Power of the King

O REX Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

JMJ

MODERN DEMOCRACIES from Athens and England, to latecomers like France and America, are pretty much brainwashed into thinking we have finally gotten it right, politically speaking. We have finally figured out the best, purest, and most just form of government. Those who came before us may have had a few good ideas, which we’re happy to claim for ourselves, but overall democracy is the best way to go. We are quite happy to have crawled out of the slimy pit of our darkest past to the new light of this political system. Never mind, of course that democracy is hardly new: it was discovered in ancient Athens (at least). Further, since it involves a tyranny of the majority over the minority it is almost never actually just – meaning “giving to each what is his due”. The majority has the power to inflict pain if they feel like it whether it is just or not. They have the power to inflict pleasure if they feel like it whether it is just or not and history is filled with examples of majorities doing exactly that, but we are trained to ignore those and, instead, to point at the gross errors of dictators, juntas, and monarchs. So strong is our brainwashing that even these dictators insist on democratic elections and we must resort to saying, “No no! That’s not democracy you’re doing it wrong.” Now, however, the King is coming.

We really have no idea of Kingship any more. Even in countries where there are monarchs, they have sort of become cartoons of their ancestors. Some are comic, like Mel Brooks and feel more like fake kings, but with real crowns. Some are far more serious. Her Britanic Majesty is, really, quite Majestic and Britanic. But she is reduced to a mere shadow of the power that even her father had, and one daren’t compare her to the previous monarch of the same name. Anti-Catholic though she was, she was, at least, a real Monarch and entirely not democratic.

In fact, so strong is our brainwashing about democracy that speaking of a governing authority like this could get one labeled “Fascist” – a word with nearly no content at this point, although we all agree it’s bad. It seems to really only mean “anti-democracy.” Now, however, there is a King coming and many look like the Old Woman talking to Dennis in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “I didn’t vote for you!” We’re appalled when the answer is, “You don’t vote for kings.”

At the core of this political debate is a question of self-rule. I should have the right to do what I want, when I want, and as I want. And right now I want to have a new elected leader. We think of power as arising from the self and, when collected with other selves, forming power blocks. That block can then (by a collective action) bestow power on an individual or group of individuals. Later that power can be removed. This conception of the self as source of action and power is the root of our political conceptions now and also, our theological ones. For we think that we can freely elect to give ourselves over to a religious path, to freely choose to follow – or not. And we imagine that free choice to be constitutive, constructive: that nothing was before that and, should elect to end it, it will be over. We enter into all personal and business relationships with this mindset and we hold God to the same standards: I’m here because I like you, but don’t cross me. But a King is coming. You don’t vote for kings. They rule by divine right.

In the King James Bible, the word “heart” is used 826 times. It is important to note that it seems interchangeable with “soul”. It’s also important to note that’s not the original language. The Hebrew for this inner part of us is heart: Lev (לֵב) and for soul: Nefesh (נֶפֶשׁ). Together they are used a total of 1,347 times in the Hebrew text of the scriptures. This part of the human (whatever it is) is very important! For Christian Anthropology this is the part of us that lives in communion with God. For some of us we never get to this. The communion is always there (one would cease to exist at all, otherwise) but we never engage in this communion, we never draw from it or strengthen it. It is (and cannot but be) the very source of our very existence, but we can freely elect to shove it away, lock it away, cram it away and drown out its voice. In place of the Heart, we build a “self” and we get very prideful of it. We build into it cosmetic decorations, we make choices, we create an entire “life” and then – in our mistaken Anthropology – if we should happen to get religion, we may deign to offer this self to God and say, “Here look what I’ve built for you. Now, don’t touch it or play with it as you may break it. I’ve still got more work to do.” We never realize that this self – which we have constructed – is a false self. This face we present to God, inviting him to make use of (but not break!) is a false offering, a blemished sacrifice. The offering he wants is the one he formed out of clay, not the fake one we’ve built out of ego. A divine King is coming. And he will rule without our votes.

The source of us, in our heart or soul, is not the fake self we’ve built. But rather it is the very act of communion which we cannot break. God is the ground of all being, the source of existence itself. In that you exist you are in communion with this loving God – like it or not, choose it or not. The choice we all must make, though, is what to do now? I’ve described the first option already. I spent 45 years or so living out that pattern – and most of it quite consciously. I was fully aware that I was making choices, performing actions, engaging (or not) with other people both in and out of religions. I was fully aware that I was “constructing my life”, “being my best self”, and “following my bliss.” Occasionally I would turn, raise it up like Mufasa in The Lion King and say, “Look what I’ve birthed, God! Bless it.” Then I’d go about my business. I can tell you it was a lot of fun: but it was not joy, it was not happiness, and, in the end, it nearly killed me. I don’t mean I would have died any sooner (we all die). I mean there was no “me” left. I nearly killed the core.

But a king is coming who made me out of clay – long before I got around to ruining things into the ground.

For a Christian the heart is the source and summit of all that happens: it is the place of communion with God. Even if you never go there – never enter your own heart – the very being-ness of you is connected to God irrevocably. God loves you or you wouldn’t even be. And God will never unmake you – even when that beingness and love become for you the sheer torture of hell. You will still be and be loved.

From this heart flows all actions: you cannot “create a new self” you can only create a false self if it does not arise from this communion with the King who already reigns in your heart. There’s no being arising from your actions, there’s no other person possible other than the one he’s making for you. And though we can break that person and add scars for an eternity by our addiction to sin and self direction, we can never destroy our heart.

And the person we become constantly bears this heart up to the King. Who is coming. But is already here.

He has formed you and me out of clay – literally the humus of the earth, we are humans. Adam means “earthling”. We are little creatures of dirt. And God lives in us.

The king is here: will you serve him or try to walk away? To walk away ultimately is to destroy your heart – which will destroy your ego as well, making it a hollow shell, a Qliphoth into which Satan can move and have his being. But to stay, well: your self will die then so that you can live forever, your heart in communion with the King. But then you will know – finally – your True Self. You too, will reign.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Power of light

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.
O Rising Dawn, splendour of light eternal
and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

JMJ

RBUCKMINSTER FULLER, aka Bucky, was an American architect whose gigantic, dome-shapes are probably familiar to you. You’ve probably seen a photo, at least, of Epcot Center at Disney World. He thought we could cover cities with domes to protect us from the elements. He never thought about the expense of his amazing ideas, but you’ll notice he only wanted to cover the rich, powerful business-center of Manhattan with his dome. Over the course of his life, he wrote a series of essays on how science – especially Geometry – could help humans solve all the world’s problems. There is no energy crisis, food crisis, or environmental crisis, he said. Only a crisis of ignorance. Because he was using geometry instead of test tubes and microscopes his work tends to sound more esoteric, spiritual. It is from Bucky’s work that we get the word “Universe” as a replacement for “God” in many a popular usage. “Looks like the Universe wanted me here now.” Or, even more esoterically, “Looks like Universe wants me here now.” For most folks, that’s meaningless pop drivel that fills in for saying something religious, but Fuller thought the universe was complicated enough to run on its own and be quite a magical place. We only needed to apply our intellect to it to discover root causes and ways to manipulate it, to make its complications easy to understand, predict, and use. He assumed the root was geometry.

But his ideas always seemed fear-based: if the universe is based on geometry, why do we need to use geometry to protect ourselves from the universe and its elements? Why not use geometry to fix the universe so it’s not always attacking us? One of his essays was the “Omnidirectional Halo” which sounds like it might be spiritual-but-not-religious enough, but he wasn’t talking about Light: he was talking about a geometrically constructed dome (like Epcot). Do we need halos of steel and concrete to close us in and protect us from this wonderful Universe?

I will admit the universe – while amazing and beautiful – can be a sucky place. This is 2020 after all. Many ancient religions seemed to think the universe was a sucky place. Pope Benedict XVI writes that all of the gods of the modern world are either Bread, Sex, or Power. Gods needed to be placated. Powers like the wind and the rain needed to be manipulated to do our bidding sometime divinities needed to be invoked or moved out of the way politely. These divinities fought with humanity for a place in a limited resource, for a seat at a table with limited food.

To this the Hebrew Prophets respond, “Codswallop.” A new light is dawning.

The ancient Hebrews worshipped the ground and source of all being. He chose the pronouns he/him in his own self-revelation to his people. He spoke from fire. He rained down food. Water flowed from rocks and the land flowed with milk and honey. He was not in competition with us for limited resources. He was the source of unlimited life – even for those who rejected him. We are not suffering from a crisis of Intelligence, but rather a crisis of faith in the source of all. We look at the all, itself – the Universe – and think it is enough. We must look beyond until we come to the source of unlimited love.

A new light is dawning.

The thing about light is it always starts dim. Even if you turn on a light switch it doesn’t just pop on: the filament for a microsecond or two begins to glow and brighten. If you could slow it down you would see the light dawn in each of the bulbs in your house. There was a moment before our Central Star, Sol, was lit. And even in the explosion microsecond by microsecond the light grew and dawned. Until for each of us the light of Faith doesn’t just turn on one moment. It grows. As it grows everything around us can be seen more clearly.

Our professor, Dr Anthony Lilles, showed us this clip yesterday. While this conversation between Dr Tolkien and Dr CS Lewis never happened this way, the movie shows us exactly the process Tolkien used to bring Lewis to Christ.

I love how the friends call each other “Jack” and “Tollers”. Then Lewis described how the light dawned slowly:

WHEN WE SET OUT I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.” So wrote C.S. Lewis, describing his conversion to Christianity in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s motorbike, which took place on this day, 22 September 1931. 

Lewis had been reaching this understanding for some time. Reared an Irish Protestant, he rebelled against Christianity following the early death of his mother. While obtaining his education, he slid into outright atheism. However, encounters with Christian friends and reading the works of George MacDonald and G. K. Chesterton drew him back to theism (the belief in God). He wrote of that return to God, “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” But he did not yet believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. 

Three days before he came to that belief, he had a long talk with two Christian colleagues: J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. Tolkien argued that some myths might originate with God, as a means of preserving a rudimentary level of truth. Lewis said he did not believe there was any truth in them at all. They were still talking at 3AM when Tolkien had to go home. Dyson continued the conversation, pointing out the practicality of Christianity—a religion with power to actually free from sin, instill peace, and provide genuine outside help to change one’s character. 

Evidently, these ideas were percolating in Lewis’s mind as he rode to the zoo. Three months later, on Christmas Day, he expressed his new faith publicly by returning to the Anglican church in which he had been confirmed, joining his local parish and taking Communion for the first time since his childhood.

It Happened TodayChristian History Institute retrieved on 6 Dec 2020

The light dawns.

We have this process: we are convinced we must “make converts” when, in fact, we must only make disciples – people who are learning. It is God who makes converts, God who dawns, God who shows the way forward.

Tolkien saw the light dawning in his own heart from the Catholicism of his youth, he wrote in On Fairy Stories (1947), “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.” As the light grows, we see that our past was wrongful: but now we are seeing more-clearly. “The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.” Tolkien, again. He knows that even the ways we are broken – the ways we rejected the light in the past – become ways for the light to grow in the world!

We follow the same gods today: food, sex, and power. They are as capricious as they ever were. They give us hunger and disease, encourage selfishness and pride, and leave us addicted to things that do us no good – even as they fail to kill us, so we only consume more. And we now think we can fix it, only with different sciences: psychology, drugs, and data. We need to be computers now, instead of mathematicians. God actually wants to make us more human: so much so that he became one of us.

Bucky thought his artifice would fix a broken Creation and make it manageable. Tolkien knew that we humans are the broken parts: it we who need fixing. We humans (particularly one human, Jesus) are the tools God is using to fix us. God is fixing things exactly how they were broken. That’s how he works: nothing is lost, rejected, or left behind. Everything of value is redeemed, given purpose, and used to save others.

Christmas is dawning, off in the distance. I’m a day late as I get this posted. But it’s coming! Not just the failed retail holiday that this year will have no holiday parties, not only the celebration of a day off and far too much food. The real Christmas is dawning if you can but see it with the eyes of faith. The light is growing stronger, always.

One day: it will burst in and all that is not light will burn away like so many fading ashes. And Christmas will finally come, for real and forever.

If you are still, you can see the dawn rising now and you can almost hear the angels singing the carols.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

NOTE: Apart from the fact that I saw this video in class yesterday, Tolkien was on my mind. I lean so heavily on Tolkien for this essay because this antiphon is one of the ways God drew me to him and his church. I have been a Tolkien geek since junior high school. In Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth, one of the great messianic figures is Earendel. The name, Earendel, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word used to translate this Antiphon: the Latin O Oriens is rendered, Eala earendel. Read more here.

Power of the Keys

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

LET US SEE How the world is overthrown. What is the Key of David? It’s a reference to Isaiah 22:22 – which is said of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, but fulfilled in the Messiah. I’ve been wondering about this “key” though. What is it? Walk everything back to King Saul, David’s immediate predecessor and the first King of Israel. The Israelites had been ruled only by judges – and that only when necessary. The Torah was their governance and it was enforced by everyone (including the priests and Levites) with an appeal to the Judges or Prophets as needed. Then the people decided they wanted a king. The Prophet Samuel said he wouldn’t do it, but God told Samuel to go ahead and do it. The people were not rejecting Samuel’s judgeship – but rather God’s Kingship over them. So Samuel followed God’s command and gave the people King Saul who turned out to be a right putz.

Then came King David whom God described as “A man after my own heart.” God seemed to use Saul to prove a point but then used David (and Solomon) to raise Israel to previously unknown heights. What is the Key of David? How is it fulfilled in Messiah?

While these Antiphons for Advent are based on Scripture, they are not actually scripture – this one verse, sung once a year, pulls from three different places in Isaiah and weaves in some images later used in the Gospels. They are, more than anything, meditations. So they are worth mulling over with that in mind: they are like Dream Images, subject to many readings.

This is 2020 and what has happened has happened, so that’s where my brain is now. This year, for me, has raised the question of governance and how God participates in human actions. So at this point in time, the Key of David seems to be governance of the social order. The Messiah is named here as exactly the ruler of Temporal Order, what we now call mistakenly the “Secular” order. I say mistakenly for there was literally no concept of this “secular” order until the time between the American and the French Revolutions. There was no concept anywhere of “Church and State” prior to that time – even in places that were not Christian. For everywhere, the social order was governed by Authority and that Authority was partially religious.

Ancient Rome had laws and religious taboos had did all cultures until the modern mind broke these apart. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon he was not being “revolutionary” but rather he was committing an act of impiety – which signaled revolution. He was disrupting the divinely-instituted structures of Roman society. Likewise, Jesus was fully aware that his actions of impiety against both the Jewish and Roman structures would be seen as “politcal” as well as “theological”. These are the same things. Christianity teaches that all authority is God’s and he graciously allows men to participate in that. Only we moderns try to divorce Divine and Human Authority – and we fail. American has her own secular religion. We are unable to govern without it.

So, I think the “Key of David” signifies this joint rulership of “Church and State” which were not divided in Jesus’ day nor at any point in history until the latter part of the 18th Century amid the people of the “Enlightenment”.

The King of Israel held a religious function, an eternal as well as temporal one. And so the Key of David, the rulership of both the Sacred and the Secular, falls into the hands of Messiah. From him it passes to his body, the Church. Only modern, enlightened people in our pride imagine that these two things can be ruled separately. Most of the world and all people have known to the contrary for all of human history. And has our delusion done us so much better? Hardly. Our people are uncared for, our economy has run amok, the unrestrained content of our dreams, imaginings, and nightmares pours forth around us with never a thought to “should” only “could”. And when asked why “because it’s there” or “I wanted to” is the only answer possible. Because all other options have been removed from the table.

This is the darkness and the shadow of death in which we live and move and lose our being.

We need someone with the Key of David to close and lock away those things which are unhealthy for us, to open those ways which are good, true, and beautiful. We need someone with the Key of David to come and lead us from the prison house we have made for ourselves with – as the Orthodox/Byzantine prayer says – our “slavery to our own reasoning”.

This is prayer the Church offers here to the Messiah who is coming: rule us, lead us, take us out of our own traps and set us free.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Jesus: the Great Reset

Central image from O Root by Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

JMJ

WALKING THROUGH the Great Os this year, a pattern I’m seeing is (1) opening prayer, (2) God responding, then 2 parts describing exactly who and how this response is coming – invoking Jesse & David (Father and Son). So we’re at Jesse – the root of Jesse. It’s logical, knowing biology, to think of root as meaning the start of a tree. In fact in the present usage it is metaphorical and Jesse, himself, is root that we’re talking about. Jesus arrises from Jesse: but Jesse’s “root” goes all the way back to Adam. We are all descended from our common parents, one family, one people.

I’ve read Catholic and Orthodox writers who are biblical literalists, who think the Earth can only be about 6,000 years old and that humans have only been around for about the same amount of time. I’ve read others who simply graft Genesis onto a copy of Darwin’s work and shrug their shoulders at “mystery”. However, my first exposure to actually Catholic teaching on the subject came from a Dominican whose lecture on the topic explained that literalism (and Young Earth things) are right out. But we must accept that all humans are descended from the same two parents. So I struggled with this for a while.

Then, listening to Fr John Nepil on the Catholic Stuff podcast (back in February), I found a way to wrap the two concepts together – both evolution and two parents. Fr John suggested that as primates evolved, God picked two and gave them something: Father suggested it was the gift of speech/language. These two continued their evolutionary journey as animals, as bipeds, as mammals, as primates, and now as humans. Fr John discusses the possibility of this human family marrying others, teaching them speech, interbreeding, this all makes perfect sense. You don’t need 2 humans to be the physical genetic source of humanity – only the intellectual and spiritual teachers of what became humanity. The intent was something else, but things fall apart, and so now we continue our evolutionary journey as animals, as bipeds, as mammals, as primates, and now as fallen humans.

I like the symmetry of this pious theological opinion: it includes all the things the Church says we need and excludes all the nutters who want to deny things like millennia of evolution, Pangaea, and a round earth. It accounts for a lot of things that make no sense as merely physical phenomena like the fact that Original Sin is clearly evident to anyone – even someone who is an atheist and rejects the idea of “sin”. Things fall apart: it’s scientific.

And that’s why we need a reset.

St Paul says, “Since by man came death by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:21-22). We did this and it is fitting that one of us undoes this. Yet this is a curious mystery: A Son of Adam must undo Adam’s Fall, but Adam’s Fall prevents any Son of Adam from being able to undo it. So we need to root of Jesse: a Son of Adam who is also the Son of Promise.

As in Adam all fall, even so in Christ are all started over again.

Christmas is the Beginning of Something New and the passing away of something old: For in Christ, the Son of Adam, the Son of Promise, is also the Son of God and God Himself. The solution to the Mystery of the Fall is a newer and greater Mystery: the Incarnation. As we learned last time, this is Adonai himself. The world becomes silent, then, for two reasons: that we should all fall down in prayer before God Himself makes sense. But now all the kings of the earth fall silent before the son of a sheep farmer and – in the person of Jesus – a carpenter. I’ve heard several times (but I don’t know if it’s true) that shepherds like King David were considered unclean. I assume they smelled like their sheep, either way. I’ve also heard that in Roman times men who worked with their hands such as carpenters were also considered lower class even if they had successful businesses. Again, I don’t know that this is true, but it says a lot about the God we worship: that he would pick the lower class to become a King and then would come among us himself as the lower class son of that same King.

Jesus, the Carpenter Son of the Shepherd, the smelly and sweaty lower class God of all heaven and earth, has reset everything by making the sons and daughters of our fallen first parents what we could not become otherwise.

And let us see how the world is overthrown.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Jesus is in Control

O ADONAI, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

JMJ

The First antiphon warned us of a choice ahead. We prayed for wisdom to make that choice. This antiphon either assumes that we have made that choice – correctly or not – or else continues to warn us of what is ahead. Yes, this antiphon like all the others is sung before Christmas. However the historical event of Christmas has already passed so this antiphon is more of a commentary than a prophecy. We read/sing it knowing how the story turned out. So, no matter how you made the choice in O Sapientia, we are here confronted with a warning or a commentary: the End-User Legal Agreement as it were, the Terms of Service. Click here to continue…

Jesus is God.

Quite simply, there is no Christianity without this. The man recorded in the New Testament is either a complete nutcase who constantly alluded to himself being one with the Father and God himself, or else he is that thing that he claimed to be. And yes, it is possible to edit the texts of the Gospels to make one feel more comfortable in them, it is possible to find other documents, or to argue that the Church is biased in her opinions. But then you’re not playing Christianity you’re playing Whatever-I-made-up-today. That’s ok, actually. You do you. But admit it – confess it even – you’re doing something else.

Jesus is God. Full Stop. This text says the same Jesus is the God who appeared on Sinai giving the Torah to Moses and who appeared to him in the burning bush. Take off your shoes in the manger in Bethlehem: you are standing on Holy Ground.

Now. What does this mean for us here in Advent 2020?

This has been quite a year, has it not? So many people have said that that it’s now a cliche. Shrug. 2020, you know? It is an excuse, a way to step away from events and just kind of laughed them off – even as we are crying inside, dying a little bit each time we shrug. I won’t lie: this year has sucked. I cannot help but think of the Holy Prophet Job, minding his own business when all his children were killed, all his flocks stolen, all his goods destroyed, and his health vanished. And this all at the permission of God. Then Job’s “friends” show up and say, “Well, you must have done something to anger God or he wouldn’t have done this to you.” (With friends like this, who needs enemas?) Job is quite sure he has done nothing. So are we – the readers – for we know even God was bragging about how righteous Job was. And Job was a gentile!

We read Job recently in our chapter of Dominican Laity and I was struck as I was reading: so often Job is pushed forward in homilies or in liturgical readings as a sort of answer for why is there evil. But, really – having read the book end to end – there is no answer to these sorts questions, in fact the book sort of un-asks them. Rather than provide an answer it says – baldly – “Bad things happen. Who are you to ask questions like this?”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (as he then was) points this out in his Introduction to Christianity:

Trust God – things happen.

Rumbling around on this Advent verse and on Job (since I’ve just read it) and on 2020, it’s come to me that I do not understand “evil”. By “evil” (in quotes like that) I do not mean the mystery of human sin – so evident at literally every turn. I mean what we call evil every day: a family member’s death, a war, a disease, a political loss or victory, an oppressive law, a murder. Yes, some of these can be sins, per se, but that doesn’t make them evil. They are the result of human failings. Certainly the “problem of evil” cannot hinge on this rephrasing: “If God is Good and Loving and All Powerful then why are humans stupid, meddlesome, and selfish?” Or worse: “If God is Good and Loving and All Powerful then why are some humans able to do things I do not like?” To be honest I think that second line is what “evil” usually means: things I do not like, things that make me uncomfortable, things that make me feel bad, things that make me want to yell, “LET ME TALK TO THE MANAGER!”

Karen, honey…. that impulse itself… bless yer heart: that’s the real evil.

That’s saying – like Job does: “How DARE you?”

Jesus is God. Full stop. Corollary: you are not God. Full stop.

What’s up with 2020 then?

The Bible – including the Book of Job – is filled with the answer to this question. Yes, the world is broken: we learn this in the first few chapters of Genesis. It’s broken because we did it. You surely can see this if you look out your window. We did this the first time we tried to be God on our own terms and shattered the whole crystal. The resonances are broken and nothing is tuned quite right.

But that did not disempower God who is still omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent – and living in your heart even if you don’t pay him any mind. The Holy Patriarch St Joseph says of his slavery in Egypt, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20). Even when people intend evil, it works out for good in God’s providence. St Paul says “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Sts Paul and James tell us to rejoice in all things and to make thanksgiving (the Greek is literally, “make eucharist”) in all things. The Eastern Church says, “Glory to God for all things”. It can sound like a sucky irony, but it’s the literal truth.

This Baby, in this manger, this one that cannot defend himself, feed himself, that needs his fundament cleaned by his parents when he does the necessary, this one is God.

And you are not.

Give up your mania for judging everything. Let go. It’s all good. Can you trust him?

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

Discerment and FOMO

Original Icon by Betsy Porter.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

JMJ

In the Serenity Prayer, we ask God to give us the wisdom to know the difference between the things we can change and the things we cannot change. This verse asks for wisdom to teach us prudence: in a way exactly the same. But prudence is more than that.

For a Christian, the act of the will (in conformity with Christ) is seen in the action of choice. Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.” There’s nothing there about waffling. He says if you put your hand to the plough and look back, you’re not fit for the Kingdom. Prudence is the way of making the choice so that you never have to look back.

But prudence is exactly making a choice. Many people are terrified of making a choice at all. If they choose one thing they will have to give up another. If I pick marriage, I will miss out on ministry, but if I pick ministry, what if I want to date someone. Can I work here? What if I want to live elsewhere? Can I leave home? What if my parents die? This is called “Fear of Missing Out” or “FOMO”.

This is a huge problem. It’s often assigned as a generational problem to Millenials, but Xers show it (I had a boss who wanted others to make all the choices so he could blame them) and Boomers are famous for it: it’s the whole premise of 70s era feminism.

The original video tape is from 1984 so it’s a bit wonky (stretch marks) but you get the point.

Thing is, you have to choose. All of life is about choosing. In fact, the Christian journey begins with a choice: a renunciation of Satan, and an acceptance of Christ. It’s a conversion, a turning around, a choice.

The way of prudence is the way of making choices and sticking by them. It’s a course of action: not of thinking too much.

Now… can you do it? Well, I’m typing in a new apartment terrified it was the wrong choice for any number of worrying reasons, but can’t back out: signed the lease, paid the money. It will be fine, but right now, I’m scared because I’ve made a choice. It’ll pass.

That’s the whole thing: adults make choices and take responsibilities for them. Some part of life is painful: and that may be because of your choices. Accept that, grow and learn.

Why are we asked to make choices at the beginning of our preparation for Christmas? I’ve pointed it out already. The journey of a Christian begins with a sharp choice. The liturgy of the Church is telling us that the breaking point is coming. In the west, this verse will be sung just before Christmas on Dec 17. It’s the first blinking yellow light on the highway: there’s a huge split in the traffic up ahead. You have to make the choice. There’s no way to have it all. Some things will just not bring you to God.

God is the all we are choosing in the Christian Journey. Everything else must fall into line behind that. But he gives us everything we need to choose him: if he thinks you need a new job to know him better, you will get it. There’s nothing wrong with diving in: this world is the things God has given us to know him better. But we have to choose.

Pray for the wisdom to make the right choice.
Then make the choice.
And don’t look back.

Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
O Sapientia (11/15)
O Adonai (11/20)
O Radix Jesse (11/25)
O Clavis David (11/30)
O Oriens (12/5)
O Rex Gentium (12/10)
O Emmanuel (12/15)
O Virgo Virginum (12/20)

This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.

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.)