Non Solum Fides.

JMJ

The Readings for the 3rd Day before the Nones of January:

Et omnis qui habet hanc spem in eo, sanctificat se, sicut et ille sanctus est.

And every one that hath this hope in him, sanctifieth himself, as he also is holy.

On Sunday, Fr Joseph Illo preached an excellent sermon during which he said, “I am saved by faith, but I have a part to play: I have to get out of the way, to let God save me.” We are saved by faith. But we have a part to play in our salvation happening.

John says, everyone in this movement makes himself holy as he (Jesus) is holy. If you think this is only a matter of saying the right thing, you’re quite wrong. 

John was dealing with a class of heretics who (among other things) said that sex didn’t matter because the body was unimportant. All that was needed was for the soul to get right with God. To this John replies that we must be holy as Jesus is holy, using a Greek word translated as holy that also specifically puts forward the implication of ritual, sexual purity. How many times have you heard that Jesus freed us from concerns about sex and purity? Quite the reverse. 

We are saved by faith. But we have a part to play in our salvation happening. In the context not of just today’s reading, but of the whole passage (as we saw yesterday) John names those who disdain this purity “Antichrist”. I’ve heard some strong words leveled at Jack Spong, Nancy Pelosi, The Jesus Seminar, and My Favorite Martin, but Antichrist is a new one for me. We don’t like to judge folks… Jesus promised that job to the Apostles though: like John. 

I’ve spent a lot of time working to keep God from saving me: and I’ve used modern misconceptions of sex to to do it most, but also some drugs and rock and roll. It’s not enough to recognize we’re under the judgement of God. We have to actively come out of Babylon, to stop doing what we were doing. Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…” but he will not rudely rip them from our hands. The tighter we hold on the more he says, “let me help with that…”

But if we don’t let go, if we don’t get out of the way, Jesus is not going to knock us over and drag us off to salvation.

We have a job to do, work to perform. We have to let God save us. To do that we have to get ourselves out of the way. The music is already playing: all we need do is dance to God’s lead.

Oooo. Scaaaary.

Source
JMJ

The Readings for the 4th Day before the Nones of January:

Hæc scripsi vobis de his, qui seducant vos.
I write you these things about those who would deceive you. 
John, writing in the mid 70s (ish) of the 1st Century is already aware of Antichrist and those who would deceive Christians out of their faith. Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ is the Antichrist.
Now, I don’t mean horror movies or Satan Incarnate. Antichrist means “instead of” or “another” Christ. Yes, “Against” is implied. But it’s more subtle. Whoever denies Jesus is the Messiah is, essentially, setting himself up as that anointed of God instead of Jesus. How is this? The Church says Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners. If I say he is not that, that is not simply another opinion on the matter. I are presuming to judge the man that the Church says is God, incarnate in the flesh, born of a virgin, fulfilling all prophecies, destroying all divisions, ending sin. And I am judging that to be not so. Since the Church is describing the Truth: I’m saying I know better. There is only one person who could know better: the Christ.
This spirit is already in the world.
Yes, it is always prompted by Satan, but it is present even in the most “innocent” of conversations: yes, I’m Catholic, but I believe in the right to abortion. Or you should get a divorce. We’re Catholics, but you can do whatever you want. Vatican II says I can make up my own mind.
Antichrist come into the world.

Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. 
Those “you” words are plural. So, “What the Church has heard from the Beginning should remain in the Church”. Even if your RCIA instructor tended to the wonky extremes of the liberal or conservative sides, always refer back to what the Church has heard from the beginning. Anything else is not some B-horror-movie monster, but “another Christ”.  And, really: that is the same thing.

Contemplata Aliis Tradere

JMJ

The Readings for the 8va Day of Christmas, 
The Solemnity of the Mother of God:

Maria autem conservabat omnia verba hæc, conferens in corde suo.
But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.

How does Luke know this? Because Mary told him…

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “Vita contemplativa simpliciter est melior quam activa quae occupatur circa corporales actus, sed vita activa secundum quam aliquis praedicando et docendo contemplata aliis tradit, est perfectior quam vita quae solum contemplatur, quia talis vita praesupponit abundantiam contemplationis. Et ideo Christus talem vitam elegit” (Summa Theologiae, III, Q. 40, A. 1, Ad 2). A translation is: “the contemplative life is, absolutely speaking, more perfect than the active life, because the latter is taken up with bodily actions: yet that form of active life in which a man, by preaching and teaching, delivers to others the fruits of his contemplation, is more perfect than the life that stops at contemplation, because such a life is built on an abundance of contemplation, and consequently such was the life chosen by Christ.” (Quote the Wiki)

I’m not going to dare an essay on the Dominican contemplative tradition here, but only note that if St Thomas is correct about Jesus choice of life, then Jesus learned it from his mother.

It is traditional on New Year’s Day (or maybe last night) for Mother Church to sing a Te Deum for all of Last Year.

Yesterday at Mass I heard a Latin Te Deum sung after Mass in this way and I was thinking of all the things that God has blessed me with in 2017.  And as I contemplatively tap danced around the year thinking of this event or that, it finally dawned on me that I was doing this in the Catholic Church! I thank God daily that it is so. Here I have found a family and it is the family I would have chosen.

For what will you sing Te Deum ?

Te Deum laudámus: te Dominum confitémur.
Te ætérnum Patrem omnis terra venerátur.
Tibi omnes Angeli; tibi cæli et univérsae potestátes.
Tibi Chérubim et Séraphim incessábili voce proclámant:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth.
Pleni sunt cæli et terra majestátis glóriæ tuæ.
Te gloriósus Apostolórum chorus;
Te Prophetárum laudábilis númerus;
Te Mártyrum candidátus laudat exércitus.
Te per orbem terrárum sancta confitétur Ecclésia:
Patrem imménsæ majestátis;
Venerándum tuum verum et únicum Fílium;
Sanctum quoque Paráclitum Spíritum.
Tu Rex glóriæ, Christe.
Tu Patris sempitérnus es Fílius.
Tu ad liberándum susceptúrus hóminem, non horruísti Vírginis úterum.
Tu, devícto mortis acúleo,
    aperuísti credéntibus regna cælórum.
Tu ad déxteram Dei sedes, in glória Patris.
Judex créderis esse ventúrus.
Te ergo quǽsumus, tuis fámulis súbveni,
    quos pretióso sánguine redemísti.
Ætérna fac cum sanctis tuis in glória numerári.

[added later, mainly from Psalm verses:]
Salvum fac pópulum tuum, Dómine, et bénedic hæreditáti tuæ.
Et rege eos, et extólle illos usque in ætérnum.
Per síngulos dies benedícimus te.
Et laudámus nomen tuum in sǽculum, et in sǽculum sǽculi.
Dignáre, Dómine, die isto sine peccáto nos custodíre.
Miserére nostri, Dómine, miserére nostri.
Fiat misericórdia tua, Dómine, super nos, quemádmodum sperávimus in te.

In te, Dómine, sperávi: non confúndar in ætérnum.

We praise thee, O God : we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee : the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud : the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim : continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy : Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty : of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world : doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man : thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
    thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God : in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come : to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants :
    whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints : in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save thy people : and bless thine heritage.
Govern them : and lift them up for ever.
Day by day : we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name : ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord : to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us : have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us : as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted : let me never be confounded.




Mom said I could help.

JMJ

The Readings for the Holy Family, Sunday within the 8va of Christmas:

Puer autem crescebat, et confortabatur plenus sapientia: et gratia Dei erat in illo.

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.


Once again we find this scary concept that God is growing up.

This is the God that loves us.
That came to be one of us:
Not just with us
One of us.

How can God empty himself so deeply, so fully?

This is a divine mystery.

Yet it stands not alone: for God the Father emptied himself fully in the Son, and the Son created all of life, pouring himself out on the Universe.

And when we rejected his love,
He poured himself out yet more
Becoming infinitely small.
The smallest life humanly known
A cell.
Fully human, fully divine, fully alive.
The Conception of Divinity
The Immaculate Virgin as Ark of the Covenant
Then two cells.
Four
Eight,
Millions and millions
And Jesus.
Born of his Mother,
Held in Joseph’s arms.

And we ourselves can know this outpouring best
can mirror this emptying
By doing it.

The Letter to Diognetus says, “And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. Then thou shalt see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe].

This is only possible, though,
In God’s family: the Church
And today, we celebrate the beginning of that family
In Nazareth.

All is sacrifice, 
All is emptying out
And all is Joy.

God grows up.
What is this mystery?

What is the miracle that is sung at Christmas?

That God wets the bed.

That Joseph had to get out of bed in the wee hours (no pun intended, maybe)
To change bedding
To sing the child to sleep
To wonder about waiting for sleep to find him again
Wondering what had happened.

And Mary nursing the child
Life flowing from her breast
to Life himself.

And baby poo stinks.

And the first summer when there were birds
and the child – who made them –
Saw them finally as his eyes
learned to see
other things than Mom’s face
and Not the Mommy

And there was a thing
hidden in the room
that only babies can see
in the dark
and it is scary
and did Joseph have to keep a light?

Or were the stars enough?

Go and help your father.
Me? Really?
This was the first time I’d been asked to help
This was important.

What are you doing here?
Mom said I should help.
Oh. Get down here and help then…

The image ends there…. but God has done so.

And loves us the more for it
And we him.

Merry Christmas

I want that. No. Wait.

JMJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world is passing with his lusts. 

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

The world just passes by.

And the cross is the center of stillness.

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

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


A Bible Study with Godwin’s Law

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

Si dixerimus quoniam societatem habemus cum eo, et in tenebris ambulamus, mentimur, et veritatem non facimus.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.

I’m reading (or listening to, rather) Archbishop Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land and I’ll do a full review when I’m done, but tonight, just before writing this…  there’s a portion of the book where the Author discusses M. Scott Peck’s The People of the Lie. Without getting too deep into the chapter, Peck’s point (or, rather, my take on Chaput’s take on Peck’s point) is that as we become used to telling lies, and lies to cover lies, and lies to justify lies, and lies to get by, and lies to get ahead, and lies to just get through the day, we become inured to this constant stream of lies. All parts of our culture are based on it and we cave in. We lose touch with the concept of truth, with reality, we just keep going deeper into lies.

The Holy Innocents are the result of a culture of lies.

Herod was known for his tantrums, his extravagances, and his insanity. It’s said that when he died he left orders to have pious elders killed so that people would at least seem to be in mourning for him.

Why did no one say stop when he gave the order to slaughter the babies of Bethlehem? Everyone was too tied up in their power games, in keeping clear of the king’s sword, in staying out of prison, that they decided – long before the Bethlehem orders came through – to just go along with it all. Sooner or later he’d be gone and one could live one’s life in peace. Right. Even the Magi got caught at first, giving out too many bits of info because they thought Herod was a pious Jew. Yes, killing the babies was bad, but Herod didn’t hold all the swords alone.

Why did no one stop Hitler? This question was Reagan’s bogeyman. Reagan imagined a nation of “Good Germans” who were only misled by the Madman. But everyone wasn’t misled: the Madman was elected, freely, three times before he became a dictator. People knew what they were doing. Yes, killing Gypsies, Gays, Jews, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and women who slept with any of these… all bad. But Hitler had more than a little help. 

The icon above gets used as a symbol for the problem of Abortion in our country, and in the west in general. But abortion is only the capital sin, right? It’s not the root. A lot ot little sins lead up to it: unrestrained sexual passion, attempting to justify some or another form of illicit sexual activity, selfishness, greed, laziness, lust. What about institutionalized poverty, people saying you should get an abortion, what about experts, family members, and even counselors pushing the mother this way? Why ever ignore all that and focus on the thing at the end of this chain? Yes, killing the baby is bad, but the bad started a long time before.

Peck says our biggest lie that we tell to ourselves, over and over, is “I’m doing the right thing here” even when we know it’s a lie. I’ve wrestled with this from the time I was 12 and Mom told me to pretend to be 10 so I could get an half-priced ticket on an airline. It’s right to oney Mom, right? I wrestled with it working in retail when people would walk up to me and, to my face, tell a lie and ask for money back. One lady called from LA and said her friends all got free service on our site and she wanted it too. I said we don’t have free service. And she said, “Are you calling my friends liars? They are sitting here with me.” And I said, “Yes”. She hung up. We are an amazing people.

We have a liar for a president – although he’s not the first, he certainly is very blatant about it.  We have politicians who lie and we insist that “my side” is telling the truth but the other side is always lying. We have Catholics and Orthodox who can’t tolerate a bad thing being said about their right wing politics so they brand everyone else as sexual and political deviants – including their own religious leaders. We have gobbledygook spouted as gospel truth by clergy and professional websites.

We have a culture of lies. When we lie, it may not hurt, it may not bother anyone: but our soul dies a little. Teacher says every time I tell a lie a baby dies. And, quite possibly, Rachel will weep at the end for our actions too.

Ite ad Ioseph

JMJ

The Readings for Sunday 4 Advent (Year 2):

Vade, et loquere ad servum meum David: Hæc dicit Dominus: Numquid tu ædificabis mihi domum ad habitandum? Quare non ædificastis mihi domum cedrinam?
Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. I was wrestling with these readings, with the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve Sermon, if you will. Then the painting at the head of this post was shared in a Catholic Men’s Group to which I belong. It’s on the cover of an Advent and Christmas book by the late Henri Nouwen. Right now I can’t find anything else about this image: is it just a random artist’s cover design? If so… wow.

And Joseph worked every day to keep God clothed and fed, to keep the family together. Was he a carpenter in Egypt? Or did he find the Egyptians hard on immigrants? Did Joseph struggle with fear and surprise at all the responsibility he had? Did he know that, leaving that day for Bethlehem, he would not be back for five or six or ten years? When he got to Bethlehem did he set up a shop and do odd jobs?

Regardless of his age (some would say 50, others 20), Joseph was part of an arranged marriage, be that between himself and Mary’s parents (at 50) or between his parents and hers (when he was a boy). Leave all idea of romance out of this story. The Holy Family was put together – in God’s full providence – following the cultural desires and needs of their own families. Mary’s parents needed a married daughter so they could be provided for in their old age. Church tradition says they were already very elderly, so they wouldn’t have had time to wait for a boy to grow up. Joseph married into a set of needs that he was expected to meet.

Did Joseph know what he was getting into (before the Angel showed up in a dream, anyway)? Did Joseph know this was God’s Mother? The tradition of Mary as a mystical child would say she was very odd and everyone knew it. But did Joachim and Anna sit down and say, “Here’s what we knew…” Did they know?

God’s grace is enough.

One way to look at Joseph is to imagine a great saint who knew all this stuff and squared his shoulders and said, “OK, God. Hit me: I’m ready.” We want to imagine that, I think, because we want Joseph to be something more. We want Mary and Joseph to be more than they are just so we can imagine the story making any sense at all. But God doesn’t work like that.

Joseph’s namesake and ancestor, who also had dreams, was not only a member of a wandering tribe in the waistlines of the fertile crescent, he was also annoying as all get out. He was a teenager who offended his parents and brethren (despite their love for him) so much that his brothers sold him into slavery. And in slavery, even there, he nearly got raped by his owner, and thrown into prison for not playing along.

God uses broken things.

The idea that Joseph was a widower, looking for someone to manage the house and cook and clean makes sense. He would get a wife, yes, but he would also get Anna and her famous stews, Joachim’s business sense, and the kids of his first wife would get “step grandparents”. His household would be enlarged and his bed warmed. And there would be many good things, right?

But then it all fell apart and here she was with child.

But this was different. And even though his friends noticed and everyone could count and everyone wondered who the father was… he said, No, I will do this. And then that night in Bethlehem. And all that followed. What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God.

God’s grace is enough, but Joseph still has to say yes – over and over and over. God didn’t pick any man for this Job. He picked Joseph. Joseph who would die in 15 or 20 years, but who would defend this little family, this first Church. Joseph who would provide and care, defend, lead and build up. Joseph who would teach Jesus how to be a man in a world where men raped and pillaged to get strong. Joseph who would show Jesus how to pray and meet his obligations as a pious Jew. Joseph who would show Jesus how to saw, hammer, measure, and build. Joseph who would be “Daddy” for all time to this Man who was God.

God did not pick just any man.

But Joseph. Fear does not mean that one backs down. Fear is an offer to back down. Courage, the strength of heart needed to say yes, God gives. But it must be a gift accepted. It must be a gift used. Joseph accepted it over and over as we all must, and used God’s grace to protect this little family, this holy household. And when, in stunned silence, he watch first the poor, and then the very wealthy, come and do homage to his child, Daddy manned up and took care of everything with God’s grace.

Joseph.

Jesus learned about being a man in this world from this man. God picked this man to teach him.

In later years, Joseph died. And Jesus and Mary and the rest of the household mourned. Then in the Resurrection when Jesus harrowed Hell and opened wide Paradise, there was one man, right? There was one man would have been greeted with a hug, and that word, “Daddy”. And how could he not have been so greeted?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. And who now still cares for this little family, this Church. Who still builds a house for God if we but let him build it in our hearts.

Go to Joseph. He will help. He will build up. He will protect. He will watch and guard. It’s his job and he says yes.

Christmas in Purgatory

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Et quis poterit cogitare diem adventus ejus, et quis stabit ad videndum eum? ipse enim quasi ignis conflans.
And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire.
Happy Christmas: we’re doomed, here in the wealthy, bullying west. We’re doomed. But I hope it is to our salvation. How can that be? Yesterday’s post didn’t rant about our personal doom: but rather about the doom of this unhealthy culture of consume and die in which we are engulfed. We are so busy building it up because we can that we never even stop to ask if we should. (We shouldn’t. God’s got a way out. Through him:

  • The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. – Exodus 13:21
  • and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. – Numbers 14:14
  • who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go. – Deuteronomy 1:33
  • Then He led them with the cloud by day And all the night with a light of fire. – Psalm 78:14
  • then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. – Isaiah 4:5
  • At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. – Exodus 14:24
  • It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. – Genesis 15:17
  • “I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. – Daniel 7:9
  • “Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form–only a voice. – Deuteronomy 4:12
  • “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 4:15
  • “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? – Deuteronomy 4:33
  • “The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 5:4
  • “You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. – Deuteronomy 5:24
  • “He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. – Deuteronomy 10:4
  • “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. – Deuteronomy 4:36
  • ‘For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? – Deuteronomy 5:26
  • Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. – Exodus 19:18
  • And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. – Exodus 24:17
  • For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. – Isaiah 66:15
  • May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him. – Psalm 50:3
  • “From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. – 2 Samuel 22:13
  • From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire. – Psalm 18:12

God’s way out is passing us through his refining fire. This is the very meaning of Purgatory: the refining fire of God’s love, making us pure. Will it hurt, mostly. But we will be blessed to know the pangs of love.
And when there is something here, that is not for our salvation, be it drugs, sex, politics, a relationship, television, whatever; it will take fire to burn it out of us. We are doomed: we, the collective, cultural matrix we’ve built up. Each of us, inside it, are the icons of God, but you can’t tell me the world we have made is that at all. We are doomed.
If we die with this wrapped around us, God love will still take care of it. 
But if we pass through the Jihad (Syrian Catholic), the Ascesis (Greek Catholic), the Podvig (Slavic Byzantine Catholic), the holy Struggle of purification here, while we’re alive: we can offer it all up to God and, maybe, prevent others from falling into the same traps, the same pains, the same struggles as we. 
There is one last reference: too those who have rising beyond the fire:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. – Revelation 15:2

For those who, by grace, make it through… and grace is only more fire… there is glory.

Why We’re Doomed

JMJ

The Readings for Friday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede,
   et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis,
   et divites dimisit inanes.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
   and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.

Christianity was a revolution in Roman society because it taught the poor that they could care for themselves by sharing what little they had.

From the beginning, though, the Rich, also welcomed at God’s table, had trouble. So much of their lives had been spent acquiring stuff and holding on to stuff, that it was hard to shift gears. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property – which means they had it to sell in the first place. But they couldn’t bring themselves to give the money to the Church.

The Corinthians couldn’t bring themselves to even share meals with the poor and the slaves who were limited in their time to come and go. Paul yelled at them and changed their communion rites.

The wealthy church in Rome was so decadent that Benedict left.

Francis…

This list goes on.

One thing about 21st Century Capitalism: everyone is the poorest. Nearly no one in America has any conception of anyone under them in the pecking order. All of us, though, know someone higher up. We are quite willing to mark ourselves are “one of the 99%” or whatever you want to call it, but we’re all pretty equal down here. It’s them folks, up there, that you have to watch out for.

I learned this while protesting my oppression. I’m in a class of people who tend to have higher income, more college degrees, better homes, and more disposable income than many Americans. But, you know, I’m oppressed. And I never figured out why the children of slaves couldn’t see that.

We’re all equal down here. It’s those folks up there you have to worry about.

What I’ve discovered over the years is that everyone needs someone to hate and, recently, it’s been the rich. So: it can’t be me. Don’t hate me! I live in a basement apartment with one place to sit and and I sleep on the floor. OK, I pay more for my basement than my parents have ever paid in monthly mortgage payments, Rogue Ales are my house wines, and I get new stuff whenever I want. But I’m one of you.

We’re all equal down here. It’s those folks up there you have to worry about.

And then one day I realized I was those folks up there. Most of the world doesn’t care who I voted for in the recent election. Most of the world sees major personal differences between our various presidents, but most of the world sees no economic or policy differences. Yes this one is brash, that one is colored different, that one over there seems quite and stupid. But we’ve never changed our north star: economic hegemony over the entire world so that we can have all the stuff.

We’re way up there.

Until recently that was clear.

The thing about the pecking order is, though, the higher up you get the harder you have to peck to keep the masses under you.

And so, it’s only logical, that someone would eventually start pulling the rug out from under the feet of the middle class, even the upper middle class.

The proud are being scattered now in our conceit.
Rich people, turning against rich people, to fight it out over tax refunds and exemptions.

We are doomed.

We’re getting what we deserved. For while we were fighting with each other about “abortion rights” and saying we were “being oppressed” by cake bakers, we were just killing off the living in other parts of the world in order to have cheap plastic junk at WalMart.

When the poor are “lifted up” it won’t be any of us reading these pages. The Meek and the Lowly are not writing these words, nor are the hungry using their smart phones to read it.

We are doomed.

Not my president, we say. Even as we call him all the names he calls us. Even as we refuse to put forward candidates who will work Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God. I’m with Her we say in self-righteous indignation, as neither she (nor her husband) ever did anything to fix the problems of the poor in this country or in others. Mostly in others, really. For every trade agreement only made it worse, feeding the pockets of the rich, and allowing some of us to pretend we were rich because we got more stuff.  And all the while dumping on the poor; the real poor. And now that the poor are running around the world in terror from the horror we (or our proxies) have built in their countries, we build walls to keep them out.

We are doomed.

All the while we deploy our cheapest political tricks: divide and conquer. Your women should be free like ours. Your political minorities are way more oppressed than ours.  We can fix it. Regime change, Neoliberalism, cheap electronics, it doesn’t matter.

We are doomed.

We are doomed because one day (again) the God we claim to believe in will do what he always does: casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. Filling the hungry with good things he’s going to send the rich (that’s us) away empty. Starving. Lost. Dead.

Maybe that will save us. So, come quickly, Lord. And stir up the crap again.

Belushi, Geer, and God… (ok, and Solomon.)

Chagall’s Song of Solomon 1958
JMJ

The Readings for Thursday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Similis est dilectus meus capreæ, hinnuloque cervorum. En ipse stat post parietem nostrum, respiciens per fenestras, prospiciens per cancellos. En dilectus meus loquitur mihi. SPONSUS: Columba mea, in foraminibus petræ, in caverna maceriæ, ostende mihi faciem tuam, sonet vox tua in auribus meis: vox enim tua dulcis, et facies tua decora.
My beloved is like a roe, or a young hart. Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. My beloved speaks: My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, shew me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely.
Thus is fulfilled, as I posted yesterday. The Christian tradition follows Jewish tradition on this love story: the Bride is the Church (the New Israel) and the Groom is Christ. For Jews it’s Israel and the Holy One.

This image of Christ, peaking through the latice at us, of the love watching through the window, is one of the best images ever, as he sings to us, “My dove, hiding in the cleft of the wall…” It’s erotic. It’s romantic. It’s… rather creepy really. If we listen with our modern ideas of sex and sexuality. Why do you want your lover watching you through the window shades? Why does your lover want to?

John Belushi in Animal House (1978)

This is our ideas of human sexuality: our passions run amok so much so that we can’t even begin to image God as lover without it getting creepy. The creepy part, though, is not what God is doing in this verse: it’s our imaginations.

The Virginal conception and birth of Jesus doesn’t just seem “hyper-pious” it seems improbable, if not impossible: because no one we know is a virgin any more. How can two, normal teenagers (Joseph and Mary) have abstained from Sex? Even following the tradition of the Church where Joseph was elderly, we know – right? – we know that Old Guys marry Young Girls to have more sex. We know this.
We know with all our faith that my body doesn’t control me, that old people need Viagra, that porn is normal, that men don’t watch women through windows, or they get arrested.
And that God doesn’t’ care what goes on in my bedroom.
But if we see the Church as the Bride of Christ… and that seems creepy… Maybe we’re missing something about human sexuality? How did 2,000 years of Christians and 4,000 years of Jews before that manage to handle it? And how about all those pagan places where the King was married to the land for the sake of fertility and defense? What are we missing today where God is sexless and is not empowered to pick his own pronouns through the only voice he has givne us, and where the Church is an it, not a she?
Although the Song of Songs tends to switch back and forth in voice between the Bride and the Goom, along with a few other parties, the Narrator tends to sound like the Bride: saying “My lover says…” when the Groom speaks.  Solomon has put on a woman’s voice, telling the story of how God has wooed Israel.
Larry Norman’s amazing “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You” (1972) is one attempt by the rocker legend to put himself into a feminine persona as he sings about Christ. (There’s another one on the series of three albums known as the Trilogy, but I can’t just now remember which song it is.) 
The Church, too, is the feminine voice, expressed mostly by men, wooed by God. Was it CS Lewis? Or someone modern writer who said that God is the ultimate power, the male, active force to the passive, receptive, female force of the entire cosmos. We are all feminine before God.
And here, in Solomon’s text, if we let it be about romance, about joy, about love, it’s not at all creepy. We’re the ones who have wandered away: we are the prostitute that God has married. We are the wayward one rescued by the strong hand that would bring us back only for love.
Richard Geer and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990)
Christmas really makes no sense otherwise. God has self-sacrificed out of love for us. Just how much self-sacrifice we shall see on Monday. It is so deep, so wide, so powerful that we cannot avoid it save only by callousness, cold-heartedness, and pride.

We are called to humility before this God who only wants to love us.

Will you not be wooed by him? He says you are lovely. Will you not let him hear your voice?

You came into my life, you took me off the shelf
You told my name to me and taught me what to do
But then you went away and left me by myself,
I feel completely lost and lonely without you
Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you, without you
Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall
I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all
Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you, without you
It’s just no good without you, without you
It’s just no good without you, without you
It’s just no good without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you