Been watching too much Pacino

Today’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 11:1-10
  • Luke 10:21-24

RSVA, Douay, or NABRE with other Mass texts.

For the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea. 
Quia repleta est terra scientia Domini, sicut aquae maris operientes.
Isaiah 11:9

As I was comparing different Bible translations I noticed that the Douay and the Young’s Literal Translation only (of all the ones I had available) have have a very different reading of the concluding sentence in this passage. All other translations put that last sentence in the future tense, following the rest of the prophecy. But Young’s and the Douay have it in the present tense: instead of “the earth shall be filled” we get “the earth is filled.” Douay follows the Latin. St Jerome’s Vulgate text renders it repleta est terra, “full is the earth”. Finally, I looked at the Hebrew. I have to be careful here, because After two years of Hebrew, future tense was not very kind to me. Yet, when I looked, what I found was מָלְאָ֣ה “Maleh” “full”. It’s in the present tense!

The Hebrew and the Latin both say, essentially, “all this stuff shall be when the Rod of Jesse comes,: the Hebrew and the Latin both say, “because the earth is full of the knowledge of God.” I won’t wonder about how we got all these other translations putting it all in the future tense – including the current official RC liturgical text. I’ll just go with it.

In Romans 8:22 Paul says that all creation groans under the weight of the human fall. How is that to be understood? It’s not possible for rocks to sin, or for squid to need redemption. How is this creation left groaning?

Man is the Lord of Creation: man is the priest-king that is to stand offering all of the world to God… and he is fallen. He has become so much less than he should be, than we should be. We are all this fallen man. And so, everything under us groans because it is filled with the knowledge of God, it knows what it should be, it knows what we should be, it knows fully what we are keeping from it. The wolf is begging to dwell with the lamb: and the leopard longs to lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep know that they should be together, led by man as Child of God. The calf and the bear are begging heaven to feed together and they pray for the day their young ones shall rest together: but it is our sins that keep them from their natural place. The world is so disordered that we think all this nature red in tooth and claw is as it should be. We never realize what we’ve done to everything in the wake of our fall.

Pope Francis says “…each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. (Para 84, Laudato Si)

There are many stories of the Saints, from Mary of Egypt and the lion, and Francis of Assisi and the wolf, Seraphim of Sarov and his bear, and more… all of these show that when Man’s unity with God is restored, so is Man’s unity with the natural world – and the natural world is healed itself. “Pacify yourself and heaven and earth will be pacified for you” (Abba Isaac) (Here is a whole page of Orthodox stories of saints and animals.) This world in which we live is waiting to be redeemed, not from its own fallen state, but rather from the fallen state of its divinely appointed rulers.

A common ranting point online is the difference between “being stewards of God’s creation” and “having dominion over God’s creation.” We act as if the fall has never happened, as if we might now – as fallen humans – know what best to do with God’s gifts to us. That is, really, the same sin as Eve grabbing the fruit. We are not yet grown to maturity because we have not let ourselves learn. We cannot treat creation as we would, exploiting it, destroying it.

It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
(Para 33, Laudato Si

He continues, “Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (Para 49) Advent is not just about hope for us… Jesus says, “I say to you that many prophets and kings have desired to see the things that you see and have not seen them…” and all of creation as well, longed to see these things. This, in turn, is care for the poor, is care for all the world.

In the Jewish tradition there is the teaching of Tikkun Olam, the restoration of the world. In the end only God can do it, of course, but he has begun the work in Jesus Christ and it is continued in his Church, even only to be fulfilled in the Last Day. Yet we should be about that work now. The earth is filled with the knowledge of God. All of Creation is of the order to love, says the Pope. It is us who are out of order. I’m out of order, you’re out of order, this whole creation thus is out of order because of us.

Only we are out of step: we’re throwing off the entire dance. Advent calls us to march to the beat of different drummer. All of Creation, filled with the knowledge of God, already hears it.

Wait, I AM worthy…

Today’s readings:
  • Isaiah 4:2-6
  • Matthew 8:5-11

In RSVA, Douay, or NABRE with other Mass texts.

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word…”
Matthew 8:8

In Advent, we are waiting for the coming of Christ, who comes to us, if we will but receive him, every day in the holy Eucharist.

These words, “Lord I am not worthy…”, are said at every western liturgy prior to communion, as the priest holds up the consecrated Bread and Wine, now the Body and Blood of Christ. The Celebrant says, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. (The new Mass adds, “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.”) To which the people reply, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” The translations vary. The Latin in all cases is “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo…” In the new Mass it is said only once. In the older rites, in either Latin or English, it is said three time.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

If one believes the Holy Communion to be what the Lord, himself, said it is, “my body” and “my blood”, then no one is worthy at all, save by the grace of God, not of ourselves lest anyone should boast. It is not false humility that lays this prayer out there before Communion. In the Byzantine rites, both Orthodox and Catholic, the pre-communion prayers are much in the same mode. The Anglicans (and some WRO) say, in another prayer, “…we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table…”

To modernist ears, this sounds patently foolish. Theologically they might say something like “God loves us so we’re not going to crawl to him like that.” The non-theological might say, “This is why I’m not religious: I refuse to abase myself like that.” These two approaches are essentially the same, one tries only to sound more friendly to the older traditions. Both are essentially humanist rather than theist: man as the measure of all things, rather than God as such. In the latter case, no one can measure up to God, in the former case, God had better measure up to us or get out of our way.

It is sad to see what these two sides of the same coin can do to any religion – not just Christianity. If some part of Buddhism or Christianity, of Judaism or Hinduism, or Islam or any other path make a humanist feel “uncomfortable” it gets ignored. The language used may be something like “I sat in dialog with this text…” or “cultural contexts change” or a more blatant, “This is meaningless to us now.” Yet in all cases, from sex, to life and death, from communion to creedal statements, for the simple reason that I know better now, it gets tossed out. “Not in my church,” we say – in all humility of course before “Teh Unoabulz, amirite? Whoa!”

For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Matthew 8:9

How has our culture taught us to be so arrogant? How have we forgotten to be humble? The Centurion, a man who has every right to be arrogant in his culture: a lifer in the Army, as we would say nowadays, wealthy enough to have servants, to have a house in this arid Judean waste where Caesar has seen fit to send him; the Centurion is humble before Christ. He is humble before this man whom he may see as a miracle worker or even a teacher: but he also sees, certainly, as one of these rural hicks we have enslaved. He’s here to dominate these people on behalf of his Emperor, and yet he says, “Lord, I am not worthy…” A “coastal elite” being humble before a Trump voter.

Even the Centurion’s claim might sound preposterous to us. “I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.” Of whom in our life would we say that? Certainly not our employers, nor our employees. Certainly not of our spiritual elders or those for whom we are responsible. God knows, it’s not our secular authorities… no… we all stand on equal footing and, if someone says, “do” or “do not”, I concede the action of my own free choice… or so we tell ourselves so as to keep our illusions of inflated worth alive.

And yet… and yet… that person there, that Elder, that Employer, that Customer, that (expletive) in the DMV line or behind the DMV counter… is a living icon of God. Whom we claim to receive after this waiting time of Advent, in tears and awe. In in the bread with our curt little nod and “Domine non sum dignus…” But in emotional mushiness before the image of the Nativity. And in rudeness at Wal*Mart.

How can we see him in our arrogance?

The only path that has created equality is our mutual humility before the Terrible Judge, who has condescended to love us. If we take him functionally out of the picture (even if we leave him in by name) then all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others. I’m grabbing my TV at Wal*Mart, stomp anyone in the way.

Once you realize what the Eucharist actually is (said a Meme I read on Sunday) you never want to leave the Church. And yet he’s there all around us. Once you realize what the Eucharist actually is, you never get out of Church, ever.

Blessed, praised, hallowed, and adored be Jesus Christ on his throne of glory in Heaven, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and in the hearts of his faithful people everywhere.

Lord, I am not worthy.

Your I is on the Spero

Today’s Readings:
  • Isaiah 2:1-5
  • Romans 13:11-14
  • Matthew 24:37-44
RSVA or NABRE with other Mass propers.
For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples.
Isaiah 3b-4a
The “Act of Hope”, said as art of personal (non-liturgical) Morning and Evening devotions in traditional Western piety, both RC and WR Orthodox, is thus:

DEUS meus, cum sis omnipotens, infinite misericors et fidelis, spero Te mihi daturum, ob merita Iesu Christi, vitam aeternam et gratias necessarias ad eam consequendam, quam Tu promisisti iis qui bona opera facient, quemadmodum, Te adiuvante, facere constituo. In hac spe vivere et mori statuo. Amen. 

O MY GOD, relying on Thy almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon for my sins, the help of Thy grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. In this hope I stand to live and die. Amen.

Spero – “I hope” – is a cardinal Christian virtue, especially in this season of Advent (beginning today for the Liturgical West, although already in full swing for the East). Spero, I hope, is what this Season is about. We commemorate initially the hope for Israel’s long-expected Jesus, the hope with which his all-holy mother and earthly foster father awaited the Divine birth. We also celebrate the hope with which we all live, awaiting his return. These themes of Apocalypse and Fulfillment are carried to full term through the season, culminating in the “Great O Antiphons” which precede the Savior’s birth at Christmas. “I hope” is our watchword.
In his Angelus, for the First Sunday of Advent, 28 November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said:

One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.
Every one of us, therefore, especially in this Season which prepares us for Christmas, can ask himself: What am I waiting for? What, at this moment of my life, does my heart long for? And this same question can be posed at the level of the family, of the community, of the nation. What are we waiting for together? What unites our aspirations, what brings them together? 

The Christian, asked for what he is hoping, should reply “The Advent of My Lord, be that in the next Mass, the next coming before me of his face in need, or the Second and glorious appearing.” We wait expectantly to see Jesus in all those ways: our Lord comes in the sacred Liturgy, in the hearts of those around us, and in his full power to Judge. But, for that second option, in others’ hearts, we have another work to accomplish: for we are to inculcate that same hope in those around us. We cannot, however, ask the poor simply to hope in God when they do not have hope for their next crust of bread, or their next child’s health care. Our sure sign of hope is the freedom with which we give to God, via the hands of the poor, all those things which God has given us.
Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:13-14
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh: that is not a political statement nor a social policy: we are not to reply to the poor, “Make no provision for the flesh”. But we are not to worry about our flesh. As we are in Christ, God will take care of us – and we shall take care of others in his name.
Again as I said in the lead up to Advent, this is not about Political actions, but about sedition. We are subverting the system, giving Caesar what his law requires, but giving God everything. We are not here to make Caesar care for the poor: we are to do that. We are not here to invite people, against their political will, to change public laws: we’re here to do the right thing. We will be judged by our deeds – not by the laws that govern our nation. In hac spe vivere et mori statuo. I stand to live and die in this hope… death may well come. If we do it right. We can always hope.


Revelation 22:1-7
Luke 21:34-36

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
Luke 21:34

Jesus was quite aware of our weakened human mental map. He knows that it is the “anxieties of daily life” that lead us to “drunkenness”. He knows that drunkenness leads us to being “drowsy”. And he knows, as do we all, that we don’t need a fine – or even cheap – liquor to to get there. How much did you sleep after that huge meal on Thursday? Ever had sex because you couldn’t sleep? I started heavily smoking when my brother was killed in a motorcycle accident: from there it was a pack a day for nearly 25 years. Lately I’ve been overeating and putting on weight because I am unemployed. The anxieties of daily life are a rough battle and meds, man, meds are everywhere to help.

Sex, Wine, all the joys and blessings of this life, have their proper uses: teetotalling is a drug, too. But our purpose in experiencing life – pain, sorrow, bumpy bits, rough bits, rock bottom bits – is to work out our salvation. Jesus knows that we can use “carousing” and “drunkenness” to miss our chances to work out our salvation. It’s just too hard, too rough, too difficult… which may be really what God knows you need.

God on the cross refused painkillers (vinegar and gall). We will kill ourselves figuratively – or literally – to avoid pain.

The solution to sleeping trouble is nearly never simply taking a sleeping pill: a sleeping problem usually means there’s something going on in one’s life, or body, that needs addressing. Most of us are willing to settle for keeping our eyes medically sealed for 6-8 hours. We’ll let our lives burn down as long as we can pretend to sleep through it.

We take drugs just because they exist. Really. Someone invents a drug and finds out what it does – and then creates – and markets – a medical name for the thing it undoes. It’s to be noted that nearly all drugs only cure symptoms. We are quite happy living in a high-stress environment as long as we don’t feel the stress.

We fail to understand the divine purpose of pain, of discomfort, of sadness, of sorrow. If it makes us sad, we decide it’s evil. We run away from things that make us “feel bad” and towards things that make us “feel good”. Very quickly that can lead to addiction. It’s the definition of sin becoming a passion. Over and over we do what makes us feel good until that’s all we do, even if it’s not good for us. We shop. We sex. We porn. We self-pleasure. We gamble. We ride roller coasters and thrill seek. We do anything at all, to “Feel good”. We will take anything. We’ve become a culture of drugs, OTC and prescription, both doctor- and self-prescribed. We are a culture of addicts.

Yesterday, before I knew about today’s readings, I read an article on Al Jazeera, being a history of Drug Use in war.

What we need is also a history of the Drug War being fought on civilians: pain killers, psych meds, hormonal pills that stave off various parts and stages of life. We seek to control the beginning and end of life itself. We are trained to take pills, to try and be “euphoric”, to be “our best”, to “stay happy” and to only participate fully in normal life when we feel like it. We turn natural life into a “medical condition” so we can make a use for the latest drug. (Eg: there was never a restless leg syndrome, no doctor ever talked about it until we invented a drug that cured it, and fell for the marketing.) Following our training, we self-medicate with just about everything from food to sex. And we will file lawsuits, change laws, and even riot to get what we want when we want it. We will even change our body with a lifetime of daily doses chemicals the long-term, multigenerational effects of which we do not know, just to get what we want.

In the Rehab Clinic where I worked, we often “cured” an addiction to illegal drugs by transmuting it into an addiction to a legal drug. We taught the clients the problem was they were medicating to deal with problems that needed to be faced rather than forgotten; then we just gave them different meds. The only people living rich off my high blood pressure meds are pharmaceutical companies. All you need to do to make a fighter out of a housewife is change her meds – be that housewife in Mosul or Minneapolis.

It’s a trap! These things make us drowsy: enabling us to sleep through the most important things. Our society is creating a culture of drug-enablement: enabled to deny our feelings, to deny our sadness, to deny our sense of guilt. The faith of Christ is of a different sort.

Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.
Luke 21:36

If your strength comes from a drug… they can take it away from you. Vigilate. Be vigilant.

Indeed, it’s Just a Pinch

Revelation 20:1-4, 11—21:2
Luke 21:29-33

I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
Revelation 20:12

Totally counting down now: today and tomorrow morning: sunset tomorrow and it’s Advent. Boom. The trump it shall sounds and the dead shall be raised… and judged according to their deeds. What have you done?

I had a meeting after the recent troubles began and my companion said, “I’ve read MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail several times this week. I don’t want to be the White Moderate.” The moderates thought they could change the system from the inside… make Jesus’ Kingdom happen in the midst of Babylon, raise up Israel to be happy in Egypt.

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you all you need to do is pray the sinner’s prayer, they are telling you lies.

The problem is we can’t just say “I’m sorry…” A priest on twitter on thanksgiving was complaining that his own family (fleeing persecution in their homeland) only got here in 1910. He had nothing to say about the slaughter of Native persons. Certainly I never owned slaves or had anything to do with the ways persons now long dead treated anyone.

But I can’t just say, “I’m sorry”:

I’m trapped in a culture that built its homes by the hands of slaves on lands stolen at the point of a gun from others who were deported. It’s not enough to say “I’m sorry” when the very clothes on my back, the house in which I eat, the food I’m given to consume are all the products of injustice.

We start by not doing it any more. Then we move on to undoing it. Today is Black Friday in the USA, so called because the retail companies often fall “into the black” because of all the craziness that happens today. How unjustly they pay their workers, their laborers, their manufacturing sources – these should all be our concerns as Christians: not do they say  Merry Christmas” to us at the register. If we refused to spend so much money… we might be on the way to building justice.

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you it’s all about love and can’t we all just get along, they are telling you lies.

To be certain, Jesus does not call us to a violent revolution, nor to overthrow massive institutions by force. But he does call us – indeed he models for us – sedition and sabotage.

In my youth there was a huge panic about “The Cults”. People were convinced their children were going off to college and being “kidnapped” by various religious movements and “brainwashed”. They would send “deprogrammers” out to rescue the lost children. It was a serious thing. And, although there was some serious abuse, you can understand the parents’ concern: their son or daughter had been divorced from the common view of the world. Up was down. Left was right. Wrong was suddenly right.

It was love that wanted them to rescue their children. If all your friend were trapped in a matrix of lies – wouldn’t love call you to rescue them? wouldn’t you do anything to open their eyes, to rip holes in their mental armor, to at least let them see there is another way, even if they were screaming “NO” the whole time?

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you it’s about this political view or that, they are telling you lies.

The politics of this world are all tied into the same system, the world system (in Greek, the “Kosmou”) that is built, brick by brick, from the first injustice (stealing food) and the first murder: until we have what we have now. No secular politician will get you out of it or even bring you close. The very purpose of secular politics is to keep you enslaved. Fascist, Communist, Marxist, Capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Monarchist, Anarchist – all human sinners – you, personally, may find it easier or preferable to work out your salvation in fear and trembling under one or the other of these philosophies, but none of them has a divine mandate and all were created to avoid living in the Kingdom of God.

According to their deeds. If anyone tells you that some part of this world is fine – even though the rest sucks – they are telling you lies.

An Episcopal Priest once said he thought that, if it would save a life, he saw no problem with offering a pinch of incense to Caesar. (Those were his exact words.) He thought any sensible person today would see that.

When Confessing Christians gather, we hear the stories of the saints, we pray for the world, and we break bread. We live in love – merciful and just – with each other. And when we find we have listened to the world, and been lured to some other place… we confess and come back. Confessing Christians are not sensible people. They do not even think of just a pinch of incense worth of cooperation with the beast… it’s unthinkable.

It is our deeds. Not changing the world, but our deeds. Not overthrowing the system but making day by day seditious acts of love – merciful and just – that will sabotage the whole thing, liberate our friends and… let’s be honest now:

Cost us our lives.

I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands.
Rev 20:4

According to their deeds. Refusing to worship this world, not even with a pinch of smoke, refusing to do its dirty work, refusing to even pretend to do so: this is the deed we need. But we will die.

Dont Ruin Thanksgiving!

Ben Sira 50:22-24
I Corinthians 1:3-9
Luke 17:11-19

Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?
Luke 17:18

The NABRE renders this as “give thanks to God” but the Greek, the Latin, and just about every other translation says “give glory to God” or “give praise”. I think it could easily be “give worship to God”.

Jesus sent the 10 guys he had healed off to the temple, as was their duty. But this guy came back. So: I think it’s interesting that the comment is not “9 guys went to the temple to give glory to God, but this guy came back to say thanks.” Rather, what Jesus says is, “9 guys did what was culturally expected, but this guy, prostrate at my feet, is giving glory to God.” The temple is pretty awesome, but something greater than the temple is here: God himself.

The place where Jesus, God incarnate, is is the place to render thanks.

There’s something else. The disease of leprosy makes one an outcast. All the outcasts are together in a colony. They don’t really care where you were before or what you were “in the world”. They live together and die away from the world. When these ten were cleansed, something happened: the 9 that walked away were Jews, they realized their 10th party was a Samaritan. Now that they were all clean, they had nothing in common, nor would they dare be seen with each other. So recently outcasts together, suddenly the Samaritan was, alone, himself the outcast.

The place where Jesus, God incarnate, is is the place outcasts come home.

We are, all, outcasts in the theological sense. Certainly we hope to hear from Jesus, fides tua te salvum fecit. “Your faith has made you whole – has ‘saved’ you”. The only way to be “whole”, to be “Saved” is, for us, to cast off all the desires of culture and, falling at Jesus’ feet, to come home, to be restored to communion with God.

I saw a posting on twitter recently, the writer urging us all not to post pictures of our Thanksgiving Day because – literally – everyone will be doing the same thing. So much so, that for very little money, it’s possible to order a “Thanksgiving Feast” at many stores. The cost may vary, but the menu will not: we’re all eating the same stuff today, minor variations here and there, but without much change all the usual stuff will be on every plate today. Even homeless people, finding themselves in shelters and such today will have the same menu as almost the entire rest of the nation.

Except for outcasts.

Who are “our” outcasts: we might be able to point at a few sorts and conditions of people who, nationwide, would fit the bill. But, mindful of Jews and Samaritans, let me ask more directly – who are your outcasts? Who is not welcomed at your table today? If they are outcasts then so are you… for you cannot offer your gift at the altar until you reconcile with your brother. What are you going to do about it?

In the Eastern Liturgical tradition, the evening before Lent begins, many parishes and monasteries practice the Rite of Mutual Forgiveness during which members of the Church prostrate themselves before each other asking forgiveness. It may take a long while, depending on how many folks are there, but sometime serious wounds begin healing on that night.

There is no such rite at the beginning of Advent, the season preceding Christmas, but there should be! We in America, at least, have a chance today: when people come to our house, when people won’t come… I think we may each have people to forgive: people who voted “wrong”, people who “explained” too many things on their talking points list last year (#Libsplaining). I’m sure the list goes on.

What would it be like to welcome home the outcasts and beg mutual forgiveness before offering your thanksgiving at the altar of your family table?

Little Purple Seeds of Fire

Revelation 15:1-4
Luke 21:12-19

You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.
Luke 21:16-19

Near the turn of the century, a friend and fellow-convert to the Orthodox Church, said he felt that as a faithful Christian, he was too conservative for his liberal friends, but too liberal for his conservative friends. Several of us identified with that saying. It seems to still be the case. Those who try to be faithful to the teachings of Christ (regardless of their denomination or community) will find themselves opposed in our society by more libertine parties who don’t like rules, but also by parties who want more rules in more places. These days, Christians find ourselves at odds with the “Sexual Revolution” on one hand and the “Alt-Right” on the other. Christians see both immoral excess (sex, drugs, and rock and roll!) and abuse of persons for race, religion, sex, or any other reason at all as a denial of the Image of God in each individual person and in all human people together.

To paraphrase an old lefty slogan, for the Christian, no one can be saved while others are oppressed; be that oppression internalised addiction to the passions that destroy the Divine Icon within us, or externalised addiction (via culture, economics, or politics) to the destruction of the Divine Icon in those around us. In today’s political terminology, Confessing Christians are not so much red or blue, as they are purple.

As the divisions between these Red and Blue camps both increase and mutate in our world the Confessing Christians will be in danger. One can be a sexual libertine and also a racist at the same time. One can be a strident nationalist “War Hawk” and also strident Pro-Choice campaigner together. One can be a hater of the Church and a lover of the State all at once. But one can be none of those things and be faithful to the Gospel of Christ. As Red and Blue creep more and more into our parishes, conferences, and synods, the Purple will even be hated by fellow Church-goers. Our lesson from the Apocalypse imagines everyone hating Christians. Increasingly, as one who prays to be faithful to the orthodox, catholic faith of the Martyrs, I fear life in Alabama as much as life in San Francisco.

On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast and its image and the number that signified its name.
Revelation 15:2b

This political purple, however, given today’s climate is perfect for us if we remain faithful to the end. (Although I fear to be too explicit in this post, even now, by your prayers may I be included in the Confessing Church’s band.) Purple is the color traditionally assigned to Royalty and the Church has long praised the ennobling sacrifice of her martyrs. St Cyprian sings the praises of this band thus:

How blessed is our Church, which the greatness of the divine favour thus illuminates, on which in these our times the glorious blood of the martyrs sheds radiance! Aforetime she was white in the good works of the brethren, now is she empurpled in the blood of the martyrs. Her garlands lack neither the lily nor the rose. Now let every one contend for the fullest meed of either honor. Let them win a crown either white with good works or purple with suffering. In the heavenly camp both peace and war have their own garlands wherewith the soldier of Christ may be crowned for victory. (St Cyprian – Letter viii.). 

The Church may have grown lax in all places, unable to withstand the cultural assaults, but “Aforetime she was white in the good works of the brethren, now is she empurpled in the blood of the martyrs.” There’s hope for one yet, who has lived a life in dissolution and excess, there’s hope for one yet who has hated and destroyed the Icon of God wherever he found it, in himself or in others: lacking good works (the lily, the white crown), I think we may find ourselves, shortly perhaps, able to avail ourselves of the rose, and be made purple with suffering. On the whole, it may be my only hope, really.

By our prayers for each other, and the prayers of the empurpled band gone before us, may we finally sing the Song of Moses (which I never realized was to the tune of “Tzena Tzena”) and of the Lamb.

PS (relative to an earlier post): In the lection from the Apocalypse, there is this phrase: a sea of glass mingled with fire (15:2). The footnote in the NABRE says, “fire symbolizes the sanctity involved in facing God, reflected in the trials that have prepared the victorious Christians or in God’s wrath.” We have two choices: facing the fire of God as dry kindling, or, as Abba Joseph said, “You can become all flame.”

Lectio Apocalypse!

Revelation 14:14-19
Luke 21:5-11

“Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.” So the one who was sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
Revelation 14:15b-16

Your host honestly got excited Monday morning when Pope Francis released an Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera: it’s the first “magisterial document” to come out since I started attending a Roman Catholic parish. But your host is a church geek and such events usually get him in a heady mood, regardless of one’s ecclesial status. Most of it was about stuff that was meaningless to me. Certainly the events and the scripture citations were understood, but a lot of the cultural context, the “Catholic Meaning” was unsurprisingly lost on me.

Section 7, however, spoke in a very direct way to my heart, as I write these posts:

The Bible is the great story of the marvels of God’s mercy. Every one of its pages is steeped in the love of the Father who from the moment of creation wished to impress the signs of his love on the universe. Through the words of the prophets and the wisdom writings, the Holy Spirit shaped the history of Israel as a recognition of God’s closeness and love, despite the people’s infidelity. Jesus’ life and preaching decisively marked the history of the Christian community, which has viewed its mission in terms of Christ’s command to be a permanent instrument of his mercy and forgiveness (cf. Jn 20:23). Through Sacred Scripture, kept alive by the faith of the Church, the Lord continues to speak to his Bride, showing her the path she must take to enable the Gospel of salvation to reach all mankind. I greatly desire that God’s word be increasingly celebrated, known and disseminated, so that the mystery of love streaming from this font of mercy may be ever better understood. As the Apostle tells us clearly: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). 

It would be beneficial if every Christian community, on one Sunday of the liturgical year, could renew its efforts to make the Sacred Scriptures better known and more widely diffused. It would be a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people. Creative initiatives can help make this an opportunity for the faithful to become living vessels for the transmission of God’s word. Initiatives of this sort would certainly include the practice of lectio divina, so that the prayerful reading of the sacred text will help support and strengthen the spiritual life. Such a reading, centred on themes relating to mercy, will enable a personal experience of the great fruitfulness of the biblical text – read in the light of the Church’s spiritual tradition – and thus give rise to concrete gestures and works of charity.

It was so wonderful to read Pope Francis recommending Lectio Divina – a traditional Benedictine monastic meditational practice – to the wider Catholic World. Lectio uses the words of the scripture as a point of meditation, sometimes singularly, sometimes in phrases. It is so hard for one as inexperienced as I to describe this practice, but it’s like a cow chewing its cud: each word becomes part of the meditation, slowly. BY way of example, the Venerable St Bede, an Benedictine Monk from the northern part of England, wrote an extended Lectio on the Book of Revelation, taking, for example our verse at the head of this post in this wise:

15. angel. The angels, of whom we read in the Gospel as “the reapers of the earth,” are all sent forth to minister for those who have the inheritance of salvation,” and they take account of the several merits of the Church, and report them daily to the Lord 

reap. Behold, He says, “Through iniquity abounding, the love of many has waxed cold,” and through the burning heat of evils falling upon it, the harvest of the earth has now almost ceased to be green. So, then, for the elect’s sake, the days are shortened, in order that grains already ripe may not fall off. And do thou commit the tares and the chaff to the flames, but the heavenly fruit to the garners of bliss.

A verse or two later, still chewing, St Bede gives us this:

“Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth’s vines, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage. He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury.
Revelation 14:18b-19

18. fire. The office of the angels, as Jerome says, is twofold. For some assign rewards to the righteous, while others preside over the several torments; as it is said, “Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a burning fire.” The two angels who proclaim that the harvest is dry, and the corn ripe, may be understood to be the prayers of the Church, which, with a great voice, that is, with a great desire, prays daily that the kingdom of the Lord may come, and with these words. 

Thrust in. As the harvest, so also the vintage is partly earthly, partly heavenly. But the maturity of both indicates the end of the world. 

ripe. That is, her sins are complete. But the perfection of the good may also be called ripeness. For, as the holy Gregory says, although the end of the world depends on its own course, yet by overtaking such as are more perverse, because they are deservedly overwhelmed in its ruin, it becomes known through them. 

19. sickle. He who has the sickle of the reaper has also that of the grape-gatherer. For the judgment is one, and will take place at one time; but in the harvest and the vintage he shews the beginning and the end of the same affliction. 

winepress. If this harvest also of the vintage pertain only to the bad, the winepress signifies punishment; but if to the good as well, the treading of the winepress, as the threshing of the floor, crushes what is useless, and proves what is of use. And so the Apostle says that the precious metals are preserved by fire, while the hay and the stubble are consumed, both which are done without the heavenly Jerusalem. But the winepress of wrath is so named in the same form of speech, as it is said, “The Lord delivered him in the evil day.”

Notice it’s not so much an exegesis (‘this text in Greek means this… blah blah, but in Latin it reads this way… blah blah blah) as it is a poetic unfolding. “Winepress could mean this – in which case this follows, unless it means that other thing… in which case this other follows.” St Bede is not telling us the “Real and final meaning” of the Apocalypse. He is walking us through a garden planted by the Evangelist and pointing out the more interesting flowers, asking us to smell them and commenting on the scents and colors. This is the way the Church Fathers all read the Bible: what I compared it to “Bible as Tarot Deck”, if that doesn’t cause too much of a shock in the saying of it.

It’s a different way to open the Bible, far from “Study” per se and closer to “Contemplation.” It can take, as you might imagine, a week or more to get through a chapter – longer if you’re writing it down! It is more fruitful to the prayer life than simple study, though. The realization that there is another way to approach this (or any difficult) text may lead to more comfort with the Bible, opening it with less fear.

Go to the Temple, then this happened!

Revelation 14:1-3, 4b-5
Luke 21:1-4

I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.
Luke 21:3b-4

Today is the memorial of the Entry of Our Lady into the Temple. To me this feast is a test of faith. The is a story taken from the Protoevagelium of St James. It is non-canonical scripture. In other words, it is not in the Canon, but the Church has decided that parts of it are divinely inspired. It is where we learn, for example, of Our Lady’s parents, Sts Joachim and Anne, and their prayers for a child in their old age. It is from this text the undivided Church drew the story of this feast as well, teaching in our liturgy that when she was a young girl (aged 3 or so), the Blessed Virgin was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to be schooled. As they welcomed her to the community she ran and entered the Holy of Holies and grew up there, fed by angels.

To me this feast is a test of faith. There are so many things wrong with this feast: so many things that clearly could not have ever happened. And yet: what of anything else in her life that we claim to know could have actually happened? Why are we willing to accept the miracle of an Angel visiting her, of her Virginal conception, of the unborn Divine Child blessing, from within her womb, the unborn Forerunner in the womb of his own mother, Elizabeth? Why do we so willingly accept all those things and yet not this thing?

How willingly we all are to know what God can’t do.

By “we”, I don’t just mean Protestants: this feast raises hackles even among Orthodox Clergy – and probably some Roman Catholic clergy, too. I remember when Father Tom Hopko spoke long ago at my parish on the evening of this feast, saying it couldn’t have happened; causing such a scandal. (Update: I was right, some RCs are in this camp as well.)

A friend of mine, long ago, left her convent. She came out as a lesbian and lived with a woman for a while. When that relationship failed, she did some reflection and ended up in the the “Holiness Movement” churches. Eventually she married a man. She accused me always of being willing to know what God can’t do. We fell out of touch as I entered Orthodoxy.

Tell me what your god can’t do, and you will unwittingly tell me about your life.

To me, this feast is a test of faith. There are so many things wrong with it, celebrating so many things that clearly could not have happened. A child? a girl? a person at all? Entering the Holy of Holies?

Typologically, this feast speaks very truly of Mary as she is the new Holy of Holies: as Jesus, God himself, dwells in her womb. Mary is the new Temple and, through her, the Church is the Holiest of Holies housing, on her Altars, in her tabernacles throughout the world, the presence of God on earth. Mary enters the Holy of Holies to fulfill it, to complete it, to become it. Although Jesus was not speaking in Typology, both his grandmother and his mother fulfilled his living-parable of the “Widow’s Mite”. As poor women they offered all they had, all they could offer, to God: themselves, their wombs, their children. They became channels of divine grace to the whole world; and to all eternity ontologically changed all of mankind by their offerings.

And to that, in my ego I’m to say, “but this one thing, God can’t do.”

Lord, have mercy.

Ecce Rex Noster Dilecto

II Samuel 5:1-3
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

When I went away to college, my freshman year, I was at an Evangelical liberal arts college called “The King’s College“. Two guys named David shared the room with me. A huge bunch of stuff had been given to me to go to college with, but one thing I asked for was a wall crucifix. We got it at the more-expensive “gift shop” at Sullivan’s in the mall, it was maybe $20. It looked a little like this:

The cross was wood, the corpus was from Italy, but was certainly plastic. It was very white. I hung it over the door because that’s what they did in the movies. I was a good Anglo-Catholic and I wanted some part of my world to look like things did in The Bishop’s Wife. (Note to self: need copy of said movie.) Anyway, after we were all moved in, the floor manager… or whatever they called him, showed up and inspected the room. And walking out he saw the Crucifix. He looked at it for a moment and then said, “Shouldn’t you show Jesus more triumphant?”

“That is Jesus,” I replied. “at his most triumphant.”

I had just got to college, you understand: I clearly knew everything.

The Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom is a glory. The Paschal Canon makes me weep. The first singing “Shine, Shine, O New Jerusalem” is one of the high points of the Byzantine liturgical year. When the whole church lights up with the Easter Vigil Gloria, bells ringing and people shouting, I get shivers. When the organ blasts its way through a solemn Te Deum I am prostrate with the incense and the joy. Yet St Paul says nothing about the Resurrection that is so strong as this line: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Or this one: I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified…. we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.”

But for us, Our King.

Imagine meeting an Apostle, imagine meeting anyone from the Jerusalem Church at the time, really. They have seen the most horrid execution the gov’t of that period could divise. To know someone who was so treated, to have witnessed it, to have lived through the torture, the ignominy, the horror.

And then to hear her or him say, “That is God.”

That’s why he was so scary to the Romans: these Christians saying “this guy you hung up is Lord, God, and King,” not Caesar. No Caesar’s Palace or Trump Tower contains the real power. Christ is King.  Power is not in the palace, not in the tower: but hung on the Cross. And Risen.

There are a few people who insist the Resurrection of Jesus is a myth. One Episcopal priest even shared from the pulpit that he sided with those who knew – knew, mind you – that after Jesus had died his body was tossed onto a garbage heap and dogs ate it. And all this stuff about a Resurrection was just backfill because the apostles felt guilty about abandoning Jesus in the hour of his need. He had told them to take swords, right? We make up for that abandonment by claiming he was God and assuaging our guilt.

“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”

When you look at the Crucifix, and hear people deny him even now while feigning love for the “real” Jesus that they just made up, you get it: that God became so weak, so powerless, that even those he came to save could deny him at the moment of his triumph.

And yet he loves them.

I hear all the time that we can’t forgive sinners who don’t repent… but Jesus does: “Father forgive them…” from the cross. And you know no one was repenting.

So our King is merciful.
So our King is love.
So our King is truth itself.

That Dead Guy on the Cross, victim of capital punishment, hated by his own and subjected to torture by his oppressors, really is God: crucified, dead, buried. Risen. It’s your choice. Make him your King, know his Resurrection, and you will become the object of scorn and derision, reviled even by people who claim to follow him. To them that derision is hate. But to us their derision is a sign of life.

That derision is probably about to get worse as those from the left and right who confuse real, faithful Christians, the Confessing Church, with those apostates who sold their souls for worldly gain: sexual, or political. The Faithful will be oppressed by the Progressive and the Fascist, both. And the faithful shall pray, love and die, for those who hate us as our King did. Even then we have only done our duty: we are unworthy servants.

The Prophet Malachi says that when the Day of the King shall come it “shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But for the righteous, it’ll be totally different, unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts. 

The fire is both Furnace and Sun of Justice. (Malachias 4:1-3) It’s really up to you which one it is. The Day of the King is coming. It is here already: at Liturgy we can see it.