany arose in the East. Both of these feasts celebrated the Incarnation, but over time they combined and bifurcated. East and West now celebrate both.

The Incarnation of God in the flesh is the entrance of Eternity into Time. Everything that God does – even in time – is a fixed point in Eternity. Everything that happens in time is a result of the Incarnation. Full Stop. Everything in our world carries the echoes of that one event, like a wave rolling outward. There will, therefore, always be new feasts in the Church as we unfold the revelation ever more. Since Eternity is, of course, also Infinity, there is room for infinite unfolding, for more discovery.

The LORD is in our midst. He who made heaven and earth is here, today, celebrated as a foetus, or as the feminists would have it, a lump of cells. The humility of Eternity before he creation he made is staggering: fully dependent on the womb of the woman he chose, on her blood for his life, on her breathing for his breath, on the sounds of her womb for the knowledge of the world that a baby can have (we do not know). And here is God loving us even so for still, eternity, on the throne of Glory with his Father, breathing all of life in his Spirit, rolling the waves and the stars.

Silent and dumb in the present. Mary is the Living Ark of the Covenant, carrying within her the living word of the Torah, no longer script on scrolls, but here as flesh and blood. The Baptist leaps like David before the Ark.

How can we fail to weep for his love? How can we not be awestruck like his Aunt here? How can we fail to leap for joy like the Forerunner? How can we not cry out in strength like his mother?

In the Eucharist no less than in the womb.

And we become his living tabernacles through communion, the Ark of the Covenant walking through the streets unseen. We are Mary, making visitation.

So, when you greet people today, after the Eucharist makes his dwelling within you, will others leap for joy, or will they worry that you’ve not yet had your coffee?

Overcoming the World


The Readings for 7th Monday after Easter

I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

JESUS SAYS HE HAS OVERCOME the world. Yet, this is before his Crucifixion, before the Agony in the Garden – just before the High Priestly prayer. How has he already overcome the world? What does this mean for us? John Chrysostom says these words were spoken for our comfort and out of love for us. So I think we see here a little Transfiguration as it were: which happened to tell the Disciples that Jesus went to his death not as someone taken by surprise, but voluntarily as God.

When I was younger I had the sigil “IX XC + NIKA” on my email signature file. A friend who was Greek (but her family had been protestant for at least four generations) said to me, “I hope you know that means ‘en totou'”. Jesus Christ Conquers all. In fact the Greek in John 16:33 uses a form of that verb, “Nika” with νενίκηκα nenikeka. Jesus says he has already conquered. But we know he’s about to go to a false arrest, a rigged trial, and a politically motivated murder. How has he conquered? How can we say he has done so in spite of all this?

Christians tend to hyper-focus on the crucifixion. They do this either by making it out to be more important or less than everything else. I had a friend say the Resurrection and Ascension were irrelevant to his salvation. A Catholic priest even agreed with him no matter what I said to the contrary. The Catechism says, though, it is the entire incarnation that is salvific. Everything about Jesus is salvation happening. Other folks try to coverup the scandal of the death of God on a cross. Look at the Ascension by Salvador Dali:

Notice anything missing? Those hands and feet look might solid, no? Where are the wounds?

Everything about Jesus is salvation happening. Or, really, none of it is.

It’s popular among those who want to inspire Antisemitism, and also with those who want to downplay this moment as a defeat, to say this was something of a nightmare for Jesus. Some go so far as to say the Apostles made up the stories that come after Good Friday out of sheer guilt for leaving Jesus alone at his arrest. No one goes to their death for a lie they made up out of guilt, though.

The disciples knew that Jesus had conquered. He told them so. They forgot for a day or two… but he reminded them.

The world is not the thing that can damage us as Children of God. Yes, it can hurt us. Yes, it can tempt us. Yes, it can even kill us.

But Jesus has conquered the world not by undoing it, not by overthrowing it, but by subverting it. As man he received the worst the world could throw at him: poverty, political oppression, religious persecution, social rejection, depression, torture, dejection, loneliness, and death. As God, though, he took all that in and turned them into pathways to God or, more correctly, one long pathway to God. As man he also took the best we had – familial love, friends, joy, study, teaching, humor, creativity, physical labor, and piety. He turned these, also, into one long pathway to God. As man, he took perfectly normal, everyday things like eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. He turned these into pathways to God.

This is how he has overcome the world: at one time it all just lead to death. Maybe a life well-lived, or well-partied, sure, but death.

Now – since God has done it – it all leads to life. God is at the root of everything if we can only see him: good, bad, normal, exceptional, God has overcome the world by going all the way down and coming back again. No matter how far we run, he’s gone further. That is the meaning of atonement. Or, to quote Corrie Ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still.” (It is often misquoted as “…God’s love is deeper” but it is himself that is there in the deepness.)

Jesus Christ Conquers.


In Downers, Hope

BY WAY Of method: selected verses from Psalm 88 (BCP ’79 translation – a personal fave) interspersed with the refrain from Psalm 136. Language was ironed out to be in the third person to match the refrain. Not all the verses of Ps 88 are used, just the ones that match my current #mood. The reader is referred to Romans 8:28. Cribbing on the Psalms is either poetry or meditation. This Psalm is used for Friday’s Night Prayer. Its final line is haunting but today felt like a good day to claim it as my own.

By day and night I cry to the LORD, my God, my Savior.
– For his love endures for ever.
Let my prayer enter into his presence;
– For his love endures for ever.
He will incline his ear to my lamentation.
– For his love endures for ever.
I am full of trouble; and my life is at the brink of the grave.
– For his love endures for ever.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
– For his love endures for ever.
I have become like one who has no strength;
– For his love endures for ever.
Lost among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,
– For his love endures for ever.
He has laid me in the depths of the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss.
– For his love endures for ever.
His anger weighs upon me heavily, and all his great waves overwhelm me.
– For his love endures for ever.
He has put my friends far from me;
– For his love endures for ever.
He has made me to be abhorred by them;
– For his love endures for ever.
I am in prison and cannot get free.
– For his love endures for ever.
My sight has failed me because of trouble;
– For his love endures for ever.
I have stretched out my hands to the LORD and called upon him daily
– For his love endures for ever.
I cry to the LORD for help; in the morning my prayer comes before him.
– For his love endures for ever.
Why has the LORD rejected me?
– For his love endures for ever.
Why have he hidden his face from me?
– For his love endures for ever.
Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the
point of death;
– For his love endures for ever.
I have borne his terrors with a troubled mind.
– For his love endures for ever.
His blazing anger has swept over me;
– For his love endures for ever.
His terrors have destroyed me;
– For his love endures for ever.
They surround me all day long like a flood;
– For his love endures for ever.
They encompass me on every side.
– For his love endures for ever.
My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me
– For his love endures for ever.
Darkness is my only companion.
– For his love endures for ever.

I Don’t Want To Think

AN EMERGING PATTERN seems to indicate that more-common sins are ways to cope or deal with situations: like alcohol is used to numb the brain, so are other things. If “I don’t want to think about this just now” there are distractions with which to numb the pain.

Those brain-numbing pain solutions are sins. Yes, addictions are less culpable than open revolt, but still, they are sins. It seems the sin is not in the action (although the action is sinful) but rather in the rejection of God.

For the actual thingnot-thought-about is not whatever was the trigger, but rather the deep, abiding love God has for his sons and daughters. We reject the possibility of thinking about – of resting in – this love. We don’t want to be reminded of it. We push it away. Resting in this love was what the trigger distracted us from. It’s what the on-going sin distracts us from.

So, for example, if you’ve had a bad day at work and you don’t want to come home to whatever that might mean, instead go to visit what we called a “package store” when I was growing up, and having acquired some products, you go sit on the lake and watch the stars come out as your forget your job and your spouse and kids… the unspoken thing you forgot – in the middle of the bad day – is God’s love. Meditating on that could have addressed the bad day at work and addressed (or avoided) everything else. All that followed was an unfolding of that first action of forgetfulness.

I posit that the initial forgetfulness is willful. We don’t want to fully live into being loved that much. It’s a threat to our self-indebtedness. That love demands a full and total response and sometimes, you want to hold back just a little, to forget to give everything so there’s a little something just in case it’s needed later.

Every sin – even the “little” ones that happen without thought or planning (“voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown” we say in the Byzantine rite) – is predicated on stepping out of that relationship, on holding that relationship at bay.

It’s safer if we don’t fall into that Love. It demands everything.

And having stepped out of the line of fire, even briefly, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re safe now, over here. That this is normal. This distance is a good thing. We push away our only hope and then wonder that we fall further.


MEDITATING on the material in previous posts has moved some updates into my brain. I have tended to add “update: some stuff” to the posts, but I think that doesn’t get the updated material out to readers by email. Going forward I will do update posts like this one and add an update link to the earlier posts.

Further Thoughts on Personhood

To follow up on the post about personhood and communion. It’s still essential to avoid the trap into which Zizioulas falls, namely to seem to say that if you’re outside the Church you’re not a person. But if personhood is the same as communion (or somehow one carries the other) how can that be avoided?

I think perhaps a solution could be found in breathing with both lungs.

Aquinas insists that everything that is is participating in God’s beingness.
So, to follow Zizi, everyone is, already, participating in communion even without realizing it. The Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and filling all things”. Yes, on earth and in our timeline, the fullest realization of this communion is in the Eucharistic Mystery in the Church… But God is not bound by our timeline: the church is the sacrament of universal salvation and so (pace Aslan, et al) no one is denied personhood. Because they exist: they are loved by God into being, into communion. 

There’s always (on this side of glory) room to grow. We’re not even finished in heaven but move, then, “from strength to strength”.

More time

The post on calendars and Pascha mentioned a culture clash. I did not clarify it. It’s a clash because the Roman Calendar + Metonic Cycle did not fix the problem of a “real” year with no Pascha or with two Paschas. We can see this now.

As I mentioned the next Pascha is five weeks after Easter, on 5 May. That means there are 12 months with only the Pascha from this year (6 April 2023) but the following Pascha is on 20 April 2025, meaning that there are two Paschas in the 12 months beginning 1 May 2024. I count from the day following so, as Pascha was on 16 April this year, there are no Paschas at all in the 365 days that follow.

So the current Julian calendar has the same problem – as does the Gregorian calendar. So the “two Pascha/no Pascha” issue is a red herring. So, also, the move from the “aviv” calendar to the “fixed” calendar in 358 AD.

At issue was, exactly, being dependent on the Jewish community for the information. It might be possible to read other motives into it – Christian Antisemitism is a real issue – but I think it can best be understood as an answer to the very modern questions, “Can we do this in-house somehow? Do we have to outsource it?”

To Be or Not to Be

METROPOLITAN JOHN ZIZIOULAS (Memory Eternal!) has this great line in Being as Communion, “to be and to be in communion are the same thing”. It’s not an exact quote. I pulled it out and wrapped it into my final presentation to be graduated from CIIS in 2002. The argument continues – as I understood it – that since it is in Christ, and more specifically in His Church, that we find the fullest expression of communion, it is there, in the Church, that a Human Being can come into his fullest beingness. I wasn’t too far off, actually, despite being a new convert to Orthodoxy at that time (I entered the Church only a couple of months earlier). Reading a blurb for a book about his theology, I find:

Zizioulas has argued that the Church Fathers represent a profound account of freedom and community that represents a radical challenge to modern accounts of the person. Zizioulas uses the work of the Fathers to make an important distinction between the person, who is defined by a community, and the individual who defines himself in isolation from others, and who sees community as a threat to his freedom. Zizioulas argues that God is the origin of freedom and community, and that the Christian Church is the place in which the person and freedom come into being.

The Theology of John Zizioulas: Personhood and the Church Gracious! $41 for the Kindle edition?!?!?! Someone buy me books? NEway…

I’ve been on this for a while, especially since COVID. This all came back into my brain recently over some really amazing margaritas with a friend who said that this was the exact reason he rejected Zizioulas. And then, one day later, listening to the audio version of The Orthodox Way, I heard Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (Memory Eternal!) say the same thing in another way:

First, a “person” is not the same as an “individual”. Isolated, self-dependent, none of us is an authentic person but merely an individual, a bare unit as recorded in a census. Egocentricity is the death of true personhood. [p. 28]
He [the Holy Spirit] transforms individuals into persons. [p. 95]
Ignorance and sin are characteristic of isolated individuals. Only in the unity of the Church do we find the defects overcome. Man finds his true self in the Church alone: not in the helplessness of spiritual isolation but in the strength of his communion with his brothers and with his Saviour. [p. 108]

This is stated by King David in the Psalms (Ps 49:20): “a man with honor without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” To sin is to forego understanding, to become like a beast – to step away from our humanity into which God always calls us deeper, to become more of what we are, not less.

Then finally yesterday, on a phone call with one of my brother Knights, I commented that so many Christians are terrified of preaching the Gospel. What caused the Church to go from 12 guys to thousands in Jerusalem in only a few months? They spread city to city – and not always by the “official routes” of the Apostles. What was happening that carried this message even faster than feet?

We take it for granted now, but Christianity carried personhood as we understand it, out from the Jewish teachings where it begins in Genesis 1 with the image and likeness of God to the rest of the world. It was possible to enter into full, personal, salvific communion with the God who made everything and yet wanted you – fully, personally, you – to be his Son or Daughter by adoption and grace. This came to you no matter who you were – Jew, Greek, Scythian, Barbarian, Slave, Free, Man or Woman. You mattered: not just data as a census number or a member of a social hierarchy invented to keep the same hierarchy in place. You were a real, loved, person who could enter into loving relationships with other real persons on an equal footing. And those relationships would last forever – because the one relationship that made them possible between you and God would last forever as well.

This Gospel swept the world and changed the world. We come into the modern world thinking of persons exactly as the Church has taught, “endowed by their creator”. Ironically, the idea that “you are important in God” has been turned into “I am God” and, lo: we’re all data points again. We are turned into isolated individuals who live in perpetual fear that our personal self-definition will be shattered by someone using the wrong pronouns for us. Metropolitan Kallistos is right to call this “self-dependent”. We might add to that, “self-debted”. When I am subtracted, I will be no more. If I am not around to make me, I won’t be made.

A beast that perishes.

We are afraid of a Gospel that demands a full change of thinking, a full rejection of the disorder that the world calls “normal”. There is no way, apart from God, to know who you are. Rejection of even the possibility of that truth makes for meaninglessness and lived nihilism.

Eternal life is possible. Lived in unchanging truth; turning away from the foolish idea that you define yourself, that you are making yourself. Let God make you. Let others love you as he is making you – not because of what you have or what you can do or what you can imagine but because you are the very icon of God. Become the You God made you to be – in the body God gave you used according not to your feelings but to the owner’s manual… Enter into communion with God and others who seek him. “Become who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire” (St Catherine) and “the Glory of God is a living human being” (St Ignatius).

Come in. Be a real person.

Updated here 4/17/2023

The Weight of Mists

THIS POST STARTED with Across the Universe, the brilliant cinematic reworking of The Beatles’ ouvre into a story of love, rejection, and nirvanah interwoven with a full on history of the 60s in America. I first watched it when it came out and became obsessed with the Beatles as a result. I’d never really liked them before – too hippie. As an alumnus of one of the most hippie schools in SF, I’m allergic to most hippie things. I’m sitting in the Haight-Ashbury as I type. All around me are the collapsed shells of Boomers lamenting the loss of that paradise. Anyway, I was looking for the song that contained the lyric line, “across the universe” and found it was from the song by the same name. So I was googling the lyrics and stumbled across this amazing remake by Rufus, Moby, and Sean Lennon from like 15 years ago.

It was in this video that I first heard clearly the chanted background lyrics, “Jai guru deva, om”. Something clicked: the Beatles were huge fans (if not devotees) of the Marharishi Yogi. Thus the song’s refrain, “nothing’s gonna change my world” is not a prideful claim of “here I stand and damn all who say otherwise” (as I had heard it and as it seems intended in the movie) but rather a shocked acknowledgment that the realization all is meaningless illusion will change everything. Nothing, literally, is going to change everything I see and how I see it.


As I’ve been thinking more about Hevel, the Hebrew word usually translated “vanity” in English Bibles which is also the name of Eve’s second son – usually rendered Abel. Same word. And same meaning. Eve’s first son, Kain, has a name that means “spear”. So there’s something else there, but I want to stick with mist today in the singular and plural forms.

In the plural – hevelim – it’s often used to describe the idols of the Gentiles. Every Baal, Zeus, and Nuit of the various pantheons, all rolled up together are nothing more than hevelim. So I started to wonder at the meaning of the phrase that’s usually rendered “vanity of vanities” or “hevel of hevelim” and it suddenly seemed to me that that could also mean “mists of idols”.

Chewing on the mystery of mist (mistery? myst?) I stumbled across the idea of “glory” – which in Hebrew is kavod and can also mean weight.

As was mentioned in an earlier post, Ecclesiastes seems to posit that the way to navigate the mists – and to make anything important out of them – is to follow the way of God and thus to infuse the mist with the weight of the only reality that is.

Reading “Transformation in Christ” it seems that the author wants us to do nothing at all without accepting the direction of God to do so. We might want to do something because of our internal desires or passions, or we may want to do something because it is good to do so but without the direction of God to do it is is merely following our own will. And while at first I objected to this idea it comes to me that deciding – on my own – what is good is the very definition of the act of our first parents in the garden: something seemed good and they did it. We might say they “followed their bliss” or, for those a al carte folks, “followed their conscience” which last is a very Catholic idea, but not a sure defense against error as St Thomas teaches. The idea is to conform your conscience and will in the Church to the will of God, then you know that your conscience cannot mislead you. But then, says the author, you’ll not do anything without God’s direction. Seeing the argument that way it made sense.

So this is the way to infuse mist with reality and to avoid the breath of idols. Take nothing without God’s will and according to his direction. To do otherwise is to take the gift without the giver, to make an idol of what may – in another time or place – be a good. In the bad way it’s only more hevel.

Time. Eucharist. Love.

Reposted from 9 Jan 2020

WHEN NEXT YOU approach Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, drawing near to the chalice in faith and love, kneeling at the rail, or coming to the front of line; when you receive from the Priest, Deacon, or Eucharistic Minister the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the God-Man, Jesus, born of Mary and descended from David by adultery, gentiles, and loss…

The next time you come to receive Holy Communion, remember: He’s been waiting right there for you from all eternity.

For in that morsel of what was bread, now all the eternity, all the infinity, all the glory and immensity, all the love that sustains the universe is present, right there. Any part of infinity is infinity. You are coming to Him, yes. But before you stood up, before you walked forward, before you entered the Church, before you were conceived, before your parents met, before your furthest ancestors rose unthinking from muck to see the sky, he was waiting for you and this moment. This dawn. This taste. This infinity on the tongue.

Before all else that was or ever shall be, this moment was in God’s heart and he loved you. You. YOU.

Think of all the things you fear, all the things that you’ve done. Think of all the things you had to let go of to be here today. Think of all the angry thoughts you had sitting in the pew a few moments ago, think of all the pain you’ve caused (be honest). Think of the things you’ve never told anyone except maybe to say a whisper inside confession or a therapist. All of them. Think of betrayed friends, of lies that let you escape, think of pride that kept you aloof, of love that you didn’t share, think of used people and loved things, think of your idols. Think of it ALL.

He called you here anyway. He loved you before all that – even knowing that you would do all that.

He is standing before you now with arms outstretched in love, and a heart as big as all of heaven lit with the glow of a love that has done nothing since all of eternity except wait for you here.

And it will be bliss and communion if you will but let it be so for he wills it for you. This love is yours if you will but have it.

Have this love.

Be this love.


Don’t Look Back

YOUR HOST IS ATTEMPTING To navigate between two parishes, one Latin and one Byzantine, with the latter using the Julian Calendar no less. (Most Byzantine Catholic places, in the US at least, use the Gregorian Calendar.) This year’s Gregorian and Julian Easters are one week apart. Next year they are five weeks apart! This year was kind of easy: when we reached Saturday evening in my breviary, I flipped back to the beginning of week Five of Lent. I’ll get to Palm Sunday this week and get to Holy Week next week. Then I’ll drop back into sync with the West after the week-long Sunday of the Easter Octave. ANYWAY… all this as prelude to the fact that this morning I read (again) the passage for Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent. It ends with St Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews 3:19. So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. They, here, is the People of Israel, and entering in is the Promised Land.

Backstory: when the people first got to the Promised Land, they sent 12 spies into the land to see what manner of land it was, what people were there, and what their prospects were. Two of the spies came back and said, “Wow. God is about to deliver on his promises, big time!” The other ten, however, were naysayers who said there were giants in the land and we (the people of Israel) were doomed if we went ahead. The vast majority of the people believed the 10, and wept for fear. God was angry and said they would all die rather than enter into his promised land.

Today, instead of hearing Hebrews 3:19 as a punishment from God, I heard it as it was written: their own unbelief kept them from entering the land. Even if there were giants there, even if the land was crawling with scorpions and aliens with laser guns… if the people had trusted God and walked in, everything would have been as he said. But their own lack of faith prevented them from taking God at his word. Their own fear became their own death. Their own failure became the judgment against them. It would not have mattered if God had tried to coax them forward. They were terrified.

So they did not enter into his rest.

Perfect love drives out all fear.

Mary becomes the mother of God by saying yes and never turning back. Lot’s wife failed because she looked back. Judas realized his mistake, threw the money back at the priests, but chickened out and hung himself. Peter realized his mistake and repented, and returned to the Lord. (Hear the Homily from Fr Michael Hurley, OP. Open your heart to the Lord and allow him to draw you close.)

Anyone who puts their hand to the plough, says Our Lord, but then looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Don’t look back.