Still Keeping Watch

The Massa Damnata be like…

JMJ

The Readings for the 21st Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Monica

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.

Matthew 25:19

THE TONE FOR THIS XXIst Week of Ordinary Time was set on Sunday when we heard Jesus answer the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He basically said yes. And he urged us all to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” All week long it’s been advice for how to enter the narrow gate but, as noted yesterday, we started to get this last week with Matthew’s telling about the wedding banquet. If you don’t have the right clothes, you’re out. Even if you were invited. Matthew is winding down his pre-passion Narrative with Jesus as a hell fire preacher. It climaxes with a reading we don’t get in this thread – the Final Judgement and the division of the sheep and the goats. If only that were this Sunday’s reading (it’s not) it would make Weeks 2o-22 quite a powerful end-of-summer Apocalypse!

There’s a pattern in these stories: each one says, essentially, “this is not enough”. How many people will be saved? Jesus hears the hidden meanings. The question about how many will be saved is really asking, “How little do I have to do to get in?” His reply over multiple parables is simply “Why do so little that you just get in?” Some would have us say everyone will be saved. Some would have us say that nearly no one will be saved. Jesus is saying, “What about you?”

The Fathers underscore that while scripture says we are all sinners, there’s only one sinner each of us is permitted to know: our own soul is in a state of sin. We can know this. We can only know this. We are to see Christ in our neighbor and that same Christ has said everyone is our neighbor (yes, even the politicians you don’t like).

I, myself, am the only sinner I am permitted to know.

Everyone else is Christ.

There is a theme in all of these stories:

  • It’s a narrow gate: it’s possible to miss it.
  • The wedding garment suggests it’s possible to be at the banquet (the Mass) and get kicked out.
  • It’s possible to keep within the boundaries of the faith as rigorously as a Pharisee and still miss the point.
  • It’s possible to be in the Church and take everything for granted.
  • It’s possible to be a vowed religious and not have all your ducks in a row.
  • It’s possible, as we learn today, to squander the gifts God gave you and lose it all.
  • If we add the sheep and the goats, it’s possible to be 100% dead on and still get thrown into the fire. (Sheep and goats are both kosher and can be used interchangeably in many of the OT sacrifice rituals)
  • It’s a narrow gate: it’s possible the load of stuff you carry is too wide to get through.

Do these sins make my butt look big?

Jesus drives home the points several times: it’s not enough to be here. It’s not enough to do some of the things. It’s not enough to be very pious. It’s not enough to be doing all the things and be hyper pious. What you need to do is risk it all repeatedly.

And then do more.

Why would you only want to do “just enough”? Do more, and then more, and then more again! Jesus says we are the light of the world. BE THE LIGHT! Shine as bright as you dare, as bright as you can, burn out early.

Except you won’t: you’ll shine that brightly forever.

Keep Keeping Watch

JMJ

The Readings for the 21st Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl. James of Bevagna, OP, friar and priest

Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:14

ONCE AGAIN THE NABRE Renders the Greek as “Stay awake” instead of keep watch or even be watchful. Stay awake is particularly annoying here because even the wise virgins also fell asleep so it can seem petty. But keeping watch means being prepared. The wise virgins could fall asleep in peace and rise again in safety for the Lord was with them (Psalm 3:5) and they had done the necessary prep work.

Doing the prep work is the important part!

What can we read in the symbols of this verse? The wise and foolish are both symbols of believer. They have maintained their fidelity to the doctrines. I get that from the use of the word “Parthenos” in the Greek for “virgin” instead of “nymphos” for young girl or maiden. In terms of the culture of the time, parthenos does not always mean a woman who has not had sex. It means a person (man or woman) who has set apart their sexuality for divine purposes (see more here). The Gospel of course is not talking about “consecrated virgins” as such, but it is implying that these folks (both the wise and the foolish) have set themselves apart for divine purposes.

But the foolish have run out of oil and so they’re worried about their lamps. What is this, then?

In parallel with the man caught at the wedding banquet without the proper clothes, the Church Fathers read the oil and the lighted lamps in this parable to indicate righteous deeds. Mercy in Greek (eleos) comes from the same Greek word as oil. In Hebrew it’s Khesed, Grace. To have oil in the lamp is to be actively engaged in mercy and grace not just for one’s self, but for those around affected by this light.

This is important to me, personally, because I’ve struggled so long with sins of the flesh, with setting my sexuality apart for God. Yet do I have any oil in my lamp? Members of Courage International read the Five Goals at each meeting. I’m thankful that, after the chastity mentioned in the first goal, the second goal of Courage begins with “To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others…” That’s the challenge. Yes, sure, stay pure. But don’t sit there in your purity: do something. My spiritual director had the sense to see that sitting at home was dangerous for me – even though it kept me out of one sort of trouble. The Gospel is not the Gospel unless it’s shared with someone else.

You can set your life apart, certainly, but unless you’re doing the works of mercy, unless you’re shedding your light around you, that is unless you’re reforming your sphere of influence into conformity with the Gospel, then you’re not actually doing anything. Your faith, without works, is dead. You can be Parthenos.

And still be dead.

St Paul makes it clear that preaching the Gospel will make us seem like utter fools to the world: to Jews and Greeks alike. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To be one of those who are being saved in the active present tense (salvation is not something that happens once) is to be engaged in mercy.

Again, this is keeping watch. Jesus tells us to be about his Father’s will until he comes back. We learn in the parable of the Sheep and Goats what these works are – feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, etc – these are the things we are to be about. These are the oil.

Yes, you need the faith. You need to be set apart, to be parthenos. Do these works, though, and you can rest at night without worry.

Keep Watch

JMJ

The Readings for the 21st Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Saint Louis, King of France

Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

Matthew 24:42 (AV)

RUNNING HISTORY through filters of modern politics always leads us into trouble, but today’s Saint, King Louis IX of France, has been on my mind since the 12th when Salmon Rushdie was stabbed at the Chautauqua Institute last week. I have to admit I’m of mixed emotions: I’m opposed to violence at all. Yet I think the anger may be justified. So I’m not sure how I feel. Our Lord’s command to keep watch or “stay awake” as the NABRE has it (poorly) rendered must include all things that are legitimately in one’s sphere: I must watch myself, a parent must not watch only their self, but also their children and their children’s educators. To what extent should a Catholic in a position of civil power “keep watch”?

Blasphemy is a hard thing in a “modern” society. Hate speech against someone’s deity or prophet is not something we conceive of. Think of the number of pieces of “art” or “cinema” that have been actual blasphemy against Jesus. So, like I said, I’m opposed to violence and opposed to the “fatwah” against the person of Salmon Rushdie, but I totally understand the anger caused by the book. And I think about King St Louis. (I’ve been thinking about him for over a year, actually.)

One perception common among Christians today is that we need only explain to a random Jewish person the way to read the Bible rightly and they will totally understand why they should “accept Jesus”. In certain Evangelical circles this is often focused on the Prophets or even, specifically, the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. If only someone understood how to read that properly then they would understand Jesus. Of course this tactic denies that there is an authentically Jewish way to read the scriptures. It also denies that today is 2,000 years after the fact. It’s this second point that seems important to me just now: a Jewish person today is not reading the Bible the same way Jews did in the time of Jesus. It’s impossible for them (or us) to do so without training and even unlearning. There are 2,000 years of conversation intervening. Jewish and Christian conversations diverged between 30 AD and 135 AD. And then those conversations have progressed (most often without any positive connection with each other) since.

I like to think of the Jewish and Christian conversations as two rabbinical councils. This is very simplified! I just want to paint a picture. In 50 AD, there was one sort of conversation going on – there were many differing sects within Judaism. Of these, the followers of the Jesus guy were one. We hear of others (but not all) in the Gospels: Sadducees, Pharisees, Priests, Samaritans, Zealots, Herodians. From extra-biblical sources we know of others as well, like the Hasids, ‎the Hasmoneans, and the Essenes‎. Each Jewish sect had adherents and there were also people who leaned one way or the other. These may overlap more or less. (Some folks think the Essenes may have included John the Baptist and/or Jesus, for example.) By the time we get to 135 or so, though, there’s really only a few of those sects left and by 200 there’s really only two: what we think of as “Christian” and what we think of as “Jewish”. That said, it probably takes another 200 years or so to iron things out. But there are two “groups of rabbis” then. One are the fathers of the Church Councils and one are the fathers of what we call Rabbinic Judaism. They are not talking officially, although as late as St John Chrysostom (late 4th Century) it’s clear that the laity are doing more than just talking: St John’s sermons telling Christians not to do Jewish things would be unneeded if they were not doing them.

St Louis pops into this story in 1200. 800 years earlier than now, but still 1000 years after the bifurcation between the Jewish and Christian conversations. His experience is 1000 years removed from St Paul preaching in synagogues around the Roman Empire. Oddly though, St Louis seems to think a lot like our modern Christian brain: he thinks we need only explain the “right way” to read the scriptures and any Jew would convert. Louis was, therefore, shocked to learn that Jews have their own on-going unfolding of tradition. There were 1000 years of conversation not only “minding their own business” but rejecting Jesus. And, surprisingly to Louis (and the other folks in France), that conversation carries the weight of scripture – just like Christian tradition does for us. The authority of our faith is not “in the book” but in the conversation. For Jews the unfolding of revelation is part of the conversation within the Rabbinic Councils and within the on-going prophetic understanding of the text. Christians believe the Holy Spirit is guiding our conversation – that God is engaged in the unfolding of his own meaning within the Church.

Unsurprisingly, these two different conversations arrive (continually) at different conclusions. It’s not just Jesus: it’s the meaning of the entire text, the whole kit and kaboodle now. What does the Fall of Adam or Original Sin mean to a Jew? What is Shekhinah, Merkabah, or Kabbalah to a Christian?

Moderns don’t like burning books. But, that said, we don’t actually believe in the free marketplace of ideas: some ideas are considered – even now – to be dangerous. We were officially burning books in the USA as recently as 1956. We’re not above silencing folks even now – cancelling social mediae, etc. St Louis enters this story at a point where the official Rabbinic rejection of Jesus had been pretty much codified. The King opens Jewish texts (in Translation) and sees – essentially – blasphemy. How should he react? Mindful that he is a King and that some part (if not the larger part) of his Job is to protect Christians and Christianity in his realm. How should he treat dangerous ideas?

Can we (who would report someone’s Twitter account for just about anything) feel good about “how far we’ve come” since St Louis? Who is more right? I do not legitimately know. Should anyone be allowed to say anything they want about anyone they want (including God)? What is the function of a secular state when accusations of blasphemy arise? Again, I do not legitimately know.

I do not adventure an answer to the questions raised at the top of the post. We must deliver up each man and woman to their inner court of conscience. I will say we should yield likewise for St Louis. He is a man who acted – as a King – as his conscience guided him. By way of confession, my own internal answers kept me out of my mother’s chosen career paths for me: military, law, and politics. In my youth, I was afraid I would not be strong enough to hold to the faith in the face of pressure. Now I think I would have been cancelled long ago. Thus, I will only close where I began.

Our Lord’s command to keep watch must include all things that are legitimately in one’s sphere. To what extent should a Catholic in a position of civil power “keep watch”?

Diapostolic Dispersion

JMJ

The Readings for the 20th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.

Luke 13:24

THIS PAST SUNDAY’S Readings presented an interesting reading of some bad things: The Babylonian Exile, predicted in Isaiah, is imaged as both punishment and plan. Paul points out that God only punishes sons – and that for a reason. At least from my Protestant past, I’m used to reading the Exile as a bad thing. But after my Bible classes and reading God and His Image I’m trying really heard to stick with the truth that, for God, there is no Plan B. Nothing God does is reactive.

Isaiah says God’s going to punish Israel for breaking the covenant. He’s sending them away into exile. However read the text closer: this is still Plan A.

“I will send fugitives to the nations (literally, Gentiles. Hebrew: Goyim) that have never seen my glory.”

Israel is being sent out as Apostles not as victims of punishment.

“and they shall proclaim my glory among the goyim”

And they shall come as an offering to God – and God will even appoint some of them as Priests and Levites.

Israel’s exile from the land is part of the plan of salvation for the world.

Israel’s punishment for idolatry is part of God’s loving action in the world. It’s punishment – but as St Paul notes in Hebrews, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”

Israel proclaiming God’s glory among the Gentiles is a theme in other books of the Bible as well. Sirach 36:4-5 says, “As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory. Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you.” In the Exile the jews were not only taken to Babylon: some ran away to avoid captivity. There are communities of Jews living as far away as what is now Lyons and Central Asia.

The purpose is neither simply punishment nor is it replacement. Rather this is part of the grafting in of the Gentiles. Israel, through the exile, is bringing the narrow gate to the gentiles: showing the nations the moral law of God, not by preaching but by living moral lives among them. They were winning proselytes at the time of the Maccabees, When, after Pentecost, the Apostles are sent out to proclaim the Gospel, they will go to these far-flung communities of the Diaspora. They will find Jews as well as righteous Gentiles there ready for faith in Messiah, ready for full participation in the New Covenant.

Heart and Soul, I fell in love with you

Hooking ’em all up

JMJ

The Readings for the 20th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl. Jordan of Pisa, friar and priest

Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.

Ezekiel 37:11b

WHAT WAS OUR LORD DOING, amending the Sh’ema? You might not notice it if you quickly read through the text in English. Yet, compare:

Deuteronomy 6:5 (RSVCE) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Matthew 22:37 (RSVCE) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Might and Mind sound close to each other (in English)… but not quite. The Greek in the LXX uses dynamis (might or power) following the Hebrew which uses m’odecha, but in Matthew Jesus says dianoia, mind or insight. All mainstream English bibles follow the text here, although a couple of fringe Bibles adventure a correction (not all, however). Luke retains the use of Mind but adds (back) strength as well. Likewise, Mark. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Since Matthew was writing to a largely Jewish audience, they would not have missed this change. Even if Luke and Mark have both “mind” and “might” Matthew – with his audience – stuck with only “mind”. What can we see here?

I’m going to stick with the Greek διανοίᾳ dianoia being the important thing.

Thayer’s Lexicon notes that sometimes this word was used in the LXX for “heart” (Hebrew, Lev or L’vav). But we already have a “heart” in this verse so, is there a reason to have “heart” and “heart again”? (Or in the case of Luke/Mark, “heart, soul, strength, and also heart”.)

There is a clue in the LXX, in the Prophet Jeremiah. In Hebrew it’s Jeremiah 31:33. God promises to write the New Covenant on the “hearts and minds”. In The Greek (because of the way the text is laid out) has it in 38:33. It uses the same words, dianoia and cardia. And there, I think, is echo that Matthew’s Jewish audience would hear in this text. Yes, it’s the traditional Sh’ema, the Covenant, but augmented with the promise of a New Covenant being expounded by the Lord and written directly on our hearts and minds instead of on tablets of stone.

The use of dianoia also directs one toward contemplative prayer. To love the Lord (using the Greek agape) is to welcome and to conform oneself to him: to apprehend in the mind and in the heart and then to make all of one’s life to be one with him. We can only achieve this through the Grace of God and the Sacraments.

St John Eudes, whom we also celebrate today, wrote:

Finally, you are one with Jesus as the body is one with the head. You must, then, have one breath with him, one soul, one life, one will, one mind, one heart. And he must be your breath, heart, love, life, your all. These great gifts in the follower of Christ originate from baptism. They are increased and strengthened through confirmation and by making good use of other graces that are given by God. Through the holy Eucharist they are brought to perfection.

From a “Treatise on the Admirable Heart of Jesus” by Saint John Eudes, priest (2nd Reading at Matins for his feast).

Love him with all your being and unite yourself wholly to him. He will draw you deeper into that union until you become one with him.

Then, and only then, will the dry bones rise up as Ezekiel has prophesied. Hope is not lost, but he will restore all things in himself.

Come as you are. But…

Cast Out.

JMJ

The Readings for the 20th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl. Mannes, brother of St Dominic

My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?

Matthew 22:12 (AV)

ONE CAN READ the King’s Question as rather snobbish: this is a wedding. Why are you not dressed right? It can be imagined to be clear why this man isn’t dressed right. The servants were told, “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” It makes sense that some would not be ready, right? No, actually. It doesn’t. There are two possible ways to read this man’s presence at the feast.

Given that everyone else went home and changed clothes, this man came running to grab food and paid no attention to social traditions. That, in and of itself, is a bad show. The King recognized someone who just taking for granted his largesse instead of coming to celebrate the wedding (which is what this is about – the wedding). The second reading, the Fathers all agree, is that a “garment” is a symbol for virtues. Coming to the banquet is not enough, it has to have an effect on us.

There is a great hew and cry among the liberati that “Jesus eats with sinners”. This is true. But the reason he does so is to change them into saints.

None of us can come to the banquet and stay in our normal clothes.

The Eucharist is the meal that consumes us, that changes us. It has been compared to the way metal heats up in a fire: although the metal (our soul/life) never burns the fire “catches” inside and the metal glows red hot with the heat. The fire is there in another form, doing something to the metal that the metal cannot do on its own, nor can anything else except fire do it. The Eucharist sets us aflame, if we but let it, and we are changed.

The Gospel is open to all, but it will leave none of us alone.

We can fight it off, mind you. We can demand our rights. We can insist on doing things. our own way. We can fail in obedience to the Church, the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit. Then we will be cast, “into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Come as you are, but be ready and willing to change on all points. It will do us no good simply to ignore Jesus on this point: Many are invited, but few are chosen.

Pray to be chosen.

What You Need and Nothing More.

Gathering the Manna

JMJ

The Readings for the 20th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St. Hyacinth of Poland, friar and priest

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

Matthew 20:15 (AV)

THE PAIRING OF THESE TWO readings seems strange, or perhaps funny. The Gospel is about the landowner who – by modern lights – is very unjust and the 1st Reading is about shepherds who treat their sheep unjustly. Not seemingly unjustly by modern lights, mind you: they are actually unjust.

When the Israelites were told to gather the manna, each person in the family could gather a jar full of the stuff: larger families had more jars. But at the end of the day, what was not eaten could not be stored. You could gather the same amount, but no matter what you ate (or did not) you had to gather again tomorrow. Those who gathered too much had just enough. Those who gathered too little had just enough.

Gather one jar full (per person) eat what you want. Tomorrow you’ll need to gather again. God provides a superabundance, but you get exactly what you need.

The landlord in the Gospel paid what he should have paid. He did so for increasingly less work. We are never told what was needed, but, everyone got paid for the day.

I think about Jesus’ parable when people talk about “living wages”. We used to have something like living wages in this country. You see it in old movies: an employee gets married or has a kid and, because of the change in life, he asks. for a raise. We don’t think about this, but a system of “living wages” would do away entirely with “equal work for equal pay”. This latter is not just and ensures only that everyone gets the same wage: not that the wage is “living”. For what a living wage is for a parent of three kids is very different from the same living wage for a childless person. A living wage for a married person is less than that of a single person unless the married person is the only bread winner. A single mother with kids needs more to live than a bro living in a bro house. No one really thinks through the idea of “living wage”: it’s just political manoeuvering. So, notice that what we think of as “living wage” would require the boss to be “generous” and entirely “unfair” by modern standards. He would have to give more to someone who needed more – even if they were doing the same work.

Are you envious because I am generous? (NABRE)

God is infinite life bestowed on us in infinite love. Any sin (no matter how small) is a choice for death over life, for self rather than self-gift, for solitude rather than love. Yet when we return to God his gift is fullness it cannot be otherwise if the choice is made now, later, or even on the deathbed. God’s living wage is always this infinite life poured out on us. We do tend to want that for ourselves, but seeing it given to others can be really difficult, especially if the others have been unjust – even moreso if we have been the target of their injustice.

What do we do when our own forgiveness requires more of us? If yo’ve been given infinite love, what do you do with it? We are envious, sometimes, when God’s love is poured out. This is like the story of the servant who was forgiven – but cannot forgive (Matthew 18:21-35). This is the story of the older son who cannot forgive the prodigal brother (Luke 15:11-32). This is the story of the whole church in dealing with unjust sheperds. What do we do when they want to come back?

This is our Mother

כָּל־מַעְיָנַי בָּךְ

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm. Then… a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Hebrews 11:19ff

THERE’S this interesting notation in the Wiki Article on Mary (yes, yes, I know… the Wiki): “Hyppolitus of Thebes says that Mary lived for 11 years after the death of her son Jesus, dying in 41 AD.” That would put her in her 50s or very early 60s, depending on how young she was when our Lord was born, which makes some sense. This would have been a traumatic event for Early Christians, one that a brother in my formation class believes he sees noted in the Apostolic Epistles.

If the Church is the New Israel, then Mary is the new Ark, revealed in the new Temple. The typology doubles back on itself here: for the Temple, the presence of God on Earth is the Messiah, who is also God from whom comes forth his own Mother, who is also a type of the Church.

And since she is a Type of the Church, there is a way in which all that is true of her is also true of us. For as, through her Son, she now enjoys the blessedness of the Vision of God, we too are called to enjoy that vision. We, too, are called to pass through the torn veil into the Holy of Holies and see the very face of God. We only do this by virtue of her son and by her own prayers together with those of all the saints. We come to stand at the foot of the Heavenly Zion, where, eventually, all of man must come.

In the Office of Readings today, the third Psalm prayed is Psalm 87 (Fundamenta ejus). As if often the case, Liturgy of the Hours has more of a free rendition of the text. The older English text (such as the King James and the Coverdale) come closer to the literal meanings of the text:

HER foundations are upon the holy hills: the Lord loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Very excellent things are spoken of thee: thou city of God.
I will think upon Rahab and Babylon: with them that know me.
Behold ye the Philistines also: and they of Tyre, with the Morians; lo, there was he born.
And of Sion it shall be reported that he was born in her: and the most High shall stablish her.
The Lord shall rehearse it when he writeth up the people: that he was born there.
The singers also and trumpeters shall he rehearse: All my fresh springs shall be in thee.

Coverdale Psalm 87 (BCP 1662)

To come into God’s covenant is to take Zion – that is Mary – for our mother. She is the city cherished by the Lord. All our “fresh springs” are in her, that is to say, that in her all find their home.

Aretha and von Hildebrand

JMJ

The Readings for the 20th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us

Hebrews 12:1b

THE GOSPEL TODAY is one of the Hard Sayings of Jesus. The Prince of Peace says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!… Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?v No, I tell you, but rather division.” People who, by earthly standards, should be together are going to be divided by Jesus. If you think his family list is hard to read, just remember that Jesus’ Gospel sets Americans against each other. Following Jesus’ Gospel sets Russians against each other. Following Jesus’ Gospel sets together Jews and Palestinians, Whites and Blacks, Democrats and Republicans, and worse. Anyone who says they are a Christian first (and everything else second or not at all) is united together. Anyone who puts Christian second… is instantly divided off. You can be a Catholic American. But you can’t be an American Catholic.

I’ve been reading Transformation in Christ by Dietrich von Hildebrand. It’s a bit of a hard slog because so much of what he says strikes home. It started with this episode of the Catholic Stuff podcast. From the opening line, he had me, “Readiness to change is the fundamental precondition to transformation in Christ.” I knew I had to read the book and so I’m doing so. But there is it, the invitation to change.

Nearly 20 years ago, I asked on the blog, “What if the one thing I think I know about myself is the one thing I’m wrong about?” I’ve been wrestling with that question and with the implications of every possible answer for the last 20 years. What is my identity? Is it possible that the thing I call my “identity” isn’t. And is it further possible that the thing I call my identity is one of these burdens that hold me back? What if the one thing I think I know about myself is the one thing that’s wrong?

As von Hildebrand explores his topic, he leaves the reader aware that one can hold nothing back from Jesus. The word “Catholic” means “whole”. One must be “whole” to be a Catholic. One must be wholly whole, and wholly holy as Miss Franklin sang, and to get there one must give oneself wholly to Christ as an offering, as the clay gives itself wholly to the potter and says, “do with me as you will”. And there’s no telling what will come off the wheel then. But holding something back, saying “change everything except this one thing…” is to not be catholic, to not be whole. Everything must be carried to God in prayer. Hold anything back is to fail.

And is not to change.

Von Hildebrand writes that we must make the choice to serve God from our free center. We cannot respond from our fallen nature or from any false identities. This is what St Paul says about tossing aside all this extra weight and the sin that besets us. Baptism has set a free place in our heart and from there we can address our assent to God. But even to get there – away from all our fake selves, our desires for praise, our self-interest – this is an act of God in his all-powerful love giving us the grace to do this. Yet we have to be willing to dance with our lover to the song he sings or it’s all for naught. When we turn it all over to him we can be changed in his fire to a plan not of our own choosing. When we hold back, the dance can’t even start.

Yet by turning it all over is to move from that free place in our heart to authentic freedom in Christ. Jesus will cut us off from the world and make us whole.

Godwin’s Law You Know

JMJ

The Readings for the 19th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl Jane de Chantal

For I will re-establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never again open your mouth because of your disgrace, when I pardon you for all you have done.

Ezekiel 16:62-63

ABSOLUTION IS A CURIOUS THING. Outside of the Catholic Church the stereotype is that someone can commit any sin at all – even be Hitler – and, if he goes to confession, he would be absolved of that sin. In fact, the stereotype is true. It needn’t be terribly nuanced. Even Hitler, should he repent of his sins, would be forgiven and absolved of them by the authority of the Church.

Thing is, we don’t want it to be that way. Sure, we don’t want it to be that way for mass murders and mega-haters, but we don’t want it to be that way for those annoying people on the bus nor for that annoying driver on the freeway this morning. Many don’t want it to be that way for parents of noisy children in Mass. And, if we’re really honest, most of us don’t want it to be that way for ourselves either. The Holy Prophet Ezekiel understands why, too: the more we’re aware of the sins we’ve committed, the more ashamed we are by God’s love for us.

This requires full awareness, humility, and comprehension: it takes an arrogant fool can think he actually deserves absolution. But being made aware of the infinite atonement, of infinite love, of infinite grace, as well as the need for it means one is weak. God is in control: we are called to let him be so. But it can hurt: there is danger here. Not only our pride can be hurt. This is one time where “asking for help” is a sign that one is not only weak but completely in the wrong and unable to get out of it.

God is Love (1 John 4:16, etc) and this love is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Balance those. The pain that comes from being loved that much is purgative, atoning. The infinite love, in itself, make it possible to bear the love until we, too, are love.

How can you love a thing like me?