Jonah’s New Signs

From my old copy of “The Sign of Jonas” by Thomas Merton

Readings for Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent (A2)

No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah.

JMJ

Wake up this morning was to news about the Pope’s Lenten Retreat on the Holy Prophet Jonah. This story from the scriptures was, therefore, on my mind as I went to Mass. A fund thing to note (props to Fr Anthony not-on-twitter-now) Catholics don’t cite scripture, but we know the stories. So to remind us of two-thirds of the story (in outline):

  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “nope” and went the other way on a boat
  • God tried to wreck the boat in a storm
  • The sailors threw Jonah over the side
  • Swallowed by a fish
  • Fish spat him up
  • God said, Jonah, go to Nineveh
  • Jonah said, “Nope, if I go there, they will repent and you’ll forgive them”
  • God said, Right. Go to Nineveh.
  • Jonah said, “ok” and went
  • Jonah preached a little.
  • They repented.
  • God forgave them.
  • Jonah got all “DAMN IT I KNEW YOU WOULD DO THAT”

Jesus says the only thing he’ll give is the “Sign of Jonah”. Now… the Church tends to read the following text in Jesus’ voice and I will not correct that… but the Greek text has no quotation marks. Matthew and Luke have this story in slightly different versions although Jesus says “no sign except the sign of Jonah”. But then is the rest of the passage Jesus? Or Christian rabbinical conversation? It doesn’t have to be the former. It could be the latter. I want to think of it this way:

  • Rabbi Luke says Jesus means this: as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
  • Rabbi Matthew says Jesus means that and also a prophecy of the Resurrection.

Accepting that as a given truth, are there possibly other signs for us in our present Generation? I think the answer is yes. I’m not fleshing these out but offering them as meditation points. I think there’s a lot of room for digging in:

  • Jonah tried to dodge vocation by going the other way. God fixed that: do we run away at any excuse?
  • The Ninevites only needed a tiny push to repent: is it possible that even those “heathens” you work with need only a gentle whisper of truth to breakout the sackcloth?
  • Nineveh’s conversion was so total that it made Jonah angry: we don’t want to see our opponents converted. We like hellfire from heaven better.
  • Jonah was an outsider in Nineveh yet his power was multiplied because he was following God: how many times do we go looking for someplace to “fit in” as a missionary rather than just going where God wants us?
  • Another way to think of that point: When Jonah was following God’s will it didn’t even matter that he didn’t speak the language. Everyone heard him: Jesus is also an outsider in most of our world yet this crucified criminal overthrew all of Rome and changed history.

That’s it. Some different signs to chew on. Feedback is welcomed.

Think Different

The Readings for the 3rd Sunday, Tempus per Annum (A2)

Paenitentiam agite; appropinquavit enim regnum caelorum.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

JMJ

Repent, says Jesus. Jerome’s Latin renders this poenitentiam agite which means “do penance” but it may be a typo of sorts as “paenitentiam” – with the “o” changed to an “a” – means “repent”. This last is what’s in the Nova Vulgata used in more recent liturgical texts. Jerome may have had an axe to grind, however. The Douay text has Jesus saying “Do penance for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That seems oddly wrong. The Greek is μετανοέω metanoeó. Repent! When we hear this word we think of people in sackcloth and ashes. Sometimes we may think of people weeping in the streets. Yet, as I have pointed out many times before the Greek word does not imply any of these things. It means to “think beyond” or to “think different”. Strong’s dictionary says that meta means “changed after being with” and that noeo means “think”, so regardless of “beyond” or “different” it means our thinking is changed. Our thinking now takes on a new pattern after being with… Jesus.

Repent means to let our thinking be changed.

Once, when discussing a new relationship with a group a friend of mine was asked what she loved about her new beau. “I like the way he makes me feel,” she said. The oldest of us in the group laughed. He said, “That’s not love, that’s a peculiar species of narcissism.” It seems that romance always is this peculiar species of narcissism. We have to learn to have our thinking changed in order to experience love. Then suddenly we discovered that love is about sacrifice and about suffering. These are not two things we imagine in our relationships, but we think our relationships are about self-comfort rather than self-sacrifice. We think our relationships are about narcissism rather than about love.

At the Walk For Life in San Francisco on Saturday my friend Kathy spoke movingly of her oldest son. He was conceived in rape. She gave him up for adoption in an open adoption. He is a vibrant part of their family even though he was raised in another part of the country. As she spoke about the sexual assault that brought this new life into her life and about the choices she made to keep the baby, I begin to realize that motherhood means something completely different to Kathy then it had ever meant to me. Brotherhood is not the choice to raise kids it’s the choice to say my kids are more important than I am. Motherhood is not the willingness to give up one’s freedom for children. Motherhood is the reality of giving up everything for one’s children. I began to see why some people might be threatened by this, might want to run away. This was not the first time I had heard Kathy’s story but it was the first time I began to understand it. And it was then but I began to understand her son’s own story of self-sacrifice and success. We learn so much from our parents. When parents think outside of our culture’s boxes their kids do as well.

In how many places of our lives do we think wrongly, need to think differently? What if work is not about making money to pay the bills, but about a struggle to work out our salvation? What if, in fact, all of our lives are about this same struggle?

Jesus says to some fishermen, “Come after me and I will make you Fishers of Men.” If Jesus were with us now would he say to someone fixing a drainpipe, “Come after me and I will make you a plumber of men’s souls.” Does he say to the doctor, “Come after me and I will make you a healer of men’s hearts.” Does grace build on nature, changing what we are into what God needs us to be? When we experience pain, when life gives us something that we didn’t want, when we lose how does God turn this into an act of our salvation? This happens when we begin to think with different minds about our lives. The Daily Grind becomes the daily life lived for God. The same things are experienced but to different ends. Marriage becomes about sacrifice. Sex becomes about self gift. Love becomes about death. Death becomes life.

Does God change our minds, or does he simply open the door and show us that another way of thinking is possible? I think this last is true. God cannot change our minds as that would be contrary to human freedom. God can show us a better way whenever and – with infinite patience and love – wait for us to go into it.

Repent! Think with a new mind. God has always been drawing closer, but now we can see it. When the light dawns on Zebulon and Naphtali it is not a new thing that is happening oh, it is only that we can see it clearly for the first time.

You’re doing it wrong

Bl. Stanley Rother saying Mass in a traditional chasuble with a Guatemalan scarf.

The Readings for the 1st Tuesday,
Tempus per Annum (A2)

Factum est autem, cum illa multiplicaret preces coram Domino, ut Heli observaret os ejus. Porro Anna loquebatur in corde suo, tantumque labia illius movebantur, et vox penitus non audiebatur. Aestimavit ergo eam Heli temulentam, dixitque ei : Usquequo ebria eris? digere paulisper vinum, quo mades.
As she remained long at prayer before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth, for Hannah was praying silently; though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli, thinking her drunk, said to her, “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine!”

JMJ

Among the Orthodox, I’m sure it will not surprise you to learn, there are Liturgy Wars. I found this to my great horror after a while in Orthodoxy. There is a phase for converts (it took me about 2 years to outgrow) where “my parish does it right” and everyone certainly does it the same way. My time was compounded by visiting very similar places when I traveled. This led to “My parish is right and anything else is clearly wrong.” But that was followed by about 8 years of “there must be someone who does it right…” because I began to develop a list of things that are clearly wrong: pews, first and foremost. Skipping parts of the liturgy – everyone does this – was increasingly horrifying to me. A part of the morning service of Matins which at my on parish took 15-20 mins to do might take 3-5 mins at some places, or even less! Then I discovered that my own parish skipped a bunch and that part of the service should take about 45 mins on a short day – say a normal Sunday – and maybe 1h15 or even more on a Holy Day! We were all doing it wrong. Listening to us Orthodox criticize each other you might think we were all Eli yelling at Hannah for being drunk.

The third phase of this was the realization that doing what your Bishop told you to do was the right way to do it. Some Bishops allowed more latitude than others, but as long as one was within the limits established by Episcopal oversight, no pun intended, one was ok. Things got hella wonky when I drifted into the Orthodox Western Rite communities where seemingly anything goes and every pastor is his own liturgical Episcopos. The Latin phrase sui generis, meaning “alone of its class” and usually applied to special exceptions to general rules, was invented for the Orthodox Western Rite. No one really does what the Bishops say – although everyone starts with the same collection of books.

All this by way of lead-up to my becoming Catholic. The alleged post-conciliar chaos was one thing that had kept me from becoming Roman Catholic when I fled the Episcopal Church in 2002. But here it was in Orthodoxy too. There are even some Orthodox Churches with altar girls and – roughy speaking – open communion. There are “liturgical archeologists” who make stuff up because “the ancient church” did it. Orthodoxy had all the same mess as the Roman Church, so why fight it? I became Catholic. I also mellowed a lot.

I love a good Latin Mass: I go to one almost every week. I find praying my way through 2 hours of intense liturgy to be quite wonderful. There are those partisans of the Latin Mass who say that the other form of the Mass, the Novus Ordo, is not valid at all. There are even some who say the 1962 Missal is wrong and that we have to go backward in time to the next missal (or the one before that…) Sadly, there are some vice versa feelings too. And there are some in either camp who freak out when they see the Novus Ordo done with elements of traditional liturgy at all. As much as I love the Latin Mass, it’s this last – Novus Ordo with all the trad stops pulled out – that is my favorite. I was Episcopalian for long enough that this most Episcopalian of Catholic liturgies feels like “home” to me.

Go to a Christmastide Mass at St Patricks in SF and see all the blue LED lights and gobs of fake flowers. Try the Chinese New Year Mass with the Dragon. There’s the dancing Gospel at St Paul of the Shipwreck, and the two guitars and a flute at St Dominic’s at 5:30 PM. See the Divine Liturgy in (mostly) Russian style at Our Lady of Fatima and the Latin Mass at Star of the Sea. This is only the beginning: the glory of the Catholic Church. While there are some who would insist that they are right and all the others wrong but each liturgy is filled with Catholic hearts raised heavenward.

Yet we are all Eli convinced the others are Drunk Hannahs who are doing it wrong. The joke was on Eli because it was his own sons who were doing it wrong and it was Hannah’s son who was to replace them. Those in power were about to be thrown down, as is God’s way.

What shall we do with our liturgical diversity as blessed by our bishops?

Give thanks to the Lord our God for it is right and just.

Manifest Destiny

The Readings for the Epiphany (A2)

Gentes esse cohaeredes, et concorporales, et comparticipes promissionis ejus in Christo Jesu per Evangelium
Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

JMJ

Rome knew what it was like to be the Chosen One. They ruled almost the entire world. Sure: they didn’t know about the Americas or even China, but if they had known they would have tried to conquer them as well. Stop being Marxist about your history: every empire has tunnel vision. In their Tunnel, by the grace of Jupiter and the might of Caesar, they ruled the world. God, however, had other plans. They had only cleared the field. They had only laid out the roads, networked the mass transit, taught two common languages to everyone. Rome had done their part. The plan was not about them.

King Herod knew what it was to be the chosen one. He had been chosen King of the Jews by the Senate of Rome. Granted, he had finagled it. But still he was chosen. When the folks back home decided to complain about it he killed them all. Herod was known for killing them all. So when these three wise men showed up and asked for the king of the Jews, yet not Herod, Herod was upset.

King of the ‘oo? No, Majesty: King of the Jews. What? I’M THE KING OF THE JEWS! Caesar said so! A baby? In a Small Town? SAD! I can wipe him out with a drone! He’s the number one enemy in the world!

In the end, as we all know, Herod lost. To a baby. Sad. For Herod. Herod was part of the plan: but the plan was not Herod.

Paul says Israel was chosen, but she misunderstood the why and the mechanics of being that chosen nation: Israel had a place in the plan but Israel’s place was not for Israel’s sake. It was for the sake of the plan. John the Baptist says God could raise up sons of Abraham from the stones if it was needed. Israel is part of the plan: but not the plan itself.

We totally understand why Herod would be so annoyed that three heads of government and three heads of state walked across his boarders and totally ignored him. I’m not comparing Donald Trump to King Herod at all. I mean, you know, the judges… but we – as a people – totally understand why Herod would be annoyed at being ignored. We The People will not be ignored. Even those of us who take a principled stand against various politically objectionable things… we hate it when we’re ignored. I don’t mean we dislike it in the way someone might dislike liver. I mean we dislike being ignored because NO ONE HAS A RIGHT TO IGNORE ME!

America knows what it means to be the Chosen One. We love to play up being God’s chosen, God’s savior who runs to the rescue of the weak and the lost. Is your country being attacked by pirates? We’re on it! Is the island being invaded by communists? We’re on our way! Are the Guerrillas or Juntinistas bothering you? We’ll be right there! We can fix anything: just ask. Sometimes you don’t even have to ask: we have agents, drones, and client countries that can rush in… hold on we can do this covertly if you want. You know, because what would the neighbor say if you needed help from US? Shhhh.

We need to learn that we have a part in the plan, but the plan is not for our sake: rather we are here for the sake of plan.

God’s Epiphany, God’s response to this is a crying baby in a food trough.

Again, this is not something Americans (maybe Westerners in general) like to hear. We’re quite convinced – like Rome – that we’re too big to fail. Culture needs us. Already, the Church in the West is dying and corrupt from our attention to power and, well, the Judges, you know. But the Church in the Global South and other places we like to bomb is growing stronger, more powerful and more evangelical. I am thankful for African Priests who come here to teach us the Gospel!

Each one of us is a part of the plan, but the plan is not about us. As Paul realized talking to the Ephesians, God had just revealed something that wasn’t clear to the ancients. God hadn’t set aside Israel to be set aside, special: rather God wanted to bring everyone up to Israel’s level of relationship with God. What is revealed or manifested here in this baby, this manger is not just a cool thing, but the Manifest Destiny of the entire human race: not just the Israelites, not just Americans, not just Westerners, not just Whites, but rather everyone.

When God was done with Rome, he cast it off like an old overcoat but keeping what is good in the Roman Church. When God is done with America, he will do the same and we need to be ready. When God is done with you, you will be in union with him – like it or not. Liking it will be heaven, not liking it will be hell.

Where will you be? Come kneel at the manger and find out.

Indefectibili Foedere

The Readings for the 3rd Monday in Advent (A2)

Dixit auditor sermonum Dei, qui visionem Omnipotentis intuitus est, qui cadit, et sic aperiuntur oculi ejus :
The utterance of one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows, of one who sees what the Almighty sees, enraptured, and with eyes unveiled.

JMJ

Does it strike you as odd that Balaam is not Jewish and yet he is a Prophet? This has always bothered me. At most he must be a Ba’al worshiper who got things right for once once, right? But no. He seems to be quite connected with the God of Israel – even if he is not a member of the tribe. The thing with the donkey (a couple of chapters earlier in the book) makes it clear that he’s on speaking terms with the same God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. How does that make sense?

The Dominican Tertiaries have been reading our way through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is not a teaching document, per se, but a source document: intended for teachers, clergy, and magisterial officials (eg Canon Lawyers) this long document of 2856 numbered paragraphs is intended to list out all the teachings of the Church. It is not, however infallible and some sections can be changed or even removed. The teaching on the Virgin Birth of Jesus, for example, does not have the same magisterial import as the teaching on the death penalty. The latter, therefore, can be sifted to more fine detail as the Church grows in her understanding of God and the world in which we live. (I see Pope Francis’ teaching on the Death Penalty to be less a “change” in teaching then a realization that no government in the world today – especially the USA – has shown itself to be just in the use of this punishment.)

This month we began reading Part Four: Christian Prayer. I was counseled to read this portion by Daniel Glaze who urged me to read Part 4 right after I was brought into the Catholic Church. OK, so now I’m getting around to reading it. This Part 4 has the answer to my Balaam question, I think.

Prayer is lived in the first place beginning with the realities of creation. The first nine chapters of Genesis describe this relationship with God as an offering of the first-born of Abel’s flock, as the invocation of the divine name at the time of Enosh, and as “walking with God. Noah’s offering is pleasing to God, who blesses him and through him all creation, because his heart was upright and undivided; Noah, like Enoch before him, “walks with God.” This kind of prayer is lived by many righteous people in all religions. In his indefectible covenant with every living creature, God has always called people to prayer.

CCC ¶ 2569 Emphasis added

It’s the indefectible covenant (Indefectibili Foedere) with every living creature that lept out and grabbed me tonight. God is always calling all people to prayer.

At the end of today’s reading, Balaam even prophesies about Messiah: I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel. Here is this pagan through whom God is indicating not only his present plans but also his future plans: a reason why he cannot curse Israel at all.

God has an “old testament” up and running amid the peoples of the middle east outside of the Israelites. God is getting everyone ready for what, or rather who is coming at Christmas.

In later books, Darius the King of Persia is called “Messiah” and God has plans for him. And the Apostles will discover that God’s been working through everyone getting them ready. When the first evangelists get to China, they will find that Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Buddha have prepared the way for the Gospel, just as Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah did in Israel. See, while we might want at Christmas to focus on an ever-smaller circle (All Israel > Southern Kingdom > Tribe of Judah > Jesse’s family >Joseph and Mary > Jesus) God is, in fact, aiming for nothing less than all of us. This is his Indefectibili Foedere cum omnibus animabus viventibus, his Indefectible Covenant with every living creature.

Evangelism, done properly, is this: to enter into relationship with another person so deeply that, in that communion of Love, the two of you discover how God has worked with them in their life to prepare them for the Gospel. This is their personal “old testament”, a record of God’s covenant with them. Then we walk, carefully accompanying them, through the record of their life to the point of decision: can they trust enough to let go and enter into a relationship with this God that has called them to prayer?

He’s calling all of us to prayer. So we explore, we grow in prayer, we wait expectantly for the Answer to come. There is only one answer, which is Jesus. For, ultimately, there is only one prayer: that of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Gaudete

The Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent (A2)

Tu es, qui venturus es, an alium exspectamus?
Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another?

JMJ

You know what? Life is not like we post it on Facebook. It’s ugly. The vast majority sees the world rather different than we do as wealthy westerners. I’m assuming that if you have a computer and an internet connection to read my ramblings, you’re wealthy by global standards. Prove me wrong. Most of our Christian ancestors lived on much less than you can imagine. Many of them died early of just living in their poverty. Others were killed outright for their faith. We complain about parking and the oppressions of our taxes. We also have fresh, clean water indoors (unless your in Flint, Michigan, under the Obama or Trump administrations) and until recently, freedom.

Do you ever have doubts? Your life may not be at all like someone from Flint or who lives in total poverty on the street outside your door, but do you ever wake up at night and wonder, What, exactly, am I doing? Have you ever gotten to the end of your chain and had to turn around and go back because, No, really. What am I doing? Have you ever bet literally everything on the course of events and yet still, Have I gone too far?

John the Baptist did.

The Fathers really go out of their way to find a reason for this scene in prison. John had known and recognized Jesus before they were born. From within the womb until now, he’s known who Jesus is and what he’s doing.

Are you really the one?

John the Baptist is in prison for calling out the adultery of the ancient world’s equivalent of Donald Trump, Jr. He’s not quite as bad as his father, but he’s still driven by passions and very petty. In the end it was Junior’s lust and pride that put John in jail, and the jealousy of Junior’s illicit bed partner – his brother’s wife. Today John would have been called a hater for denying the love of two consenting adults. We’d ban him from Twitter, and the president would add “Sad” to a few late-night binges.

But Herod put John in jail: that’s nothing like our idea of jail today. It’s more like being sent to “Special Detention” under President Obama. Where you’re in the dark, alone, except for a guard who tortures you in the dark so you can’t see his face, and you wonder if you’re family is alive or dead. Eventually, you wonder even if you’re alive or dead and you wonder how a Nobel Laureate gets you here. Herod’s jail is more like a dark hole where they can’t even see to take pictures of you and post them on social media.

All of the prophets have their moments of doubt. Moses breaks faith with God, Abraham can’t quite wait for his wife to have a child, the chains of slavery entered into Joseph’s very soul, it is said. And John’s faith weakened a bit. I can’t imagine how dark a hole it must have been, but my faith gets weak when there’s a cloudy day. So I can totally imagine this Obamian/Trumpian nightmare might be bad enough to make the greatest of prophets ask one – but really only one – question.

Are you the one or should we wait for another?

Gaudete. Rejoice! The introit for today begins, “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with Eucharist, let your requests be known to God.

That’s the real lesson. Things suck, but rejoice.

John might have had doubts (so did Peter and the others). But Jesus says, look: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

And exactly what is that good news?

The Latin says “pauperes evangelizantur” the poor are evangelized. That might make you think of Billy Graham preaching pie in the sky, by and by when you die, or Joel Osteen preaching, “give me the money in your wallet so God can make me rich”. The poor are sucker-punched.

But the Greek says something more radical than Antifa, and more powerful than a signal-boosted occupation chant.

Jesus sas, πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται ptoxoi ewangelizontai. The poor are Gospelized. You’re going to want to know what a Gospel is first: it’s not a religious text. It’s a political text. When Augustus Caesar or, by this time, Tiberius Caesar conquered your area, his soldiers showed up at your city gates and “read you the good news”: Tiberius Caesar is now in charge and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll open these gates and give over peaceably. Jesus is not just saying “Oh, you know, peace, joy, love… can’t we all get along?” He’s actually saying, “I’m in charge here now. And you’re free – really, truly free – in ways that are going to make your former fellow slaves rather angry at you. Caesar is not Kyrios any more. I am.

The poor are made into the largest citizen army ever: for the kingdom of God.

And all the crap in this world – the sickness, the anger, the oppression, the slavery to Caesar – are done away with because while their accidents remain, their substance is changed: your marriage bed is now a sacrament of salvation, your wage slavery is a key to the virtue of humility, your status as the lowest of the low is now superseded by God going even lower to raise up everyone.

This is the Kingdom of God: tents on the street where saints dwell in their own light, communing with the Divine in prayer, saving even the wealthy around them.

Gaudete means “rejoice” and the Greek word (in Philippians) is Χαίρετε, chairete. It’s the first word spoken by the Angel to Mary when he brings her the Good News of the Incarnation. Χαῖρε, chaire. Rejoice! It’s the first word of the Gospel! Rejoice!

Can you stand to be this happy?

Doubts happen. Questions happen. The key is not to cave in to them. You need to ask your questions and then let the answers be given.

Every Fire Burns Differently

By Hans Memling, Public Domain, Link

The Readings for the 33rd Sunday, Tempus per Annum (c1)

Et morte afficient ex vobis : et capillus de capite vestro non peribit.
They will put some of you to death…but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.

JMJ

Our readings today are from very apocalyptic texts. They struggle to share with us a vision of the future, and yet they also strive to remind us it is the present that we must always be concerned with.

Let’s start with the epistle to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul with his “If you don’t work you don’t eat.” This can be played politically if you like: poor people can’t eat because they can’t work. That would be contrary to literally everything else in the Bible – and would be projecting onto ancient cultures our capitalist values of exchanging work for money and money for necessities. Paul wasn’t talking about politics or economics. Rather Paul was talking about disorder in the Church community. People thought the world was about to end so they were giving up on their daily responsibilities. Paul was saying, “If you think the world’s about to end then you don’t need to eat do you?” He was directing his people away from some abstract future back to today. We don’t know when the world will end. We are not saved at some mystical, future endpoint. Today is the day of salvation, stop all this prepping for doomsday.

The prophet Malachi shares with us a rather gruesome vision of the last day ending in fire. We are used to this, I think: hellfire is a very common trope stretching from jokes about the stereotypical Street Preacher to the Left Behind books and movies. Yet there is also hope in this passage: for notice that the Day of the Lord is coming like fire but that general fire of terror will, for the righteous, come into focus as the rising of the Sun of Justice. The fire is still real fire it’s just a different sort of fire for the people who are expecting it, indeed living for it. We know this from other places in the church’s teachings where some of the fathers say eternity in hell and eternity at God’s Throne are the same thing. Scriptures say our God is a “consuming fire”. The righteous, however, want to be consumed in that fire. It is the unrighteous who do not wish to be consumed and will be burned. But it is the same fire. We will all be eternally roasting in the warming fires of God’s love. But someone want to be there.

The Gospel ends with a glorious promise from Jesus. As he was facing his own death he prophesied the death of (some of) his followers. Yet, mindful of his own Resurrection he said no part of you will be destroyed. We die yet we live.

Jesus’ communication of the Last Day cannot be comforting to everyone. He does not address this as prophecy to the unconverted but rather to the Believers. He predicts all kinds of violence against the Believers. He predicts hatred and destruction for the Believers. Yet like Malachi, Jesus invites Believers to see this with hope. No matter what they do to you, no matter how hard they persecute you, no matter how painfully they deal with you, no part of you will be destroyed.

This puts the lie to those who imagined something of a Rapture before the end of the world (like the Left Behind books). Those who believe in the Rapture think God is supposed to take the church out of the world before all this trouble begins. But Jesus says the church is going to go through all this trouble and, in real ways, will be the target of all this violence. We will die but we will not be destroyed. I think the words Jesus said about the temple could be said about the church today. No stone will be left on top of another stone when the world is finally done with us. But the church will not be destroyed for the church is not a building it is the people and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church.

The righteous have nothing to fear. This is not doom and gloom for those people of faith who dance with Jesus: but only for those people who do not share the same hope.

Like Hanukkah in November

The Readings for the 31st Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Parati sumus mori, magis quam patrias Dei leges praevaricari.
We are ready to die rather than to transgress the laws of God, received from our fathers.

JMJ

Here are sons of whom a Mother can be rightfully proud! The Story of the Seven Maccabee Brothers is a wee bit of a misnomer: they are 7 Brothers whose tale is told in the book of 2nd Machabees, as it is called in the Vulgate. Readings from 1st and 2nd Maccabees have also been coming up in the Daily Office. So it’s like Hanukkah coming early in a way. This story is one of particular meaning to me. The Greeks, having set up idols in the Temple are now going around Israel inviting the townspeople to worship idols and eat pork. These seven brothers, along with their mother and their teacher all refuse and are killed. It’s the last in a line of stories about the barbarism the Greeks committed against the Jews. The last line of Chapter 7 is “Enough has been said about the sacrificial meals and the excessive cruelties.”

Pardon a slide into Bible Geekery: these 1st and 2nd Maccabees are in the Catholic Canon, linking the historical period just before Jesus (c. 160 BC) with the Gospels. There are actually 4 books of Maccabees in the Orthodox Bible, but only 2 in the Roman Catholic Bible. The Wiki says that the Moravian Brethren rather liked 3rd Maccabees and 4th Maccabees was printed in some Romanian Catholic Bibles in the 18th Century. There’s an interesting discussion about why these books are not in the Jewish Canon here.

What do these martyrs (indeed, the entire story of the Maccabees) teach us as Christians?

In the first 3 centuries of the Christian Era, the Church endured serious persecution and at the same time, found ways to care for the poor, to house widows and orphans, to take exposed babies off the street and raise them in their own houses. The Church grew despite imprisonment, death threats, laws passed, and murderous rampages. Certain writers said that the church was growing because of the martyrdom. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” said Tertullian. The Church had inherited these books from the Jewish tradition and read them the same way: stirring stories inspiring her children to give up their lives rather than “transgress the laws of God, received from our fathers.”

For the early Church poverty was the norm. For this Church, powerlessness was also the norm. Although there were slaves and patricians all in the same Church communities they were all under a ban from the government. They were strange at least, ostracized often, hunted down sometimes and killed. The Church was not tax-exempt, the Church did not own huge swaths of property or giant buildings, and the Church was not given to splashy quasi-militarisic shows of liturgical triumphalism. This is not the case today, especially in America and Europe: the Church is largely white, middle class, and wealthy. When the Church thinks of people of color at all it tends to be in a rather colonial, paternalistic manner. This is even true of American Catholics for whom, in a real way, the Spanish, Latin American Church is our origin. We reject the poor on a regular basis: we hide from the differently-colored incursions in “our churches” even when those churches are dying. We take refuge in the fact that “this culture was ours at one time” and we think to reclaim it in the future.

For the early Christians the 7 Maccabee brothers were a sign that when the whole world was literally out to kill you still, God is in control. We think we’re being persecuted when we’re asked to yield cultural space to others. We confuse evangelism with expanding “Democracy” and Wal*Marts. We want to be in control and we will fight to keep that power. When so many American Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on economics, sex, and political morality, perhaps today these seven are not a useful sign. Their willing martyrdom seems meaningless to us.

Let us pray for a day when that meaning returns.

The Amazon in Burning

The Readings for the 31st Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Nemini quidquam debeatis, nisi ut invicem diligatis : qui enim diligit proximum, legem implevit. Dilectio proximi malum non operatur. Plenitudo ergo legis est dilectio.
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

JMJ

Have you heard about the Servant of God, Xu Guangqi? He is one of the Three Pillars of Chinese Catholicism. He was converted to Catholicism by the Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci. The latter, leading the Jesuit mission in China, made some interesting choices in regard to Chinese cultural practices (including the veneration of ancestors). These were first (1645) rejected and then (1656) accepted by the church. In 1939 the Holy See re-assessed the issue and Pope Pius XII issued a decree authorizing Chinese Catholics to observe the ancestral rites and participate in civic ceremonies Confucius-honoring. I’m not familiar with either the writings of Xu Guangqi, Matteo Ricci, or Confucious, but I’m in no position to argue with Pope Pius XII or his Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The wiki sums it up, saying, “Confucianism was also thus recognized as a philosophy and an integral part of Chinese culture rather than as a heathen religion in conflict with Catholicism.”

There’s another writer I know of…

During my neopagan days, from about 1982-1999, I became infatuated with the writings of Aleister Crowley. My teacher said she was convinced that anyone with an adult take on the pagan religion would find themselves in bed with “Uncle Al” as she called him. I was not attracted to his work for the sake of “power” or magic. (He would have called it “Magick”). In all the pagan writers published in the modern world, he is the only one with any philosophical depth, with any sense of real Truth being out there somewhere. His entire philosophy was wrapped around words that show up in St Paul over and over: Love and Law. He added a third word which St Thomas Aquinas will bring into the mix: Will. Aquinas says, “To Love is to Will the good of the other.” Paul says this is the fulfillment of the Law. “Love is the Law, Love under Will,” said Crowley.

I’m not at all convinced that I won’t meet him in heaven. He was so very hung up on Agape. He misunderstood it, often enough, but he just could not let it go, or maybe better – it would not let him go. Truth be told, I was reading one of his more esoteric works when a line about offering all to the divine caused me to turn back to Christ. (“Don’t hold back even a pinch of yourself”, he said. “Or your whole work is wasted.”) And so here I am, meditating on Bible and still able to hear about Crowley. In this month of the Holy Souls, I don’t think it untoward to pray for his repose.

So. The Amazon Synod.

Remember, before we go on: Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love is willing the good of the other. Is there any greater good to will for anyone than their salvation? Not really.

Did you ever hear of Pachamama? You may have missed the entire storm (if you’re lucky), but in short here’s what happened: in the time since Matteo Ricci when to China, it’s become possible to travel the world by airplane and so the missionaries in China, I mean the Amazon Basin, didn’t have to wait on letters and reports posted by sailing ship to get between themselves and the Home Office in Rome. Indeed, it became possible for the entire world to learn what was going on with the mission work in China, I mean the Amazon Basin. Instead of waiting 300 years or so, the Church was able to talk about it now.

Is there anything in their culture, like Confucious or Crowley, that might lead someone – digging deep enough – to come to Catholicism? I don’t know. Some priests did think so: and they brought these things to Rome. Sadly, they did it in front of the Media Circus called the internet.

This did not make the talking heads online happy at all. This really annoyed the Anti-Francis folks. This seriously pissed off the Catholic Right. They let loose on some Racist Rants about the people in the Amazon, about culture, about colonialism, about power in the Church, and – most importantly – about their own sense of the loss of that power. It was sad to watch really.

If you don’t understand the synodal process in the Church you might think that a bunch of bishops saying things in Rome means the teaching of the Church is thus. In reality: those bishops were, essentially, talking in front of the Pope as advisors. The Pope is the Decider Guy here – and what he says won’t come out until (if?) he writes an Exhortation. That document has the weight of the Church’s teaching authority behind it: it’s Magisterial as we say. Nothing else is, however. So we have to wait. We may not have to wait 300 years as the Chinese did, but if there is an “Amazonian Rites” controversy it will – sadly – be colored by race and colonialism. It will be the Church’s desire to protect and elevate her children to salvation pitted against the West’s desire to deforest the Amazon and grow hamburgers and soybeans.

If we do not love them, if we do not will their good, if we confuse our culture of solid housing and urban squalor, indoor plumbing and venereal disease, “free” elections and neoliberal wage slavery with “the good” that we are colonially forcing on them… we will fail as missionaries. Our love will die. And so will they.

We might not know their songs or their culture, but we can still destroy them.

Added Later: Look. The Holy Spirit is in charge here. God is in control. The Church has survived bad popes, silly popes, evil popes, and popes with kids in their house and politicians in their pockets. At one point the entire Church was Monothelite. Jansenists have tried to take it over. Arians have tried. (And the Aryans, too.) Gnostics have tried. Church still here. The Church “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail” is nonplussed by missionaries from the Amazon.

Et Cetera, Et Cetera

The Readings for the Solemnity of All the Saints

Vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat, ex omnibus gentibus, et tribubus, et populis, et linguis : stantes ante thronum, et in conspectu Agni, amicti stolis albis, et palmae in manibus eorum :
I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.

JMJ

Google 144,000. Go on, I’ll wait. There’s so much out there! Some folks think that God’s only going to let 144,000 folks into heaven as if there was only that much room. Others think of it as a symbolic number indicating – again – the limited access of the few saved folks. Still others, in to which camp I used to fall, think of it as an exact number of Jews who will convert just before the 2nd Coming and try to evangelize the world. Hal Lindsey had me convinced of this. Don’t get me started on all that is wrong with the idea.

Yet if these 144,000 are evangelists – or a symbol of the function of Evangelists (which I think it is) then the important part is in the next set of verses: for the Evangelists bring in a “great multitude which no one could count”. That’s not a “limited heaven”: It’s infinity – and beyond!

Today’s feast is a mark of the Unity, the Catholicity of the Church: for we, the Evangelizing servants of God on the earth are united with the great multitude which no one can number, in heaven. This happens at every Mass as we gather around the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: You might not be able to see them with your physical eyes but we are all here, together, around the Altar! When you come forward to receive the Body of Christ, angels are kneeling in awe, your patron saints, and thousands of others whom you do not know – but who know you intimately – are standing with you, praying for you and cheering you on. When the priest says, “The Body of Christ!” and places the host on your tongue, all of heaven responds with a gloriously victorious

Amen! Benedictio, et claritas, et sapientia, et gratiarum actio, honor, et virtus, et fortitudo Deo nostro in saecula saeculorum! Amen! Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

The rafters thunder! The earth quakes! A mortal receives the bread of life, the chalice of slavation, infinity on our tongue.

On All Saints Day we celebrate what we rarely acknowledge: the vast majority of the Church is invisible but we are ever one in Christ. These are our most intimate friends for while they share in the knowledge of Christ they love us, pray for us, beckon us on; sometimes I think they get behind us and push. They have been in this same world, they know what it means to be poor, to have a job, to be afraid, and to be ill. They know about raising children, about being lone, about being hungry, about being persecuted. They know what it means to be all the thing humans can be – and still, they have pushed through to God. One step at a time, this great multitude which no man can number has gained the Victory offers by the Lamb.

And they long for us to join them. In the Office of Readings for today St Bernard of Clairvaux said:

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Let us not be indifferent! Let us not ignore them! Let us be thankful for their prayers, but let us emulate them as well: for they with us pray for all the souls of the departed. They, with us, pray for the Pope, the Bishops, and our clergy, the living 144,000 we have today. The saints, with us, pray for the peace of the world and the Church. And with us, they pray for the coming of the Great Day when all the Church shall finally be reunited as one in one place before the Throne.

Alla famiglia! A Blessed Feast!