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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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.

Unrighteous Mammon

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

Missa Suscepimus, Deus, misericodiam tuam

JMJ

THE COLLECT TODAY REMINDS us that we do not exist without God. God is the ground and source of our being, our very essence is tied to his continual will for our being. We are not of the same essence as God, but rather even the constant motions of atoms and the very being of our spirits is a continual act of his will for our well-being. And this is not only collective abstraction: God does not only will that all things continue in being. He wills it individually, personally. You and I are here as a blessing from God, by an act of his will, that sustains us for all things and through all things. But for what end? The Collect adds to live according to Thy will. We have things to do here. Much of the rest of this Mass is about what and how to do those things.

In the Introit we sing of having received God’s Mercy. In Latin it is “misericodiam”, but in Hebrew it is חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ chesed and in Greek it is ἔλεός eleos. We think of “mercy” in nearly a punishment way: the master is whipping us and we cry out, “Have mercy, master!” That is not what mercy means at all. I desire mercy not sacrifice does not say, “Don’t beat up sinners.” Instead, it means something further down the scale: comfort them. Chesed is such a hard word to render that the translators of the King James Bible made up a new word: Lovingkindness. The Greek word, eleos, comes from the same word as olive oil. Give me comfort, soothe my wounds, bind up my aches and pains. Have mercy, Lord: today is hard. In the temple, in the Liturgy – here, at Mass – we have been soothed, healed. As Christus/Moshiach means anointed, here in the Mass we are anointed with God’s chesed and made little Christs.

To what end? St Paul tells us directly in the Epistle: we are not to do the works of the flesh, but rather the works of the Spirit. We are not to let our flesh lead us around, but rather to follow the Spirit. We are not here in fear, but in love. We no longer expect God to merely stop beating us, we call on our Father’s mercy, his chesed. What is this division between the works of the flesh and of the spirit? We already know what God wants us to do, what having God as our Father empowers us to do. The clue is in what we have received from God in the Mass. In Micah 6:8 we see that we have a very simple duty: He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly (Mishpat), and to love mercy (Chesed), and to walk humbly with thy God? We already know chesed, but mishapt is new. It can mean law or judgment, but it is most often used for the description of how to treat others, especially the poor, the orphan, the widowed, the oppressed. This is the work of the Spirit.

So often we are given to imagine that “The work of the spirit” is something etherial, otherworldly, but this is how we walk with God: in works of justice and in love of mercy. The works of the flesh are physical works: lust, greed, gluttony. But they are not wrong because they are physical (as opposed to spiritual) but rather because they are selfish. In our greed we steal from others. But in the spirit of adoption which God has given us we are Sons, like Jesus himself. We no longer need to be greedy: for All Is Ours.

The Gradual and Alleluia inspire us to confidence in God and to the courage to act, dwelling in the shadow of his refuge. What is there to fear? The world will hate us. But we knew that already. Still, there is nothing to fear. I have hoped in God and nothing will trip me up.

Now comes one of the most confusing Gospel readings in the whole of our tradition: the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The Fathers have an interesting read on this, for they see the Certain Rich Man as a symbol of God the Father. The unjust steward is, well, you or me. He’s us. We are all rightly accused of squandering God’s wealth. In his Commentary, Fr Haydock says:

Verse 1. There was a certain rich man, &c. By this parable, our Saviour advises his disciples to accompany their penitential works with deeds of mercy to the poor. Ven. Bede. — There is a certain erroneous opinion, that obtains pretty generally amongst mankind, and which tends to increase crimes, and to lessen good works: and this is, the foolish persuasion that men are not accountable to any one, and that we can dispose as we please of the things in our possession. S. Chrys. — Whereas we are here informed, that we are only the dispensers of another’s property, viz. God’s. S. Amb. — When, therefore, we employ it not according to the will of our Master, but fritter and squander it away in pleasure, and in the gratification of our passions, we are, beyond all doubt, unjust stewards.

Haydock Commentary

When the steward begins to give away his master’s belongings, his master actually Praises him. Since all things belong to God, and since God has given them to us freely, we are to participate in the giving: to give away all. Sell all you have and give to the poor. And we are to do this without fear for in doing so we are participating in the nature of God whose self-gift is unending, unrestrained, and the source of all that we have or are. More than this, Jesus comments that the children of this world are more inclined to look out for their own care than we, as Christians, are inclined to look out for our soul’s well-being. How many Christians do you know are as zealous for souls as a Wall Street Banker is for profit? How many Christians do you know are a zealous for their own salvation and Heavenward journey as a political activist (of any stripe)? Truly, the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.

Conversely, how many Christians do you know who are more zealous for others to be punished “justly” for their sins? The Unjust Steward goes around forgiving the debts of others who owe him nothing. So are we to forgive others – even if they “only” sinned against God. Here I do not mean offer sacramental absolution: that is a priestly function. But rather, how many of us want to get “righteously angry” about protests or graffiti, about violence against the church, real or imagined, or about oppressions we are made to endure? Instead, we should be “loving mercy” and “doing justice” ourselves, like the Steward: we should say, “How much do you owe our God? Here, it’s now only half that…”

At the beginning of the first Gulf War, under President Bush the Elder, protesters gathered in front of the United Nations daily and they filled the streets around my 2nd Avenue work place in New York City. Monday, walking back to the office after lunch I saw a mounted squad of New York City Police ride into the crowd at the corner of 44th and 2nd. There was stunned silence for a few moments as people wondered what was to happen next. A group of priests, standing only a few feet from me on the corner, under the street sign, looked at each other, nodded, and took out their stoles which they draped over their clerical suits. They stood looking at the policeman who sat on their horses and looked at the priests. There was stony silence and the clerical stoles move gently in a breeze. Then the policeman turn their horses and rode away.

Rejoice: all is ours, and there is nothing to be afraid of.

In the Secret the priest prays that our lives will be fulfilled in this world and in the next. The world of “the flesh” are greed and lust. But nevertheless it is possible to be made holy here and now, “in the flesh,” if we but do the works of our Abba. This thought is repeated in the Postcommunion which asks God to heal us (the Latin is “repair us”) in Soul and Body. Again, that’s in this world. We are not gnostics: the flesh is not in opposition to the Spirit, only we want it to be out of balance. We use our fleshly passions and say, “This must be my spirit.” God wants us to embody the actions of His Spirit in our flesh.

The Communion verse underscores our hope in God as we taste and see that he is good.

More than praise for his gifts, God calls us to embody his action in the world: to act in lovingkindness, to be merciful at every turn. In a world where greed and self-interest are the norm, God calls us to act in merciful justice, to give away everything he has given us so that he can continue to give us more – to give away.

There is no need to fear in this action, for we already know they hate us.

God is in Control

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

Missa Omnes Gentes, Plaudite Manibus

JMJ

THE TIMES ARE CERTAINLY STRANGE. Between the Plague, the Denial of the Plague, political doctors, riots by white people with guns complaining about their right to endanger others, protests by people of color complaining about their inability to live without being endangered by power structures white people have built, and corporate greed driving so many false messages in and through all of the above, we can perhaps be forgiven for wandering in confusion through our days. The Collect though, reminds us the God is in control.

O God, Whose providence in the ordering of all things never fails; we humbly beseech Thee to put away from us all harmful things, and to give us those which are profitable for us.

Deus, cujus providentia in sui dispositione non fallitur : te supplices exorámus ; ut noxia cuncta submoveas, et ómnia nobis profutura concedas. 

This collect reads like the Advent antiphon, O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly. O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia.

Since it is the wisdom of God to order all things, then how can anything be unjust? This is sort of the default how can anything be evil question isn’t it? If your God is so good why is there evil in the world? If your God is so good why are there poor people who are slain by tsunamis on Christmas Day? Christians have an answer for that question but no one likes the answer.

The Introit reminds us that God is the “great king over all the Earth.” Everyone is invited to praise him. Clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of joy. So, again, why is there Injustice in the world?

In the Epistle St Paul speaks to the Romans, reminding them that they used to be in their sins “because of the infirmity of the flesh”… offering their body to “uncleanness” ἀκαθαρσία akatharsia in the Greek. This means “impurity” or, more to the point, “unpurified”. Think of unrefined silver, with all the impurities still in it. This status of non-purification leads to something else: lawlessness ἀνομίᾳ anomia. But more important for our discussion, it’s ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν anomia eis ton anomian. Lawlessness unto lawlessness. Sin builds on sin, as was discussed earlier in this post citing 1865 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says elsewhere our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. Then, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” This ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν which arises from our impurity creates structures of sin in which our society runs amok.

Sins all lead to death, but St Paul does not leave us there. There is hope for us! In Christ we are now to yield our body to δικαιοσύνῃ εἰς ἁγιασμόν dikaiosune eis agiasmon: righteousness until sanctification. See the parallel: instead of “lawlessness unto lawlessness” we are now “righteous unto sanctification” and as the old bondage lead to structures of sin woven through the world, so our righteous living will lead to structures of sanctification – not just in our hearts but in all our lives through the world, to the proper end of mankind, τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον, telos zoen aionion, to life everlasting. Here St Paul uses ζωή, Zoe, which means not the life of “the breathing” but the everlasting life which is our participation (by Grace) in the very life of God. But this is only the final end: it’s our time now not to “yeild fruit” of those things which we are now ashamed. Rather we are to become “servants of God” with “fruit unto sanctification.”

As the whole pattern of individual sin wove together to form fractal patterns woven through all of society, so also our personal motion in theosis is intended to save the whole pattern of the world. “Acquire the Holy Spirit,” says St Seraphim of Sarov. “And thousands around you will be saved.” This is our job as Christians.

The Gradual and the Alleluia call us to praise God, but also they call us to come to him for enlightenment that our faces might not be ashamed. How is that tied in? When we see the Lord, then we know that we are the Servants of all. But we know this because he has given us Grace. We are no longer confound it, no longer ashamed of our servant status. We follow him who became a slave to save us. In this way no matter how we lower ourselves in the service of others, we can never be lower than he who now raises us to heaven.

St Matthew challenges us in the Gospel to bear fruit. Worse, Jesus threatens us: if we do not bear fruit we will be cut off and cast into the fire. This is not a kind or comforting passage. We should hear this as a threat, quite literally. When I look at my life do I see fruit that glorifies my Lord? Absolutely not. What is the will of Our Father in heaven? If we do this we will inherit eternal life. St Paul has told us that this is the fruit leading to sanctification. It’s not something that comes after our salvation, it’s the very process itself. The fruit leading to sanctification are the little steps we take to weave God’s kingdom into the world around us.

We know that our actions of righteousness, of justice do not benefit the individual: a rising tide raises all ships. As you become more Christlike, you participate (in emulating him) in the salvation of the world. God is ordering the world through you and you are participating in his ordering of it.

Matthew tells us that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will inherit the Kingdom. How many days do I spend simply going through the motions with Christianity, the daily actions of liturgy without ever once performing an action inside the kingdom of God? How often do I fail to weave the kingdom of God into reality around me? I can say Jesus is Lord without ever needing it to be true in my life or in the world around me. I can pray a rosary, walking down the street, shedding curses on those I step over as they sleep, homeless. This is not the kingdom, this will cause me to be cut off and cast into the fire. What is the will of God? The salvation of all where “salvation” means the wholeness – the all-around health – of all. If I am not weaving structures of holiness into the world around me, then I am building structures of sin instead.

Jesus reminds us of false prophets – that speak in the name of God but fail to proclaim God’s Gospel. They do not bear the right kind of fruit: instead, they are greedy, ravening wolves. They prey on the sheep – sexually abusing them, financially abusing them, theologically abusing them by denying the teachings of the faith, downplaying the sexual morality of the church, or making liturgy “fun”. They are popular, yes, but they damn us to hell. Equally false though, are those who deny the actions of Justice that result from the faith. Usury is wrong, racism is a sin, oppression of others – even those who disagree with us – is wrong.

The verse sung for the Offertory today may seem out of place in all this context. But the prophet Daniel reminds us that our actions, done in praise of God, are equal to thousands of burnt offerings pleasing to him. And as we serve God, there is no confusion. Indeed, as sin replicates more sin, the closer you come to God, the easier it becomes to continue to serve him. An old hymn says, “The longer I serve him the sweater he grows”. God’s grace moves through you to pull you more and more into his will for you, and the more it happens, the more you freely cooperate with him. There is no confusion in this, but enlightenment (as mentioned in the Gradual).

The Secret sums all this up, asking that our sacrifice will be both an honor to God and for our salvation. Remember, our sacrifice here in the Mass is not a new thing but rather a participation in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary 2000 years ago and here today. And yet, here today it is a discrete action: an individual action of our congregation and of our priest, here and now. It is a part of the building of the kingdom of God on this Earth in the same way that our individual acts of justice and righteousness are performing the same construction. The Mass, as well as our individual actions of economic justice, racial equality, and political liberation all work together to bring the Kingdom into the presence of the world.

The Communion verse asks God to deliver us, using the Hebrew, לְהוֹשִׁיעֵֽנִי, meaning to save (and using the root that also gives the name of Our Lord). Finally the Post-communion speak of deliverance and healing, bringing us into the ways of righteousness.

The whole motion of this Mass is one of repetition: we praise God (clap our hands) in order that we might do the works of righteousness in order that more acts of righteousness may come to pass in the world, in order that the world may come to praise God and the whole cycle repeats. This is the order of the world as we set aright (by God’s grace) those things that have destroyed righteousness and justice around us.