The Readings for the Memorial of Francis of Assisi
Thursday in the 26th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
The Readings for the Memorial of Francis of Assisi
The Readings for the Memorial of Francis of Assisi
Thursday in the 26th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Preparing to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Saturday Night, gathered in one room, not knowing it about each other, were:
That, in a nutshell, has been my experience of the Catholic Church. “Here comes everybody.” The Anglican, Prot, Eastern, Benedictine, Marian… all meet here. And some new things: the Courage Apostolate, the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, the Jesus Psalter. I used to be afraid of Dominicans… cuz of the Inquisition, you know. I didn’t know my family included a Catholic martyr. The number of Lapsed Catholics – or as my friend, Bernardo says, “Collapsed Catholics” – that are in my life is astounding. Everything is here.
There are good places and bad places in the Church. There are good and bad people. There are corners of Mother Church that are nuttier than the darkest pools of Orthodox Converts on the internet; there are folks more triumphalist and sectarian than the bazillion Holy Remnant “True Churches” of Orthodoxy. Yet there is a wideness in God’s Mercy, and a depth in the Church that cannot be obscured by the shallow bywaters. For every Saint Maria of Paris there is a Dorothy Day, for every Czar Martyr Nicholas, there is a St Louis. There’s something else as well: I can’t put my finger on it. Only half-jokingly it seems, Tu Es Petros really is a thing, after all.
Maybe it’s just sheer numbers for in Russia or Greece it must be the same for the Eastern Church. Orthodoxy preaches the same divinely revealed moral teachings as the Roman Church. Yet in this country she rarely gets accused (other than by her own members) of interfering in modern secular “values” and “moral choices”. Orthodoxy is “Mystical” whereas the Catholic Church is political and scary. Those politics can be viewed as isolated from the Church’s Doctrines and thus as “Left” or “Right”. Or they can be taken as an integral whole and seen as transcending earthly partisanship. But these political actions can (nearly) never be confused with “mystical” and “spiritual but not religious”, therefore, “safe” for the modern world.
Perhaps in Russia or Greece, she does hospitals and orphanages and food for the poor. I say “perhaps” but I’m reasonably certain of it. Were I in Russia, it’s Catholicism that would be the Boutique. Here, it’s hard for a member of the Orthodox Parish Council to donate a sign to hang outside with service times for fear the wrong sort of people will come in the door.
Some would say I’ve left the Boutique and gone to Wal*Mart. But the grace is no less dearly given, nor the piety less deeply prayed, the teachings no less strongly struggled for or lived. The podcasts tend to be about beer, politics, and birthin’ babies. The priests tend to sound rather like Bros and Bubbas. Or – and I’m hella lucky here – Surfer Dudes.
I’m on Aisle 42, near the avocados, hunting camo, and inflatable pools. I’m trying to engage the culture and learn New Evangelism, Theology of the Body, and Rosary-based-but-not-the-Rosary forms of prayer.
Also I’m in love.
The Lord is my light and my deliverance; whom have I to fear? The Lord watches over my life; whom shall I hold in dread?
On their awesome, live album, How the West was One, (Myrrh, 1977) the 2nd Chapter of Acts Annie Herring shares her story of being afraid, as a young child, of monsters under her bed at night. And she was terrified that if even one tiny bit of finger leaned off the bed, the monster would eat it. She was sure that when she grew up it would go away… thing is, fears don’t just go away. They come from outside of us. This story always struck me, because even in my 30s I was afraid of very stupid things – the dark, walking alone in a strange place, certain neighborhoods. I’ve learned there are really two ways to deal with these fears: one involves turning them over to Jesus – and then walking through the fears. The other involves surrounding yourself with friends – and then walking through the fears. I’ve learned the fears never go away until you walk through them. It’s best if the friends are Christian friends…
About 3 years ago? 4? Anway… I went on a coffee date. We stopped on the corner of Market and 5th because I had an errand to run: taking delivery of my first set of bifocals! While we were inside “Site for Sore Eyes” an event happened. The annual West Coast March for Life went down the street. They tend to be a quiet lot: a lot of praying, some singing. The louder noise comes from the sidelines. My companion turned to me and said, “There go the best candidates for genocide.” So, ending the date a bit early, I crossed someone off my list. And forgot about the annual West Coast Walk for Life.
But his words keep ringing in my ears: there go the best candidates for genocide. Why would any sane human say such things: and him a peaceful sort, and an artist, and, by chance, a Jewish person rather proud of his Jewishness. They know the meaning of genocide. How did pro-lifers become candidates for, let’s call it, die Endlösung?
Equally annoying now, today, is the assumption (found on left or right) that anyone who is pro-life must support the current president. That may be if, by pro-life, you mean only “pro-foetus”. Pro-life addresses so much more: peace, the death penalty, healthcare, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing those who seek shelter, just wages, just work, just social policies, support for adoption, support of proper education, support for immigrants and refugees. This is pro-life in the Catholic (which means “whole”) sense: celebrating and rescuing the divine dignity present in each human life. But Pro-lifers are not allowed to play in all those other Reindeer Games because we are also opposed to denying the blessings of life to the unborn.
I’m over 50 now, I’m allowed to have opinions on things and trust my friends to be adult about it. But there are still monsters under the bed. I’ve heard stories, recently, about how reactive San Franciscans had become, yet it’s not just San Franciscans, it’s pretty much everyone in America: left and right, they want to beat the crap out of people that disagree, or fire them, or run them out of town on the rails. Everyone is human. Everyone. Humans are primates – and all primates are territorial. Watching the left get really excited about a man getting sucker punched on the internet yesterday nearly made me go register for the GOP, but I know the right would get really excited about the same thing if the victim was, say, the president of Planned Parenthood. That’s where we are in this country: I’m 100% Correct and you’re worth beating up.
So this seemed like the year some nut might try to make a few martyrs. And I wanted to be there by way of atonement and reparation, if nothing else. As it turns out all I did was keep a man carrying a banner from tripping in a small pothole. I did, however, walk the full length of the route with the Dominicans of the Western Province, and pray the rosary. That was awesome! Prayer is communion: in the quiet places on Market, the parts of the financial district where there are no people on the weekends, there was this gentle rumble, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” At the end of each decade, the refrain from the Lourdes Hymn was sung. “Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria!” And it felt like I’d known that song forever… which I have, really: that’s the Song of Bernadette.
Yet more importantly I wanted to walk: to not be afraid to have an unpopular opinion. I wanted to put into play something that I believe deeply, that humanness starts at conception and never ends. That all of life, from conception to natural death and beyond, is the synergistic dance of the soul and God, and it’s not our place to stop, to drop out of, or to take someone else out of that dance. I’m living, experiential proof that silence is consent – by the number of folks who just assume I agree with them and never asked. But then I never offered. I wanted to walk because, increasingly, it felt like not walking was denying my faith. How can the light shine in the Galilee of the Gentiles if we, who say we follow Jesus, keep hiding out?
It was fear that kept me from saying so: Fear that keeps me, even now, worried about consequences of posting things like this. I may have walked right by my office singing the Lourdes hymn (albeit on a weekend) but this is on the internet. My one time being internet famous in this century was enough for me. Fear, though (I can talk about pride later) is my big bugaboo. Annie says God will help me with my fear, but as I noted, you still have to walk through your fears to face them. So I did.
If the video doesn’t start in the right place (33:47), click here
All were full of astonishment; What can this be? they asked one another. What is this new teaching? See how he has authority to lay his commands even on the unclean spirits, and they obey him!
Mark 1:27 (Knox)
Yesterday morning at Mass, Father brought up the “Liar, Lord, or Lunatic” argument. It’s C.L. Lewis’ classing trilema: reading the Bible, one cannot say, simply, that Jesus is a good teacher. The things he is reported to have said mean that he is either a liar making up stuff, a lunatic who believes crazy stuff about himself, or else he is who says he is, the Lord God Almighty. The humorous way to posit this is “Mad, Bad, or God. Leaving Mass, I realized that most modern interaction with Christianity is only vain attempts to resolve this situation. For both sorts of Atheists – the sort who say there is no god and the sort who say there can’t be an orthodox Christian god – the issue is resolved exactly thus: the Bible is a bunch of codswallop so we don’t have to pay any attention to it. They go off looking for the “Historical Jesus” which (for it’s not a who), luckily for them, confirms their doctrines and means they don’t have to decide “mad, bad, or God” at all. He’s dead, but he said some cool stuff.
The ones who claim to be Christians whilst rejecting Christianity are the worst, really. They affirm that there is a way around all this. They vote on verses of the Bible that can’t really be Jesus. They insist that if you just ignore a few verse here and there (cutting out half of the Gospels, really) then it all makes sense. They do the same to St Paul: insisting the could not have written his texts. St John didn’t write his his texts… sure, that’s what the Church says, but she’s biased: you have to trust us, we’re *not* biased.
For others, though, who are not Christians, but are more faithful, this really is an issue. They know that to “taste and see” is the right answer: but they have to figure out what to taste. Unfortunately the Atheists offer a seeming reply. By removing bits and pieces of the story, here and there, they make it easy for one to miss the point. “See, how he has authority!”
Faith is needed here: and I don’t mean doctrines, nor do I mean the Apostles’ Creed, nor even the Bible itself. Answer this: If Christians are right about two things, only: that God is really real and he loves us… what would happen? What should happen?
We have a bridge here in San Francisco. It’s orange and kinda famous. Sometimes it’s hidden in the fog. Sometimes it’s right out there in the open. Boats – big, huge boats – go under it ladden with the riches of the world. People jump off of it, too, truth be told, and so the sides have nets to catch them. It is of a certain height and length. It was built at a certain time of specific materials. It was raised at the cost of a certain pile of money and and a solid number of lives. It sparked a labor revolution, and a cultural one. It is painted, end to end, in a specific Pantone color and then the painting has to start all over again – because the salt air and corrosion eat the color daily.
The wind blows there and you may have heard of it.
You can know all the specifics I’ve just hinted at without once ever having set foot (or wheel) on that bridge. Google ’em. Or you can be a 5 year old who is brave enough to walk across it with her daddy, or a 20 year old who cycles it daily to and from work. You can even be a 52 year old who loves to walk out there and back on sunny days. You can be a tourist who gets out there and gasps in awe and moves here six months later and never leaves again. Or you can sit at home and say there is nothing special about such place; or petulantly insist that the Golden Gate was better without the bridge.
Jesus is just like that. I believe that once you try, you will find he is amazing. You don’t need doctrine – but I believe you will want to know everything you can about him, eventually. And no, you don’t need to go to a specific church, but the bridge runs between San Francisco and Sausalito. It’s highway 101. You have to get there sooner or later.
Only a San Franciscan would compare that bridge to Jesus, so I hope you’ll forgive me. But there it is. You can walk without knowing. And even in the fog, and wind, and rain it will hold you up. It has authority like that. That’s faith.
Jesus, being God, can be amazingly patient and loving. Doctrine doesn’t save us – if salvation means “being made whole” – but it does describe how and why it happens. Jesus, however, is salvation. And to get there, it is perfectly fine you have to walk in the fog a bit – even if you want to stay in the fog, I think.
Doctrine can come later. Really.
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.
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):
Which in the Anglican tradition is translated thus:
I think a better translation is:
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?
O God, who carest for Thy people with mercy and rulest them in love, through the intercession of Pope Saint Gregory, call, we pray thee, more labourers to the fields of San Francisco, white for harvest, that the flourishing of a holy flock may become the eternal joy of the shepherds; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, ever, world without end. Amen