A family like yours or mine…


JMJ

The Readings for TuesdayToday is  in the 5th Week of Easter (B2)
St Joseph the Worker

Quoniam per multas tribulationes oportet nos intrare in regnum Dei. 
Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. 

Today is the Memorial of St Joseph the Worker. I think Joseph knew tribulations: there was the mystery of his not-yet-wife who was with child, the trip to Bethlehem that became a three year sojourn in Egypt, Herod’s soldiers, snoopy neighbors, and a business to run.

Today’s feast is one of the most powerful reminders that the Holy Family was a normal, every-day family. Filled with the presence of God and the actions of God, yes; like your family or mine is supposed to be.

Today’s feast is a reminder of the dignity of human labor. Pope St John Paul the Great said that work is one thing we share, as humans, with God the Creator: 

THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

We forget this thing: this mark of a person acting within a community. For many of us it is a struggle: we don’t have work, or we want different work, or we think we should be getting paid more, or we can’t earn enough to care for our families. More and more, today, the idea that work at all can be honored is giving rise to multiple layers of class within our society. The “elite” and the “blue color” spurn each other. Within tech companies engineers and operations folks can be seen on opposite sides of a huge divide. In San Francisco, in the wee hours of the morning, it’s interesting to me that the buses heading west bound on their routes are filled with blue color labor, while across the street and headed easterly, are white color folks earning many times more than the blue color folks. They want very little to do with each other, engaged in each their own struggle.

A friend of mine spends her day working with the Homeless of SF. Many of the Homeless lost their apartments because a greedy landlord took advantage of a loophole in the law. The newly rich move into the building, the newly homeless end up on the street. But then the newly rich complain about the newly homeless on the streets and the cycle begins again. My own industry seems to spawn folks who are both afraid of the homeless and quick to call the police. According to Christian Teaching. we have an obligation to bring the Gospel to everyone, rich and poor We have an obligation to heal the wounds in our society as well. We are called  to unite the broken bits into one. This is not an easy task when the sides are not only alienated, but are also made to be at odds with each other.

This is where the Church is needed, I’m convinced, and perhaps not only in SF.  She needs to be an advocate for Justice, and a salve on the societal wounds. St Joseph, as the universal patron of the Church, is needed: respecter of the poor, advocate for the laborer – even one who is unemployed, model of protective care for the family and for the Church, his intercession as we work to resolve these issues in our world is needed. 

Some random trivia: the Main Feast of St Joseph is 19 March, the traditional day (and Pre-schism, for what it’s worth). But that is always in Lent – and sometimes in Holy Week. So it often gets played down and, sometimes, transferred to another period after Easter. In a desire to give St Joseph a proper feast… (quoth the wiki):

Between 1870 and 1955, an additional feast was celebrated in honor of Saint Joseph as Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, the latter title having been given to him by Pope Pius IX. Originally celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter with an octave, after Divino Afflatu of Saint Pius X (see Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X), it was moved to the preceding Wednesday (because Wednesday was the day of the week specifically dedicated to St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist and local patrons). The feast was also retitled The Solemnity of Saint Joseph. This celebration and its accompanying octave were abolished during the modernisation and simplification of rubrics under Pope Pius XII in 1955.
At the same time, Pope Pius XII established an additional Feast of “St. Joseph the Worker”, to be celebrated on 1 May, in order to coincide with the celebration of International Workers’ Day (May Day) in many countries.

This extra feast was a First Class Feast among the Dominicans at least in 1962 (as it is in the Extraordinary Form, still)… not sure what it is now. In the General Roman Calendar, this is an Optional Memorial which means it hasn’t any readings assigned to it. So it takes the readings of the day.

Through many tribulations… Joseph had those. But St Joseph embodies two other virtues that make him difficult to swallow for those who might otherwise celebrate 1 May: silence and patience. The walk to justice is not achieved by stealing from either side to give to the other, but rather by coming together to work for a resolution. Repentance and forgiveness are needed for healing. St Joseph’s patience, prayer, and labor, make a difficult model for us to follow. But he is no different than any other Christian saint in this respect. 

A blessed feast!

I in you.


JMJ

The Readings for  the 5th Sunday of Easter (B2)
Among the Dominicans, The Feast of St Catherine of Siena

Ut credamus in nomine Filii ehe Catechism Tjus Jesu Christi : et diligamus alterutrum…
We should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ: and love one another…

Believe and Love. The words in Greek are  and πιστεύω pisteuo and ἀγαπάω agapao. To Trust in the name of Jesus and to Love, which, as Strong’s puts it, “to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of” another. The Catechism ❡1766 cites St Thomas who, in turn, is citing Aristotle: amare est velle alicui bonum. To love is to wish good to someone. In Italian today, one would use “ti voglio bene”, literally, “I will you good” to say “I love you” to anyone in a non-romantic, non-sexual way. 

Trust in the Name of Jesus and will the good of others. That’s such an easy… such a hard thing to do. 

But the Gospel gives us the meaning, the essence, if you will, behind these Johannine accidents. 

Dixit Iesus: Ego sum vitis, vos palmites : qui manet in me, et ego in eo, hic fert fructum multum, quia sine me nihil potestis facere.
Jesus says: I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.  

We can do nothing at all without Jesus. In fact, agape – that divine sort of love – is Jesus loving in us and through us. We can’t do that at all. Our human nature won’t let us open up to that sort of self sacrifice, that sort of self-emptying. We want to put ourselves front and center. I love you. ME. This is me loving you. Love me back. 

That’s not agape: that’s a new species of selfish.

I recently finished Corrie Ten Boome’s The Hiding Place and I’ve started on the sequel, Tramp for the Lord. Listening to Corrie struggle with loving is so educational. She knows she is supposed to love the Nazis, supposed to love the person beating her up, but she can’t. So she prays to Jesus to love through her. Suddenly she’s winning a soul for Christ, leading them to Salvation. 

That’s love. Bringing another closer to Christ is the only good there is: if I open my heart to Christ, he can Love you through me. And if I do my job right, the person being loved won’t even see me, but only Christ.

When we draw near to the Sacrament, it’s not for something that we should ask. We should be there to unite ourselves to Christ. All the other things will fall into place if we are there to unite ourselves to Christ. And Love (which is God) will be the natural outgrowth of that action; disinterested, unselfish, agape.  The Eucharist, bearing the accidents of bread and wine, but the essence of Christ, make us into itself: bearing the accidents of our presence in the world, but in essence Christ himself. We are the Body of Christ… if we let our ego out of the way.

Trust in Jesus – like Corrie did – and let him Agape through you to win souls for his Kingdom.

Sometimes it’s totally needed

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Verba quae ego loquor vobis, a meipso non loquor.
Pater autem in me manens, ipse fecit opera.

The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. 

The Father who abideth in me, he doth the works.


The Father speaks… the Father does… the Father abides in me. And elsewhere, “I and the Father are one.”

Jesus is God acting for us, but equally important: Jesus is God acting with us. This is so central to Christianity: the incarnation. If Jesus is not God, Christianity is entirely meaningless. What we have left – without the incarnation – is a few platitudes you can get from Socrates, the Hebrew Scriptures, Lao Tzu… pretty much anyone, really. And they are spoken by a total nut case that repeatedly makes the blasphemous claim that he is God. I don’t need a nut case to teach me to love my neighbor, neither do you.

But if Jesus is God acting for us, acting with us, then something important is happening.

Once I read a book called Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. Drawing on primary sources, the writer claims – happily enough –  it was because of all the things we believe about him as Christians. The man made blasphemous claims. He misinterpreted scriptures. He made poor political choices. He was a nut case.

So you have a choice to make: to side with those who say all these claims are false. Or to side with those who say all these claims are true. To say he never made these claims is a red herring: both his enemies and his friends say he made these claims.

You choice is who do you trust.

Elsewhere St Paul says that in rejecting Jesus, the people of Israel allowed the Gospel to be brought to the Gentiles. Today’s reading from Acts is the same: Vobis oportebat primum loqui verbum Dei : sed quoniam repellitis illud, et indignos vos judicatis aeternae vitae, ecce convertimur ad gentes. To you [the Jews] it behoved us first to speak the word of God: but because you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles. 

Paul says, elsewhere, that he would give anything to bring his own people to the Gospel. But he knows God will work that out in the end – and through their rejection, a beautiful thing has happened. The Gospel has gone into all the world. And this has come up in the last few days’ readings: the persecution in Jerusalem spread the Church all over the Eastern Mediterranean world. The persecution in Damascus and Antioch pushed the Church to the edges of the known world. In rejection the Gospel is not weakened, but rather is pushed further in God’s grace.


We forget that in Christ we are not doing things, but rather letting God do through us. We are not speaking or teaching, but rather letting God teach through us.  Our success or failure is not on the worldly plan (did we keep that Job, get that mortgage, win the big game) but rather on the heavenly plan; Was the Kingdom of God advanced?

This is only true because this was God acting with us; because Jesus is God acting with us. In the Gospel we are drawn out of the machinations of this world, out of the power plays in this world, into the action of God. We don’t just “get a job” by “acing an interview”. We get a new group of souls to shepherd. We don’t simply find a a new home, or get a lucky parking space: we are given a new mission field. When we turn to these places (instead of God) as sources of comfort, as possessions instead of commissions, we compromise our souls. It takes full on rejection to get us back on track.

Tertullian says, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. We needn’t go that far, but if we need that reminder, it is God’s grace that brings it to us. Let us be open to that dance. 

Deep Data from before the Beginning of Time.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Hujus Deus ex semine secundum promissionem eduxit Israel salvatorem Jesum,
Of this man’s seed God according to his promise, hath raised up to Israel a Saviour, Jesus. 

Of this man’s seed. This one guy. God doesn’t do abstractions. God does particularities. One particular family (Abraham, not Lot), one particular son (Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau); one People, Israel; one particular tribe, Judah. One Family, Jesse. One Son, David. One Family, One Son, One God: Jesus.

This is the thing that always drives people crazy: the God of the Bible does not work in vague abstractions but in solid particularities.

Our lives are rather the same: being very devoid of abstractions and filled with particularities. This makes sense for we are made in God’s image. But what child, if asked, would ever say, “I’m a toddler”? Would she not rather say,  “I’m two and three quarter years old!” Only with vanity does culture teach us how to say “Twenty Nine Again…” We confuse data points with reality, forgetting that data is made up on anecdotes and anecdotes are people. Lives. Human lives of particularities.

God doesn’t care about data points: God loves you.

Christianity: the doctrine that an infinite, omniscient, and omnipotent person created a universe literally billions of light years across, filled with a near infinity of galaxies, stars, planets, and even, maybe, beings all to have a deeply personal and intimate relationship with you.

Particularities. Not Abstraction.

You, my dear reader, are not a data point. 

I watch my “hit meter”.  I don’t know much about my blogger stats, but I do know that when I use the Arabic word for the Greek ascesis or the Slavonic, podvig; when I use the Arabic word I can get a few extra hundred hits. I don’t know who they are, they are all Data Points. But my average is about 40-50 hits per post. Hits. Clicks. Views. Actually: People, right? Abstractions are cool and all, but each view is actually a pair of eyes with one brain behind them. There is one person, one image of God reading my blog.

How much of life is only abstractions rather than particularities? How many times are we willing to see the forest, but not the trees? How many websites make choices based on percentage points rather than pain points; on click bait and not content? How many media companies make choices based on eye balls and not morals? How many politicians make promises based on polls and not values?

If you clicked through to this post from Facebook or Twitter it was because some Media Data put my post in front of your eyes. And you clicked: making a data point in someone’s dossier on you. And me. This is not a privacy rant: I don’t care. I have to use social media to evangelize just as St Paul did. But I’m never writing for abstractions: only for persons.

God has created you, Dear Reader, for a purpose, a mission. God has given you a specific set of experiences, of challenges, of gifts, of weaknesses, to be of particular use in a certain way at a certain time. You are not a random accident waiting to happen. You are a particularity, a scandal of particularity, whom God loves deeply and personally.

A challenge: as God raised up one man of one house of one tribe of one people, can you move through the world focused instead of diffused, looking at instead of “seeing”, connecting with persons instead of “being present”? Can you be one person talking to one person, not points in a continuum?


Here Kitty, Kitty.

JMJ

The Readings for St Mark, Evangelist
Wednesday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Sobrii estote, et vigilate : quia adversarius vester diabolus tamquam leo rugiens circuit, quaerens quem devoret : cui resistite fortes in fide.
Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith.


The Devil is at once very popular today and also totally ignored. I know a couple of bars in San Francisco named after the Darker Powers and I can vouch for the presence of same in them. But the folks otherwise occupied in those spaces probably think it’s spooky and cool to have a “mythological” name. Who’s scared of that old crap anyway?

This is where the Roaring Lion looks like just a big kitten. Get drunk, take home a demon. It’s fun.

Pope Francis gives us this advice in his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete & Exsultate:

160. We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding… He is present in the very first pages of the Scriptures, which end with God’s victory over the devil. Indeed, in leaving us the Our Father, Jesus wanted us to conclude by asking the Father to “deliver us from evil”. That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more exact translation would be “the evil one”. It indicates a personal being who assails us. Jesus taught us to ask daily for deliverance from him, lest his power prevail over us.
161. Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities. “Like a roaring lion, he prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).

This short text opens Compline (a.k.a. Night Prayer) every night in the Extraordinary Form.  At my former Monastery we chanted it in the Relic Chapel, before processing into the Oratory and we followed it with a nightly rite of mutual forgiveness at which each member of the community bowed to the floor before every other member of the community – individually – and asked forgiveness of any sins that might have come to pass during the day. (To be clear that rite of mutual forgiveness is a community tradition and not common in other Western Monasteries, but it was very well placed here.)

Elsewhere St Paul says, “Sol non occidat super iracundiam vestram. Nolite locum dare diabolo.”  Let not the sun go down upon your anger. Give not place to the Devil. This rite of Mutual Forgiveness and “adversarius vester diabolus” go together in a very real way.  The end of the day, the wrapping up of business, and Satan waiting to devour one: it’s all connected somehow. 

Our Ancestors (like Sts Mark, Peter, and Paul) would have been in bed not long after sundown. Our ancestors engaged in something called segmented sleep: so once the oil burned low or there was no candles, everyone went to bed. They woke up in the middle of the night and cogitated for an hour or so. They reproduced. They plotted. Then went on starlit strolls. Then they went back to sleep until sunrise. This sleep pattern is so ingrained in humanity that we still wake up in the middle of the night. (For us it’s a torture: we’ve probably only been in bed an hour or so.  Or else we’re going to get up soon. We turn on the lights, get up and read or eat.)  Anyway, I digress: this segmented sleep, and this nocturnal waking, for anyone who has gone to bed with any sort of anxiety or strong emotion, you know that you wake up usually in the full throes of that very same thought pattern. 

St Paul knows that going to bed with sinful thoughts, or anger, or some other rupture of communion means that when you wake up at 1:00 AM to ruminate, this is going to be all you’re thinking about. Anyone who has ever had a spouse or partner sleeping next to them whilst, they themselves rehashed the argument from dinnertime over and over knows what this is about. Why wake up your sleeping spouse when you know what s/he would say anyway? Let the argument run in your head. You can get angry at them all by yourself.

The Cuddly Kitten might start to roar a bit more now.

This is why we have to resist the Devil “fortes in fide” or strong in faith or, as the Greek should be translated: steadfast in Trust. The next text is the key: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. We are all going through this nightly and constant temptation. We are all called to pray for each other, to help each other struggle. We have to cheer each other on when we are winning and send each other back to the battle when we are losing the ascesis, the struggle, the jihad. We are called to do this together. There is no I in “Saved”: it’s a team sport. We all do it together or it doesn’t happen. 

We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people.(Gaudete & Exsultate) 

No one is saved alone. It’s an all-or-nothing option. Satan knows if he can trip you up in your late night anxiety attacks, or in your petty cubicle turf wars if he can get you, he can get a few of your friends too. Lions know: go for the weak ones.  You can get the whole flock going one at a time.
This is where mutual forgiveness comes in: because any sin hurts all of us. Any sin is a sin against God and everyone else. My personal peccadilloes are damaging (and damning) to all of you. Before I sleep I need forgiveness from all of you – and you need it of me. Thus, be fore we sleep, we can restore unity and communion to the whole body. We can heal the divisions that only serve as points of entry to the Devil.
Your duty to be firm in trusting Jesus doesn’t just help you: it saves the whole flock.


Hanukkah in the Nile.

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Quousque animam nostram tollis? si tu es Christus, dic nobis palam.
How long dost thou hold our souls in suspense? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. 

The Feast of the Dedication. Jesus is chilling in the temple at Hanukkah. The crowds are like, “Really, Say Something”. His reply is “When I speak you don’t listen. When I perform the prophesied signs, you ignore them.” I’m reminded of the folks who eliminate sayings they don’t like from the Bible and then say, “But Jesus never claimed to be God…”

These are the answers we have, the text that we have, the Jesus we have. You can do do the Bible what Peter Jackson did to Lord of the Rings, or you can settle in and wrestle with it, with the claims it makes, with the pictures it paints. But really we do this all the time, right? The addict who ignores all the signs of her addiction. The couple that ignores all the signs of their relationship’s demise.  The young Christian who ignores how dangerous sex is to his prayer life. The parish that ignores the culture outside until everyone is dead inside and no new members come in.

When something makes us uncomfortable we are willing to get so deep in denial that if we could come up for air we’d see the Pyramids.

Jesus says that his sheep will see what’s going on and understand. But if we’re not of his sheep we won’t get it. Well that makes it seem like a lot of folks are congenitally out of the picture, right? That’s not what he’s saying at all. Yet to become a sheep you have to take a risk: step out of line with the world and try trusting Jesus.

If you won’t accept any answers only because they were not the answers you wanted, then you’re never going to find Truth. You can sit on the sidelines and say “Show me” and “Prove it”. Or you can watch folks walking on fire and try it yourself.

The only thing you have to lose is the fear.

I want you. To want me.

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 3rd Week of Easter (B2)

Ego sum panis vitae.
I am the bread of life.

In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer 1979 there is a Eucharistic Anaphora that includes the lines: 

Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only and not for renewal.

Yesterday, however, I heard a sermon at 6:30 mass which cut me to my quick and added another “for…. only and not for….” to the list. In fact it’s the only thing that should be on the list.

Fr Justin said that Christ is not a “Costco and Kaiser Permanente combined”. I realized that I have been – for several years, really –  been coming to communion for the effects of the sacrament, but not for the reality of it. I’ve not been coming for Christ, himself.

I long for healing from my sins. I crave salvation and eternal life. I want reunion with those gone from me. I’ve a long list of intentions, too: prayers for those dealing with addiction, for friends in family problems, for the homeless, for peace, for the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, etc. But how have I come for solace and renewal, for pardon and strength, and yet not been coming for Christ, himself?

Ego Sum. I am. God’s divine name. I am the Bread of Life. Jesus, himself.

This is the gift of the Eucharist. All those other things may happen but it is Christ, himself, the flesh of God, born of Mary; this is the miracle of Grace that comes to us in the Mass: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Yes, I know that. I never forgot it. But it was not why I was there.

Jesus says qui venit ad me, non esurient. He that cometh to me shall not hunger. But we should not come to him so that we are not hungry. We come to him. Then we are not hungry: Jesus wants us to want him for himself, to love him because of Love. Because he first loved us. We can be gold diggers looking for a sky-bound sugar daddy. 

We have a generous and a gracious God who gives us his very self. 

Why relish the bread of life for the side effects?

When the heart is ready the teacher will come.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 2nd Week of Easter (B2)

Surgens autem quidam in concilio pharisaeus, nomine Gamaliel, legisdoctor, honorabilis universae plebi, jussit foras ad breve homines fieri, dixitque ad illos…
But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while. And he said to them…

The Church’s tradition, celebrated especially among the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, is that Gamaliel and his son were converts and the former, at least, is a saint. The translation of his relics is celebrated on 2 August. The Church’s tradition is that Gamaliel buried St Stephen on his own estate after the latter was stoned.

In a lot of ways, Acts is really the story of St Paul with this long intro. We tend to forget: Gamaliel was St Paul’s teacher. So, somewhere in this room of angry men, yelling for blood and demanding the death of the Prince of the Apostles… somewhere here is one Sha’ul of Tarsus. How else do we know these words at all? The “good guys” are out of the room. Paul is here, listening, and hearing the words of his Teacher speaking here, maybe taking notes, a transcription, as it were. Later it is Paul who tells these words to Luke.

And so, deeply tonight as I was thinking about this, I was struck by the image of St Gamaliel praying for his student… as he stomps off angrily to Damascus.

If you’ve seen the movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ, there’s a lot of violence: the movie makes much of St Paul’s blood-lust directed at these odd followers of this Jesus. In Acts, the Latin says spirans minarum, et caedis, breathing out threatenings and slaughter… and as I write I’m seeing Gamaliel kneeling in prayer for his student’s conversion. And praying in all righteousness that God would show the light to this angry young man, Sha’ul.

Do you ever think of prayer as the first weapon of Evangelism? If you love someone so much you want to win them for Christ, how can you not pray for them – by name, not in the Abstract. Not all of us are called to be Evangelists: that is one of the gifts of the spirit, yes, but some are called to it and others are not. But all of us are called to go and make Disciples. Discipleship starts way before evangelism. Before the evangelism, before the preaching, before the Romans’ Road to Salvation, have you prayed for that soul? Have you got down and begged God to show his light to someone, or are you trying to elbow you way through the crowd to beat God to the punch?

St Gamaliel, pray for… who would you name here?

Verba Vitae

JMJ

The Readings for the 2nd Wednesday of Easter (B2)

Ite, et stantes loquimini in templo plebi omnia verba vitae hujus. 
Go, and standing speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. 

What are omnia verba vitae hujus? What are all the words of this life? Is this the idea you have of a corner evangelist? When you hear such do you hear him speaking the words of this life? In Greek the phrase is ῥήματα τῆς Ζωῆς ταύτης rhemata tes Zoes tautes… the phrase is used elsewhere, in John. When, after explaining the Eucharist, all the folks get disgusted because Jesus really says “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood”. And folks leave. And Jesus says to the 12, “Are you going to leave too?” and they say “you have the ῥήματα ζωῆς, the rhemata Zoes, the words of life”. 

That’s not an accidental parallel for there are other Greek words that mean “life” or even “Way of Life” and there are other Greek words for “word”.  Rhemata means “teaching” rather than a literal word. Zoe, in the scriptures, is the divine life, given to us by Grace. It’s very different from the life of simply “breathing”. That life ends. Zoe is the life of God which never dies. The whole purpose of the Christian Way is to replace mere breathing with actual living, with Zoe.

The Rhemata Zoes. Go into the temple and speak all the Rhemata Zoes to the people. Jesus has the words of Zoe in John, but the Apostles are commanded to speak about this Zoe… and since we’ve just been hearing in the preceding chapter about the Christian Community’s patterns of living together, holding all things in common, of praying and making Eucharist together, this is this Zoe. This community acting this way is the Christian life: not a sinner’s prayer and hope to see you next week, nor a come to mass and go home alone sort of thing at all. But live together, sharing all things, doing in Jesus’ name all the things that get done.

That is this life. It is shared, from the get go. Pope Francis said, in the Apostolic Exhortation released recently: We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. 

The pope continues, 

14. To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.[14]

15. Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life (cf. Gal 5:22-23). When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better”. In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scripture, the sacraments, holy places, living communities, the witness of the saints and a multifaceted beauty that proceeds from God’s love, “like a bride bedecked with jewels” (Is 61:10).

16. This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures. Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.

This life of Holiness, the Rhemata Zoes… it continues. We should speak it always and everywhere.


A Community of Christians in Charity with the World


JMJ

The Readings for in Easter Week (B2)


Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos.
For neither was there any one needy among them.

They will know we are Christians by our love, y’all.  So where are there needy folks sitting in the pew next to you, or on the bus next to you, wait: I bet you drive to work. You don’t notice unless they ask for money at the exit ramp, I bet.


By a blessing of liturgics we get the same lesson from Acts as we had on Sunday. Even if you think the idea of “holding all things in common” is anachronistic, surely this idea of “no one needy among them” must be a good and moral end, right? Yet the poor you will always have with you will be quoted by some wag. The wags who quote the poor you will always have with you you will always have with you. And while he’s rattling off scripture he’s damning his own soul.


Our oddly American fascination with my stuff is a moral infection with multiple vectors.  We labor for money to buy stuff: this is not wrong. But the infection arises when the labor is not for its proper end (provision for the family, the church, and the needed, together with the expiation of sin [qv: Adam and Eve]) and, instead, made as a means to get even more stuff, as is done with Marketing and all the other tools of late-model capitalism. Our desires wake and the acquisition of stuff for the sake of stuff, to appear wealthy, to match our neighbors, etc) takes over. We need more stuff to “feel safe” to be “secure”. We hoard our money and our stuff.


We want to buy stuff at the best value. The end result is foreign labor making cheap stuff which is good value in the short term, but bad value in the long term. We are happy buying a $3 gadget at WalMart instead of a $10 gadget somewhere else, even though it won’t last, was made overseas by slave labor (or robots keeping even the slaves unemployed). The end results are social injustice and junk in landfills. The exception to this being electronics where we are happy to pay top dollar because it feels better and looks better. Ironically it was made by the same slave labor and the electronics companies are getting rich of your band consciousness. And poor workers are no better off working on things we pay $5k for than they are working on things we pay $5 for.


Do I want a new $10 off-market watch that tells time, or do I want a $400 apple watch made by the same folks for the same environmental damage? That’s an easy one: I work in tech so I know which one I’d pick!


We’ve made our money and we’ve bought our stuff, certainly it stops there? Sadly: no. For there is always more stuff to have. Children raised by parents who said “no” – because they were too poor to say “yes” – very often want to say “yes” to their own kids all the time. Curiously, anyone raised by parents who always said “yes” suffers from the same problem. Our homes fill with stuff as quickly as a hoarder’s shed or a meth addict’s mobile home. Meanwhile, the needy are sitting right next to us on the bus, in the pew, or in front of our office. 


Lending to people who can repay the loan and the favor is not charity.


Think it through: how much is it costing you to read these words? Electricity, internet, Google’s data sponge, the device you are using, with it’s own data sponges, the social cost (unless you’re really alone, there is an icon of God, a human being next to you whom you’re ignoring, even on the bus. All this is only the beginning.


There was no needy person among them.


How do we get there as a Church? While this may seem abstract for you know, just one of Huw’s political rants, I firmly believe this will be a crucial question for us in the near future. How do we get to a place where they know we are Christians by our Love, by our Love?

The image at the top of this post is of a housing Co-op that I used to live in, in Buffalo, New York. It’s not a religious org. But it is a model that – in experience and  actions – is rather like the communities discussed in the Book of Acts. What if singles in local parishes banded together to form housing co-ops on the same model?

These co-ops could acquire housing, build out and save, and, in time, take care of others. As singles marry, bringing other folks into the co-op, they stay in the community, raising their children as Catholics among other Catholics. These growing communities sharing all things in common,  could care for the elderly in the parish, the sick, the homeless. They could form the front lines in Catholic Social Outreach. 


Singles come in all ages, not just young adults, but also the divorced, the widowed, the single parents, the same-sex attracted trying to live (as all these singles) chastely. This is a healthy mix that would prevent these communities from becoming speed dating societies (as many young adult ministries do). These would require true Christian charity often missing from our world. These would call us to actively live our baptismal vows with our Sisters and Brothers to the end that we could even live in Love and Charity with our neighbors. They will know we are Christians by our Love.


Could we do it?