When in Rome…

The Readings for Thursday 1 Advent (Year 2):
Dixit Jesus: Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum cælorum: sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in cælis est, ipse intrabit in regnum cælorum.
Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord.” It’s tempting, isn’t it: to assume that means someone else.

But Christianity’s teaching “Do not judge” leaves us with a conundrum. Unless it is your calling to adjure and preach, all sins are in the first person, only. Even if it is your calling to preach, condemning others directly is never a good way to preach – although it can work sometimes. No… I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ.

So, not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom… that means me. Sins are in the first person: it is I, saying “Lord, Lord” who are in danger of damnation. And so, with that heated introduction, to our topic:

Quia incurvabit habitantes in excelso; civitatem sublimem humiliabit: humiliabit eam usque ad terram, detrahet eam usque ad pulverem. Conculcabit eam pes, pedes pauperis, gressus egenorum.
For he shall bring down them that dwell on high, the high city he shall lay low. He shall bring it down even to the ground, he shall pull it down even to the dust. The foot shall tread it down, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.

I’ve posted this before, forgive me, but One day in 2010 Cam Miller, Rector of Trinity ECUSA in Buffalo, NY, teaching an adult ed class on the Gospels, asked us to list “classes of people” in the Gospel stories and, as we were confused, he started a list on the board with 1, 2 and 3. Then we figured out the pattern and got the rest of it:
  1. Jesus
  2. The Apostles
  3. The Women
  4. Jews
  5. Jesus family
  6. Samaritans
  7. Pharisees
  8. Tax Collectors
  9. Sadducees
  10. The Scribes
  11. Clergy
  12. Lepers
  13. Sinners
  14. The Army

We came up with a few more as well. Then Cam asked us “Who are we?” The Apostles was a logical choice. But Cam pointed out that’s who we would want to be, but, as far as the story goes… “Sinners!” Yes, that’s true, but I mean, in terms of current parallels none of these categories fit. Who are we, in terms of history as we sit here in Buffalo, NY, in the middle of winter?

All of these people, in the Gospel story, live in Judea (he used the Anachronism of “Palestine” but set that aside for this post). Judea is an outlier province in the Roman World where taxes are collected and olives are harvested. It is not, however, a place where olives are eaten – they are sent away. It is a place where bad politicians get sent by the Emperor for “special assignments”. It is a place where “Keeping the Peace” is a imperial command that is impossible to keep and one’s own death sentence.

Do we live in 1st Century Judea? (NO!)
Ok, then where are we?

Americans, in terms of the Gospels, are none of the people in Judea. We’re not in the story at all except as an “unseen hand”. We are most closely paralleled to Rome, to which all taxes go, all goods are sent, and from whom no secrets are hid. We are the gobblers and thieves who send out armies to “keep the peace” only so much as it benefits us (where “us” is defined as the bankers and companies that keep Americans shopping). We are Rome. What little good others get from our benignity is because we get a greater good from it. We do not send Charity so much as we send blood money. We speak of the Law of Supply and Demand as if we had not imposed it on the world with our guns.

In the end, Christian morals and ideas about purity, morality, equality, justice, and the Kingdom of God undercut the Roman Empire so much she had to start killing the followers of this new cult.

Please, God, it were so now.

In a fit of realism, as I type this on a cheap computer, sitting under lights lit by energy paid for by farmers in Kansas, sipping coffee made by underpaid farm workers in various parts of the world, wearing clothes sewn by hands well sweated in Target and Kmart, I wonder what can ever be done. I have a lot of stuff I didn’t work for. I have a lot of stuff paid for by the blood of others. Even the foods I eat are harvested by the hands of wage slaves who come to our country because we have ruined theirs with our our politics and trade agreements. St Paul says to all of us, “Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.” Yet we have, instead, become Rome. We are the rulers of the world, the exporters of the violence that moved west with a Young America. We are the killers and the spoilers. What Marshal will stop us?

I know that some part of the world thinks we may have elected our own Nero or Caligula. Although either would be disastrous, neither were anywhere near the end of the Empire. In fact, they were the beginning of the seriously bad part. But I do fear the wrath when it comes. And it won’t be God, as such (although by his will): it will be by the hands of those we’ve chained to the machines that make our stuff.
One day, and please God, soon: they will say of America, as they say of Rome, The foot shall tread it down, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.
And maybe, like Rome, this will be our Salvation; But Rome is the Eternal City, and we only need one. I have no hope this will be so. For the Christian revolution cannot possibly come to a country that thinks, already, it is Christian, where we are all bound in our individualism and our greed to make choices: I value a whole lot of things more than the Gospel. I’ll wager you do as well.
Not all who say, Lord, Lord…

It’s all sin. Come and feast.

Happy St Nicholas Day!

The Readings for Wednesday 1 Advent (Year 2):
Et accesserunt ad eum turbæ multæ, habentes secum mutos, cæcos, claudos, debiles, et alios multos: et projecerunt eos ad pedes ejus, et curavit eos.
Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. 
Matthew 15:30

In a world where we don’t want to imagine there is sin… it helps to realize what sin is. We want to think of sin as a moral infraction, a “breaking a rule” and, in some ways, this is the case. But it is not a breaking of a rule the way that one might cheat on ones taxes or sneak out of work early. Sin is a failure to be what was intended but not by us, not even by a set of rules, but rather by God in God’s overarching pattern for all things. St Augustine calls it, “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” And if we take deed or utterance as symbols, Jesus is erasing a lot of sin here.

In the 9th Chapter of St John’s Gospel, Jesus is asked “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus reply that it was neither does not undo the idea that being born blind is an offense against the created order, that the design of God requires everyone to see God’s works and, seeing them, to praise God for them. There is no moral infraction – but the sickness of sin leads us to a world where someone might be born unable to see and praise God.

In today’s passage it is all the mutos, cæcos, claudos, debiles, et alios multos,  the mute, the blind, lame, and the weak, and many others.  These are all parts of God’s creation but human sin has left them alone, lost, weak. I don’t mean that human sickness is caused by sin, (That’ll make you blind!) but rather that all of our losses are because of sin. Sin is in the world, ergo there are failures.  Jesus sets them right.

In my youth there were preachers aplenty who said AIDS was God’s punishment on “the gay”. I know these folks still exist, but in my youth they were very common even in what we think of as mainline and liberal denominations. I once walked out on one preaching at NYC’s Cathedral of St John the Divine. Their god has sloppy aim: for in punishing gays he also got homeless mothers, and unborn children, It is wrong to say that disease was sent to punish you. It is totally right, however, to say that all disease, all sickness, all poverty, all homelessness, all need and necessity, all cripplings, all maimings, all murders, all violence, all war, all natural disasters, all – for all we know – super novas and the asteroid belt are all the result of sin and the war our soul center has waged against God for ever.

Jesus is coming to set things aright – not to heal people like a magician, to show the power of God (which only begs the question of why tsunamis and why AIDS and why I missed the bus this morning and was late again and got fired as a result). Jesus miracles are not a sign of Magic that you and I somehow missed, but rather each miracle and all of them together, is a sign of what God wants the world to be.

Only our sin keeps it from being so.

And so, Advent. The coming of Christ to save us, to judge us, to set us free, and condemn us – what is this hope then? The sign of the kingdom that is the Mass:

Et faciet Dominus exercituum omnibus populis in monte hoc convivium pinguium, convivium vindemiæ, pinguium medullatorum, vindemiæ defæcatæ. Et præcipitabit in monte isto faciem vinculi colligati super omnes populos, et telam quam orditus est super omnes nationes.

A time is coming when the Lord of hosts will prepare a banquet on this mountain of ours; no meat so tender, no wine so mellow, meat that drips with fat, wine well strained. Gone the chains in which he has bound the peoples, the veil that covered the nations hitherto; on the mountain-side, all these will be engulfed.

Come to Mass. Bring your failings, your weaknesses, sins, losses, maiming, and broken breads to lay at Jesus feet. and see this  restoration, this Kingdom of God in action… only our sin keeps it from being so.

See the Watch Swing Back and Forth



The Readings for Sunday 1 Advent (Year B):

Videte vigilate et orate nescitis enim quando tempus sit
Take ye heed, watch and pray. For ye know not when the time is.
The first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday of the Church year. It is purely #churchgeek humor to say “Happy New Year” today. In those places where the Church Calendar held sway over the secular world, it is March 25th that is the new year. The 1st Sunday of Advent is a good place to begin  liturgical books, yes: but it was not always so. Some places had multiple books in use, some places had more than four Sundays in Advent. However, as the Roman Rite became the standard through the western world, and – especially after the Reformation – as there was more standardization around liturgical publications, this was the first Sunday listed in the book.
Advent is intended to liturgically replicate the waiting of the people of Israel for the promised Messiah. Since we know Messiah has come, it’s sort of hard to replicate the waiting. Liturgical piety has, therefore, tended to focus a lot of this season on the Final Advent, the coming of Christ as Judge. So we have today’s readings, where Isaiah has the people begging for God to come to them, or St Paul thankful that God will keep the Corinthians firm in their faith “until the end”. Jesus calls out to us, WATCH!
Isaiah has the Israelites mourning, Quare errare nos fecisti Domine de viis tuis indurasti cor nostrum ne timeremus te? Why hast thou made us to err, O Lord, from thy ways: why hast thou hardened our heart, that we should not fear thee? But that’s not the way to negotiate with God, right? To blame him for leading us astray. God calls us forward to himself. He does so in gentleness and peace – if we want to wander around on our own, he lets us. We are stranded not because he misled us in the wilderness, but because we rejected clear instructions and guidance. Jesus calls out to us, WATCH.

Jesus knows that the Holy Trinity neither leads us into sin, nor gives us permission to sin. God lets us go, though: he never holds us back, although he calls to us constantly. If we want to go another way, it’s easy enough. This is why the command is “Watch”! The Greek is ἀγρυπνέω agrypneo, coming from the words for “not sleeping”. The Greek word for sleep, hypno, is where I want to go today: because our modern spin on “hypno” is much closer to what Jesus is talking about than simply sleep.

Hypnosis: being so distracted by something that you don’t notice anything else. We spend our days hypnotized by our computers, our phones, our sex lives, our politics, our food pictures: anything but thinking about what is really important. This is sleep. This is death. The thing is, watching a screen for a couple of moments can mean hours in the real world! It can be as simple as waiting for a bus… but your eyes are glued to the screen and your finger is numb from the cold. And you’re trapped.

It’s easy for us to see the electronic hypnosis that most of us use (some of us are employed to create it), but this is only a second-degree of hypnosis. The world, itself, is a distraction, a huge sleep machine that draws us away from God, away from each other and, in the end, away from our very selves. I’m not just avoiding you, God, the world, and everything. I’m avoiding me. We know this to be true because we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. The entirety of Creation tends Godward – except for us. We tend to trend away and we do so while convinced that we are driving towards something.

It’s easy to explain this graphically. If the universe is nearly an infinity (or close enough to infinity to make no difference) it’s mathematically impossible for two specks to drive towards each other and touch. Only by moving Godward, towards a new infinity, can any of us come closer to each other. Anything that keeps us away from that other infinity destroys our chances at making it here, now.

And then we die.

As I was writing that a retweet came across my feed: my friend retweeting the AP that a ICBM had been launched by North Korea. That’ll snap your attention to, let me tell ya!

God doesn’t harden our hearts to make a point. But he won’t stop us from running away to harden them ourselves. And our Judgment Day lament of “God why did this happen?” will not go over well.

What have you done to at least soften your heart a little? How much time do you have left?

When was the last time you said I love you and meant it, sacrificially willing the Good of the other? When was the last time you went to confession and really humbled yourself before the Lord? When was the last time you shrugged your shoulders on a Holy Day of Obligation and said, “That doesn’t really matter?” When was the last time you tossed out the Church’s 2,000 years of teaching on Abortion or Race or Welcoming the Stranger and said, “I can vote any way I want”?

When I count to three and snap my fingers, you will wake up.

Or die.


Never be Thrown Away

From: Meditations and Devotions By Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

Section 3:2

God was all-complete, all-blessed in Himself; but it was His will to create a world for His glory. He is Almighty, and might have done all things Himself, but it has been His will to bring about His purposes by the beings He has created. We are all created to His glory — we are created to do His will. I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name.

2. God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

3. Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me — still He knows what He is about.

Colloquy: O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, Thou that guidest Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to Thee. I trust Thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I — more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfil Thy high purposes in me whatever they be — work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see — I ask not to know — I ask simply to be used.