Tough Love

JMJ

The Readings for the 18th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Matthew 15:22

THIS PERICOPE always intrigues me: there’s no Canaan. There’s no province of Canaan, there’s no area of Jesus’ world with this name. How do we get a Canaanite Woman?

One possibility is that Matthew is wrong here. Many outside the Church (and some inside, tbh) would love for that to be the case. We could then just ignore things as we felt like it. See: this Gospel has errors. That’s not a path I want to take, but we should acknowledge this mention of an ahistorical “Canaanite” opens up that question.

Remembering that Matthew was writing his Gospel to a primarily Jewish community, then two other possibilities arise for our meditation.

The Church has had lots of chances to change something that was “wrong” in Matthew’s Text. Other Gospels refer to her as a “Syrophoenician Woman“. The Church has refused to harmonize this passage meaning that this is something we should consider as is, not “as an error”. I mentioned a few posts ago that the medical term for being uncircumcised was a slang term for Gentiles among some Jews with whom Paul was talking. Paul condescended to use the vulgar term to say circumcision does not matter anymore. Is it possible that, among the Jews to whom Matthew was writing, “Canaanite” was a slang term for Gentiles living in the geographical area of Israel? (Interestingly, it was also a term used for supporters of what we now call “Zionism” at the beginning of the 20th Century.) I’ve no way to check on that idea, but hold that in thought for a moment: I don’t want that to be the real meditation today, but it does add an interesting, spicy take to my point that follows:

Could Matthew have been making a point that Jesus came not just for Jews but for everyone? This was a point of contention in the earliest days of the Church, of course. Should Gentiles become Jews first before they can follow the Messiah? The Church’s answer was a profound no. It seems one way to read this passage is to see the Apostles (Jews) saying “send her away, she’s annoying”. Then Matthew’s text allows Jesus to show he is, at heart, a Dominican, by making a pun: “Canaanite” “dog”. Get it?

Jesus seemingly rebuffs her in order, the Fathers all agree in saying, to provoke the cry of faith from her: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Her act of faith saved her and her daughter, as well as the Apostles and us.

That is the second point for meditation today: what seemingly negative things in your life are being allowed by God in order to provoke a cry of faith from you? I’m coughing from Covid right now. I can’t begin to understand how this thing has come to pass – not to me – but to all of us. What Was God doing in 2019 and 2020 when all this started? Among other things was he provoking a cry of faith from us?

Do you remember the Urbi & Orbi blessing that Pope Francis gave at the beginning of the Lockdowns? A blessing for the City and the World. I watched it live in my basement apartment, moved profoundly by the Holy Father’s act of Faith, giving the world a blessing as only the Vicar of Christ on Earth can do: leading the entire world in an act of spiritual warfare, a cry of faith. The entire world… we are never told what might have been if that action had not been taken. I believe profoundly that the world was changed that night and the plague was stopped. That was a miracle.

By an act of faith. But it was most important that it be done publically, out loud, as it were with all the police cars sounding their sirens as the Sacred Host was raised in blessing. The Holy Father’s act of faith saved all of us.

St Paul makes the point that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. There is only one good: union with the Lord. So all things, accepted with the cry of faith, can draw us closer to God. The Canaanite woman shows how her faith grows: she goes from call out to Jesus from a distance to drawing close and worshipping him. Sometimes that thing that seems like a no from God can really be a yes if we but see the opening to ask correctly.

The third point for our meditation is why? What is the need for your cry of faith? Is it primarily for you or is it for others?

Why are you being provoked by something negative in your life to cry out in faith to God? You may never know. You may be a change needed in the whole world. You may be a story for future Christians to read. You may be the inspiration of others who are sick as well.

Your act of faith never saves only you.

Ellipsis

JMJ

The Readings for the 18th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)


“EW”

Someone on the Vatican Liturgical Commission, Probably

MY PARISH IS CELEBRATING the Solemnity of the Dedication of the Church this Sunday. It’s not the 18th Sunday for me. So, there.

As you know I like to look at the verses that were skipped and see if we can figure out why. In the first reading there was not really anything skipped: the missing verses get used elsewhere and Ecclesiastes 1:2 is being used as an introduction to the Very Goth verses from chapter 2. In the reading from Colossians, though, something was skipped. It might be read as if the missing verses, as a whole, probably made someone a bit squeamish.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
Because of these the wrath of God is coming.
By these you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way.
But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths.

Colossians 3:6-8

There’s a double command to stop doing these things. And there’s a notice not only that you (the Colossians) once did those things… but also you “lived that way”. And there’s a list of the things. The NABRE renders the things (in verse 5) as “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry”. The Greek for the first one is “porneia” and it means exactly sexual immorality as you might expect. The words rendered as “impurity“, “passion“, as well as the phrase “evil desire” are also related to sexual lust. With these in mind, “conducted yourselves” and “lived that way” has a whole other meaning for our modern ears, I think. I’m sure this passage made someone a little jumpy.

While Sunday sermons are not that place for specific things like this, Sunday Blogposts are.

The verb in the phrase “lived that way” comes from the same root as “Zoe” which, in most of the NT, is used to refer to the Life that God shares with us. Normal, sinful man does not live a “zoe” but rather shares a “bios” with all living things and he tries to pretend it’s a Zoe. That’s why he eventually dies. Zoe, though – God’s life – is eternal. So, it’s interesting that Paul uses a word that sounds like divine life to indicate the life of sexual sins here. Some of us know from intimate experience how especially sexual sins can literally seem like life – and a very abundant life at that! Our entire Media industry seems devoted to celebrating this misunderstanding of sex. We use the media to deaden our reaction to sin, to hypnotize ourselves into thinking some part of this is normal, some part of this is “really living”. And if you go deep enough, you begin to excuse the other parts as well: I can’t say anything about them because I’m just as… what? Bad? No no no. We’re all equally good! Now we’re really living!

Paul says some of the folks in Colossae used to do all these things – but now, they no longer do. And he commends them to continue to “put off the old man with all his practices”. It was the old man that did these things. WE have moved beyond that now, and Christ is all in all. In other places he says it’s best to not even name those sins that people used to commit.

Our new self (in the Gender Inclusive style) or “the new man” as the Greek says, is Christ himself. I’ve been meditating on the Holy Name recently looking at the Hebrew. The name “yeshua” is the same word as salvation, “yeshua”. So, Jesus’ name is literally salvation. Salvation in Hebrew and in Greek implies being “made whole”. We’re made whole in working out our salvation. Jesus is the fullness of humanity and when we put on “the New Man” we become more than we were in terms of virtue and health, and less than we were in terms of sin and disorder. We find in Messiah our Zoe instead of our old, earthly way of living.

Yet this is not an all at once kind of thing. Only when Christ – our Life – appears, then we shall know ourselves fully. It’s a process. As the Didache says – “do what you can”. It’s a growth.

However it is a timely thing. Paul notes the “the wrath of God is coming.” And Jesus says this as well in his Parable of the Barns. We should not take the Didache’s advice to “do what you can” as permission to do nothing. We start where we are and then we grow into our full stature. Even that is in God’s time, not ours. The only call is to more forward, not to stagnate.

Is Herod Jewish?

JMJ

The Readings for the 17th Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Peter Chrysologus, bishop & doctor of the Church


It is not lawful for you to have her.

Matthew 14:4

JOHN THE BAPTIST accused Herod Antipas of violating the Law of Moses and urged the Tetrarch to repent, send his wife back to her lawful Husband, and bring his life back into harmony with the Divine pattern. In this, the Baptist has become sort of a pattern for many people who preach against the “powers that be”. Some do so openly and loudly. Some do so quietly, covertly. Many die, becoming martyrs for what they see as the urgent need to save souls.

But let me ask you, was Herod Jewish?

Some say yes, and some say no.

The boundaries at that time were not as strict as they are now. He identified as Jewish, certainly. But his parents were not observant. His mother was a Samaritan. He was cozied up to the Romans and he openly violated the law. His Father’s family were not ethnically Jewish either, but they were cousins, as it were, from Edom. The Idumeans were forcibly converted at the point of a sword – literally: all their men were circumcised thus. Such conversions might be suspect even in the worst of times. Yet, still, he identified as Jewish. So to answer the question of his religion, we have to take his answer as valid – even though there are a lot of reasons to say he was not.

And that’s what seems important for us today: Herod claimed he was Jewish.

John didn’t debate the finer points of the halachic categories of Jewish Law. Instead, John accepted the Tetrarch’s claim and demanded he (Herod) live up to it.

That seems important for us today because there are politicians who do not live up to being Catholic even though they claim to be so.

John the Baptist would – for the saving of their souls – call them to live up to the rules of the game they pretend to be playing.

If they did not claim to be Catholic, the Catholic rules would not apply. But since they insist on making that claim, the correct response is to take them at their word and ask them to adhere to their word as well.

Herod had John the Baptist arrested and, eventually, beheaded simply because John took him at his word: he claimed to be Jewish and so, the Baptist treated him as a Jew gone astray.

The same should be true of any politician claiming to be Catholic today: we should take them at their word and hold them responsible.

Horse Hockey!

JMJ

The Readings for the 17th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl. Stanley Rother, Priest & Martyr


Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven… brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.

Matthew 13:52

SCRIBES GET A BAD rap in the New Testament: basically lawyers, although their function might compare to a hybrid of our modern law professors and higher-tier court justices. Yes, they also copied sacred and royal documents, but they were very good at saying when something was kosher or not. They often sided with the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, but needn’t always do so. And, in today’s passage, we learn of a new type of scribe: one who is schooled in the Kingdom. And we know that’s a good thing. So, essentially, there’s a way in which the disciple of Jesus (one who is schooled in the Kingdom) must be as knowledgable as the scribes of the old teaching. There’s a way to be a follower of Messiah and be conbsidered a Scribe.

I’ve been reading A Rabbi Talks with Jesus by Jacob Neusner. To be honest, I’ve been struggling with it. The Rabbi assumes that for Jesus to be a faithful Jew he must be on the same path as Rabbi Neusner. To go someplace else (as Jesus does) is ok but… The “but” being, while that’s good for you, Jesus, it means you’re no longer a Jew. While I can see that that’s really the only way for a modern Jew to make sense of the Jewish/Christian conversation (and it’s really how many Christians read the conversation too) I don’t think we can look at the history that way. Jeremiah points us in a better direction:

Whenever the object of clay which he – the Potter – was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

Jeremiah 18:4-6

At least in the Apostolic period (and maybe the Subapostolic period, too) there was a sense of, if you will, two rabbinic houses. Those Gentiles and Jews who followed Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah as compared to those Jews (and maybe some Gentiles) who did not do so. Paul and the other Apostles could teach in the synagogues. The Empire initially treated these “little Christs” as some sort of Also-Jews. There were some rabbis and scribes on both sides. The Messianic side insisted God was remaking Israel like a potter. The non-Messianic side said this was road apples and wanted to stick with the old tried and true ways of doing things.

Jesus says every scribe schooled in the kingdom knows how to weave the old and the new together as needed. Those scribes who rejected the Good News were stuck with the old things alone.

If the entire Bible is read as pointing toward Jesus, then everything points to Jesus. But for 2,000 years there have been folks who reject that reading.

Today is the memorial of my Patron, Bl. Stanley Rother. He is a Martyr for the faith. He was born in Oklahoma and died in Guatemala on this day in 1981. Stan was raised under the “old Mass” but he actually had trouble with Latin. When the new Mass was promulgated he translated the new missal as well as the New Testament into the native language of the Tz’utujil. He worked with the poor to teach them the faith as well as farming skills! He was accused (by Americans writing to the US Embassy and the Guatemalan gov’t) of being a radical preaching anti-government propaganda even from the pulpit. Yet Stan saw the Gospel as requiring the evangelist to be with his people, or – as Pope Francis now says – the shepherd must smell like the sheep.

This is weaving the Old and the New together.

We cannot ask “What would Jesus do” when it comes to our globalized culture of death, capitalism, climate destruction, injustice, and self-medication. He did not face this in his time. But we can, in faith, work like Blessed Stanley Rother did, to bring the Gospel to bear, weaving the old and the new. We believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God and God the Son. We carry his spirit with us in our lives through the sacraments and God’s Grace.

As God remakes things, like a MASH repitching the tent up the road, we can let God do his work through us. And by Faith we can be thrown in a new shape. Our scribes can bring out the old and the new together.

But like Stan that won’t make everyone happy. We will have to die.

Blessed Stanley our brother,
you poured out your life in service and spilled your blood as a witness
to the faithfulness of God’s love.
Those you loved so deeply and served so completely
knew you to be their pastor and their priest,
interceding for them as their open door to the presence of Christ.
Pray for us now and intercede on our behalf,
as we ask you to walk with us on our journey through life,
that the redeeming presence of Jesus,
might touch us now and restore us to wholeness and peace.
I ask in time of need
[state your need]
that your prayer accompany us; may the mercy of Christ,
echoed in your ministry and your martyrdom,
renew us and bring us the graces necessary to heal our brokenness,
illumine our darkness, and restore the losses in our lives,
that we may be, finally, one with you in praising God forever in heaven.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Missed Pearl

JMJ

The Readings for the 17th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)


When I found your words, I devoured them; your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart, because I bear your name, LORD God of hosts.

Jeremiah 15:16

SCRIPTURE STUDY has consumed the writer since the late 90s. In those days there was a (near) daily mailing of a short meditation based on the Episcopal Church’s Daily Office Lectionary, a two-year cycle of three daily texts. But, although I nerd out on the meanings of Greek words and Hebrew verb stems, it’s not the head that matters. It may astound you to hear a Dominican say that. But let’s look at the idea closer. One of the Four Pillars of the Dominican way of life is the pillar of Study. For this Dominicans often get accused of being all “in the head”. We are often seen as studious, and even scholastic in all the negative, angels-on-pinheads implications of that word. Yet, within the tradition, “study” as a pillar doesn’t lead to head-knowledge but rather to heart-knowledge or, as one priest said to me, “study should not be about understanding, but rather about wisdom.”

And so, the words of YHVH, in Hebrew devarim and in LXX Greek logos, are joy and happiness: they are not just something to nerd out on, but something to contemplate. If Bible study doesn’t make you pray, you’re missing the point!

And so Jesus talks about the Pearl of Great Price that the kingdom goes looking for. Please understand me: in the second parable today the “Kingdom of Heaven” is not likened to the pearl itself, but rather the merchant. What’s going on here?

Remember the purpose is to pray more…

In the first Parable, the kingdom is likened to the treasure found in the field. For me, this is Bible Study. When you dig into the Bible, you find the Kingdom… all you need to do is open the Bible and literally read anything – it will draw you into the Kingdom. So much so, that you close the book (bury the treasure again, as it were) and buy the entire field. You must get more. You need more NOW. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest those words, as the Anglican Collect says. We are pulled ever deeper and as we dig up the treasure again in the field we find there’s more and more hid there than we ever knew! We keep digging. And there’s always more.

What is the Kingdom? In Matthew’s literary tradition we don’t say “God” we say “heaven” so “Kingdom of Heaven” is the same as “Kingdom of God”. As I noted in an earlier post, the Kingdom is Jesus himself: in his person. When we dig in these scriptures, we find they all bring us to the Kingdom, that is, to Jesus.

But then we find something strange.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a like a merchant buying pearls.

Jesus was already seeking us. And having found the Pearl of Great Price – that is, you – he sold everything to get you. His Godhead, his life, his body, blood, soul, and divinity given to and for you. The Kingdom is not something we find (although it can seem that way) rather, He’s something that has found us. Has found you.

Loves you.

Pearl sang it best, “Won’t you come home…”

Apostolic Office

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St James the Apostle
(17th Monday, Tempus per Annum, C2)

“Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Matthew 20:27

THE OFFICE OF READINGS for today’s feast has a wonderful passage from St John Chrysostom, commenting on today’s Gospel. Jesus is asked to let James and John sit on his right hand and left. Jesus says, “Can you drink the same chalice as me?” The two brothers say they can. And Jesus replies, “You will do so! But…” I’ve heard a lot of preachers take that as a “gotcha” moment. “Yes, ok, fine, you can drink this chalice but I can’t let you sit there.” Chrysostom says, instead, that Jesus “is really prophesying a great blessing for them, since he is telling them: ‘You will be found worthy of martyrdom; you will suffer what I suffer and end your life with a violent death, thus sharing all with me.'” Jesus is recognizing – even honoring – their zeal and the fullness of their faith as it was at this moment. He is telling them it will grow so much that they will die for him.

Then he corrects their wrong assumptions: for this means they will become slaves in their kingship, just as he, too, has become a slave in his Godhead.

Christ came to serve, not to be served. He calls the Apostles to this service. So, some part of the Apostolic office is, exactly service: to the poor, to the weak, the ill, and the lost. To express this in other words, some part of the Apostle’s ministry is to those who need the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One might say the entire mission of the Apostles is exactly the Works of Mercy.

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church has spread the Apostolic Office through the entire body of Christ. When Paul enumerates the charisms given to the Church he says that they are all given for the whole Church: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The entire Church together does this work and each office or charism is part of that work, intended for the whole. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) So, all of the ministries are for all of the Church.

When the Church is gathered at the Altar, especially in the presence of the Bishop, we experience the entire body of Christ in Symbol: the people and their Bishop, the presbyters and the deacons, together with the unseen Choirs of Saints also gathered, are configured fully to be Christ present and active in the world, worshipping the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Each member of the Body of Christ performs their ministry, their work in the world, only in this context.

Christ says to James and John that they will drink his chalice. But, see: you don’t quite understand yet what this means. Chill out, Thunder Bros. To drink of the Son’s Chalice is to become part of this glorious “fullness of Christ” in the world: we have work to do and we are sent to do it. But it is not our work we do. We don’t “have jobs” as such, only the work of Jesus continues.

And he came to serve, not to be served and to give his life.

Just don’t hold hands

JMJ

The Readings for the 17th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

But he persisted: “Please, do not let my Lord be angry if I speak up this last time.”

Genesis 18:32a

I‘VE BEEN READING and listening to a lot of commentaries on the Bible lately. Although everyone agrees that Abraham is interceding for his Nephew, Lot, here (under cover of interceding for the cities) the commentaries seem to disagree on the implications.

Is Abraham being very bold here, interceding for something God intends to destroy? Or is Abraham being chicken, not just interceding for Lot as he should be? Or is Abraham crossing the line, but God is gracious even so, and eventually seems to change his mind?

Carry this forward into later chapters: should Abraham, who was so brave here, have also spoken up about the requested sacrifice of Isaac? Or, did Abraham, who was out of line here, learn a lesson and not say anything about Isaac?

Did God intend to actually kill all of the People of Israel in the desert and yet – because Moses interceded – change his mind? Or did God intend for Moses to offer his own life as intercession for Israel?

This side of Glory we won’t know the answers to any of these questions, but they make for interesting meditation. Pray. And, if you wonder how we are to pray – boldly or not at all? The answer is very clear in the Gospel: by asking Jesus how to pray.

In the Epistles St Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit gives us words for prayer even moans and groans, strange tongues, sighs. Letting God intercede through us is a far better choice than praying on our own anyway. Letting the priestly ministry of Jesus flow through us as members of his body, he intercedes before the Father for whatever is needed. If we let him, he will intercede through us.

When we offer prayers “With intentions” what are we doing? Are we “pestering God” in order to “get our way” or, perhaps, is God pestering us to intercede out of growing to love those for whom we’re praying? Is prayer a way to “change God’s mind” or is it a way to participate in the Mind of God?

The on-going converstaion with God is the important part: not that you hold this or that in prayer as such, but that you’re open to God praying in and with you. The relationship is the prayer.

Lord, teach us to pray.

I know you are but what am I

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

He replied, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

Matthew 13:29

ONE MIGHT BE TEMPTED to worry if one is a weed. Likewise, one may be equally tempted to imagine one is wheat. On the internet, at least, the diagnosis is in the second person and they are usually the weeds in question: something like “bogus ordo weeds”. Yet, consider this as the seed is all sown in the field of one heart?

Notice first that the sower sows good seed. After the good seeds start to grow the bad seed also shows up. So the bad seed came in later.

The good seed is the Logos, the Word of God, sown in every human heart by God who is the heart of every heart. If we could but listen to that Word fully and only we would be drawn to God-wards at every moment as assuredly as a comet is drawn back to the sun. But the enemy (more on that in a moment) has sown weeds or, as the more common reading would have it, tares. Tares look like wheat, but most certainly are not wheat! If you feed them to animals the tares are poison. Tares will ruin your flour if you do not get rid of them before grinding the wheat! Imagine losing an entire flour harvest because you missed a few tares on the way to the mill.

This is to suggest that both the wheat and the tares are in one’s own heart and so we need to be careful: careful to discern which is which and careful to not destroy the good. No heart we meet is all wheat nor is any heart all tares.

This applies both in the first person and in the second person. It applies both before and after conversion.

On our way into the Church (especially as adults) we may bring with us many tares from our past or from odd moments on the internet. We may find ourselves one day thinking “this ‘Christian’ thing actually wasn’t very Christian at all…” It could be theological or devotional, it could be moral or political. Just one day the Holy Spirit moved you to see that it was time to let this go. But how would it have been if someone – a few years ago – had reached out and tried to uproot those tares back then before you were ready?

Could it have possibly caused you to give up entirely?

If you were just coming into the Church and someone was pointing out all the tares, would you not have bothered at all? You know the sort: you have to stop that and that and that and that other thing too. You have to stop all this before we’ll even consider letting you into the Church. Or how would you feel if you had to adhere to a dress code before coming to communion? I knew an Orthodox priest who suggested a new convert needed to see a therapist because she had a nose ring. (This was literally the reason I never joined ROCOR nor had anything to do with them.)

As Aquinas says, God’s grace perfects our nature. This is often mistranslated as “Grace builds on nature”. No. Grace perfects. Sometimes grace will tear us down and start over again. The things in us that are of God will grow stronger if we encourage them. Dietrich von Hildebrand begins his wonderful Transformation in Christ with the call to change: “All true Christian life, therefore, must begin with a deep yearning to become a new man in Christ, an inner readiness to ‘put off the old man’ – a readiness to become something fundamentally different.” The things we think we are today become something new in Christ. What if everything we think we know about ourselves is wrong?

Jeremiah makes it clear that God’s concern both moral and theological: deal justly with your neighbor and don’t worship idols. God requires right worship and right action. (St James says this too. We need to be doers of the word, not just hearers, but we do need to be hearers…) If you don’t do the worship right you’re not doing the justice right either – and vice versa. Our God requires of us both a proper love of Him first and then also a love of neighbor.

So the question of wheat and tares becomes important as we navigate through our daily lives. Can we find ourselves in places where an admixture of wheat and tares leaves us wanting to run away? Where would we go? The Word of life is here. How do we treat others on the same path?

Again this is not you wheat me tares. In the end, the final division of what is useful in God’s kingdom and what is not useful at all will be in Purgatory: the good and the bad will flow through the fires of God’s love, the latter to destruction, the former to bread.

What we are called to do right now may be literally nothing but being faithful. Don’t stress when you find a tare, let God’s grace go to work.

Seduxisti me Domine 

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of St Mary Magdalen
16th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

I have found him whom my soul loveth.

Song of Songs 3:4

THIS VERSE SOUNDS like romance – and it is, certainly. I have seen it on a wedding ring. But that’s not what the Song of Songs is about. Or, rather, that’s not why it’s included in the Bible. I have also seen this verse embroidered on a tallit, that is, on a Jewish prayer shawl. It is how one feels about God, is it not? I have found him? Although, you know… it was not you who were seeking him. We have to dance with God, but God dances the lead. As the title of this post says, “You seduced me, Lord.” The text from Jeremiah 20:7 continues, “But I let myself be seduced”. It’s both-and. This line runs from the very beginning of scripture: God calls the world into being. God calls Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. God calls to Cain. God calls to Noah, to Abram, to Moses, God is always calling. It is we who reply. Yet somehow even that reply is him calling us. The love of Christ, as St Paul says, impels us. It is always God’s love that comes back to him.

This hymn by Jean Inglow is often sung by the friars at my parish:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true,
no, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold,
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea.
‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold
as thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but, oh, the whole
of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
always thou lovedst me.

This is the right melody but not the friars

Mary Magdalen is conflated by Church tradition with several women in the Gospels including the woman who washed and anointed Jesus in the house of Simon. There she is said to be forgiven much because she loved much (Luke 7:47). In later legends she is also conflated in the West with St Mary of Egypt, another person who can be said to have loved too much. When we love in that way, too much, we burn out. Things that are not ours to love in proper order become idols when we loved them. Disordered love is always idolatry. But God can put it back again into the right orientation. God can give things their proper perspective and function: that is to say, when God becomes the center, all the things move into the right places. Yet it is him moving them.

God’s love is properly envisioned as the love of a husband for his bride: we’re ever in the passive role when it comes to God. Yet his passion is for us: his consuming fire is the love of us. As marriage is a mystery “of Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32), so God used the image of an unfaithful wife in Hosea to convey his love for Israel.

“It was then that Hosea understood what had never been understood before him, the secret motives of God’s jealousy. This jealousy was in fact the very reverse; it was the touchstone of a sentiment that one would never have imagined the Creator could have for his creation: God is in love with his creature, in love with something that draws its very life from him, was made by him, but has nothing to give him. However, it is not merely a matter of pity, compassion, or an inclination to save, but rather of loving. Now there is no love without admiration. I think that what distinguished pity from love most strikingly is that with pity there is an awareness that one is better placed than the other; in the case of pity one bends down to another because the heart has been touched by the other’s misery, whereas with real love there is always wonder, always admiration. And when God says that he loves, it is a very serious matter and means that he has wonder and admiration for the beloved. It seems almost blasphemous to say that God can love his creature. How could such a crazy idea ever come forth from a human brain – that God loves his creature? We can imagine that his mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…?”

Fr Dominique Barthelemey, OP
God and His Image” p 166-167

Israel and the Church serve as this sign for all humanity. God loves us all in this way. And what he does for us, he has done for all. All are loved that way if only everyone would open our eyes.

Mary’s eyes were opened first. She is called the Apostle to the Apostles – she who was sent to those who are sent. She is also the Especial Protectress of the Dominicans and so your host as well. She clung to the Lord, he called her name, and gave her a mission. Mary went to the garden – but Jesus was waiting for her. Jesus was planing their dinner long before Zacchaeus ever put foot to branch to climb. Before – and mark well that before – God formed you in the womb, he knew you. He has known you and loved you from all eternity. You.

The Magdalen – and all of us – only love what we imagine to be good, as St Thomas noted. No one loves evil because it is evil. We love only what we imagine to be good. While we are sometimes wrong in that imagining – the Byzantines pray for us to be delivered from our “evil imaginations” and from the “slavery to my own reasonings” – we seek the truth and love for any (even disordered) truth can lead us to the Real Thing if we love much and honestly. It is a matter of tearing off the masks to see the real evil beneath our bad love choices, and then seeing the Real Good where our love leads us – for it is his love at all.

So it is a romance: God is romancing us.

The same verse from the Song of Songs is pressed on my breviary cover. As strange as it sounds, it is his love I pour back to him as I pray the words of David and the Prophets in the Daily Office. I have nothing to offer here. I have nothing to share. I have nothing worthy of him (even playing on my drum). I have no love like his. And he knows. We can imagine that is mercy should be poured out without limit, but that he loves…? If it were possible, this makes him love us the more. Yet his love is infinite. There is no room in infinity for more: all I have is his already, and I pour it out on him and on those whom he sends to me: this is not my love. It is his. As the woman at the well said, “He told me everything I ever did.” Yet he loved me all the more, not in spite, but through it all until finally I found him whom my soul loves.

Sure I was seduced. But I let myself be seduced.

Making Shallow Wells

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.

Matthew 13:11

EVERY SUMMER my brother, sister, and myself would spend time with my Grandparents at their home in Panama City Beach, Fla. It wasn’t condo-filled resort community it is now: rather it was a large, sandy trailer park with ramshackle one- and two-story “motor courts” and tourist traps. The latter consisted of various miniature golfing establishments, a wild west show, and the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Like many such communities, much of the tourist trade was destroyed by the amount of economic support thrown to the Disney company both by gov’t and by tourists. People vote with their feet. (For more on this line of thought, you might like Dixie before Disney.) What drew people to this place though was the white sand beaches of the northern Gulf of Mexico: pure, dazzling white in the Florida sun from the verge covered in Sea Oats, then out under the water for a very long while. You could see the white sand under the warm waves. It was the white sand that earned the area the title, “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” WMBB is still the ABC affiliate there. Swimming was nice and all, but it was playing in the sand that kept us going back to the beach.

You could dig for hours! Pile sand up! There were crabs and bivalves, slimy jellies and so very many sand dollars. Occasionally you’d find a Crucifix Fish!

You could dig “wells” really deep. There would be a little water in the bottom as you reached sea level. And then this odd thing would happen: the water would do its thing in the sand. The walls of the well would collapse and the hole would close up as you watched. Eventually, there would be nothing left but a little depression where you had been playing. Mind you, as we were playing on the beach, the entire Gulf of Mexico was a few feet away. This is the image that comes to my mind reading Jeremiah. “My people have forsaken me, the source of living waters; They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

I think of this when I think of my wanderings outside of the faith. And I think of it whenever I hear of Catholics who find their own faith meaningless but go running after newagey things like “Native American Prayers”, astrology, tarot, and reiki. Yes, I’ve met Catholics into all of these things. And the “Native American Prayer” was offered in our RCIA class. A friend recently shared with me the full text of two articles by Fr Gilbert Márkus, OP, called Celtic Shmeltic. (Referenced in footnote 5 of Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the “New Age” from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.) The whole newage world is filled with shallow wells don’t hold water.

We go looking for deep mysteries. But God has already given them to us.

Chesterton’s famous quote about Christianity goes well here, but not in the way he intended: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” He was speaking of morals, but it applies to all of Jesus’ teaching. We want to simplify it. We want Jesus’ teaching to be an easy melody, a short chorus, and maybe a guitar. Instead, his words blast us in a 40-part motet with full orchestral accompaniment played in a contrapuntal syncopation that would make John Coltrane’s head spin.

And we need to sit there and let it wash over us, reshaping us, changing our ideas of what music is – of what it was intended to be.

This is why the Apostles are like “What are you doing, Jesus?” And Jesus is all, “Trust me, I got you. But my words are NOT very easy to understand.”

But we want them to be.

The problem is we’re fallen. We want deep mysteries that confirm us in our sins, make us feel good about our choices, and – generally – don’t require too much of our lives. We love to be told everything means a lot more than we let on. “This is not sinning, it’s actually an advanced metaphor for salvation…” whispers the snake to us as we take the fruit.

We fall into a shallow well of our own digging and the walls close in on us and we die.