The Luminous Mysteries: the Broken Road

Antiphon: God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

In your baptism, O Christ, our God, you opened the pathway of initiation for us, into your Mysteries. I thank you for all who have moved me along this path, awkward and jerking though I have been. I’ve been on my way in for so long. And I have to thank those men who held the door open: the Pastor at the Marietta Baptist Tabernacle that wouldn’t know a trinity from a hole in the ground, and did it all wrong… but he taught me how to swim. And Pastor Pinto who gave me communion first. And Jim Lowery who got me wet again – this time in all the right names, and it stuck… Then Paul Moore with Henrician hands, but wait we’ll try again. And Bill Swing, who welcomed me back into Christ’s flock after I had gone a Paganing. And then Father Victor, who Confessed, Chrismated, and Absolved me into the Church Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. There was another turn unexpected, and Father Michael welcomed me into communion with Peter. God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

At the wedding, O Christ, you changed the water into wine. The things we offer are not divine, but what we offer in good faith, you take, and change, and elevate. And all the things I thought I’d have to carry all this way, you let me drop. All the things that were not according to your plan. But each one taught me by not being yours, each one held me in arms that were not love… but so nearly there… that I could not but keep looking, more and more, in the right direction. Do what ever he tells you, and you said, love… and I tried loving and even through I was wrong, you took it – and drew it deeper into yourself, the jars were full, the guests were drunk: and you brought out the best wine last.  God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

In preaching and proclaiming the kingdom, O Christ, you laid out in words, in simple human terms, the divine truths of all time. And I would be woefully arrogant if I did not know and see all the places you have taught me. I would not be me if it were not for Pastor Pinto, Pastor Lowery, Jeanette and David, my Sunday School teachers, these people gave me love for the Bible. And Pastor Lowery opened the door to John Wesley’s writings – and they, in turn, showed me the Church Fathers. And Mr Witkowsky opened my high school brain to history, and Dr Carlson confirmed the Freshman me in those mysteries. Jim Carse showed me the Tao and Games, and Frank Peters (SJ) showed me the Torah and the Church. Nina and then Starhawk danced me round the spiral for ten years, then Shadwynn called a change and Donald and Rick brought me back to Christ. And then they again opened to me the Fathers as well: and so out again to Fr Victor and Fr Joseph, to a wider Dance with Sare and Cam. In the end, though, stumbling along, it was Steve and Steve and Mom and Dad pointing the way. Then Michael. And again Father Michael, and last, my little brother, Joey… God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

On the Mountain, your truth was revealed. All things that are, are yours. Nothing that is isn’t yours. Only, without you, nothing alone is strong. Your light is all – and there is naught but darkness where you are not. And by your light, we see light everywhere. And so I can thank you deeply, that I have known the joys of all the wrong places, and I have known those pains as well. I have never once stopped looking, but you were always further along, just a light around the corner. A couple of times I thought, let me rest here… but no, the light was higher up the mountain; further up, and further in. You were in the cloud and I, unknowing, stumbled right into your arms. God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

Bread and wine are your body and blood. And Christ, there, is the mystery in sum. The things of this earth are made divine – see it in water, see it in the wedding, see it in the words we use to proclaim you, see it by your light in all light: this broken world, is transubstantiated by your grace. The whole damned thing is lifted up and blessed and broken, and it is you that we receive when we take it up in love. Every fracture, every quake, every tear, every wet eye, sobbing lung, and running nose, is held up in your hands, every broken heart is not healed but rather is iconified by the offering, made into your image which is the only true image there ever was, is, or ever can be. What is not you is not. And under the weaving of failure, runs the water of blessing, changed into the wine of love. Under the waving of the rotted grains of earth is the bread of heaven – and the whiskey of life. You, God, this broken road, is your narrow path destroyed by us in our pride, and damning ourselves to walk the other way, you went behind us and said, “boo”. Interception! God, bless the broken road that led me straight to you.

Joyous Mysteries: Addiction

The Angel came to Mary. Most of us won’t ever get there. But our conscience calls out to us. That comes from Latin works meaning “with knowledge” and St Paul says we have the law of God written in our hearts… When that voice calls out we can listen like Mary. It never calls us to our addiction, but away. We rarely listen, but we can…

And we are never called to face this alone. Somewhere a friend or loved one, awaits our message, our help, and our need. We do not need to sit alone, waiting in the dark. Our family ties, social obligations, work duties feel like intrusions on our fears, our concerns, our addictions and they are, exactly, that: or seen another way, they are the way out.

The birth of Hope shines out. Every day is Christmas. If we will let it be so, every day Christ is born in the cattle stall and dung of our hearts and fills them with heaven. The light is there to burn away the thorns and dirt; to fill us with love. We can’t wait until everything is just right. God is now here.

Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, God offered to God; God living the terms of his own covenant. God follows the rules he gave us, the rules he wove into the very fabric of space and time by his own hand. For God, two plus two can never equal five. These are his plan. 2+2=4 because that is Truth and God is Truth in himself. He can never decree untruth. And, with them written in our hearts, we do well to see the rules, the laws and follow God himself. We don’t always, and things get out of hand.

And one day Jesus ran away. Or did he get separated from his family and go to the only safe place he knew? Was there some teaching to impart that would later yeild a fruitful harvest? We will know later…

But whatever happened, parents get scared, the all-too-human fear of loss arises, plans destroyed. And yet there is Jesus, safe and sound in God’s house, on God’s business; no matter how out of control it all looks. Where’s my red stapler? Who moved my cheese? How in all Creation will I ever get that done without my sense of control? Let it go.

God has come to us as one of us.
In every thing like us save sin.
Our addictions are known to him
Our pains and loss as well.
Yeild it all over to him.

And it will be transubstantiated.

Christ is born.

Dolorous Mysteries: Addiction

When Christ is praying in the garden he faces the darkness. He knows the reality of sin, the hardness of the world. The fear is real. He is at rock bottom. Everything he thought he had, all that he is, all that he has said and done is over. There is only one way out. He turns his life over to God – whom no one better than he understands – and says, “I trust you to do this.”

When Christ is scourged at the pillar how like us with addictions is he, feeling over and over the pains that rack us, the torments that rip us apart. How like us is he, so weakened by the blows that he falls down, held up only by the device of torture itself. How unlike us is he who, feeling this pain, still reaches out to us in love to say God now shares your pain. It is real pain, real blood, real flesh torn apart. But it is the way out.

They cut him down he passes out. The soldiers to pass the time mock him: dress him up and crown him with thorns. They slap him awake and laugh at him. How like us in our throes of addiction or, in our struggle for sobriety, how like us when our friends now mock us and taunt us. The heart is broken. The mocking hurts. The slapping is the easy part for it wakes us up and we realize this was never love. And yet we must reach out to him: and love all the more. These things from our past that taunt us: it’s not a loss for it was never a gain.

But it’s gone, and the memories stab deep.

Some days, though. Let’s be honest, most days, really… it’s just normal. We have to get up and walk. We feel the pains from within, but they are not so strong. We remember the mocking, but whatever. It’s a normal day. We have to keep walking. This is our life. Keep walking. Wake up and feel these reminders, and keep walking. Stand, sometimes fall. Keep walking. This is the Via Dolorosa, but it is the Via Gloriosa, we are walking with him. He carries the cross as we must. Our very life patterns, our weaknesses, we keep walking. He is walking beside us, and he, like Simon, helps us. Gives us his strength, until it’s not us at all. Keep walking. It’s him.

Keep walking.

Then in the end.

Death.

We reach the end and we die crucified on our life. His death was a sacrifice of redemption. His death on the cross ripped open the fabric of the universe and light and life pours in. We must die as well. 100% of us will die. Everyone who has ever lived has died. We will die.

No choice.
We cannot choose when.
We cannot choose where.
We cannot choose how.

But we can choose why.

We can choose to die to self to live for him. We can choose to offer all the pain, all the scourges, the fears, the mockings, the slaps, the walking. We can choose to unite every last grief and sorrow to him, through him, with him, and in him to God’s purposes, to God’s glory, and God’s salvation of the world.

Then in the end.

Death has no sting.
The grave has no victory.
The bars of brass have been broken down from the inside out.

Christ is Risen.

The Jesus Psalter

I first heard of the Jesus Psalter reading Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s wonderful Come Rack, Come Rope, a love story set in the time of the Elizabethan Pogroms. It was also my first introduction to how those Pogroms were conducted – hunters, star courts, betrayals, simony, etc. Reading such a story can drive one to despair, or conversion. The Jesus Psalter is mentioned a couple of times in the opening portion of the book, both rather offhandedly.

…in Marjorie at least, as will be seen more plainly later, there was a strong love of Jesus Christ and His Mother, whom she knew, from her hidden crucifix and her (rosary) beads, and her Jesus Psalter–which she used every day..

And:

Her advice, besides that which has been described, was, principally, to say his Jesus Psalter more punctually, to hear mass whenever that were possible, to trust in God, and to be patient and submissive with his father in all things that did not touch divine love and faith. 

As it turns out, despite Benson’s passing mention of it, it was a very important text in the Bad Old Times. It became a focus of piety for the beleaguered Catholic Church which historical context adds levels of meaning to the devotion.  As a side note: this is why I think it’s important today. It fell out of use over the last 500 years, but today we may need it again. There are Christians in name who will not fail to turn over the Faithful, I think, if things get much rockier.

So, being the religious geek I am, I had to go looking for it. And it’s out there, in a tiny few places.  The first place I found it was in on a website devoted to Latin prayers. I liked it, printed it out, and used it at the Monastery. Fr T even wants to reprint it. Then I found another text last summer, much more ancient, via Google Play. It is from a prayerbook published in 1599. (It’s here in the Google Play Store.)The Full Title (as such were, in those days) is:

A Manuall of Praiers, gathered out of many famous and good authors, as well auncient as of the time present. Distributed according to the daies of the Weeke. Whereunto is added a newe Calendar, with the order to helpe at masse. (Certaine deuout and Godly petitions, commonly called: Jesus Psalter.)

More recently (this month, in fact) I was handed a copy of the text printed by the Catholic Truth Society in the 1940s.

The Jesus Psalter is a set of 15 invocations of the name of Jesus, recited in “decades” as on the traditional Dominican Rosary, but each invocation is different. Each one includes a threefold recitation of the Divine Name and each decade ends with a a set of the same prayers, including the Pater Noster and the Ave. Each set of five decades ends with the Credo as well. Later editions of the text have a longer prayer said at the end of each five.   Each decade, between the invocations, there is a series of meditations. Although they have a common theme, they vary between each edition I have. The oldest one from 1599, doesn’t have meditations for all the decades and some are limited to only one or two sentences. This leads me to the conclusion that the meditations were intended to be personalized. This is as in, again, the Dominican Rosary, which is meant to be prayed (perhaps with a guidebook) until it comes “into one’s soul” and forms its own set of meditations in the heart.

Another difference in various online editions is a confusion about how the decades are said. Here I will go with the one that is most logical – and also included in the 1599 text: each invocation is intended to be said 10 times with 3 repetitions of the name of Jesus in each invocation. Thus the Holy Name gets said 150 times in each set of 5 decades and thence we get the name Psalter: for “Jesus” is said once for each of the 150 Psalms. Add that to the daily practice of the Rosary, 150 Aves said in sequence (through the 15 traditional mysteries), and the laity would get 9 sets of “Psalter Equivalences” each week.

When read as a sequence, you can see the progression of thought through the 15 invocations:

  1. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on me.
  2. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me.
  3. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, strengthen me.
  4. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, comfort me.
  5. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, make me constant.
  6. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, enlighten me.
  7. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fear Thee.
  8. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to love Thee.
  9. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to remember my death.
  10. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, send me here my purgatory.
  11. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to flee evil company.
  12. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to call to Thee for help.
  13. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to persevere in virtue.
  14. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fix my mind on Thee.
  15. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to Thee.

I’ll do more posts on this. Look for the label “Jesus Psalter”.  Peace.

Custodia Oculorum

The Latin Phrase which was employed as the title of this article is translated as “Custody of the Eyes”.  It’s a quaint, perhaps Victorian-sounding, phrase to which I was introduced by a Priest in NYC who had once been an Benedictine at the Great House of Nashdom in the UK. He noticed me, please forgive me, of a Sunday after Mass, ogling someone on the street.  Leaning to me he said, “Custodia, Frater!” Custody, brother. Since I’d no idea what he meant, he explained: training to remove the eyes from gazing upon the vanities of the world.


One modern Orthodox writer compared thoughts tending towards sin as rocks thrown through the windows of our minds with messages tied on them. We are startled and we read the messages… we engage the thoughts. To the Medieval theologians and philosophers, it was the eyes  that were the largest of these windows, the ones easiest, if you will, for the rocks to be thrown at. When they were inventing the notion of “romantic love”, the troubadours of Europe encouraged these rocks to be thrown – in fact, if you wanted to “fall in love” you had to be looking around…

The eyes go reconnoitering for what the heart would possess…

Yeah, that’s one way to put it. Jesus was commenting on the same thing when he said:

Audistis quia dictum est antiquis: Non moechaberis. Ego autem dico vobis: quia omnis qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum eam, jam moechatus est eam in corde suo.
You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew V xxvii-xxviii

It’s not a modern issue. Jesus was well aware of not just a male’s tendency to have wandering eyes, but all people, and not just sexually speaking. Coveting in the sense of keeping up with the Jones is essentially allowing the eyes to wander and then the soul following. Gluttony can begin with “your eyes being bigger than your stomach”. Jesus offered a clue to ending this issue as well:

Quod si oculus tuus dexter scandalizat te, erue eum, et projice abs te: expedit enim tibi ut pereat unum membrorum tuorum, quam totus corpus tuum mittatur in gehennam.
And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.
Idid. xxix

Plucking out your eye may be a bit extreme: but there is a clue to the Church’s understanding of this text in the Office hymn for Prime (the First Hour in the Western Rite):

Sint pura cordis íntima,
Absístat et vecórdia :
Carnis terat supérbiam
Potus cibíque párcitas.

Which in the Anglican tradition is translated thus:

[God] keep our hearts and conscience pure
Our Souls from folly would secure
And bid us check the pride of sense
with due and holy abstinence.

I think a better translation is:

Oh, may our hearts be pure within,
No cherish’d madness vex the soul;
May abstinence the flesh restrain,
And its rebellious pride control.

The point is well sung: it is all of our senses that are thus at issue. Custodiat Oculorum is short hand for an abstinence that is needed for all our senses. Our senses can be tuned to God, but when they are “tweaked” by the world, aroused, if you will, they are short circuited. We cannot do what we are out to do: work out our salvation in fear and trembling. This story (from the teaching of Francis of Assisi) makes clear how our tempting distractions can throw us off course:

A certain pious King sent two messengers successively to the Queen with a communication from himself. The first messenger returned and brought an answer from the Queen, which he delivered exactly. But of the Queen herself he said nothing because he had always kept his eyes modestly cast down and had not raised them to look at her.

The second messenger also returned. But after delivering in a few words the answer of the Queen, he began to speak warmly of her beauty. “Truly, my lord,” he said, “the Queen is the most fair and lovely woman I have ever seen, and thou art indeed happy and blessed to have her for thy spouse.”

At this the King was angry and said: “Wicked servant, how did you dare to cast your eyes upon my royal spouse? I believe that you may covet what you have so curiously gazed upon.”

Then he commanded the other messenger to be recalled, and said to him: “What do you think of the Queen?”

He replied, “She listened very willingly and humbly to the message of the King and replied most prudently.”

But the Monarch again asked him, “But what do you think of her countenance? Did she not seem to you very fair and beautiful, more so than any other woman?”

The servant replied, “My lord, I know nothing of the Queen’s beauty. Whether she be fair or not, it is for thee alone to know and judge. My duty was only to convey thy message to her.”

The King rejoined, “You have answered well and wisely. You who have such chaste and modest eyes shall be my chamberlain. From the purity of your eyes I see the chastity of your soul. You are worthy to have the care of the royal apartments confided to you.”

Then, turning to the other messenger, he said: “But you, who have such unmortified eyes, depart from the palace. You shall not remain in my house, for I have no confidence in your virtue.

The Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi,
London: R. Washbourne, 1882, pp. 254-255
This text as quoted was found here

When the rocks are thrown into our windows our duty to the Heavenly King is disrupted. How many times, walking down Polk Street from my apartment on my way to Church can my gaze be distracted by human beauty, by shops displaying their wares in the windows, by flashing signs, by my own nosiness (as when hearing someone talking loudly or near me), or by smells of tasty food coming out of shops and restaurants. Oh, my mouth can water just walking by the butcher shop or the pizza stand. If you follow my Instagram you have an idea for how easily I can be distracted. Even just sitting as I type my eyes wander. In this case, contra Tolkien, those who wander are lost.

God wants us to move in his peace, to keep our hearts and consciences pure, secured in his light. Our culture, however, needs us to live in a state of Ambient Arousal: just on the edge of shopping, just on the edge of consuming things or people. It’s too easy to say “Satan made the culture” but it is clear he uses this culture to his advantage. And it is so easy to forget that God didn’t build it this way, nor did Christians at all: Our culture is predicated on making us stumble at all cost into lust, into envy, into emotional states, into consumption of our souls.

So Custody of the Eyes – and in a real way, of all the senses – is a way to achieve Custodia Mentis and Custodia Cordis: Custody of the Mind and of the Heart. In our culture we think a lot. Our minds wander: we imagine, we cogitate, we ruminate. We do not, however, often pray. St Paul says to pray constantly and we all know that means pulling our mind away from the TV, from the radio, from the internet, from other enjoyments. But it also means pulling all of our senses away from the enticements of the world whenever possible. This doesn’t mean stopping our participation in daily life: it means changing it.

One of the Desert Fathers tells of an Angel that promised to show him a woman who was much more adept at prayer than he. The Angel took him into the great city of Alexandria where he saw an old woman washing dishes. As she washed she prayed. Today we find more dangerous things to do mindlessly than washing dishes: driving cars comes to mind.  We do it with a minimal focus, and think about random things, or chat with our companions. We are quite willing to free our mind fully by whatever mindless task we are doing. And we thus miss the chance to pray. Whenever we are being mindless… the rocks come through the window.

Thus far I can bring you in my meditation. I understand the situation. The Rosary has been a great help to me in this regard. I find that I can pray the Rosary whilst walking – in fact it is a great prayer for that! The feet go on their way, the eyes are downcast, the brain is occupied. Prayer! It is easy to glance about, to notice the surroundings, to be safe, to go about our duties. But prayer is happening. This is a new thing! Hours of the day open up for prayer! On the way to lunch, walking to the office, getting on the bus. Training the brain to crave prayer – automatically as soon as the front door opens. This is not a time to worry about the shopping list, or to evolve a shopping list for the future, or to plan a meal, or to lust after your neighbor: this is a time for Communion with God!

Custody, brother! Custody, sister! Not only of the eyes, but of all the senses and then of the mind and then of the heart!  When you get home at the end of the day, will you able to sing the final stanza of the hymn?

Ut cum dies abscésserit,
Noctémque sors redúxerit,
Mundi per abstinéntiam
Ipsi canámus glóriam.
So when the evening stars appear,
And in their train the darkness bring;
May we, O Lord, with conscience clear,
Our praise to thy pure glory sing.