The Egyptians are mine too.

The Propers for the Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa In voluntate tua Domine


THE HOLY PROPHET, JOB the Longsuffering, appears very unexpectedly in this Mass. I turned the page and my eyes nearly popped out. But I think he provides the fullest context for these texts but, as always, we will begin with the Collect. We ask God to keep safe his household (the Church) so that she can do good works to glorify him. As Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and praise your Father which is in heaven.” This is a prayer asking God to let the Church be the Church. What are these things we’re being defended from? In the minor propers for today there are essentially three different tones of voice: one celebrating God as our refuge & liberator (Gradual and Alleluia), another begging for safe from or justice against those who attack us (Secret, Communion, and Postcommunion), and the third is signified by the difficult presence of Job and pounded home by the Introit and the Offertory.

The name of the Mass, In voluntate tua, Domine, universa sunt posita. It comes from the Book of Esther. “All things are in Thy will, O Lord; and there is none that can resist Thy will: for Thou hast made all things, heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven: Thou art Lord of all.” (These are lines not in the Protestant version of Esther at all.) The Introit says, literally, everything is in God’s hands. Nothing moves without God’s will. Take with that the Offertory, “There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, simple, and upright, and fearing God: whom Satan besought that he might tempt: and power was given him from the Lord over his possessions and his flesh; and he destroyed all his substance and his children; and wounded his flesh also with a grievous ulcer.”

All things are in Thy will, O Lord. Does God will us evil?

We want to look out on the world and point at people – political enemies, criminals, management, the bourgeoisie, the 1%, the other races, the dreaded heterosexual, white, cisgendered male, the them of the world. We are certain that they are doing this to us. The Communists, the Capitalists, the Statists, the Q Qultists, the Antifa, the Fascists. We’re constantly constructing world views where we (almost always “we”, sometimes “I” though) are on the inside. We like being on the inside, feeling persecuted. They, them, those folks over there are the bad guys.

Yet in the Epistle St Paul reminds us,

Quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiae, in caelestibus. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.

Ephesians 6:12

Our Battle is never against other people created in God’s image. Even if someone is kicking in your door and getting ready to slay you for the faith they are not your enemy. Why are they not your enemy? God loves them too and as much as he wants you in heaven for eternity he wants them to be there with you.

One of my favorite stories from the Talmud has God weeping in heaven as the Israelites are singing his praises on the far bank of the Red Sea. When the Angels join in the celebration God hushes them and remind them that The Egyptians are my children too.

We wrestle not with flesh and blood. But we forget that all the time: St Paul tells us to put one the whole armor of God, and gives us glorious imagery: loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace in all things taking the shield of faith,… the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. You can see a Knight standing in front of you with those words, can you not? At least in Paul’s language he was probably thinking more of a Gladiator in the arena, a roman slave dressed up for a life-or-death battle with an enemy. But who was the enemy? In the arena, it was probably another slave. But the real enemy was the one making them fight.

Why are we dressed up like this in metaphor, though? Not to fight other slaves, but rather to look out for the fiery darts of the evil one. Our enemy is the one who goes about like a lion looking for someone to devour. This is why Job shows up in this Mass. When Temptation happens, when Tribulation happens, when someone starts to push our buttons, when They burn Churches, when They yell at Pope Francis because they don’t like what he says, when They accuse you of being a Christian Hate-Monger at work, when They mock the church on Twitter, when They counsel us to buy guns and lock the Churches during mass to keep Them out; when these things happen we have two choices: to fight against whatever They, Them, or Those is standing in front of us, or to pray for them and try to win them over to Jesus through acts of love.

Are the Egyptians not my children too? Jesus has strong words for us in the Gospel today if we forget the Egyptians are his children.

Let me presume to retell this Parable like this. A young Catholic realizing that she had a mortal sin on her soul goes to confession before Mass. She makes a very good confession. Having received absolution, she goes to Mass and receives our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Then she goes to Coffee hour (you may remember Coffee hours from before the plague struck us). At Coffee hour she runs into a friend and they decide to go out to brunch. (You may remember Sunday brunch from before the plague struck as well.) They are joined at brunch by two others who were not at Mass. Since it’s just before election season a political conversation arises and our heroine finds herself to be alone in a political minority at the table. It’s never dawned on her that a Roman Catholic could either ever vote the other way. Instantly she launches into a harangue that makes her friend cry. The other two at the table wonder to themselves that this is how Catholics treat each other after Mass on Sunday.

I remember reading a line from an Anglican theologian, whose name I’ve completely forgot even though the line has stuck with me in paraphrase. It goes like this: “In the presence of Infinite Love it is rude to point out the difference between two of his servants.” Are the Egyptians not my children too?

Where the minor propers speak of God as our refuge and our surety and our protection they are not assuring us protection from the world. Rather they are asking for God to protect us from the evil one’s servants who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. To ruin souls you only need to get them to fight against each other. Anytime our temptations turn us to hating our brothers and sisters – and by that I mean any other human being – then we are at risk not for killing them or getting ourselves injured but rather at risk of losing our own souls.

Mass today seems to say all things are in God’s control. I’m okay with that. By adding St Job into the mix the Mass seems to say even the evil one’s actions happened to us at God’s will, or at least at his allowance. I don’t presume to explain why but St Paul also has that answer, although it may not always be obvious. Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. We may not know in this world how it is possible for this to be true, but the “Good” here means our salvation. All things are working for our salvation. And, really, not just “ours” but everyones. The choice we have to make daily is to cooperate or not.

Job’s presence at this Mass reminds us that sometimes things can get pretty bad indeed. But we should wait on God, trust in his mercy, and never forget that humans are never our enemies. They are only acting that way because they are deluded by the Prince of Lies. Our resolution should be not to pass laws to stop them, to higher guards to protect us, or to buy guns to slay them. Our resolution should be to win them to Christ.

For we wrestle not with flesh and blood: the Egyptians are God’s children too.

ENOUGH Already!

The Propers for the Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Omnia quae fecisti nobis


AS WE KEEP SAYING, GOD IS IN CONTROL, but you know what, sometimes that sucks. The 20th Sunday may remind us (if we’re honest) that it’s 2020. This may not be the worst of times, but this has not been the best of times either. Between the pandemic, panic, death, economics, politics (all at home & abroad), and the complications caused by merging or overlapping all of these factors over and over and over again, this year has highlighted our weakness as a people. I do not just me and one nation here. I mean we as a people. The whole world is one people as the Holy Father has reminded us in his recent encyclical. The Church Fathers go even further, declaring in the early centuries of the church that while there are many human persons there is only one human nature which we all share – us human Mortals together with the Divine Jesus Christ sharing in this one human nature. We Are All One. But we don’t act like it: and that is seen clearly now as we struggle for resources, including Health Care, as we point and accuse each other, as we fight over leadership, and as we wonder what God might be doing in this time. Please do not think that I am drawing boundaries between good countries and bad countries, or good politicians and bad politicians. Christian charity requires if I have an abundance I share it with you or with anyone who has not enough. I’ve seen no nation doing that. Even nations who are doing what one may imagine they should be doing (even in one’s lack of scientific knowledge) with their healthcare systems are not sharing those resources with others. Those nations point at others and say, “O look, how sad. That (lack of a) healthcare system is bad for those people.” They accuse as well.

So, we’re not being “fratelli tutti” at all. God is in control, though, right? Goodness but this sucks.

The Collect for today sounds out this problem. Turning to God and saying (in Latin) “Having been placated, grant, O Lord…” The prayer assumes that God’s anger is aroused and we need to beg for help. Does that not sound like 2020? Certainly it would be possible – even if one were not a religious person – to imagine that 2020 is some part of a divine plan of wrathful revenge. One may then all the more easily ask, “For what?”

Today’s Introit underscores the attitude: the first line of the whole Mass is sung in humility, “All that Thou hast done to us, O Lord.” You can almost hear the world, “You did this.” But which of us would dare say the rest? Who will turn the accusation into a confession? “Because we have sinned against Thee, and we have not obeyed Thy commandments: but give glory to Thy Name, and deal with us according to the multitude of Thy mercy.”

Having made such a confession, the rest of the Collect also makes sense: having been placated, O Lord, “grant to Thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins and also serve Thee with a quiet mind.” The Latin actually speaks in terms of security being secure in our peaceful mind to serve God. God is not placated by how much he punishes us: God is placated by our confession of our sin and by our coming back to walk in his law where we are blessed.

Think back to the story of Adam and Eve. To abbreviate the story horribly: God said, “If you do this thing you will die.” The Serpent said, “You will not die if you do this thing.” Adam and Eve looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said, “Okay. We will do this.” Then they did this. Then God said, “Now will have to die.”

In America we tend to imagine that last sentence spoken like this: “NOW YOU WILL HAVE TO DIE!!!!!!” There were flashes of lightning and possibly an earthquake has the last word was screamed from the depths of Eternity into the ears of Adam and Eve. But that’s not what happened at all. That sentence, typed all in uppercase letters, misses the point entirely. For God was standing in front of two creatures whom he had loved and created, in his heart, before eternity even began. If it were possible it was with tears in his eyes that he sighed. And nearly weeping for his love, said, “but Adam, my son…dearest daughter, Eve… now you will have to die…” And the Angels wept with God as Satan laughed hysterically.

God, understanding and allowing our choices, and always loving us anyway, knows that we choose some really stupid things sometimes. We are always fighting with God for control and this is what happens. Even the news last night of two unused satellites colliding in orbit and possibly triggering a rather apocalyptic nightmare called “Kessler Syndrome” is only more of our mistakes coming back to haunt us. That’s not “God’s Judgement” except in the sense that he built the laws of gravity, orbital science, entropy, and physics into his universe. We break or ignore them at our own risk (and in our pride).

And so, while it is possible to look at 2020 and accuse God as easily as we accuse each other, both the collect and the introit say right up front, “Yup. Our Fault. Goodness, but we’re stupid. Help us fix this.” The rest of the Propers for this Mass are clear instructions for how to fix this.

In the minor propers, the Offertory, the Secret, and the Postcommunion all beg for forgiveness and consolation in our repentance. Again, the things that are happening are not pinned on God, but rather we seemed to have walked right into them. However the Gradual and the Communion all speak of hope. No matter what is happening to us or around us, right now, here at Mass, we stand in heaven. The liberation of the world from Satan and from the impact or our own sins is here not just foreshadowed by the liturgy, but actually happening. Heaven is now here. Taste and see.

Finally, the Epistle gets us into the nitty gritty of what it means to live like God is in control. And it has nothing to do with a bed of roses. St Paul says to the Ephesians that troubles are a good thing. He calls them, “our glory” in Chapter 3, which we read on the 16th Sunday. Today, in Chapter 5, he says the days are evil – we know this. But he doesn’t tell us to sign petitions or to hold protest marches. He says, “Redeem the time”. There he uses the same Greek word that he uses elsewhere for what Christ has done for us. (Check out Galatians 3:13 where Christ has “redeemed us from the curse”.) Paul says to ἐξαγοραζόμενοι τὸν καιρόν Exagorazomenoi ton kairon. How? How do we rescue the very time from the curse of sin? Paul says, “I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list of ideas.”

Become understanding what is the will of God.
Be ye filled with the Holy Spirit,
speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual canticles,
singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord,
giving thanks always for all things,
in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father
being subject one to another in the fear of Christ.
(Yes, there are two do-nots here too: Don’t be stupid. Don’t be drunk.)

Giving thanks always for all things. That’s the key here! The Greek word is εὐχαριστοῦντες eucharistountes. He might as well say, “Make Eucharist out of everything!”

Thanksgiving is a theme in all of St Paul. See: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and Colossians 3:17 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The earliest followers of Jesus (who were Jews and their gentile friends) were so known for giving thanks that there are Jewish documents stipulating how one is to pray – and not by saying “We give you thanks, we give you thanks“! Christians are to give thanks (to make Eucharist) out of literally everything.

Even the bad stuff. We need to free the Mass from this idea that there shouldn’t be suffering. Quite the contrary, the normal Christian response to suffering should be, “I deserve much worse for my sins. God is merciful. Let us give thanks.”

The Gospel today confronts us with a suffering Father, worried for his son. He asks Jesus to come and heal his son. Contrast this to the Centurian who said no it’s enough if you say something. Jesus turns to this man and asks, “Why do you always want to see a sign? Just go: your son is fine.” remember that in response to the faith of the Centurion Jesus said, “I have not seen faith like this in all of Israel.” Come down, God. Remember, though, the three youths in the fiery furnace: they praised God instead. And the fire didn’t even touch them.

Do something. That usually is our prayer. “Fix this!” “Make is stop hurting!” What if it’s supposed to hurt? What if there’s no other way to get the infection out but by a painful procedure, like pulling a tooth out? The Secret asks God to “purge our hearts from their vices.” In the Psalms, King David asks God to “purge me with hyssop” (a laxative). Sin is in us, plugging things up. We need – by the continual act of thanksgiving – to get rid of constipation in our spiritual life. The Gradual pulls us to hope: the eyes of all hope in thee… we’re not hoping if we are complaining. How can you give thanks if you want to whine instead?

The important thing about complaining is that one must complain the loudest. My problems have to be worse than yours. I need people to pay attention to me not you. So even if my problem is actually smaller I must yell louder. I must drown out my brothers and sisters. I cannot let them be heard for fear that I will not get enough attention as I deserve. Paul flips that on its head. In Thanksgiving, he wants us to be “subject one to another in the fear of Christ” we are to yeild our place in line, to let another go before us, to serve each other.

That’s the real miracle: in crisis, we have a greater chance to serve our brethren and sistern. In love, we have more reason to give thanks.

Things suck. So what? God is merciful. Stop asking God to stop. Instead, thank him in all things.

Heart and Soul, I Fell in Love

The Propers for the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s
Missal Project

Missa Iustus es, Domine


MIND, SOUL, & HEART, yes, and still Judaism and Christianity are also about the body. We forget the body, spiritualize the whole thing and walk by the wounded man on the way to Jericho. The Collect today could be read like that: “…avoid the defilements of the devil and with pure minds…” To do that, though, would be to rip the collect out of Christianity and make it something else.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the Law of the Lord. The Introit could be all about religion and rules, sure. The verse’s construction is strange though: “the way” might be read as meaning Jesus (I am the way), but that would be incorrect. A good reading might be, “The pure are blessed as they go about their life, and who are the pure? Those who walk in the ways of Torah – the Law of God.” Now, that causes us to ask “What are the ways of Torah?”

The Gradual today continues the meditation on God’s law, by focusing on God’s word: By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made and all the power of them by the Spirit of his mouth. The Church Fathers compared the Word and Spirit to the right and left hands of the Father: the whole of the Holy Trinity active in the world. Taken with the Introit, the image is of mankind being led to act in the ways of the Just God who made all by following his law.

St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians also calls us to walk. We are to walk worthy of the vocation in which we are called. The Greek word rendered as “vocation” there is κλῆσις klesis, meaning calling. It’s one of the root words for ecclesia or Church: the called community. So Paul is telling us to live up to being the Church, live up to the standards of being called by God. And what are these? In humility, mildness, and patience support one another in Charity. Above all things, Unity, peace, one body one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God. The unity we model as the Church is the unity of heaven.

But, again, what are we to do? Let us raise a cry to heaven, in the words of the Alleluia, and bring this to God. Lord, what are we to do to avoid the defilements of the devil? How are we to be blessed, walking in the law of the Lord?

There have been several ways to look at Torah, the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures. Much of Jewish spiritual practice can be seen as meditation and discernment of the ways to look at Torah and put the laws into practice. In the time before Jesus, the “conservative” voice crystallized around a Rabbi, Shammai, and – as today – often his students were more conservative than their teacher but the House of Shammai is often seen as the Strict Voice of rabbinic Judaism at this time. The “liberal” voice at this time was the House of Hillel, gathered around Rabbi Hillel. There’s no implication (as there would be today in religion or politics) of fighting against each other to “Win” or “Kick the other out”: the process of debate was seen as part of the discernment of how to apply the wisdom of God. Even though they disagreed, Hillel was president of the Sanhedrin when Shammai was vice president. (Catholics might compare this to the conversations & debates St Thomas records in his Summa.) Christians are tempted to say, “Yes, but now we have Jesus’ way to look at Torah” and then add, “so we can toss it out.” We’ll come back to that.

Here’s a story of Shammai and Hillel, quoted from the Orthodox Union:

A certain non-Jewish “wise-guy” came to scoff at the Torah, first to the home of Shammai, then to the home of Hillel. He said, “Teach me the Torah while I am standing on one foot.” Shammai, sensing his true intention, had him thrown out forthwith. (From this story, probably mostly, Shammai has received the bad “rep” of being a short-tempered, person who “did not suffer fools” lightly. However, this is certainly not the case, since it is Shammai himself who teaches “Receive everyone with a smiling face.”

When the individual came to the home of Hillel with the same request, Hillel responded. “No problem! The main idea of the Torah is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Everything else is commentary. Now, if you’re really interested, go and study the commentary.” So impressed with Hillel’s response, according to Jewish Tradition, was the visitor, that he took Hillel up on his instructions, began to study the Torah seriously, and became a Jew.

In Matthew 7:12 Jesus essentially cites Hillel. There, too, Jesus summed up the law, saying, “All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.”

Now that we know Jesus is on the side of Hillel, we can look at today’s Gospel in the proper light. Jesus says we must love God with our Mind, Heart, and Soul. But then he adds Neighbor. These are the two greatest commandments. In this summation of the Law, Jesus is actually taking a side in the Rabbinic debate I mentioned above. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew might be seen as a “tract” handed out to Jews of the Hillel school.

In the Gospel today Jesus expands the “Do unto others” as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” Love your neighbor as if he were your own, very self. And St Paul would agree – inviting the church to be of one mind, one heart, one faith, all under the one God. Our neighbor is our self. But as heart and soul belong to God, so too does our body. God doesn’t need our money or our time. But our neighbor does.

A dear friend works with the homeless here, in San Francisco. This gets her involved in civic politics, from time to time, especially around elections. We have many voter initiatives and propositions on the ballot at every election. One time, recently, there was a ballot initiative to help house homeless women with children. With the approval of our pastor she was collecting signatures at Coffee hour to support this. When she asked one prisoner for their signature the reply was, “I go to mass and I give my offerings I don’t need to support this crap.” My friend said she almost used a four-letter word. What the a gentleman expressed to my friend was not Catholicism. The gentleman’s religion loves God with his feet going to mass with his butt sitting in a pew and with his hands when he drops his offering in the plate. The rest of his body the rest of his heart and his mind is missing.

We made a vow to the awesome God in our baptism (as we are reminded in the Communion verse. We owe him all of everything we are. We love God with our entire being by meditating on God word (heart), turning our wills constantly over to him (mind), resting our hopes in him (soul), and finally in service to our neighbor (body). It cannot be but by a free gift of our entire self. Anything less is selfishness, greed. Anything less than turning over everything is loss. This is why the Postcommunion today asks God to subdue our vices: any vice is always a failure to turn over 100% of heart, soul, mind, or body to God. Any vice is always a failure to love our neighbor.

Let us turn in prayer, with Daniel in today’s Offertory, and beg God that “he show Thy face upon Thy sanctuary, and favourably look down upon this people” and, by our participation in the Body of Christ he may “free us both from past sins and future transgressions” to love him with our whole being in heart, soul, and body.

Go before me.

The Propers for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Miserere Mihi, Domine


DROPSY. IT’S PROBABLY NOT WHAT YOU THINK. I’ve heard folks preach about this as Epilepsy, but it’s actually edema – swelling. The word, dropsy, does not come from “dropping” but rather from the Greek word that is in the Bible today, ὑδρωπικὸς hydropikos, and the Latin hydropicus. Both carry the implication of water retention, although a medical term implies something rather severe. We usually associate this with either diabetes or congestive heart failure, but it can be caused by auto-immune issues, liver or kidney failure, and several other medical issues. It can be very severe (Don’t do an image search!) or mild. I’m opening with this Biblical/medical trivia because I’m always intrigued by the way the Gospels treat medical issues.

The collect today asks for God’s grace to “always precede and follow us, and make us continually intent on Good Works”. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer renders this as “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help” The Latin says praeveniat st sequatur. I like the BCP’s “prevent” because of its modern implication of “please stop me” but it really only means “go before”. That’s what I want to highlight: “go before”.

We can hear the Introit and the Offertory today as the cries of the poor at our door or in our midst. This is the cry of Christ who is literally before us in the poor all the time. They cry out to the Lord, not only in our locales but around the world. Truth be told, they would love to come to America and become wealthy like all of us. However, they (and we) are often unaware of the politics and economics that cause their oppression. Americans are often the ones that are seeking “after my soul to take it away” with our consumption and waste production. Recycling is really a scam that makes us feel good about our greed by implying that we return things to status quo ante but, in fact, we are making just more garbage to inflict on the world. The poor cry out to God against us all the time.

The Communion challenges us, though, “O Lord, I will be mindful of Thy justice alone”. Really? Or do you need more stuff? Will you swell up with pride like someone with dropsy of the soul? How can we escape? The answers are in the readings.

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St Paul begs God that his spiritual children in Ephesus (and us) might be strengthened in our inner being by the Holy Spirit, and that Christ might dwell in our hearts by Faith. Please see the whole Trinity here, the Father sends the Spirit to us that the Son may dwell in our hearts, just as the Father sent the Spirit to the Blessed Virgin that the Son might be conceived in her womb. It is God’s grace that strengthens us so that this might be possible. We experience this full communion with the Holy Trinity (for it’s impossible to get one at all without the other two), but to what end? Paul says, “To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” That charity, that love, really is charity – Divine love that manifests itself in care for others, in self-sacrifice, and in perpetual gift of self. It comes to me every morning in prayer, however, that this self gift is most often not some great earth-shaking act of charity, but rather using love to do whatever is right before me. Let your grace go before.

The Gospel story opens with behold, there was a certain man before Him that had dropsy. Before I had looked up with dropsy was I thought it was, as I indicated above, some kind of epilepsy or seizures. I was going for the literal meaning of dropping. I wondered why such a person would just be before him. In fact it was that question that caused me to look up what dropsy was: why would someone with seizures or some other medical condition just before him? Would someone in the house be a servant who also had seizures? Did some friends bring him and just leave him there? But as “dropsy” means “swelling”, it could actually be an older servant in the house who had swollen ankles, or a puffy knee, for example. This person may have been going about their business in the household until they were suddenly “before him”. Then Jesus did a good thing.

That’s how we are to engage our self-gift: with whomever is before us, with whatever is needed. The great Orthodox writer, Fr Alexander Schmemann, suggested that – as a spiritual path – someone should simply be handy with a rag around the parish, keeping things clean, doing the chore in front of them. If you want to see saintly work, let me take you to a Church supper where you can see an Archbishop cleaning the kitchen. I also know of a Cardinal that quietly cleaned bedpans in an AIDS hospice. “O Lord, we pray Thee that Thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually intent upon all good works.” We are called to do the action God’s grace puts right before us.

They will know we are Christians by our love. Then the Gentiles will praise God (as the Gradual says) and we will sing a new song to the Lord (Alleluia).

We get this grace from the sacraments. This is underscored by the Secret and the Postcommunion. But the purpose is not just to get to heaven by and by. Rather, to be the action of heaven here and now.

Not trickle-down

The Propers for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Protector noster


GOD IS IN CONTROL. This is the message of this Mass. Yet this idea can quickly become one of victim-blaming. If God is in control then he made some poor and he made me rich, so all is well. If God is in control then he made some people white and while he may not think of others as “less” he clearly wanted white people to be in charge. This is not the message of this Mass although a homily along those lines could easily be preached if you totally disregarded the entire teaching of the Church and God’s preferential option for the poor.

We’ll start as always with the Collect for the Mass, pulling all our thoughts together. The first word of the prayer in Latin is Custodi. Sermonry renders this as “Keep”. Keep, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy Church with perpetual peace. The Baronius Press missal has it as “Favour.” Favour thy Church unceasingly. Both of these miss the point. The root is the Latin Custos which means “Guardian”. Keep is close, but weak. Do the verb thing that Guardians do. The St Andrew’s missal renders this as “Guard.” Guard your Church, Lord. From what? The next phrase speaks about human frailty and how, without God’s help, we always fall. I believe we’re asking God to keep his church safe from us. Keep your church safe from the ways that we would want to run it, contrary to your law. Keep your church safe from our tendency to want to be Americans first instead of Christians first. Keep your church safe from those of us who would harm it with our drive for political power, or social media power. Keep your church safe from all the stupid things we do.

Yes, the church is a divinely-inspired and divinely lead institution. She is also human through and through. This prayer asks God to assert his control over his church which is us. The Introit asks God to look on us and see the face of Christ. It asserts that the courts of God are better than all the wealth and favor of this world. There was a time when the church was mostly the poor of the city of Rome and of the eastern end of the Roman Empire. By “poor” I mean the workers: fisherman, tentmakers, weavers, dyers of cloth, merchants, all-night security guards, slaves, and the families of these. For these coming to a liturgy was a chance to experience the freedom that God offered and the chance to get away from the drudgery of their day-to-day life. A day in God’s courts (the Mass) was better than thousands of days spent elsewhere. Please, God, guard this heaven here on earth that you have given us in the Mass.

When we return to the Epistle for today, we certainly get an earful from Saint Paul! He reminds us that the Flesh and the Spirit contend with each other for mastery in our lives. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Those “enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, (and) envies” sound a lot like a day spent on Social Media, especially if you float around those quasi-Catholic circles that reject Pope Francis or Vatican 2! Those are in the Church, though. They are part of us. This is why we ask God in the Collect to guard the Church from us. The most damage can be caused not from rioters destroying statues, but rather from those inside the Church doing the opera carnem, the “works of the flesh”. They sow dissension among the flock, destroying the Peace of Christ. If possible they would destroy the very Church herself. Against these, Paul offers the Fruit of the Spirit; charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. You’ll find none of those in any Matial Vortex.

The Gradual reminds us that it is better to trust in God than in any political power. Too often in these days the Church will cede her power to the local political authority instead of insisting that she has her own authority. Too often she will cede charity to the state, taking state funding for her work (and then having become addicted to that funding she will give up her moral authority as well). This is why we cannot trust princes or the sons of men. We have to trust in the Lord: God is our protector – not the state fund for child services or the Federal agency for XYZ. We are not in a Christian country. There’s nothing wrong with getting benefits from the State, but when the removal of those benefits means that the Church’s work has to be curtailed then something was wrong. Either the Church’s work was not being done in the first place or else the Church was overextending herself in a contract with Mammon. More on that in the Gospel before which let us joyfully sing Alleluia!

Jesus opens today’s Gospel with a commentary on serving two masters and the famous, stern line about God and Mammon. Following that are poetic and beautiful lines about the lilies and the birds. It’s possible (and I have heard it often) to preach on either of these sayings ignoring the other. English translations, though, join these two sayings into one with a “therefore”. I remember my Methodist pastor saying in the late Seventies (speaking of the KJV, of course), “When there’s a therefore always find out what it’s there for.” In the Greek, Jesus joins these stern and poetic lines with δια τοῦτο dia touto by means of this or through this. So: don’t try to serve two masters, God and Mammon, and then though trusting in God, all these things…

We are used to thinking of “Mammon” as meaning money, but it can also mean political power, family, or social position. Word studies on the Greek share the following context:

3126 mammōnás – a Semitic term for “the treasure a person trusts in” (J. Thayer) who is transliterated as “mammon.”

[3126 (mammōnás) is probably an Aramaic term, related to the Hebrew term ̓aman (“to trust,” J. Thayer).]

Even if it’s not related to the value of your income, do you put your trust in your job providing that income? Do you put your trust in what people think of you? Do you (like me) find value in “being seen” on the internet? Why did no one like that post – am I a failure? Do you worry about job-loss resulting in a loss of all the things you have? This is Mammon.

Jesus says God is in control. Things might suck, but trust God anyway. Always.

The way this becomes victim-blaming is when the poor ask for help and we say “trust God!” Keith Green sang his Asleep in the Light about this.

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“God bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weeps,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the streets
Open up! open up!
And give yourself away
You see the need,
You hear the cries,
So how can you delay?!
God is calling,
And you are the one
But like Jonah, you run
He told you to speak,
But you keep holding it in
Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the Church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead?!
When you’ve been so well fed!

Our failure to be Christ-like to be kenotic, self-emptying with our Mammon is a sign that we’re not trusting God. God has given you a superfluity of mammon exactly to share with the poor: you are God’s steward. If you think “I can’t give this away because I might need it later” you’re thinking of that other master you have: a personal sense of security. The current constellation of crises should prove to you that literally nothing can be used to prepare for any future. The only thing we can do is trust God. Our healthcare system leads to social collapse which results in economic collapse. We have not yet begun to deal with the economic reality of the lost of >2ook people from the US or millions who cannot work because of being sick. We will have a new reality in 6-8 months no matter who gets elected.

And our Mammon will fail.

Now is the time (while we have it) to give it away before it drags us down. Now is the time to feed the poor from your savings. Now is the time to entrust your stuff into the hands of Christ who begs at your door. Now is the time to say God is in control. Seek God’s kingdom first: live as if you are in the kingdom – because you are! You no longer need to care about the concerns of this world. Insert birds and lilies here. We are free. Rejoice for God has given us everything!

The Offertory reminds us that the Angel of the Lord is here defending us who trust in God. It also dares us to “taste and see” how good God is. Yes, certainly, this is a Eucharistic invitation, but it’s also a dare: let go of your Mammon and trust God instead. Try it: you’ll like it! The Communion repeats “seek ye first” promising that all these other things will be added to us: it’s not a promise to give a little and get more back. Rather it’s a call to give away all and God will keep giving you more to give away. Be kenotic – self-emptying – like Jesus and you will never run out.

This is the pour-out economics of the Holy Trinity and the Kingdom of God. God gives us infinity in a wafer: the smallest part of infinity is also infinity and no matter how much he gives us there is always more. God guards his Church from the evil not by kicking them out but by constantly pouring himself in so that they may be converted. God wants us to do the same: pour out everything to others so that there is always room to pour more in. This pouring in purifies: it’s not like pouring water into a bottle but rather like standing in front of a flame thrower to get your clothes clean. The spots go away… The Holy Spirit – God’s consuming fire – indwells. This leads, as said in the Postcommunion, to strength in this life and eternal salvation.

The Promise and the Promised.

The Propers for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Respice Domine in testamentum tuum


ABRAHAM IS THE FATHER, in faith, of all God’s people. God’s covenant with Abraham was to bless all people through his line. This promise is fulfilled in Christ. Traditional Dispensationalist theology sees a series of covenants proceeding between God and Man in different dispensations: Adam (which was broken by us), then Noah (which was broken by us), then Abraham. The Torah given on Sinai, in this mistaken theology, is kind of a sidestep that God took, a dispensation that has nothing to do with the Church. When Jesus comes, the Torah goes away and we “get back” to the Covenant with Abraham, now fulfilled in Christ. This line of reasoning is rightly rejected for its anti-Jewish tack.

Another way to read history is to see God leading humanity back to the place where we were supposed to be – but lost in Eden. Eden is not the place we’re supposed to be: we were only beginning there. In Christ, yes, the promises are fulfilled, but all parts of the life of faith – including Sinai – have been bringing humanity to that final stage (we’re clearly not there yet).

The Collect for today begs God for the three Theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. This is our clue to what the place is. These three virtues are linked with the four Cardinal virtues:prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. These may be thought of as the four cardinal points of a compass in circle, north, east, south, and west, with the three theological virtues as a pillar rising in the center: faith as a foundation, hope as the energizing center, and charity or love at the crown. The seven points thus describe a sphere, the traditional image of a cosmos in balance. Without this central pillar, the four points of the compass devolve into legalism.

The final destination is also clearly seen in today’s propers, the Postcommunion begs God that by the grace of the sacraments we may “steadily advance towards eternal redemption”. This final state, redeemed, is where we should have been. We would have grown from the Garden to a final state we do not yet know, but by the Grace of God, we are being returned to it (by a longer route).

In this teaching the promise of God to Abraham was manifested in the Law of Sinai. The entire Torah being a human instantiation of the divine law, not only for how to relate to God (couched in language and symbols easily understood by a people freed from Egyptian slavery and living among the neighboring tribes) but also how to relate to each other. God’s Torah provided clear rules, “worship me like this” and “live together like this.” It created, on parchment, the design of a perfect society as it could then be understood. It also drew the people forward, aspirationally, toward a goal they could not achieve: the point was not to follow each individual law (automatons could do that better) but to live them, to reform the human heart. We see this in later wisdom literature where God makes fun of the sacrifices, “do you think I eat bulls or drink goats’ blood?” but mankind, without God’s grace, could not live this law. We still needed our “heart of stone” be replaced by a “heart of flesh”.

The Introit opens with our lament: Remember your covenant, Lord. Don’t forget us or shrug us off. We are seeking you. This is repeated in the Gradual. But although it is the continual cry of the People of God – from Abraham til now – we find our hope expressed in the Alleluia: Thou hast been our refuge in every generation. Both the aspiration and the hope are true: for we cannot seek God without his grace. A sign that we are in the process of being saved is that we are actively seeking our salvation. Not despairing of our salvation we cry out to God in hope – this cry itself is part of our salvation being worked out in our lives.

The Epistle from Saint Paul explains the relationship of Sinai to the promise. God’s promise was made to Abraham and then, 450 years later, the Covenant at Sinai was given by God. This does not annul the Promise which was received by faith. Rather, says Paul, the law was given because of sin. One way to read this would be that Israel was so evil that they needed law. Again, this falls into anti-semitism. Another way to read this is that God gave us – all of us – Israel living in Covenant with God to show us what his rule for a just society would be like. Yes the law was the Covenant with Israel but Israel-in-Covenant-with-God was a gift to all of us: as God promised Abraham in his seed the world would be blessed. The promise was fulfilled in Christ but the moral law was not done away with, rather the grace needed to live in the Just Society described by the Law was given to the nations to correct, to reform, to radically destroy and rebuild the social order after the image of the Kingdom.

At this time we may see a chance to eradicate one such sin – racism – and reform ourselves closer to the kingdom. But the law of Israel described economic justice, social justice, and right relations between people as well. All of these need to be worked into our modern living out of Christendom in the world. We are still intended to be a blessing to the world as children of Abraham. Instead, we fall into partisan bickering over liturgical forms and secular powers.

As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Teh Ching:

Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.

Chapter 38

This Samaritan arrives in the story a few chapters after the “Good Samaritan” story from last week. The continued use of Samaritan as “Good Guy” highlights Luke’s focus on including the Gentiles. The sign of the Ten Lepers Cleansed can be read as either anti-Semitic or not; further, the anti-Semitism can be very subtle or else very overt. Let us avoid both options as we read the Gospel for today. It is tempting to see the nine men who were cleansed of leprosy as going their own way and not thanking God. Yet, they are doing exactly as Jesus directed them: they are going to the Temple, as required by the Torah, to show themselves to the priest and be declared free of leprosy. This is an issue of ritual purity, not sin. The tenth man, the Samaritan, would not go to the Temple. In fact, he could not go to a Jewish priest at all. We are not told what the other nine men did after this story, but we do not need to assume that only the Samaritan was finally healed. Jesus says, “Ten were cleansed”. For all ten, their faith has saved them. When one came back and Jesus seems to call out the other nine for doing exactly what he told them to do, and also exactly what was required by the law.

Before they could interact with the public pious Jews needed to be declared clean by the priest. The Levitical rules for the cleansing of lepers are quite complex: involving 8 days, bathing, multiple sacrifices. The Samaritan was under no such stricture. Or if he was, it was not at the hands of the Jewish priests, but with his own clergy. Jesus is not commenting on the Jewish Rules (from which “one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass until all is fulfilled”).

The entirety of the story then must be a sign. From the first time all ten calling Jesus as “Master” to the closing scene with the Samaritan is one action in Luke’s story. Luke, working with St Paul, is mindful of the inclusion of non-Jews in the Christian community. Here those might be represented by the Samaritan. A Jew believing Jesus to be the Messiah might hear a call to bypass the older system because of Jesus: this story can also be read as to highlight the importance of thanksgiving (eucharist) over and above the older rules. The purity rules are not part of the moral teaching of the Torah. So the Samaritan (the Gentile, as it were) comes back to give God glory – here, at the feet of Jesus.

We imagine that we must do something ourselves to fix things, forgetting that God is in control. The full text of the Offertory speaks to us of this: In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; I said: Thou art my God, my times are in Thy hands. Our times are in God’s hands. It’s not up to us to control the times or even fix the times: it’s up to us how we react or move through them, however.

All things – including the social change of Christianity – flow from Thanksgiving, all things flow from the Mass. The Eucharist, as the Communion says, is bread from heaven, having in it all that is delicious, and the sweetness of every taste. The Eucharist is the promise carried to each of us personally: what we do with it, however, is up to us. We are not saved because of the Euacharist but rather by the Eucharist if we let the motion of Thanksgiving and offering carry through to the rest of our lives. We are not offering limited, human resources to God: we are offering God, himself: unlimited, eternal, and omnipotent.

The arc of action for Missa Respice Domine in testamentum tuum goes from “Why is this all sucky and why does God not fix it” to God fixing it through our action of thanksgiving and our response to that repair. We too can be lost in ritual, which is only the husk of faith. We can be like the nine who did exactly what they should do… and somehow missed the boat. Or we can be like the tenth, who suddenly discovered that God was acting and turned down a different path to his own salvation. When the promise is fulfilled, the promise passes away.

How to Love like God

The Propers for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Deus in adjutorium meum intende


POPE BENEDICT XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (Vol 1) has an amazing commentary on today’s Gospel. I’m fully indebted to His Holiness for the roots of the ideas. If anything is amiss here, it is my fault, though.

Today’s Collect continues in a theme that has been repeatedly expressed in recent weeks. We can do nothing without God first giving us the gift to do it. Today the gift is worship itself. In the Novus Ordo Common Preface IV reminds us of this saying,

For, although you have no need of our praise,
yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,
since our praises add nothing to your greatness
but profit us for salvation
through Christ our Lord.

God has no need of our worship. And he gives us this gift for our very salvation. And we asked him to increase in us this gift and give us the strength to get there quicker by his grace. The Introit Cries out to God in the same words that are used to open every Daily Office: Incline unto my aid, O God: O Lord, make haste to help me or in the older translation, O God make speed to save me: O Lord make haste to help me. Come quickly and help us to come to you ever faster! What are we running towards?

The Epistle for this Mass takes us on a little detour: how dare we run? For the ancients, God was terrifying. Remember that our forefathers standing, at Mount Sinai, begged Moses to let them go away because this God, rumbling on top of the mountain, scared them. They even begged not to hear God’s voice for that was scary enough. How do we run? And we do not run away will you run to. We run to the God whom the scriptures describe as a consuming fire. Are we not afraid? Again St. Paul reminds us: Such confidence we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God. This is not our gift, or our power, we are no braver than our ancestors. Are you not terrified of the Eucharist? But God would have it so. God, in his grace, glorified the face of Moses so much that it was necessary for him to wear a veil. The people were even terrified of the light shining from Moses eyes. Paul asks, If the law was so terrifying does it not make sense for us to even be more in awe and even more glorified?

Suddenly, there is what seems to be a bifurcation in the propers: from here the Gospel seems to go in one direction while the other, the minor propers point in a different direction. The minor propers are about praise for God and about his generosity to us, while the Gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan. However, please come in one Mass and so must tell us one story. I believe the fulcrum is in the Communion verse. So let us take a look at the Gospel first and then sweep back to all the minor propers together.

The text, taken from St Luke’s gospel, is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The Lectionary actually gives us a tiny bit more of the context by sharing what came before, Pope Benedict gives even more context four this story. Two points are important: first, in 6 AD the Samaritans invaded Jerusalem and strew bones in the temple. Then, secondly, in the chapter immediately before this in St Luke “the Evangelist has recounted that on the way to Jerusalem Jesus sent Messengers ahead of him and the day entered a Samaritan village in order to procure him lodging. ‘But the people would not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.'” Then two of the Apostles asked Jesus if they should call down “fire from heaven” on the Samaritans. It is in this twin context that the Evangelist places the story of the Good Samaritan.

His Holiness goes on to remind us that the church fathers have traditionally viewed this as a parable about Jesus. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who reaches out to mankind, now fallen among thieves who have beat us in stripped us of our wealth the robe of Glory that we had before the fall of Adam and Eve. However Pope Benedict also recognizes that this is a story that Jesus is telling to another, as it were to us, about how to inherit eternal life. Remember the context I shared above: neither the 12 apostles themselves nor any of the listeners would have had any reason to suppose the Samaritan would be the good guy in this story. Yet he was, exactly, that. Although some commentators stir up many anti-Semitic waves about the Priest and the Levite going on their way, the Pope Emeritus does not. In fact he is quite generous in his making excuses for them. You fix the point of the story is in the Samaritan himself. The point is made even stronger by highlighting that the Priest and the Levite knew they were on a dangerous stretch of road (as would any sensible traveler) but the Samaritan went in to help anyway. So while this is a story about how God leaves heaven and comes to us – while we were yet sinners – this also becomes a directive for us to act courageously, without care for our own danger.

In the end, says His Holiness, the question of who is my neighbor is turned on its head. Anyone is my neighbor if I act like their neighbor to them. This is the core of the twofold Commandment to love God and to love your neighbor: the lawyer, to test Jesus, wants to know who is his neighbor. Jesus’ answer is, “Who is not?”

The wine and the oil that the Good Samaritan poured on the wounds of the man in the ditch are greatly symbolic. In the medical understanding of the time the wine was cleansing and the oil was soothing and also a protection against disease: much like we might think of a salve today. So: splash some wine in to wash out anything dangerous, then pour on oil to put a sort of seal on top, then tie a bandage on the wound to hold everything together. But the wine and the oil or two of three parts that show us where we get this courage to act bravely and so forgivingly in the face of danger – or before the face of our neighbor?

The Communion verse answers with the bread and the wine and the oil which are the sacraments of the church: The earth shall be filled with the fruit of Thy works, O Lord, that Thou mayest bring bread out of the earth, and that wine may cheer the heart of man: that he may make the face cheerful with oil; and that bread may strengthen man’s heart. From these simple elements of nature, which require not only God’s giving but our interaction to prepare, the Church has fashioned her sacraments of quickening: anointing, or chrismation/confirmation – the seal of the Holy Spirit, followed by the Eucharist.

From these we receive the forgiveness of our sins as the Secret and the Postcommunion reminds us, but also God is glorified. How? We finally answer in the gospel of Saint Matthew, in The Sermon on the Mount: that men may see your good deeds and glorify your Father, which is in heaven. So the Holy Mysteries are the strengthening of our souls to do good deeds: the works of mercy, such as our Lord described in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are called to be neighbors, not to some, not to our own, not to those who are near or like us: we are called to be neighbors to everyone.

The Gradual and the Alleluia then become a sort of call-and-response between the needy and those who are praising God. The late Keith Green (1953-1982) sang a song about the church being “Asleep in the Light”:

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“god bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weep,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the streets

Later in the song he will ask, “How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed?” Indeed. We’re not at liberty to ignore either the spiritual needs or the physical needs of those around us. The Gospel requires not only that we bring the bread and wine of the Eucharist to the lost, but also the food and justice that they need.

The Offertory reminds us that not only was Moses a great teacher of the things of God to the people but he was also a great intercessor before God on behalf of the people. Like Moses Jesus stands before us teaching and interceding. So the Church, the body of Christ, must be before the world. We cannot only proclaim the things of God we must also do the works of God: Love. How are we supposed to love? “It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being nothing is lacking for everything is given.” (St Bernard) We cannot love as much as God for he is infinite and we are finite. Yet by his grace, given in his bread, his wine, and his oil, we can love as God: with our whole being. As God did, we change our relationship with the other not by changing them but by changing our self. We go out to them in love.

(If you get a chance be sure to read Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth volume 1. The story of the Good Samaritan is discussed at length on pages 194 through 201.)

I am what I am

The Propers for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Deus in loco


FOR TODAY’S MASS the Church has given us a reather powerful Collect, asking for what we dare not ask, begging forgiveness for what we dare not name. The recognition of our sinful failings manifested in our weakness is important. Sometimes we do know what we need but we dare not say it out loud. I don’t think this is like St. Augustine’s famous “make me chaste but not yet” prayer. We’re too afraid to even say these things out loud. This might be a prayer useful for everyday, in fact, but I think it ties in particularly well with today’s Gospel, the Healing of the Deaf Mute. He can neither ask nor, as we shall see later, even think what he needs. We are like him and we need Jesus.

The Introit calls us all to a “unity of mind” while reminding us that it is God that gives this unity. So right up front, it seems possible that this Unity is one of the things that we dare not ask for. We seem to enjoy being disagreeable, or rather to enjoy being in disagreement. Think of how many times politics have easily divided us as a Christian Community. Think of how many partisan conversations you may have heard at coffee hour or read on Twitter. Even as I write I know I am guilty of this as well. What would it be like to find myself at unity of heart and mind in one house with people with whom I have great political disagreements? Dare I ask for this? Can a person experiencing oppression seek a unity of mind with those, in the same Church, who are the oppressors? More importantly, can the oppressor seek a unity of mind with the person he is oppressing? The oppressed can seek unity through constant acts of love and forgiveness. The oppressors, on the other hand, can only seek unity by ceasing to oppress. Dare we ask for this?

In the Epistle St Paul clearly states his right of place as an Apostle who preaches the Gospel. It is this Gospel proclaimed that is our unity.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I Corinthians 15:3-8

As we used to say in the Mysterium Fidei, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the Gospel that we proclaim. When we proclaim it we are in line with Paul and the other apostles.

Paul says, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” That last line is of interest because it seems to include the holy name of God, I Am. In Greek he says, Χαριτι δε θεου ειμι ο ειμι chariti de Theou eimi ho eimi with the eimi ho eimi being I am what I am. In Exodus 3:14, though (LXX) the Greek is very different: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on using four words that could be rendered I I-am-being the Being. Paul settles for just I am what I am. It’s not the Divine Name, but it is a claim: God has made me as I am.

If you are of a certain age you may have heard St Paul’s claim echoed in another context on Broadway. In the early 80s, the musical La Cage aux Folles by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman included a key song called I am what I am sung by a character proclaiming his status on stage proudly. But it contained a crucial error in that it celebrated the character as self-made whereas St Paul identifies himself as God-made. The “back story” of each is not important, but the parallels are: both were doing what they thought was right. Paul is who is his not despite his history, but rather because he has turned his history over to God’s grace. He knows that God has to work with the self that St Paul brings to the party. God’s grace builds on St Paul’s self. To parallel last week’s Gospel, St Paul is the Publican who knows his history and says, “God will do something anyway. The Broadway character is a Pharisee singing out, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”

Grace builds on nature – if we bring our nature to the altar. So the Gradual and the Alleluia help us: Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent; depart not from me. Sing aloud to the God of Jacob! God is no far from us, but rather in him we can trust and we will be helped.

To this writer the Gospel in today’s Mass is one of the most important in our (EF) lectionary. The full content of this Gospel was not known – could not be known – until the 20th Century. A man deaf and dumb from birth – we know now – does not even have the brain cells or neural pathways needed for speech. We also know that the brain is thermoplastic, it looks set in its ways but given the right heat, it can be reformatted. Jesus’ cry of “Ephpheta” is like a nuclear blast changing all the circuits in this man’s brain. He goes from nothing to full grasp of the language in a moment. (The same sort of neural explosion happens again in a passage about a man born blind.)

When we turn our nature over to God’s grace what is there that he cannot do to us? He can turn an attacker into an Apostle. He can get a rich man into heaven. He can turn a prostitute into a preacher. He can turn death into life. What can he do in my heart if I but let him? What can he do not in spite of my nature, but through it? If enough people offer their hearts what can he do in a society or in a culture? If Salvation is preached to the world what will the kingdom of God look like? We will be like the voice in the Offertory saying, “O Lord, I have cried to Thee, and Thou hast healed me.”

Although the Secret is speaking of the bread and the wine, we can pray this over our whole lives: Look down in mercy upon our service, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that the gifts we offer may be acceptable unto Thee, and a support in our weakness. If we are looking for God now it is because of his action in our lives. Those prompts which we have reacted to and cooperated with have brought us to where we are. We offered these which have already been our support. These things which brought us here have already been your gift. We offer them and we hope you will build on them to do more in our lives.

In the Communion we see: Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first of all thy fruits: Substance here is everything. Honor the Lord with your offering of “I am what I am” and let God cry to you Ephpheta and thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine. You will feel supported in soul and body; that being saved in both, we may glory in the fullness of the heavenly remedy. (Postcommunion.)

Today’s Missa Deus in loco Does not mean “God is crazy”, but we certainly know that our world at this time is very crazy. God is “in the crazy” with us. Our religion is one of incarnation – not escape. God’s holy place is here, with us, in our hearts and in our lives as he opens us to more grace that we may be filled with abundance to give to all the world around us. What this may be, we dare not know – but God will do so if we let him even if we do not dare. God takes our “I am” and makes it his own, that we may proclaim his salvation to all those around us.

Mercy and Grace

The Propers for the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Cum clamarem ad Dominum


TODAY’S OPENING COLLECT is quite clear that God’s power is most evident in his Mercy. And then we ask for his mercy. What is God’s mercy?

A note in my missal says that originally this prayer asked for God’s grace it was changed at the Council of Trent to request his mercy. In fact, several changes in the Liturgy happened at the Council of Trent (q.v. The Mass of the Ages). One major change was moving the propers to different Sunday in the calendar from where they had previously been while keeping the readings assigned to the same place. This is noted in The Liturgical Year, by Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. His comment is that we must trust the church when she makes such changes – and that the connections clergy imagine between the various propers are not “really” there: but are only the product of meditation and can be wrong – or changed to another meaning. I can imagine that clergy the time of Trent were greatly confused, especially with the Protestant Reformation happening around them, to have these changes happen suddenly. A sermon that had always worked on thus-and-such a Sunday suddenly no longer had the same context. The same council also, for the first time, took all of the liturgical texts and compressed them into the Missal that we now have. Prior to that time, it took several books to celebrate the Mass. None of the texts were to be found in one place. So, what was “grace” in the old pile of texts became “mercy” in the one-volume New Mass from the Council. And everyone moved on.

This Tridentine change, however, is corrected in the Novus Ordo, where the collect is restored fully to the original form, asking God – who is most powerful in his Mercy – to pour his grace upon us.

Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas, gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde, ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.

Although this blog project is intended to provide commentary on the 1962 Missal, I would like today to play with this difference between grace and mercy as we meditate on the Publican and the Pharisee. I do not wish to contrast them too greatly: grace is not opposed to mercy. In the biblical Greek the word for mercy ἔλεος eleos comes from the same root as oil. The implication is of soothing, or comforting. We ask God to comfort us with his mercy. Grace, on the other hand, is the Greek word χάρις charis. It implies the active presence of God in our life in his energies, as the Byzantine say. I don’t think you can separate grace and mercy: certainly God’s grace acting in our life is comforting and certainly, his comfort is his presence. Still, we do tend to think of grace and mercy as different things. We wouldn’t have different words otherwise.

Where were these men before this moment? Our Lord does not say, but they both went up to the Temple to pray. We might imagine that the Pharisee went often, perhaps whenever he could. But did the publican go up all the time? To be honest, I can’t imagine to be so, but maybe.

But notice here that both men are rich. The Pharisee is a class of scholars and political leaders, (semi)respected elders in the community. The Publican is filthy rich and quite literally so, having acquired his ill-gotten booty by betrayal, grift, bullying, embezzlement, and politically-empowered thievery. Both have wealth – sometimes understood as a sign of God’s blessing – and show by their lives that they have no heavenly right to that. Both men would not have been liked by Jesus’ listeners, but they would have known the Pharisee was the “good guy” in God’s eyes and the Publican the “really bad guy”.

It is grace that makes the change possible. So it is grace that the Publican is working with as he stands before God and begs for mercy. Standing in the Temple, both men are literally standing in the fount of all graces, but one man is ignoring them while the other is responding to them.

As the Epistle says, all these graces are given by the same Spirit. We are not at peace until we humble ourselves (as the Publican does) in order to open ourselves to God. Begging God for his for his soothing Mercy is a way to open ourselves to Grace, as are the sacraments. The Secret asks that the Holy Mysteries might become a remedy for our sins, as oil (mercy) is a remedy for our souls.

The Alleluia begs God – having saved us – to keep us safe. We can still fall away in our pride. We should all be afraid of being a religious performer like the Pharisee. He speaks as if God does not know his heart, as if God were not listening, or even not there. “The fool says in his heart, there is no God“.

The Offertory bring our own souls before God – not the offerings as is often traditional. We are the holy and living sacrifice offered to God. Having been humbled, and filled with God’s presence in the sacrament, the quotation from David’s Psalm of Repentance in the Communion verse makes perfect sense: Psalm 50 (51) says that only after our our “sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart”. The Pharisee has nothing to be broken or contrite about: he’s done everything right. The publican knows he’s done nothing right at all. That’s why he’s the one made right.

The Postcommunion returns us to grace, asking that God never leave us needing his grace. Which is mighty merciful of him to do.

Of idols and whips.

The Propers for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Ecce Deus, adjuvat me


TODAY’S COLLECT BEGS GOD to help us in our asking: let us only ask for the things we should. Let us only ask of the things that please then. The rest of the minor propers, though, seem to want God to smite our enemies. It seems counterintuitive given that we’re supposed to pray for our enemies. However, if we realize that the only enemies we have are the minions of the evil one then these verses make sense. In low Masses in the Extraordinary Form, we are used to praying to Saint Michael, asking him to “cast into hell Satan and all his evil spirits that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” This is the same thing: these are our enemies mentioned in the Introit and in the Alleluia. Asking God for help like this is one of the things that please him.

The Epistle gives us a list of things to avoid. At first glance it may seem like a regular list of sins: do not covet, do not be gluttonous, do not commit fornication. Yet, in fact, the Apostle sees all of these as subcategories of the first item mentioned: do not be idolators. Paul gives us reasons that each one of these is a subcategory of idolatry. He goes on to say that we should not tempt God with our idolatry, and then we should not murmur or complain for we will be destroyed by the one who destroys: that is the Evil One. And he counsels us not to be prideful to say we are standing – that is to trust in our own success -for it is God who is faithful.

What are these idolatries? Eating, sex, acquisition of things. These are normal things they become idolatries when we view them or use them in disordered ways. Fathers of the Church are very clear: it is disordered to acquire and not share. The father’s counsel us at the extra shoes we have in our possession and do not wear belong to the poor. The food that we have in storage that goes bad was food that we stole from the hungry. The clothes that we haven’t worn belong to the naked on the street.

All of these belong to God and have only been lent to us. God, whose name is magnificent above the whole of creation, as were reminded in the Gradual owns everything and has given us these things exactly to share. When we hoard, cling, or misuse, they become idols. The demons drive us to this distraction, but God will protect us from our enemies. (Alleluia)

In the Gospel we see two very different faces of God for he weeps over us for our idolatries. Then he scourges us.

Jesus weeps because Israel will not hear her promised Messiah speak. He knows and this deafness will continue. But then he goes to the Temple and purges it. While there are some who say that this was simply because no one should be doing business in the temple, that was not the case. The merchants were there with permission, in fact at the invitation of the temple itself. The individual Merchants were not making a profit for themselves, but rather for the Temple. Money that was stored in the Temple was able to be loaned to the poor for interest. Jesus was interrupting the entire economic system of oppression. Later, one of the first acts of the First Jewish-Roman War was the burning of the debt records in the archives.

The temple was holding on to its idols: and Jesus was driving them out, disrupting the system at its roots. Shortly after this moment in Jesus own life, the religious people of his day will call on the government people of his day to sending federal agents to defend government property. Arrested in an unmarked van, he will be dragged away for a secret trial and death.

This Gospel is not a comforting one when God is speaking to his chosen people and saying everything you see here will go away, for the sake of the Kingdom. The Church is the New Jerusalem. Jesus weeps over us for our sins for God is merciful and loves us. But he will not leave us alone in our sins. And, for the sake of our Salvation, he would rather destroy everything that has been built up that we might be purified and be his bride. We are in such a state right now, when everything is being destroyed and we have a choice: we can cling to our precious things, or we can recognize the visitation of God and repent.

Also, remember that our bodies are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist, sacramentally or spiritually, and he cleanses us. It’s not a comforting thing for he destroys the systems of Oppression that dwell within us. He overthrows the money changers that we have allowed to be set up by our enemies, the evil ones who would use us to oppress others, calling us in the name of “Law & Order” to oppose “Anarchy” we are opposing Jesus.

We should not be party to this. On the contrary, the Offertory Reminds us that God’s commands are joy to the heart and that his judgements against us are sweeter than honey. For his correction is, St Paul says, like a father to his son: God loves us and wants us to come to him as his children and if we will not learn in the good ways we still must learn.

In the Secret we again ask God, as we did in the Collect, to help us to pray: “grant that we may be worthily present” that the “work of our redemption” may be “made effective”. What is the work of our Redemption but the in-dwelling of justice and peace and wholeness in our lives, in our relationships with others, and in the world around us? The Communion carries this thought forward, reminding us that through the virtue of the Eucharist we abide in God and God abides in us. The communion of the Holy Trinity pours forth not just between us and God but between us and those around us. The Postcommunion prayer caps off this thought: may we be purified from sin and also united with each other.

This Sunday’s propers are a challenge to us. We struggle when we see the world hating Christians but that was all we were ever promised. Furthermore we struggle against what we think might be God’s judgment on us. But that is a sign of his love. The same God that drives the money changers out of our temples also weeps over us for our failures to understand. It is entirely possible to hear these texts as pointing only towards a historical event in the Earthly life of Jesus. But we miss that these texts are intended to have application in our present moment. The church is not worried that we might be selling books or candles in the back of the nave. Whether we are being called to not participate in systems of Oppression.

Yet, too often we find ourselves held up, elevated by those systems of Oppression: we make Idols of them. God will destroy them for us if we do not destroy them for him.