Red in the Morning

Dawn over a foggy golden gate
The Readings for the 33rd Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)

Before the LORD, for he comes,
for he comes to rule the earth,
he will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98:9 (Responsorial)

FUN FACT: what the NABRE calls “Malachi 3:19” other translations call Malachi 4:1. NABRE has all the words, but only 3 chapters… Not really sure what that’s about. Makes it real hard to link to other translations. Anyway, furnace. We know the whole thing. The day of the Lord will hit the sinners like a fiery furnace. But wait, there’s more: the Just will see the Sun of Justice Rise.

So, for both Just and Unjust, the Day of the Lord means a fiery sunrise. The fire will burn for everyone. How will that day dawn for you?

We often make justice to mean “punishment” and mercy to mean “letting me off the hook”. These definitions are neither of them true, and they make God to be as petty as we are.

Mercy is God’s divine and infinite condescension to us in kindness and love. The first instance of this mercy, personally and for each of us, is the creation of the entire world. The second instance is the creation of your individual soul, an act of infinite love and creation in time that took place at the moment of your conception. All things – all blessings, all punishments, all teachings, all correction, all salvation, all purgation, all joys, and all sorrows – arise from this original mercy, or original blessing, as the former Dominican, Matthew Fox, called it. This is an act of Mercy because God has no need of you, no need of the universe, no need of creation at all. God’s love did this.

Then we want to think of human sin and its punishment. Yet we do not think of, even then, God’s constant mercy. For we know that sin is death. We know that we are cut off from the divine life by mortal sin (that’s why it’s called “mortal”) yet, in God’s mercy, we do not die, we are not “smote”. God lets us go on with an eye towards our repentance and restoration. Almost all of life, then, is a mercy. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions for that is part of the way the world functions: if you kill someone, they are really dead. You will grieve that action even if you are absolved. If you spread hate, you will suffer the social blowback from your actions even if you are able to grow towards love. If you commit sexual sin, there’s the possibility of a child, of disease, of re-writing the reward pathways in your brain towards an addiction. These are parts of the world in which we live and each sin means that we must deal with the actions. That’s not justice, though. It’s only the natural consequence. in some case the “really dead” or the “accidental child” my turn out to be a blessing or a curse, or even a cross, but it’s still not justice. No retribution is, of itself, justice. Eye for eye is not justice nor is, ironically, dropping things, walking away, forgetting…

God’s justice is a restoration of right relationship.

Imagine you are building a building as a contractor. The floor should be perfectly level. From that floor, at perfect 90° angles, should rise each of the walls – they are square. They stay straight, square with the floor all the way up, this means the walls are “plumb”. However, let us say that one wall begins to sag inwards. This wall will – eventually – make the adjoining walls weaker. They may begin to sag. And the roof could possibly collapse. So the owner calls you back and asks you to fix it – to make the wall square again. The process of returning the building to level, square, and plumb when projected on human relationships, is justice.

We want to think of Justice and Mercy in opposition, but, in fact, they are part and parcel of each other. Justice demands a right relationship. Mercy makes it mutually possible. Justice demands I share my surplus with the poor – not store it up in my new barns. Mercy (God’s kindness) allows me to have the grace to do it. It is not justice for the rich to hoard their wealth unless it is in order to more easily serve the poor. It is not mercy for us to say, “He can do whatever he wants with his stuff” for that leaves him in wrong relationship, leaves him in his sins. When we remind the rich man of his duty to justice and move him (through God’s grace) to restore a right relationship with the poor, that is mercy. When we use love to show someone walking away from God the right path, we are merciful: and that restores right relationship to God and others, that is justice.

They do not kiss together: they are the component parts of the same thing. Justice is the form of mercy. Mercy is the substance of justice.

Likewise the Sun of Justice and the Fiery Furnace. They are the same thing: it’s how we stand, if we’re level, square, and plumb. Or are are we sagging inwards, pulling down the whole structure? Do we want fixing or propping up? Do we need tearing down so that something good can be raised up instead? If we are falling apart, the fire will burn, but if we are solidly built in the faith, resting on the solid rock, rising like a tower, then the sunrise will show forth in the inviting colors of a new day.

God is a consuming fire. The only choice we have is shall we be consumed willingly or not.

No Longer Strangers

JMJ

THIS READING CAME UP a week or so ago on the Feast of St Simon and his buddy. It’s been a bit of a wrestling match since then. Getting along with Christians who disagree with us is part of this (that’s where our preacher took it last Friday). But it’s the relationship between our elder brothers, the Jews who follow Messiah, that interests me most here.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (RSVCE)

St Paul wrote this in 60 or 62 AD. And here we are nearly 2000 years later. So, by way of reminder: Paul is writing to a community made of of Jews and Gentiles who, together, have come to believe the Jesus is the Messiah long promised to the people of Israel. In this belief, they (Jews and Gentiles together) are worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These two groups feud a bit, ok. But here’s the rub. I think we hear it backwards today.

The issue with Jews and Gentiles was not only “should Gentiles become Jewish first…” (ie, get circumcised, etc). We can read it in Galatians as if it’s Gentiles doing Jewish things because they don’t feel on equal footing to be actually following the Jewish Messiah. Paul calls them, “You Foolish Galatians” for this. Who bewitched you? So some (at least – more? all?) of what Paul is writing is to Gentiles who do not need the courage to face off against the “Judaizers” but rather they need to be assured – in their own faith – that they are worthy to stand why they are. Remember, last week (hyperbolically) these Gentiles were killing bulls for the Magna Mater and offering incense to Caesar. Now they are following YHVH. What do they need to do? Nothing other than believe in Jesus. Paul says he used to persecute the Church and now he’s an apostle! How are we good enough?

In other words, what if Judaizing was the “pastoral accompanying” of the 1st century? You don’t feel good enough? We can make things easier for you: let me get my knife, and give up your bacon and sausage as well…

Paul assures the Gentiles that they, “are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”. This must refer to the covenanted household of Israel. There’s only a handful of Gentile believers in the world. There’s not even one generation of dead Christians yet. There’s about 2000-3000 of them (Gentiles and Jews together) at this point, honestly. Unless Paul means to limit that “household of God” to those 2500 people, then he’s reassuring his Gentile flock that they have been united to something much bigger than themselves. In Romans he will remind Gentiles that they have been grafted into Israel. It’s we (I’m a gentile, too) who are outsiders here, strangers, aliens. And Paul is telling us that through Jesus, we’re good enough to be here.

A lot of times when I hear these verses expounded they usually get read to be about the Jews trying to make us do things “like them”. It never gets around to the possibility it was Gentiles were not feeling included from our side; because of our own insecurity. Paul seems to be saying, Look, in Yeshua we’re all in this together. Gentiles have been united to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are no longer strangers in Israel. Mind you, I know that Jews would disagree with this reading soundly. But some good part of this is based on 2000 years of Gentile bully of Jews. Romans, for example, reads more as if Gentiles were trying to bully Jews into eating bacon. And Paul has to remind his Gentile followers that they have been grafted in and they can be cut out again, too.

Personally, it feels as if sometimes a fascination with “Jewish Roots” can be a type of envy: I have no history, no tribe, no culture other than that of a white, middle class, American male. Because of the chaos of the last few decades, I’m not really tied to “American” except by a reference to a common mythology about cherry trees and fireworks. What my grandparents fought for as “freedom” is deemed nearly-fascist oppression now. Persons born in the last 20 years would feel overly burdened by even my parents’ generational ideas of “gender roles”. And, even embedded in the culture, some are honest enough to admit it’s only about marketing. So, being disconnected from the past by our current world – but rejecting the present as hopelessly silly – I have no culture. From the 90s on, I’ve sought one: ancient religions, ancient languages, even ancient clothing. Gentiles of the 1st and 2nd Century AD would have been in the same boat: entirely cut off from their pagan past and their pagan present, they tried latching on to Judaism as a cultural home. It makes perfect sense. Here, at last, was a culture, traditions, language, and a people of which God fully approved. Heck, he (God) even spoke in Hebrew at the Creation of the World.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר׃

And God said, “yhee ohr”. See? He spoke Hebrew.

So why not convert to this culture as well as this religion?

But to retreat into this culture is to miss the boat entirely. God set up Israel, by Covenant, as a sacrament for the whole world; a sign and a reminder of the Eden that was – and was lost – and the Eden that will be in the World to Come. In Messiah, we Gentiles partake fully of that sacrament. We become not the sacrament but the presence itself. You are what you eat, but when we take communion we don’t become only more bread, but rather Jesus. And more ourselves as God intends.

Israel was the Host in the Monstrance. Now we eat, partake, and go out into the world to do the Gospel. The temple is no longer only in Jerusalem but in all the world.

We are grafted in. And in the grafting, the whole tree is changed.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

One God and Father of All, who is over all, through all, and in all.

Ephesians 4:6

P AUL CONTINUES HIS Meditation on the Fatherhood of God. It’s important to note that Paul is speaking to Pagans (and some Jews) who are now followers of Jesus. It’s important because of the difference in theology. In the Greco-Roman world there were a few “crossbreeds” of divine (or semi-divine)+humans. Some of these even resulted in traced bloodlines: for example, Caesar was divine, but his children were not (unless someone should become Caesar). But the bloodline of Egypt was considered divine (even as it was petering out). Alexander was called a god, but those who came after him, not really. Although they played it up a bit.

Now, here’s a father who loves you. Who wants what is best for you and – at the same time – what is best for everyone.

Why say no? Well, to be honest… we all know the answer. Yes, sin but it’s not enough just to say, “I’ve sinned.” It’s the realization that this Father requires everything:

  • Certainly Submission to his will; but also
  • full reliance on him even when you don’t understand
  • even for the little things which he enjoys doing for you
  • trust (faith) even when the lights have all gone out and it’s time to move forward
  • accepting that what he knows is best might actually hurt
  • an active, ongoing participation in the relationship
  • ideally, asking him for help means letting him do it
  • not letting anyone else get in line ahead of him; and finally
  • he’s got a list of do’s and don’t’s to talk about and he’s serious. They are not the one’s you think. Yes, sure, don’t kill anyone, for example, but don’t get angry with them either.

This Father is more than Dad.

He’s God.

And we need to let him be God, or this isn’t going to work out.

But if we let him do things his way, “over all, through all, and in all” will make perfect sense to you as will St Paul’s other interesting line about God, “In whom we live and move and have our being”.

How can you refuse?

Pro Patria

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

From whom every family on earth is named.

Ephesians 3:15

THERE IS A WORDPLAY here: the Greek word for Family is the same as the word for Father. Patria. In Latin Patria does double-duty as Father and Country (as in Fatherland) although some countries are “mother” like Russia. Anyway, Lay aside any issues the reader may have with God picking his own pronouns and focus on what Paul is actually saying here. Paul is paralleling the relationships of a person with their natural father, on the one hand, with the relationship of a redeemed person (in Christ) with God the Father.

Through the Spirit (sent by the Father) may the Son dwell in your heart that you may know the fullness of God within you.

It’s one of my favorite Bible passages, with Paul waxing poetic (and mystical) about “the breadth and length and height and depth” with nary an object in sight. Some translations stick in the love of Christ here, so that we can know that love, but that’s not the point. We’re not comprehending the love of Christ at all. “The breadth and length and height and depth” refer to the fullness of God.

Christ’s love is there… to give us the strength… to bear up with our high calling as Sons of God on earth. That’s not a metaphor: you have an earthly father, and now you have a Heavenly One as well. St Francis and a few others would say instead.

We are called to live, on earth, participating in the fullness of the Trinitarian Fellowship. Members of the Body of Christ (again, not a metaphor, but a spiritual reality) offering continually the Son’s worship of the Father, as Sons in the Son, and the love between us is the Holy Spirit.

This is the Fire that Jesus sets on the earth, mentioned in the Gospel. And this fire does divide us from those around us: if it’s not doing so, something is horribly wrong.

Thing is: we are to invite others into the fire with us.

About Those Nine

From: Good News for Modern Man
The Readings for the 28th Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)

In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18 (Alleluia Verse)

ARE THE OTHER NINE Bad or ungrateful? There’s a clue in Jesus’ command, “Go show yourselves to the priests…” Lepers were completely ostracised. They had to enforce their own banishment by announcing that they were unclean in order to scare others away. Yes, Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers is important, but there’s more going on here than just a cure.

Reading in Leviticus 14 you’ll find a long process of returning the banished Leper to full communion in Jewish society. There’s an eight-day waiting period, some sacrifices, a full body examination, the whole body must be shaved, there’s a red cord… it’s quite a deal. The 9 are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do to the letter of the law. There’s a hitch though: the Samaritan rejects the temple priesthood. They are unable to document his status as “clean” or “unclean”. In fact, to their eyes, he’s just unclean, full stop, because he is a Samaritan. And he probably doesn’t feel much different about the priests, himself.

All ten of them found out their status had changed: they were no longer leprosy positive. Nine of them had a long legal process to go through before they could see their families or get back to life in any way. Might as well get that process started: according to their religion, they had to do that eight-day thing even before Jesus could talk to them again.

But not the Samaritan. He is free to come back, indeed he has nowhere else to go. Time for some Geography. To “go to the priest” the lepers would have to go to Jerusalem. Indeed, Jesus is already on his way to Jerusalem so he’s (basically) sending the Lepers in front of Him. And, since Jesus has already traveled through Samaria (verse 11) on his way to Jerusalem since the Samaritan had turned back from Jerusalem, he would have to cross paths with Jesus again: that’s how he needs to go to get home. What’s happening in the Gospel Story here is only the logical result of a social divide between Samaritans and Jews and Luke’s knowledge of geography: Jerusalem is one way, Samaria the other.

Again, I want to be clear: the nine religious Jews would need to be certified as clean by the priests before they could interact with anyone. They are following the rules correctly. Additionally, they are doing exactly what Jesus told them to do – go show yourselves to the priest – that is, Jesus told them to obey the Torah.

Jesus’ response is telling: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” First off, the foreigner is thanking Jesus (v. 16) so the “to God” is made to point at Jesus. (The Greek parallels it as “give Glory to God” and “giving thanks to Jesus“.)

Thus, there is some way in this story in which God and Jesus are the same and where “Giving thanks/glory” to God is more important to Jesus/God than following the Jewish Law.

Giving thanks is a hallmark of Christian piety. Pauls command that we give thanks in all things is just the direct form of the teaching. We give thanks for everything so much so that Prof John Koenig questions if we’re not cited in the Mishna (Berakhot 5:3) “one who recites: We give thanks, we give thanks twice, they silence him” because “we give thanks/we give thanks” is the form of the Eucharistic prayer over bread and wine. This makes it a Christian thing rather than Jewish, which latter tradition forms prayers as blessings rather than thanksgiving. “Blessed are you, Lord our God… for having done this thing.”

The Nine Lepers went off to Jerusalem to recite the prescribed Blessings while the Samaritan came to Jesus giving thanks.

There is something else going on here. Two somethings else, actually.

Thing 1: Thanksgiving implies (I think) a more personal relationship. We send thank you notes to persons – generally not to institutions or agencies. We say thank you to people doing good deeds (even officials doing them) but rarely – or only ironically – do we thank ATMs, Siri, Google, etc. We say “thank you” to someone who has given us something freely, as part of a very intimate (even if momentary) relationship. It’s a sign of communion. While uncommon in the Hebrew liturgy, it’s not entirely absent, of course. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving” (Psalm 95). But on the personal level, Blessing God is far more common. Even in modern Israeli Hebrew, where many Americans might say “Thank God!” (with no particular deity in mind…) an Israeli speaker will say “Baruch HaShem!” It is often translated as “Thank God” but means “Bless the name!”

A blessing can imply a subordinate relationship (a parent blessing a child, for example) but that’s not what is going on when we bless God. This article is rather interesting since it calls blessings a way to “draw God” into the world.

The Zohar explains that “blessing” G-d is not simply praising G-d as the source of blessings; rather, it is related to the word hamavrich (הַמַּבְרִיךְ) found in the Mishnah,5 which means to “draw down.” In this sense, the word baruch means to draw blessings from their source.

Thus, when we bless G-d, we are asking that He draw down His G-dly revelation into the world. For example, when we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who heals the sick,” we are requesting that G-d express His revelation by breaking the nature of this physical world and healing the sick. When we say, “Blessed are you, G-d, who blesses the years” in the blessing for livelihood and produce, we request that G-dliness become revealed, causing rain to fall and vegetation to grow.

To draw an unwanted parallel, a blessing of God is a sort of sacrament. So it is like making Eucharist in a real, theological way.

Luke is generally seen as writing to a Gentile Audience – those evangelized by St Paul. Paul had many struggles with folks who really tried to make these Gentiles into Jews first (following the Torah rules). Luke seems to be asking his non-Jewish readers to bypass any Jewish tradition and just do the Gentile Believer thing of thanking Jesus. And he saying that’s ok: you don’t need to go through all those things if you’re making Eucharist (giving thanks) with Jesus. Further, though, the Samaritan giving thanks to Jesus is a way for the author to ask his few Jewish readers to realize that God’s Blessings Have Come into the World in this one Man. The power of God is active and present in a new – and permanent – way.

But Thing 2 is even more interesting: he’s sent the Nine Cleansed Lepers ahead of him to Jerusalem. They are apostles sent to the priests: here’s one last chance to get this right. Here’s the Good News if you’ll hear it. They won’t and don’t care. In fact, they get even more jealous at this point. But, there it is: Jesus has obeyed the law and sent them the cleansed Lepers. Rather than say, “Don’t tell anyone” he literally said, “Go tell the priest”.

They don’t listen.

Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

Other Brands Are Available

JMJ

This is an assignment for my Homiletics class. Randomly picks out of a hat, as it were, it’s a coincidence that these are the readings for last Sunday. Yes, these homily assignments are extremely on-brand for me.

The Readings for the 27th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you.

Luke 17:9-10a

THERE WERE SIX months when I tried my vocation as a Benedictine Monk, 8000 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. 11 inches of snow on May 1st, 2016 and our traditionalist monastic practice seemed to go on forever, like the snow. 

4:30 wake-up, Matins at 5. 45 mins for meditation. The offices of Lauds, and Prime, then a house meeting where we planned out the day. The 3rd hour was sung, then Mass. Then coffee. 

Father Abbot seemed happy for any pious excuse or extra devotion to maximize our liturgy. It kept growing longer.

One day as I was struggling, trying to pray through this telescoping dreamscape of liturgy, a thought came to me:

Remember: you’re a monk. What else do you have to do today?

That was the right idea! I relaxed into the deep end of liturgical traditionalism and began – anew – my monastic struggle in earnest.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The psalmist is not calling us to a beginning but rather into the middle of an ongoing story. The people of Israel are already on their journey. They have heard God’s voice several times.

If today you again hear his voice, harden not your hearts again. Nor tomorrow for that matter.

Jesus speaks of beginnings in our Gospel: Mustard seeds are tiny. Yet, elsewhere, Jesus says the mustard seed grows into the largest of trees and the birds of the air live in the branches.

But here? Jesus does go on, doesn’t he?

When a servant finishes one chore, does the master say, “Good job! Come chill out with me!” No. When you’re done with that, the master says to you, here’s another thing to do. And another. There will be rest when I’m done with you.

If you’re married, is there any time you get to say, “For a few moments I shall pretend I’m not married…”

No. There is not.

When we first give our lives to the Lord, we can imagine a one-and-done deal. But the Christian life is not like that at all. There is no minimum for success.

Jesus wants to be the Lord of our entire lives: our sexuality, our piety, our emotions, our politics, our friendships, our social media, our reading, our media consumption, our clothing choices.

Not a day passes when at least once, or more often more than once, Jesus says, “Huw? You forgot to give me that bit over there.”  Yet, when I hear his voice, often my first response is O, now hold up a minute God…

Jesus reminds us today that – like marriage – there is no time in the Christian life when you can pretend you’re not called to holiness,  no time to pretend you’re not in a deeply personal relationship with your Lord; no time to pretend you’re not a Christian. 

We all can recognize when such pretending happens: it’s called sin. We harden our hearts like that all the time. Rejecting his call. Refusing his love. Refusing to share his love with others.

Don’t.  If you hear his voice do not harden your heart!

Jesus reminds us of beginnings, but if a mere seed of faith can move blueberries, imagine how much more power there is when the tree is fully grown and providing shade and home for birds! Even then, Jesus reminds us to say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.”

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

In today’s 2nd Reading, Paul calls Timothy – and us – to “stir into flame the gift of God.” We must – by faith – stir our cooling embers back to full flame. Ask God what is needed and he will show you where to gently puff on the coals, where to stir, where to rake back the ashes.

And when you ask, don’t turn away from what God has for you next! It’s always your salvation. It’s always for your healing. He’s always calling us forward to holiness and sainthood. But, it is work!

Give yourself – entirely – to Jesus again. Invite him at Communion Time to be the Lord of your whole Life again.

Plant your mustard seed then let it grow.

Remember. You’re a Christian. What else do you have to do today?

How to Treat the Richest 1 Percent

Chrysostom Screaming at the Empress

JMJ

The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom, Doctor
24th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.

I Corinthians 12:12

TODAY is the Memorial of St John Chrysostom. By many lights, he is one of the greatest homiletic interpreters of St Paul. He’s a saint to whom any preacher should pray before presuming to preach. Although I’ve never felt him an especial patron, in terms of models and heroes, he’s certainly one I’d like to emulate for his relationship with the Holy Scripture, as is evident in his homilies, was one a personal friendship. And I would seek to cultivate that relationship, to – as the old prayer says – “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Bible. In fact, that is what this blog is mostly about.

But to do that – or to do anything in Christ at all – we must follow St Paul’s advice at the end of today’s readings. “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.” And he’s about to show us, although the lectionary cycle will be interrupted by tomorrow’s Feast of the Holy Cross, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by revealing his end goal: the greatest Spiritual gift is love. We have nothing if we haven’t love. And without love, all we have is worthless – even if we are Apostles, Prophets, Wealthy, Poor, man, woman, slave, free, it matters not. If we have not love, it’s worthless.

John Chrysostom is known for preaching an unvarnished Gospel: if he saw it in the text, it came out of his mouth. But he is also known for having no political savvy: so when he preached against sin, he was clear about what he was condemning. When he preached against greed the wealthy felt conviction individually and personally. He preached using what we would call, today, “hate speech”. If one was a sinner within earshot, Chrysostom had a gift of zeroing in on precisely the right words that would make you feel that your sin was, exactly, sin.

Today we dodge that.

Pray for the greater gift of love, though.

No sinner can be comforted in their sin by love.

No wealthy man can be comforted in his wealth by love just as no one can be comforted in their sexual sins by love. No married couple can be told by love it’s not their fault they picked “fur babies” over children for “economic” reasons. No couple can be told by love it’s ok their not sacramentally married in the Church.

But yet the very act of telling them requires love. John only got to screaming when people who should know better refused to listen.

Inside the Church, see, we’re all sinners. And so we are all parts of the body. Addiction (to sin) is a real disease. But we do not struggle alone: the entire body struggles together. And so the Christian standing next to us at Liturgy or sitting in the next pew is as much a Christian as anyone else in the room even if they refuse to see their sin, even if they are lost in the darkness of a past and cultural present that seemingly leaves them no choice but to choose their sin as their identity. They are part of the body and they must be loved into the fullness of the Gospel – even if they think they have it now.

How? As I said, tomorrow is the feast of the Holy Cross. No spoilers. But the answer is love.

Wrong Communion

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?l

I Corinthians 10:16 (NABRE)

THIS IS NOT REALLY ABOUT The readings (for Saturday, yes, I’m late…) but more “triggered” by the use of “participation” in this verse. That’s why it’s late: more of a ramble than a homily.

In the text Paul is saying, “Look, you know what we celebrate in the communion service, how we participate in Jesus? (Then he mentions the sacrifice of the Temple – see that’s communion, we’re doing that with Jesus.) You don’t want to accidentally or on purpose do that with idols. You can’t celebrate an idol. There is no “Zeus” or “Hera”. So when you eat food offered to idols, what are you doing? Communing with the demons who are pretending to be gods to get the people to worship them! DON’T DO THAT!” In these ancient cultures, the food offered for sale at the market could have been offered to idols. Or the local temple might celebrate a festival and give away food. You could be communing with demons at your table tonight. This is one reason Judaism has its own butcher system. It makes for a simple rule: if the item is not Kosher, don’t eat it. Paul is saying, not quite that, but more like if it’s purposefully unkoshered by offering to idols, you can’t eat it at all. Thankfully, food at your local Publix, Safeway, or Piggly Wiggly is generally not offered to demons (as far as we know). Yet. But demons are crafty. Paul’s condemnation was not because he thought Christians were getting tricked into Demon Worship by crafty friends, but because he was worried they were “playing along to get along”: getting free food like all their neighbors, shopping where others shopped, not wanting to offend the local community by not-supporting powerful people. It’s this – and not meat, per se– that can lead to “communion with demons”. We know the idols are nothing. But the demons are crafty.

So, on to the meditation “triggered” by this.

What is the communion we share with Jesus? What is the participation? So many people try to tone this down or roll it back to something less than it is.

First, there is this undeniable connection we all share: God is the, if you will, beingness of all being. Any thing in the universe that has being receives its beingness from God. A thing cannot be without God willing it; not just willing it into being, but actively and continually, in God’s love, sustaining it. God’s active will keeps you here, keeps your internet device here, keeps the internet here, keeps my server here, keeps me here, and keeps these pixels here for you to parse them out. God’s love wills your brain to be present and active, and mine as well, this entire act of communion and communication from me to you is one not just permitted, but lovingly carried forward by God. Even those things classed as evil share in this beingness sustained in God’s love.The more evil things actually hate that they are sustained thus.

Christians have another level. Through the grace of Baptism, Jesus now dwells in us, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our heart is made a Temple of the Godhead: he has made his home in us (John 14:23). This is true, following baptism, even if we fall away from the faith and pay no further mind to this presence. The humility of God, ignored in the silent and unadorned tabernacle of such a heart, should inspire us because of his evident love and horrify us for the same reason. We should make reparations not only for infractions against the Blessed Sacrament where Jesus is living and active, but for those Christians who ignore God, no less living and active in their own heart.

On this level of participation, something else happens as well: we enter fully into our anointed function of little Christs, of Sons and Daughters of God in the Son of God.

As God the Son rests in contemplation of the Father, we too, resting in the Son, engage in that contemplation. As the love that is the Holy Spirit is aspirated from the Father and the Son, he is also shared with us. Thus we embody in ourselves the active dance that is the Trinity, infinitely impossible to exhaust but carried by each Christian to its fullness, as each is enable by Grace.

This is the content, then, of our participation. Yet it’s not the full implication. This resting in communion with the Trinity is, as I mentioned, present because of our Baptism. We can ignore it or even reject it. From the first mortal sin to the final rejection of death, the Holy Light of Divine Love becomes an ever more-consumming fire. In the end, like the evil creatures mentioned above, we burn with an intense hatred of the eternal fire at the core of our being and, having created hell for ourselves, we have no other place to rest.

St Seraphim of Sarov counseled that if we “acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved”. By our participation in this communion, if we side with the flame, and elect freely to burn with that love, then we set the whole world on fire. Our holiness (which isn’t ours, but rather God’s) pours out into the world and into the lives of those around us.

Our participation in the Body and Blood of Jesus becomes thus a way to actively advance the Kingdom of God in the world. Conversely, any participation in the un-lives of the idol demons, that is active rejection of God’s gift of communion, is antithetical to that same Kingdom. Unsaying St Seraphim, to promote sin is to damn those same thousands around us. As I mentioned, demons are crafty. Our playing along to get along, our consumption of the “meats” offered to sexual sins and other cultural idols is an easy way to lead astray thousands at one time.

It’ll All Work Out

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin
23rd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 (NABRE)

THERE ARE THREE people in the Western Christian Tradition whose birth is commemorated: John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus. In the Eastern or Byzantine tradition, all three also have their conceptions on the Church calendar (in the West the Conception of the Baptist – on 23 September – is not commemorated). If you look at the stories told about these three births and conceptions, you realize God plans in the long range. Generations go by, millennia, before even a small part of a plan comes to fruition and, even then, it can take further millennia before the full scope is realized.

The fullest realization of God’s plan has not yet unfolded. Yet it has, already, done so: “Already/Not Yet” is a thing for us. That unfolding is completed and in Messiah.

Back in February I wrote of the passing of a friend, a Seminary Professor in Biblical Languages. When I first met her, she drew a diagram on a chalkboard.

That weekend she spoke about something that has stuck with me all this time. For me, the meaning has changed, evolving now into something that’s more orthodox and Catholic, but it began there with Minka drawing a chart on the wall. I remember it still. Beginning on the left with “Genesis” and across from left to right a list of a bunch of other books to “Revelation” she pointed out that we think of Biblical history like this. But, in fact, different books were written at different times and not always in chronological order. Here she moved the Gospels to after the Epistles to underscore that Paul was writing first…

Then she drew a horizontal line across the board and bisected the line with a Cross and she wrote, “If anyone is in Christ they are a New Creation”. And, without ever mentioning Patristics or what I’ve come to understand as “recapitulation,” she explained how Christ was the beginning of something new.

That chart still describes my understanding of the Bible and of all history. Last weekend (Saturday 3 September 2022), nearly 40 years later, the same chart was drawn on a board by another professor, this time a Dominican Friar teaching Homiletics. All of history leads up to the Cross and all of history points back to the cross. All of time, BC and AD, is nothing but the shockwave of the incarnation echoing through time and space, giving a cruciform pattern to all of creation.

This is what we mean when we say that the Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Not that minute details of his life were predicted and he. made them true, like someone living out the predictions of an old gypsy woman in an episode of Archer. Rather we mean that at its deepest enfolding all of history comes to a point at the Cross. The deepest meaning in anything in the Torah, the Prophets, or the Writings, the Gospels, the Epistles, or the Apocalypse; the fullest understanding of anything God ever said to his people before or after the Time of Jesus, is found in Jesus. This is why his name means wholeness: all things find their fulfillment, their fullness, their wholeness in him.

This is what we mean when we say all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. The Only Good is salvation in Jesus and all things point to Jesus. All things point to Salvation, all things (if we but let them, even those seemingly the most horrendous) move us to the Only Good that is: Jesus.

Today is the Birthday of the Mother of God. Here is what St Andrew of Crete says (as read in today’s office of readings):

The fulfillment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit. For the law’s consummation was this, that the very lawgiver accomplished his work and changed letter into spirit, summing everything up in himself and, though subject to the law, living by grace. He subordinated the law, yet harmoniously united grace with it, not confusing the distinctive characteristics of the one with the other, but effecting the transition in a way most fitting for God. He changed whatever was burdensome, servile and oppressive to what is light and liberating, so that we should be enslaved no longer under the elemental spirits of the world, as the Apostle says, nor held fast as bondservants under the letter of the law.

This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed. This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages.

Justly, then, do we celebrate this mystery since it signifies for us a double grace. We are led toward the truth, and we are led away from our condition of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? Darkness yields before the coming of the light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom. But midway between the two stands today’s mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new. Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day. Let there be one common festival for saints in heaven and men on earth. Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.

Mary is “the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new.” In Orthodox Hymnody she is referred to as she whose “womb is more spacious than the heavens” for she contained therein the infinite God who cannot be contained. Today is born the new and everlasting temple and “this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things.

In Mary is our antitype, and let us all, by her prayers, be “newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”

All Good things pass through this Gate, and let us welcome them!

Loving is not A Like and Share.

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

Luke 6:26 (NABRE)

THE NEED TO HAVE other speak well of one’s self is, perhaps not always as great as the need to have others speak well of one’s self in one’s own hearing. If word reaches us that so-and-so has said something bad it’s not, perhaps, as bad as if so-and-so had said it directly into our own ears. Possibly. At least for this writer, the constant quest for likes and shares has lead to the death of many a moment of spiritual growth.

More than that, the desire to have people speak well of one has, perhaps, become a way of life: we create tailored self-images on social mediae, sometimes multiple ones, to garner more likes. It’s not that one has a perfect life, but rather one has several perfect lives: social posting on FB, beautiful travel photos on Insta, a very wisdom-laden (or humor-laden) YouTube, a Twitter of perfect snark and spicy takes, and a blog of great vulnerability. They may not all weave well together, but different followers on different planets get views curated for them. And the like pour in. If one, like the present writer, works in tech as well, then one’s own job feels like that as well: doing something for the thumbs-up and for the pleasure of having people speak well within earshot.

Then I got a job where that’s not how things work at all.

Suddenly it was literally not about likes or shares, but about actual service to actual persons (which is what customer service – especially in tech – is exactly not about). Suddenly things were harder because there are real people expressing their own vulnerability and asking for help. And that does not always put people in the best of moods. And even that requires one to be loving.

Suddenly it got hard and that’s literally what it’s supposed to be: loving folks is not about likes and shares. In fact, it’s entirely antithetical to the culture created by likes.

One way to read Jesus’ list of blessing and woes is to see it as a commentary on the World vrs the Gospel. But another way to read it (in our present world) is just simply about the virtual world of the internet: the rich, the filled, the laughing, the being spoken well of are all virtual (because you can tell from Jesus’ words) they are all lies. If a blithering fool, lost in his sins and unaware of God, speaks well of you what value is it? If that same fool speaks ill of you because of God well, then, you’ve perhaps started on the pathway to Truth.

I don’t doubt that the internet is a new mission field. But, in some ways, we blunder into it unaware of the damage it does. We send n00bs in there, unprotected from the wiles of dopamine addictions, and wonder why they get looped into the culture – going native.

We’ve sent former alcoholics as evangelists on a tour of all the distilleries in Scotland. God bless you, go win some souls for Jesus out there among all the malts and barleys.

We should let only the most advanced monastics into the internets as evangelists, and even they might have trouble telling the virtual from the real, telling the likes and shares from the actual winning of souls. The latter is what Jesus sends us out to do, the former will cost us our own.