Igotchu Babe.

Seven Deadly Sins, the Gifts of the Spirit, the Evangelical Counsels, Chastity, Catching Foxes, Celibacy and Bachelorhood, AKA, a blog post on sex and religion.

The Mother and Father of Chastity.

JMJ

Two months ago over lunch a friend and I talked about how many clergy we knew who were bachelors, but who were not celibate. These follow the rules but something seems off. Then, using those same words, a Dominican priest posted it on FB. It seems that often it is religious (those in communities, like Dominicans and Franciscans) who are celibates. Often it is diocesan clergy who are not living in community (some are!) who are “only” bachelors. Meditating on the difference between bachelor and celibate has had this topic in my head for seven or eight weeks. I have been wrestling with this topic (Chastity) for a while as there’s been a book in process for a year on same-sex attraction and chastity. (For news and updates about this project, support my writing on my Patreon page.) Of course, the content of that book and of this blog have hovered around the topic of sex and religion since before I even became Orthodox in 2002. In addition to the book, I have an essay to write on clerical celibacy in the Deaconate. And hanging around with Catholics all the time brings it up. What? You don’t talk about Chastity with your friends? Then, last night, Gomer and Luke blew my mind with their Episode on Chastity, the sort of Capstone on this whole topic. What follows is only the meditation on all that: I also had a long talk with Fr Isaiah this morning to help me clarify this.

From: Garrigou-Lagrange’s Les Trois Ages de la Vie Interieure.
Retrieved from Twitter.

There are seven deadly sins. Most Catholics and some others are familiar with the list: Pride, Lust, Envy, Anger, Acedia, Gluttony, and Avarice. It’s ok to see these sins as a breaking of the rules because they are, but look at the image above. The tree makes it clear that they are all tied together with a whole series of vices, not just sins, per se, but a whole collection of bad habits. Mortal sins, venial sins, practices, bad thoughts, pitfalls we can make. It’s more than breaking the rules. In fact, the spiritual powers that seek to win our souls don’t need you to climb up the tree and eat its seven deadly fruit: it’s enough for you to rest against the trunk of the tree and sleep in the shade.

After the Seven Deadly Sins, what? The same author has given us a Tree of Virtues which I’ve added below, but that does not grow in the same orchard, if you will, as the Tree of Vice. There’s a journey from one to the other. What is this? While there are lists of “seven” virtues floating around, these are not generally given a one-to-one pairing with the vices. That’s because they are thought of differently. The four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude are shared with all the world. These are the primary state of the human soul, if you will. They are common to all humanity as our tools for fighting against vice. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle brought them into focus for the pagans as the Jewish Prophets brought them into focus for us. Christians inherit them from both sides of our family tree.

To the four cardinal virtues, which may be pictured around us like the four points of the compass, Christians add three Theological Virtues for a total of seven, aligning with the traditional seven directions of ancient cosmology: Hope beneath us, Faith above us, and at the center, Charity, from which all the other arise in their proper ordering for human prosperity.

Notice please that Chastity is not on this list. Why not? Would not you put Chastity opposite Lust? Bishop Barron does and it makes perfect sense if all of this is about rules: Chastity is obeying all the rules of the Church and lust is the temptation to break them, right? What if that is wrong? Gomer and Luke in the podcast above tap dance around this: it’s not about rules, it’s not about rules, it’s not about rules. We beat kids up about “following the rules” but that’s not the real issue. What is it, if it’s not rules? Certainly, there are rules. Clearly we cannot break them. But: it’s not about the keeping of them. We are not made whole by keeping rules.

The virtues as seven points on a sphere (including the center) are the key: properly ordered life, arising from Charity, built on Hope, striving in Faith, and protected by Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. We move through the world with this spherical map as our guide. The virtues are acquired though, like an ancient warrior on a vision quest, we must seek to blend each of these into our lives. A virtue is a habit of doing good. We know habits! I don’t mean the way you have to touch your hair when you get nervous. I mean the way you put on shoes without thinking or the exact muscle memory that lets you walk forward, raise a hand, grab a doorknob, turn the knob with your hand and push while still walking through the door, open the door, and close (slightly turned) the door behind you while still walking forward. You learned all of that as a child. You don’t think about it normally. It’s not even a process: it just happens. That’s the virtue of opening the door, if you will. The seven virtues must be acquired to the same degree of expertise, the same unthinking level of habit.

But how? We still don’t have chastity listed here.

The Christian has the Holy Spirit for the acquisition of Virtues. The Holy Spirit is God dwelling in us as the Body of Christ. We get the Holy Spirit at Baptism and from this arise (in differing degrees for each of us) the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel
  • Fortitude
  • Knowledge
  • Piety
  • Fear of the Lord

Yes: right there, Fortitude shows up. It’s a gift and a virtue. Courage (aka the virtue of Fortitude) is the power to run into the fire and rescue people. It’s why we honor the First Responders from 9/11. The Holy Spirit brings those same cojones to your religious faith. These are not rules, nor are they indicative of keeping rules. Rather they are about relationship – our relationship with God.

From the fear of the Lord and piety arise all the others: for God imparts them to us as we need. Christians say all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). These come to us as whispers and dreams, as words spoken by our friends, from wise priests laughing in the confessional, and from random posters on the street. These gifts of the Spirit are sealed in us in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

From these arise the nine Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Love (one of the virtues) is a fruit of the Spirit. These, you’ll notice, are about our Relationships with Others. Even that last one – Self-Control – which is the most important, is about how we relate to others. These fruit are how the Gifts of the Spirit and the process of the acquisition of virtues work together in and through us in the Church.

Here is where we sin mostly – if we are honest. Our relationships with each other fail to be holy, healthy, and honorable at all times because we lose track of these fruit of the spirit.

We continue to move through this process, but we’re not “there” yet in that there’s no Chastity. What the heck?

From: Garrigou-Lagrange’s Les Trois Ages de la Vie Interieure.
Retrieved from Twitter.

All men and women in religious orders make three vows: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. These are called the Three Evangelical Counsels. Different religious orders understand these differently – according to their own ministries and gifts – but the reason they are common to all religious orders is that they are the common marks of all Christian life, lay, ordained, and vowed religious. All Christians are called to poverty, chastity, and obedience each according to their state in life. Here, suddenly – outside of the vices, virtues, gifts, and fruits, we hit the real thing: the Christian life!

Christain life is about virtues, certainly, and there are rules, yes, but Christian life is primarily (if not only) about manifesting in the world salvation as witnessed by a personal relationship with God in the body of his Son, the Church. See how those Christians love one another? I’m afraid most folks don’t right now. Our lives do not shine like a light on a lampstand, like a city on a hilltop. We hold aloft our rules – even try to make laws to enforce our rules on others – while having none of the virtues. And we forget that laws do not make us virtuous: rather they protect our virtue.

It helps me to know God has a rule about “do not commit adultery”, but I can go through my whole life and never commit adultery without ever reaching God. And yet, if I search for God honestly, faithfully, deeply and truly, I will discover that I should avoid adultery in my love for the God I seek – even if I never find him. The rule does not bring me to him and, ironically, if I get stuck on the rule, get judgy about it, yell and scream to protect the rule it can actually keep me from God.

How we move through the world (on our seven points of the compass) guided by the Spirit’s gifts, manifesting the Spirit’s fruit, creates the presence of the Evangelical Counsels to the world in all their aspects. These are our Good Deeds which will shine before men and they will praise our Father in Heaven.

Now, to the earlier point: Bachelors and Celibates. Celibacy is a Charism, a gift given to the Church for the sharing of her ministry in the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that

There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit.”53 Whatever their character – sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues – charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.

Para 2003


We go from seven to nine to three to more than twenty! 23 of the identified supernatural Christian Charisms are: Administration, Celibacy, Craftsmanship, Discernment of Spirits, Encouragement, Evangelism, Faith, Giving, Healing, Helps, Hospitality, Intercessory Prayer, Knowledge, Leadership, Mercy, Missionary, Music, Pastoring, Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Voluntary Poverty, Wisdom, Writing. Celibacy is one of these. The relationship of Charisms to the rest of Christian life is not hierarchical, they are not better one than the other. (This list is alphabetical.) Nor is it lateral: there’s not a line from Love to Chastity and then to Celibacy. They are gifts for the whole church, given to the whole church. They are manifest how and when the Spirit decides. They are relational, of course, in that they deal with the whole body of Christ. But they are not the result of any action or virtue on our part. They are given to us and, in fact, if we ignore them they can trip us up.

Why, I asked the priest, if you say I have the Charism of Celibacy, have I spent so much of my life having sex? The response was that where there is the greatest gift there also can be the greatest fall. These gifts can also be taken away if they are needed for another reason, or if they are misused. But they – also – are not about rules. Having the Charism of Celibacy does not mean you follow all the rules, but you can rely on that Charism – once discovered – to lead you into the acquisition of the virtues, to lead you to manifest chastity as appropriate to your state in life. Again, the follow the rules, yet I think bachelors are only failing to lean in.

I’ll end here… I’m feeling like I’ve said enough right now. In sum:

There are vices that lead to deadly sins but the demons don’t need deadly sins every day to keep us going to hell. They only need to keep us from walking in another direction, using our moral compass of the four cardinal virtues plus the three theological ones. It’s not rules but relationships. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts for relationship to God and in our lives – relating to each other – manifests fruits. In the relational body of the Church, we live and move. God may confer Charisms or not, yet all of us manifest (as the Church) the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience that the world may come to the light of Christ and be saved.

Amen?

Liber Al Vel Austin

So this quote came up in a book I’m playing in Google books.

Love & do what you will. If you hold your peace hold your peace out of love. If you cry out cry out in love. If you correct someone correct them out of love. If you spare them spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.

St Augustine, Sermon on Love

And I was struck instantly by the memory of the parallel with Crowley’s Book of the Law line, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law… Love is the law, love under will.”

Crowley had noted that the Greek letters for love (αγαπη) Agape and will (θελεμα) Thelema each added up to 93. He felt that the pair of 93s meant something. But what? He took a lot of occultists down the mistaken route of assuming that mere wanting to do something meant it was love. In fact that assumption is so common as to be a cardinal virtue of secular culture: do whatever you want. You do you. Follow your bliss. It’s like the credo of abortion, gun violence, racism, sex and every other non-christian moral problem we have. Crowely founded the Abbey of Thelema where his disciples could show up and do whatever they wanted, trying to discover their “True will”. The wiki reports some successes, but it is said that by the middle of the last century there were basically a bunch of pre-hippies left there in various states of dissolution.

Then I heard the line from Augustine and my mind wrapped around Aleister and Augustine (Al’n’Austin) and held them together for a while. Al couldn’t’ve led that many people astray without having at least a tiny kernel of the truth. That line from Augustine must be the key, but how does it connect?

At first, it seemed like it was enough to say “love” (agape) can’t be for anything ungodly, so anything you can love as God loves it is ok. That was wrong because we can will a lot of things that are not godly and we can will them very strongly. So love and will don’t match up. Aquinas (and Pieper) make it clear that the unjust man can do a just action now and then, likewise the righteous can do something unjust. It’s also possible to mistakenly love. All sin rises thus: we love something – the wrong thing – too much. We are mistaken. That mistaken love is not real love… or is it? Because we can only love the Good, the True, the Beautiful. Even disordered love thinks it’s directed thusly. We will to love, but we will to love wrongly.

Yet this line of reasoning seemed to not connect back. We will to love, but we’re fallen. That’s right. Does it follow then that our (disordered) love is not then real love? I wrapped & twisted & chewed. Then there was a light breaking in. Because real love (agape) is God. Not eros, not phila but any real agape – even a disordered agape – is a (very faulty) holy reflection. So even in our failings, if we really agape it’s God trying to get to us. In fact, it is God getting to us.

God is utterly simple. God’s will is love is justice and is entirely one. The same action of God, each and all actions of God, is utterly just, utterly merciful, utterly loving. God’s Agape (αγαπη) love and Thelema (θελεμα) are always the same. 93 right? Remember where this started – Crowley’s 93s. God is simple. These things cannot conflict in God. Yet Crowley (as often is the case with that dude) was both right and way off.

Humans are not God. Our will is the most broken part of us and humans are not utterly simple. Our desire for self-will instead of submission to God’s will results in confused self-love. So our αγαπη agape love and our θελεμα thelema will are not always the same, and we confuse pride with agape. Yet, even as our will is broken it is possible for us to love. This is where Aleister Crowley got it right. Human love and divine will can cooperate, can be the same thing. Not all human will is divine love but sometimes, with humble faith and sacramental grace, human love can participate in the action of divine will in the world. Submission is the key.

It is our continual submission of our will to God that allows our participation in this process. In our fallen state, it is necessary to constantly redo the act of submission. The primary choice in human action is, in every moment, “Let it be unto me according to Thy word.” We do this in love. Love is the law, love under will. Love, and do what you will.

Anagogical Kylie

JMJ

Traditional Catholic teaching says there are four senses of scripture which must all agree. This is a useful meditation tool for the Word of God. The Catechism cites this Latin Couplet to parse it out:

Lettera gesta docet,
quid credas allegoria,
moralis quid agas,
quo tendas anagogia.

The Letter speaks of deeds;
Allegory to faith;
the Moral how to act;
Anagogy our destiny.

We can read all texts, searching for truth, on each of these levels. The reader may be familiar with using this process in literature. Secular texts (even those by Catholic writers) will usually aim at one or other of these levels, but only by God’s grace would anything hit all four. Lewis’ Narnia does deeds, allegory, and morality really well. Tolkien is no fan of allegory, but he does deeds, morality, and anagogy all through Middle Earth. It is fashionable also to do this to movies as well as literature. We can also do this with secular music. Although a pop-song is not scripture and do cannot contain all four levels of meaning certainly some songs might hit some levels.

Love songs (if they are true) must have a deeper meaning. God is love, and so any true love song is a religious song in one sense or another. As love songs grow continually more and more into sex songs this may become less and less true. However, even then – since sex is a gift from God – if they are true songs then God will be in them, to one degree or another. Addressing God in terms of love is often the field of the mystic. True love songs – while devoid of actions we want to replicate as Catholics and often containing only a negative morality – may have allegorical and anagogical meaning.

Kylie Minogue’s All the Lovers seems to me one such song. It is true. Although the official video is filled with things that would make a devout Catholic shudder (if not need to go to confession) the lyrics and the music are not that way at all. Although the song is written for one voice (Kylie, of course) if the song is parsed into dialogue it’s very different. I propose that like the Song of Songs, this text is a dialogue between Jesus and the Soul and it speaks of our ultimate end:

Jesus:
Dance, it’s all I wanna do, so won’t you dance?
I’m standing here with you, why won’t you move?
I’ll get inside your groove ’cause I’m on fire, fire, fire, fire
The Soul:
It hurts when you get too close, but, baby, it hurts
If love is really good, you just want more
Even if it throws you to the fire, fire, fire, fire

The Soul:
All the lovers that have gone before
They don’t compare
To you
Jesus:
Don’t be frightened
The Soul
Just give me a little bit more
They don’t compare
All the lovers

Jesus:
Feel, can’t you see there’s so much here to feel?
Deep inside in your heart you know I’m real
Can’t you see that this is really higher, higher, higher, higher?
Breathe, I know you find it hard, but, baby, breathe
You’ll be next to me, it’s all you need
And I’ll take you there, I’ll take you higher, higher, higher, higher

The Soul:
All the lovers that have gone before
They don’t compare
To you
Jesus:
Don’t be frightened
The Soul:
Just give me a little bit more
They don’t compare
All the lovers

Jesus:
Dance, it’s all I wanna do, so won’t you dance?
I’m standing here with you, why won’t you move?
The Soul:
Even if it throws you to the fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire

The Soul:
All the lovers that have gone before
They don’t compare
To you
Jesus:
Don’t be frightened
The Soul:
Just give me a little bit more
They don’t compare
All the lovers

From Before Time

JMJ

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 know 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.

Be.

There is No Place God-Free

Dore’s Illustration for Dante’s Paradisio

JMJ

Advent means meditation on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell; and the longer I thought about it, I realized that my usual image was too static. The catechism says that it is separation from God (¶1033) but the church also says that God is Omnipresent .

The Psalmist asks,

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me.

Quo ibo a spiritu tuo? et quo a facie tua fugiam?
Si ascendero in caelum, tu illic es; si descendero in infernum, ades.
Si sumpsero pennas meas diluculo, et habitavero in extremis maris,
etenim illuc manus tua deducet me, et tenebit me dextera tua.

Ps 138:7-10

Where to go? No where. There is nowhere where God is not.

So how to understand the Catechism saying hell is separation from God? Even on earth, we can’t be separated: we can only ignore.

What I began to imaging was God, the Consuming Fire, as a massive solar wind. When you die, we think of it as “going to a place” but what really happens is that this place is simply stripped away: all the things that we feel block us from God fall away. And there we are: angels, the beloved, demons, God. All revealed as who they are. (CS Lewis gets this in Chapter 31 of The Screwtape Letters, but I think his image is static as well.) What now, oh creature of earth, Son of Adam, Daughter of Eve?

I want to hope, I want to pray that I may hope, when I’m exposed that way that I want to rush forward into the maelstrom of God’s burning, all-consuming Love. I hope, or rather I think I might, one day, be able to intend to hope, that I will drop everything and turn to Him, and let all that is not His burn away: that I will not hold back anything that will, in that hottest of all fires, suddenly begin to burn me as well. Certainly I could turn my back, shield whatever it is from His flame, but then I would discover He is omnipresent, omnidirectional, there is no back.

These flames are not fire as we might understand it, of course. This is Love: pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, omnidirectional, all-consuming, Love. We say we want it: but in the end, do we? We hide ourselves from ourselves. We do not want to acknowledge our darkest secrets even in the silent cloister of the confessional. We dare not admit the things that hide us from God, or the things we want to hide. We say we want love but we are not worthy of it.

Faith here is different from presumption. The latter says, “I’m a mess, but God loves me so I will bring my mess right into Church, right into heaven. I can make my mess a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and God will welcome it. God will bless my mess anyway.” Faith says, “I’m a mess: I will offer my mess in praise and thanksgiving, and God will take it away and transubstantiate it. It will become my salvation because it is no longer mine. I’m not worthy of anything but I will offer it and let God decide in his mercy.”

Presumption will lead to hell. Faith will lead to heaven. And they are both the same, only the direction of motion is different.

As Children of the Kingdom

JMJ

The Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (C1)

Exsurge, Jerusalem, et sta in excelso : et circumspice ad orientem, et vide collectos filios tuos ab oriente sole usque ad occidentem, in verbo Sancti, gaudentes Dei memoria. Exierunt enim abs te pedibus ducti ab inimicis : adducet autem illos Dominus ad te portatos in honore sicut filios regni.
Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high: and look about towards the east, and behold thy children gathered together from the rising to the setting sun, by the word of the Holy One rejoicing in the remembrance of God. For they went out from thee on foot, led by the enemies: but the Lord will bring them to thee exalted with honour as children of the kingdom. 
Amanuensis to the prophet Jeremiah, Baruch gets rather short shrift in the Protestant recension of the scriptures, while for Catholics, as well as Orthodox and Anglicans, he is a Prophet in his own right. A book excised by the Protestants only 500 years ago bears his name, and it is from this text that we read today. Baruch is writing after the fall of Jerusalem, from within Babylon. It’s only 5 years since the burning of Jerusalem.  
In Advent, we are reminded not only of Jesus coming at his nativity, but also of his final coming at the great unveiling of the ages. But let’s focus on his, if you will, second and continual advent, here, now with us, in the Holy Mysteries.
We are in Exile. There is no other way to say it. This world is Babylon. We are surrounded on all sides by the signs of hedonism, paganism, idolatry, and empire.  Injustice is rampant – and I don’t mean the sort of “give me my rights” whining we talk about today in our first world privilege. I mean God’s justice: where the wealth of the world is not shared, where we allow sin, poverty, pride, and weakness to create systems of oppression. This exile eats at our hearts. We delude ourselves, influenced by Babylonian thinking, that we needn’t do anything because the Empire should do it, and well, yeah, the gov’t isn’t doing anything, so what can we do anyway? Too many people to worry about. Exile corrupts us and makes us think the habits of our oppressors should be ours as well. We take power over others as a sign that we have “won”. We become the embodiment of our own enslavement.
Babylon is winning…
Yet. Here, on this altar, is God himself in silence. Resting. Waiting. He has come as he promised he would. As he came among us in Bethlehem, so now he has come among us today. Weak and helpless, naked and alone, “for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.” This is our God: with us in the midst of Babylon. Here is Jesus, the Kingdom in his very person, sharing himself with us, making the Kingdom present now. This is how God, “the one who began a good work in us will continue to complete it”. This constant presence with us, in us, and through us in the world
And so our God summons us to this altar in the words of Baruch: for here, at this table, is spread a feast for all of God’s children. Here, on God’s board, is home brought to us and we are served by Angels, and hosted here by Divine Hospitality.
Babylon seems to have won, but the Kingdom has summoned us and subverted the Powers. Babylon is winning… only to fall, to be conquered. 
And we know that this feast is not just for us – the initiated. It is for all who come though death to Life, passing the waters of Jordan, and rising up. And all of the Church turns to look in Joy at her Children coming again through her portals.
So with joy let us not only heed but also echo the words of the Prophet. Let us come that our “love may increase ever more and more  in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value,  so that we may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” As each of us comes to the table, let us not come alone. Bring others, call to them to join the passage to the Kingdom. God has remembered us all, each and every one. 
Arise Jerusalem and stand on high
In the middle of Exile
We are not alone
In the middle of Babylon
We are in the kingdom even so
Though surrounded by darkness
We are fed on the light
And even when forced into slavery
We are the Children of the Kingdom
Jerusalem is here with us now. Exile has ended.
Arise.

Pro Invicem

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Subjecti invicem in timore Christi.
Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ. 

Paul opens up this passage with a command that gets lost in the shuffle of modern political readings of scripture. Focus on the command not on the elucidation. Serving… being subject to one another. How does that seem to us today?

Evidently, when two powerful males are introduced, the games of power mean that whoever extends their hands first means they are being subservient. Also evidently if you let someone go ahead of you on the Highway, you are indicating that you know you are blocking traffic. I’ve read (on twitter) that letting a woman enter a door before me is actually a sign that I am in control: I’m not being polite or subject to the other party.

Silly psycho-political games we play.

And yet, Jesus does say that whoever would lead… must be the servant of all. To use our broken ideas of Psychology, then… while Pope Benedict (above) washes the feet of folks on Maundy Thursday… Pope Francis must be making quite the power play by washing the feet of prisoners:


Or, perhaps, humility is a thing in itself and we should not let modern political babble confuse us.

We are to be servants of each other.  We are to be subject one to another.

This can be harder than it sounds. Social norms are as hard to navigate as white water rafting at night. Trying to figure out who’s in a room is enough for me: placing myself at the service of the least in the room requires figuring out who they are. I blurt out questions when it’s not my turn, don’t know when to jump into a conversation, can’t remember names to save my life, and (to be honest) struggle with other psychological issues that are not commonly acknowledged outside of certain Church documents but arise from the sins with which I struggle. So it’s a safe thing for me to just say to everyone in line, “you go first”. 

Our culture, on the other hand, wants everything to be “fair” by which they mean mostly “as long as I get mine…” Why should I come early and stay late? Others will do that. Why shouldn’t I get promoted at work before others? Why would that poor slob win the lottery when I need it more?

I remember reading a story of a pair of Orthodox nuns visiting a parish. You’ll need to know that in many modern Orthodox places monastics can be viewed with suspicion. This can be helped by some anti-monastic bishops… anyway… these two nuns were visiting a parish and were at coffee hour socializing with everyone else and suddenly a woman pointed at them eating and having a good time and said, “See, they are hypocrites. They come here to ask for charity, but then they take our food like a member of the parish and just laugh.” One nun stood up and and was offended. The other prostrated herself at the feet of her accuser and asked forgiveness. 

The second nun was subjecti invicem in timore Christi.

I love the stories of the Christian Martyrs whose faith was discovered because they were visiting Christians already in prison to bring them food or messages from home. When Christians actually do “Pro Invicem” we get in trouble. Christians get arrested for feeding the homeless, for sheltering Jews, for ignoring unjust laws, for hiding slaves, for helping refugees. We’ve been getting in trouble for this since Paul was hiding escaped slaves, emotionally bullying their masters into manumission and using the Church to subvert cultural paradigms all over the empire. As government and societies today are trying to force us back into slavery to pagan ideals of nationalism, immorality, and racism, I hope we stand firm.

But I hope we do so by subversion, by pro invicem… we must remember to love our enemies… because we don’t have any. Literally every political thing in the world is here to distract us from God, and it is supposed to look like “our enemies” are doing it  – so we blame the other humans – but we forget the only enemies we have are demons? Literally every political or “social justice” thing is a false flag op.

That person over there is not a demon, is a living icon of God. They may be wrong… they may need to be opposed or voted out of office or imprisoned for crimes, but they are also to be served by us. By serving them we will win them for Christ. We will win the world that way.

My Face Hurts…

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 30th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia, nec nominetur in vobis, sicut decet sanctos : aut turpitudo, aut stultiloquium, aut scurrilitas, quae ad rem non pertinet : sed magis gratiarum actio.
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks.

The NABRE takes a dodge here… it says “Immorality or any impurity or greed” which is not what the Latin says, nor is it what the Greek says. The Latin refers to “Fornicatio autem, et omnis immunditia, aut avaritia”. That first word is fornication. We’re not talking about “immorality” in general but about sexual sins. The Greek is even more direct. The word used there is πορνεία porneia. It is the origin for our word “pornography” but its meaning is derived from the verb “to sell off”. We trade off our sexual morals for other things – money, yes, but also acceptance, entertainment, self-gratification. This is made even more clear by the words selected in the next verse (which are not so obscured by the NABRE) obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility make it all very clear, and also eliminate about 80% of the internet and 95% of comedic content since WW2.

Why is St Paul so opposed to us having fun?

Matushka Frederica Matthews has this great line in one of her books, I honestly forget which one, discussing our cultural abuse of irony and making everything funny, she says, “Can we stop smiling now? My face hurts.” As a culture we make a joke of literally everything. This has gotten worse in successive generations – what was once sacred is now ribald humor. And as this area gets burned over, we move on to the next one… we can now joke about literally anything religious, because no one cares about it – and those who do don’t deserve our sensitivity. Only in jest can we talk about such things.

Paul is warning us against doing that to one of the most sacred acts God has given for humans to do – to participate in God’s creative generation of space and time by bringing a new human soul, enfleshed, into the world. Making jokes about this cheapen it.

But there is a second reason as well. We are spiritual athletes. We are in training. There is a time and place for everything. Yet there is never a place for baseness, or scurrility. We have no reason to “keep in practice” for the things we used to do.

A friend of mine called me out for using as a self description a word which has become synonymous with a sexual subculture. I hadn’t realized how important that word had become to me. I may not use “gay” to describe myself, but I have a “totem animal” anyway, right? Why? Do I need that? Do I still need that word to be part of me? Do I still need to get all those in jokes? Those brain cells might better be left from something else, I think.

Chrysostom reads both of these meanings

Have no witticisms, no obscenities, either in word or in deed, and thou wilt quench the flame—“let them not even be named,” saith he, “among you,” that is, let them not anywhere even make their appearance. This he says also in writing to the Corinthians. “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you” (1 Cor. v. 1.); as much as to say, Be ye all pure. For words are the way to acts. Then, that he may not appear a forbidding kind of person and austere, and a destroyer of playfulness, he goes on to add the reason, by saying, “which are not befitting,” which have nothing to do with us—“but rather giving of thanks.” What good is there in uttering a witticism? thou only raisest a laugh. Tell me, will the shoemaker ever busy himself about anything which does not belong to or befit his trade? or will he purchase any tool of that kind? No, never. Because the things we do not need, are nothing to us.

Moral. Let there not be one idle word; for from idle words we fall also into foul words. The present is no season of loose merriment, but of mourning, of tribulation, and lamentation: and dost thou play the jester? What wrestler on entering the ring neglects the struggle with his adversary, and utters witticisms? The devil stands hard at hand, “he is going about roaring” (1 Pet. v. 8.) to catch thee, he is moving everything, and turning everything against thy life, and is scheming to force thee from thy retreat, he is grinding his teeth and bellowing, he is breathing fire against thy salvation; and dost thou sit uttering witticisms, and “talking folly,” and uttering things “which are not befitting.” Full nobly then wilt thou be able to overcome him! We are in sport, beloved.

There is a counter point, I think. One that is important for us in this age – that was not so important for Paul. While everything is funny – because it’s meaningless – everything is also taken far too seriously. CS Lewis and others have noted this tendency in our media, to stir up excitement for things that happen hundred and thousands of miles away while ignoring the things right out side. We get anxious over meaningless things about which we can do nothing, and then make light of things that are actually important.

So what would life look like if we took everything only as serious as it warranted, and yet took everything exactly as serious as is needed? What would life look like if one lived as if one’s salvation in Christ was the most important thing? Mindful that St Paul says that salvation entails a lot of things: obedience, humility, civic responsibility, passivity before abuse, charity, etc. What would life be like to live in that way?

All are welcome!

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

In caritate radicati, et fundati, ut possitis comprehendere cum omnibus sanctis, quae sit latitudo, et longitudo, et sublimitas, et profundum : scire etiam supereminentem scientiae caritatem Christi, ut impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei.
That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.


Paul holds out to the Ephesians – and passing them, now hold out to us not the pale and powerless possibility of “heaven”; not “pie in the sky, by and by when you die” but here, now. No harps and crowns just now: power! The Power to comprehend divine fire in breadth, fire in length, fire in height, fire in depth.  This is what the Greeks call “Theosis”:  impleamini in omnem plenitudinem Dei, to be filled with the fullness of God.

I’ve sat in discussions with faithful Catholics who cannot imagine this is the Church’s teaching. For they only know they should follow the rules, do penance, and hope for something better in the future. They call this teaching of the saints and scripture blasphemy, as they fear traditional worship with its focus on glory. They hide behind guitars and call us all to just get along… 

They are like so many Orthodox who are hung up on “Did you have cream in your coffee this day in Lent?” These Orthodox speak of every mouthful of food taken without first a prayer, gagging us in the afterlife. They say that every drink of wine taken on fasting days will drown us… they wave toll houses at us to keep us from heaven. And they say they know “Theosis” – but say Catholics are in error for teaching Purgatory… meh. There are cancerous growths of legalisms in both lungs of the Church.

St Paul offers us that all divine, all embracing, all changing Love that is called “Agape”. Yes, Love welcomes all… But no one can join Love without changing. This Love – a him, not an it – welcomes all to a constant conversion. Jesus tells us, “Ignem veni mittere in terram.” I am come to cast fire on the earth. Set the world ablaze Lord! Again as at Pentecost when the very fire of God in golden tongues will fall on all flesh. Arise and blaze across all time and space and burn – yet do not consume – us all in Love.

This is not easy work. And there is no peace in this love. Becoming saints is a lifetime of hard engagement a lifetime of sacrificing self will, of giving up all that comes in the way, of moving apart from all that would hold us back. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father,  a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother… coworkers from coworkers, neighbor from neighbors, even fellow parishioners against each other as one says “The Gospel” while the other says “The Compromise”. We stand on the edge of the Spiritus Gladius, the Sword of the Spirit… and we dare not fall to one or the other side. 

And yet… and yet… we know we have to use both hands: one reaching for Jesus, while the other reaches out to bring our friends. For none of us go alone. It would not be Love if we were alone. This is ecstatic Love, call us and all out of ourselves. We must call all along with us. We must dance forward in a great reel or Dionysiac Procession: the ancient Tripudium of three steps forward, one back. No one can know the Liturgy in all its holiness of heaven striking earth with fire… and not be set aflame. It matters not if there are guitars or drums, Byzantine or Gregorian chant: when heaven moves, the earth will follow.

When you know the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s infinity how can you hold it back from others? If you are fire yourself, how can you prevent the fire from spreading by the very touch of your eyes on those around you?

Oh dear friends, have you seen it like a fire wrapping a bush that is burned yet not consumed, this love that falls down on us like a gentle, driving, roaring monsoon? We are awash in grace and Love and nothing stands between us and this… save ourselves. There is no other Love without it. And with this Love, there is nothing else. 

Wrapped in prayer, swathed in light, and holding God himself in your mouth and soul, can you not know that here and only here is Love. 

The Domestics

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 29th week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Quoniam per ipsum habemus accessum ambo in uno Spiritu ad Patrem. Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenae : sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei.
For by him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God.
We’re so very used to our modern “classless” society that we tend to think the idea of class is bad. As we play that assumption we forget to note that class is a very real part of our world: it is only the obligations of class that we have done away with. Rich and poor are treated equally before the law as is proper in things criminal, but in things civil there was a notion of noblesse oblige, the idea that one’s higher position required an assumption of charity, of noble largess to those in a lower station. We still have classes of folks in America, we’ve just done away with the idea of an obligation entailed by participation in that structure.

When the Vanderbilt family moved to Asheville, NC, in the 1880s, they built a huge estate… railroad money, you know… but that was not all that they did: they reforested much of several counties that had been greedily logged after the Civil War and left barren. This actually became the seed (root?) for the first national forest, the Pisgah National Forest. They imported experts to decorate the house… whom they hired to teach the locals how to be artisans. They built housing for their growing family and, in the area known as Biltmore Village, they even built a church.

This is noblesse oblige.

In a similar situation today – if someone owned say a Palace or a Casino, or a Tower with their name on it – these folks would all be thought of as “employees” and may not even get them health insurance or a living wage. It’s not just folks who have the trump card in the economic world, either. At one time a single man of my paygrade would have employed a valet and a cook, quite possibly a maid as well. And these would have invested in my success as much as anyone: for my success was theirs as well. Today I do my own laundry and turn out my own lights.

We’d call that a smart business decision. The Vanderbilts would call it greed, sin, and would think it beneath their station to act is such a way.

Why this lecture of the cultural morals of another time?

Because it was the same in St Paul’s time. Because to be a wealthy member of the society in which Paul lived was to have servants and one could judge the quality of the person by they way they treated their servants or those less fortunate who lived around them. This was true in the Roman world just as a matter of culture, but in the Jewish world it was a matter of God’s law. The latter dictated how the wealthy were to leave the corners of the field for strangers to harvest for free, how temple sacrifices were shared with the poor, how an entire society was built around property and yet sharing at the same time.

All this to explain when St Paul uses one Greek word οἰκεῖος ekeios to describe the position of Gentiles and Jews united together. On the one hand it means “members of the same household”, but on the other hand it’s the same word used for what we would call today, The Family, and The Help. Folks upstairs and down are equally part of the same οἰκεῖος.

Paul is using this word on purpose to show that there is no difference between classes of people in the Household of God, for we are all one people. All one household – no matter what our classes are “in the world”. In this household we are all together and all servants. Even our Lord and God washes our feet. So much so should we to each other. Rich and poor, Jew or Greek, in the household of God we are all there, all with our parts to play, all with our obligations to each other fully in place. None of us can claim to be above the other, for we are all in need in someway, all rich in some way, and all called to share in humility in all ways.