Po-Mo Exegesis


This post is from 17 Sep 2002. Still relevant, it seems. I’d been Orthodox for maybe 4 months by that time – and still struggle with some of the things referenced here.

THERE’S A SONG BY THE EAGLES that I heard on the radio today that put a lot in perspective for me. The thing is, I’ve heard Desperado so very many times and never noted the Orthodoxy in it.

Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

We all seem to get hung up on “Freedom”. And we define that in our cultures by various means. We decide that Christians in Arab Countries and in Israel are not as “Free” as Christians in the US. But look at what that “freedom” gets us here: a confusion of our faith with mass-market paperbacks – the Left Behind series – and televangelism and “Contemporary worship” that deals in a McCrist. If such market-based terrorism is freedom, give me open persecution any day.

These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow

The freedom to be exactly what I want when I want if I can afford it isn’t really freedom: it’s concession. Indeed, the desire to “be my own man” to “be me” to do things “my way” is the truth in the statement Your prison is walking through this world all alone. But that’s what we define as freedom here, in this culture. It’s a willingness to suddenly want and then need the next greatest thing – which last week didn’t even exist – and to have the freedom to buy that thing that I’ve suddenly decided I suddenly need. And it’s the freedom to throw it out next week. It’s the freedom to be defined by commercials and marketing. I’m free to shop where ever I wish: but I’m still going to buy mostly what’s on sale, because that’s what I can afford.

Our ideas of free speech or even free religion are just as market based as our ideas of shopping and need. what we define as “Freedom of speech” today wouldn’t even have been thought of as acceptable public discourse 50 years ago. Our Freedom of Speech is defined as “saying what I want” when in fact, I didn’t even know I might want to say it last week. Our forms of “spirituality” are driven by the coolest, latest book from Harper-Collins or Llewellyn, and our Civic “Religion” is just exactly what the government needs just now, no more nor any less. TV will show exactly what the market will carry in Televangelism – anything else is resigned to a non-TV Land dominated in American Sports by soccer. No one even dreamed of saying the F word in public until we let the other six on to TV as well. Now it is freedom of speech to say it. Marketers tell us to let pop music into religion because otherwise we won’t be able to sell it – that’s freedom of religion. Anything esle is unimportant “ancient trivia.”

We like to think of all of this as “Advancement” and therefore as “improvement”. But it’s just a changed focus – neither up nor down. The fifties came back (and then the 60s and the 70s and the 80s all over again) because they were market-driven to do so. Anyone who lives in a “niche market” can be driven out and plunged into mainstream. (Have you not seen a Lord of the Rings movie/commercial/product tie-in yet?) To consider this as advancement is really only Chronological Arrogance: this is newer, it must therefore be better than what is older; modern ideas are better than older ones.

Our pain and our hunger are real – they are not market-inspired. The needs we feel, the pain we have are real, and we only take them to the market place because we don’t know what else to do with ’em. There we imagine they get converted to something more manageable. “Retail Therapy”, “Shopychology” “Purchiatry”. We all know why we do this – we’re all aware that we do this. I’ve had a bad day, but I bought a new CD or a new book or a new dress or a prostitute. The market only attempts to feed me – it fails. But I decide it wasn’t the market that failed, just my purchases. I need to go back. I need just a little bit more money, just enough to buy just one more thing… Target is just another word for a sanitarium.

Don’ you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

We know that it is love we want, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

I’ve always heard that as a plea from the singer of the song to his or her intended. Indeed, I’ve sung this song that way at the Duplex in NYC and on my guitar, sitting around a campfire with the Episcopal Youth Conference. That’s what it is, isn’t it?

You know… until I heard the Church Fathers talk about Hell, that’s what I thought this was about – but then I saw a different point.

The Church offer us a picture of Hell that isn’t that “Lake of Fire” that our Fundamentalist friends want us to think about. The Church says God is love… and no one can escape from that God. Hell, however….

The Church says that when confronted with this God of love… some of us will want to run screaming in the other direction: to suddenly stand before Someone who knows everything and still loves you. Who sees the dark places I hide, who knows the number of times I did that – yes, that – and fantasized about doing that too – yes, that – who knows that I lied, cheated, stole, hated, oppressed, abused, gossiped, gluttoned, slutted, apostatized, heresied, bamboozled, flimflammed and whored my way through most of my life – Someone who even cares that I did all that, wishes that I wouldn’t, asks that I don’t, is offended that I did – and still, loves me. That terrifying vision is hell for someone who doesn’t want to be there. And scripture says God is a Consuming Fire – and to someone who doesn’t want to be there, those flames will burn.

But those flames are rather the fires of Love, burning eternally, and we can join with those flames… I can become them, lighting the lives of those around me, being one with the eternal fire, a “servant of the secret flame” as Gandalf says… Or I can try to light my own little flame in the corner, and burn out.

“Let Somebody love you…”

Who already does, Who always has, and Who always will – want it or not. There is freedom there that can not be bought or sold. And it is a painful freedom – for it isn’t the freedom to be “what I want” but rather the freedom to be what I was created to be, what I was born to be, what I am when I am most myself – in full communion with the Creator.

The 2nd Chapter of Acts


THIS PRAYER IS NOT the most faithful of prayers, but for most of the last what? 20 years? This prayer has offered one prayer, over and over: send revival to San Francisco. Let there be revival from the ferry tower to the Sutro Tower to the Sutro Baths and the Zoo. Let your Spirit pour down and not just on any “us” here, but on everyone here. Let fire pour down from the heavens and light up the altars, burn up the hearts, flow from tongues, flood the streets, liquidate the fear, tear open the subways of sin and obsession, of darkness and death.

Let love light up the night of our lives. Not fake, nice, love-is-love love but real, threatening, painful, destroying-and-rebuilding love that makes us over into your image, that cannot be silenced, that will not turn back, that welcomes everyone and leaves no one untouched or unchanged. Let love revive us, turning and bowing to each other in the eternal kenosis of your divine superfluity. Let love be heard and seen, not felt, but touched. Let love be here now, because you are love, agape, eros, storge, philia, all of it more fire that we can handle. Revive us.

Let us find you in the places we never wanted to look: let us find you in the places we ignored, the people we turned away from, the folks we hate and love to hate. Let us find you in every “Them” there is. Let us find you so that you can revive us.

Let us serve you in our neighbors that reject us, in our foes that trample us, in our enemies that topple our statues and smear blood on our streets. Let us find serve you in unmitigated joy. Singing as we die, laughing as we are cut down for truth. For in the blood of martyrs you will revive us finally.

Heal us. Make us over into little yous of such piercing brightness that people will not be able to look at us without catching fire themselves. Heal our faults, our divisions, our divisiveness, our pride. Heal our tone-deaf singing that makes even our good times sound fake and strained, heal our passionless services that make even global warming cease. Heal our chilled love that cannot breathe. Revive us.

From Bay Stree to Bay Point. From the Marina to South City. From St Peter and St Paul’s, to St Paul of the Shipwreck, to St Thomas More, to St Gabriel’s. Pour your Spirit, send your fire, rush your wind, flow your living water. Change, make new, raise up, knock down, push us out to the margins, revive us!

Restore us. Revive us.
Move us to you. Revive us.

Look, if anything good can come from Nazareth, then you can do something here, too. If there are ten righteous people here, you can save this city with so much power that Satan minions will tremble all over the world. If we can but humble ourselves and call on your name.

Revive us.

And we shall dance.

Mediation… and you


At the end of Messiah Handel composed a four minute long Amen that fugues its way through some classic baroque forms and progression ending, finally, with five very firm Amens presented as 3 and 2, with a break of four beats in total silence between them. Listening to the entire piece, it seems that silence is exactly the purpose of the last two hours. There is a chill of eternity in the silence and the slide of angels’ wings. I see the Dore engraving which heads this post: a silent swirl around the Divine Majesty.

We stand in that silent swirl at Mass and we discover it’s not silent: for the entirety of it sings continually, Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth! The hymn continually unites us to the one place, the one time, the one moment: the eternal now of what Dante called the White Rose of Paradise. We might, these days with our eastern overlap, think of it more as a lotus and we would not be wrong. The ancient Hindu geometric figures convey the same thing imagery of many-petaled forms around an all-embracing center. Recently in a discussion of this flower formed around the All-Holy Trinity in Dante, it was asked why everyone wasn’t rushing to the center: let me get in there! But, of course, that’s thinking as humans do. In submission to the will of God and yielding place to the others in the dance, one arrives exactly at the place where one should be. No location further in is desired or needed and to move out of place in the dance would be a sin. What, though, is the purpose of the dance?

Think of a prism, how light pours in on one side and is refracted out from another side. While never denying that God cannot reach eternity and infinity, being everywhere present and filling all things, he gives us that omnipresence and filling to reach ever more hearts drawing them in. God is the ground of being so each individual that participates in the act of being mediates God’s presence. For man, made in the image and likeness of God, our being is rooted in God and our hearts can contemplate the logoi or “words” in present in all created beings because we, too, through Baptism and the Church, participate in the Logos as God the Son is incarnate in human nature, restoring us to our place in the dance. We become the prism(s) through which the light is refracted to others around us. We are the way grace is actualized in the hearts of those around us (that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven).

The Saints mediate this light to us, and the Church does so through the Sacraments: each one being a moment in time that is an actualization of the one eternity intersecting with us here. But that intersection pierces all of time: as the Incarnation is the presence of God in time, so now, the Son of God is the presence of humanity in Eternity. Each offering of the Mass is the one perpetual offering of the Son to the Father on the Cross by the Son. The Church is the Body of Christ offering himself to the Father though all of time.

This perpetual act of mediation frames literally everything the Christian does: God is in direct contact with everyone, but in his grace and in his humility, he is pleased to use everyone in mediation of this direct contact. It is no less direct here, for as the Consecrated Bread of the Eucharist is actually God so is his presence through mediation in your life and the life of those around you.

Let us close by returning to Handel and the silent, eternal song of Sanctus! Even music, well done, shares in this act of mediation: for we are creators like Our Heavenly Father, in whose likeness we share. Our creations, too, can serve as points of divine mediation. God can be present in the things we make, celebrating his glory even when not intended as such. This is why we can read the Gospel in E.T. as easily as in the Narnia stories. True acts of creation are, themselves, mediations of the one creator. Handel is reported to have composed the Messiah in 24 days and when he left his writing desk he is said to have exclaimed, “God has visited me.” Anyone who feels this in the music, or who sees it in the beauty of art or a building, or even in the beauty of another person, can confirm that God is present. For him who can read the signs, the same is true in mathematical code, or textual composition. As God is creator so are we and as we are ravished by beauty, so is he to give it to us by our own hands.

How to Love like God

The Propers for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Deus in adjutorium meum intende


POPE BENEDICT XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (Vol 1) has an amazing commentary on today’s Gospel. I’m fully indebted to His Holiness for the roots of the ideas. If anything is amiss here, it is my fault, though.

Today’s Collect continues in a theme that has been repeatedly expressed in recent weeks. We can do nothing without God first giving us the gift to do it. Today the gift is worship itself. In the Novus Ordo Common Preface IV reminds us of this saying,

For, although you have no need of our praise,
yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,
since our praises add nothing to your greatness
but profit us for salvation
through Christ our Lord.

God has no need of our worship. And he gives us this gift for our very salvation. And we asked him to increase in us this gift and give us the strength to get there quicker by his grace. The Introit Cries out to God in the same words that are used to open every Daily Office: Incline unto my aid, O God: O Lord, make haste to help me or in the older translation, O God make speed to save me: O Lord make haste to help me. Come quickly and help us to come to you ever faster! What are we running towards?

The Epistle for this Mass takes us on a little detour: how dare we run? For the ancients, God was terrifying. Remember that our forefathers standing, at Mount Sinai, begged Moses to let them go away because this God, rumbling on top of the mountain, scared them. They even begged not to hear God’s voice for that was scary enough. How do we run? And we do not run away will you run to. We run to the God whom the scriptures describe as a consuming fire. Are we not afraid? Again St. Paul reminds us: Such confidence we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God. This is not our gift, or our power, we are no braver than our ancestors. Are you not terrified of the Eucharist? But God would have it so. God, in his grace, glorified the face of Moses so much that it was necessary for him to wear a veil. The people were even terrified of the light shining from Moses eyes. Paul asks, If the law was so terrifying does it not make sense for us to even be more in awe and even more glorified?

Suddenly, there is what seems to be a bifurcation in the propers: from here the Gospel seems to go in one direction while the other, the minor propers point in a different direction. The minor propers are about praise for God and about his generosity to us, while the Gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan. However, please come in one Mass and so must tell us one story. I believe the fulcrum is in the Communion verse. So let us take a look at the Gospel first and then sweep back to all the minor propers together.

The text, taken from St Luke’s gospel, is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The Lectionary actually gives us a tiny bit more of the context by sharing what came before, Pope Benedict gives even more context four this story. Two points are important: first, in 6 AD the Samaritans invaded Jerusalem and strew bones in the temple. Then, secondly, in the chapter immediately before this in St Luke “the Evangelist has recounted that on the way to Jerusalem Jesus sent Messengers ahead of him and the day entered a Samaritan village in order to procure him lodging. ‘But the people would not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.'” Then two of the Apostles asked Jesus if they should call down “fire from heaven” on the Samaritans. It is in this twin context that the Evangelist places the story of the Good Samaritan.

His Holiness goes on to remind us that the church fathers have traditionally viewed this as a parable about Jesus. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who reaches out to mankind, now fallen among thieves who have beat us in stripped us of our wealth the robe of Glory that we had before the fall of Adam and Eve. However Pope Benedict also recognizes that this is a story that Jesus is telling to another, as it were to us, about how to inherit eternal life. Remember the context I shared above: neither the 12 apostles themselves nor any of the listeners would have had any reason to suppose the Samaritan would be the good guy in this story. Yet he was, exactly, that. Although some commentators stir up many anti-Semitic waves about the Priest and the Levite going on their way, the Pope Emeritus does not. In fact he is quite generous in his making excuses for them. You fix the point of the story is in the Samaritan himself. The point is made even stronger by highlighting that the Priest and the Levite knew they were on a dangerous stretch of road (as would any sensible traveler) but the Samaritan went in to help anyway. So while this is a story about how God leaves heaven and comes to us – while we were yet sinners – this also becomes a directive for us to act courageously, without care for our own danger.

In the end, says His Holiness, the question of who is my neighbor is turned on its head. Anyone is my neighbor if I act like their neighbor to them. This is the core of the twofold Commandment to love God and to love your neighbor: the lawyer, to test Jesus, wants to know who is his neighbor. Jesus’ answer is, “Who is not?”

The wine and the oil that the Good Samaritan poured on the wounds of the man in the ditch are greatly symbolic. In the medical understanding of the time the wine was cleansing and the oil was soothing and also a protection against disease: much like we might think of a salve today. So: splash some wine in to wash out anything dangerous, then pour on oil to put a sort of seal on top, then tie a bandage on the wound to hold everything together. But the wine and the oil or two of three parts that show us where we get this courage to act bravely and so forgivingly in the face of danger – or before the face of our neighbor?

The Communion verse answers with the bread and the wine and the oil which are the sacraments of the church: The earth shall be filled with the fruit of Thy works, O Lord, that Thou mayest bring bread out of the earth, and that wine may cheer the heart of man: that he may make the face cheerful with oil; and that bread may strengthen man’s heart. From these simple elements of nature, which require not only God’s giving but our interaction to prepare, the Church has fashioned her sacraments of quickening: anointing, or chrismation/confirmation – the seal of the Holy Spirit, followed by the Eucharist.

From these we receive the forgiveness of our sins as the Secret and the Postcommunion reminds us, but also God is glorified. How? We finally answer in the gospel of Saint Matthew, in The Sermon on the Mount: that men may see your good deeds and glorify your Father, which is in heaven. So the Holy Mysteries are the strengthening of our souls to do good deeds: the works of mercy, such as our Lord described in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are called to be neighbors, not to some, not to our own, not to those who are near or like us: we are called to be neighbors to everyone.

The Gradual and the Alleluia then become a sort of call-and-response between the needy and those who are praising God. The late Keith Green (1953-1982) sang a song about the church being “Asleep in the Light”:

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“god bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weep,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the streets

Later in the song he will ask, “How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed?” Indeed. We’re not at liberty to ignore either the spiritual needs or the physical needs of those around us. The Gospel requires not only that we bring the bread and wine of the Eucharist to the lost, but also the food and justice that they need.

The Offertory reminds us that not only was Moses a great teacher of the things of God to the people but he was also a great intercessor before God on behalf of the people. Like Moses Jesus stands before us teaching and interceding. So the Church, the body of Christ, must be before the world. We cannot only proclaim the things of God we must also do the works of God: Love. How are we supposed to love? “It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being nothing is lacking for everything is given.” (St Bernard) We cannot love as much as God for he is infinite and we are finite. Yet by his grace, given in his bread, his wine, and his oil, we can love as God: with our whole being. As God did, we change our relationship with the other not by changing them but by changing our self. We go out to them in love.

(If you get a chance be sure to read Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth volume 1. The story of the Good Samaritan is discussed at length on pages 194 through 201.)

We’re All Idiorrhythmic Now

St Anthony the Great, pray for us.


Monastics in the earliest Christian Tradition were all hermits. They lived alone or perhaps in groups of two or three, but each in their own cell. In the Egyptian desert, these cells were often not much more than lean-tos against rocks or a small tarp tied up with some woven branches. Although they lived alone, monastics in an area might gather for the celebration of the Eucharist or other events if there was a priest present, or if there was some other reason. In the early days, very few of the monastics were clergy.

This was known as idiorrhythmic monasticism, to distinguish it from the community-style that became common later. This latter form of monasticism was called coenobitic (or cenobitic). St Pachomius in the East and St Benedict in the West are the fathers of coenobitic monasticism. It is St Anthony the Great who is the father of idiorrhythmic monks everywhere. He has suddenly become our father as well.

Even by the 4th to 6th centuries when coenobitic monasticism had become common, idiorrhythmic practice was sometimes followed, especially in Lent. St Sophronius tells of his community (about 100 years before his time) all leaving the monastery at the beginning of Lent and spending the entire 40 days in the desert fasting, praying, and struggling with their sins. One of the greatest Saints of the Byzantine and Orthodox tradition, St Mary of Egypt, was herself in the desert for over 30 years. She received communion only twice in her recorded life.

In case you can’t tell we’ve all become idiorrhythmic now.

The message I want to convey. Many of our fathers and mothers have chosen to be here, in this very situation, and have worked out their salvation, becoming Saints.

The concept of frequent communion and easy access to the Holy Mass is a modern, Western problem. Most of our ancestors were not able to go daily. Most of our ancestors did not have clergy to go to for such. And most of our ancestors did not even conceive of it as a necessary thing. Yes, most of our ancestors did not live in cities, and by the 5th Century or so, frequent liturgy in the city was not unheard of. But it was not common. And frequent communion meant on Sundays. Daily mass was the privilege of monastics who lived in community and even they did not partake of communion itself on a daily basis.

So we have the blessing from God now to work out our Salvation in an ascetic field that was common to many – if not most – of the Saints of our earliest history. Our spiritual Fathers and Mothers have already given us the tools to do so. The daily office, Lectio Divina, prayers counted on ropes of knots or beads, silence, aloneness, and occasional social interaction.

So, I know this sucks. I don’t want to pretend that it does not suck. In fact, and 14 to 21 days I could be dead. You could be dead. Any of our friends, co-workers, family, clergy, fellow parishioners… we could all be dead. That’s the truth of the matter in which we live. I’m counting on several different timelines until I get to 14 days: since my last meeting with a person, since my entry into work-alone status, since the shelter-in-place status, and since the last time I might have been exposed. And when I get to 14 days that only means I haven’t been exposed yet. So what am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?

I would suggest that we become Saints. I would suggest that we buckle down and become the idiorrhythmic monastics that our spiritual DNA has set us up to be. This is our genetics our gift from our parents. We can do this by God’s grace and we don’t need to worry about “public masses” – which unlike our ancestors – we can literally watch any time we wish now.

Let us all pray to come out of this alive or dead.



The Rosary: The Institution of the Eucharist


Devotion to the elements of Our Lord’s Passion aside, it is in Eucharistic devotions that there is a most clear division between east and west.  Although both teach exactly the same content, both use very different words to very different ends.  Thomas Aquinas and his students made this most clear in their ideas of what exactly is Transubstantiation.  The East does not have such clear definitions about what happens nor about when it happens.  In certain ways the bread is holy from the moment it is formed into a loaf and stamped with the holy seal. It is treated so even before the service starts: prayers of, if you will, pre-consecration happen well-before the scheduled “start” of liturgy.  In a real sense, the one heavenly Liturgy is always on-going (from the standpoint of human time) and our human actions “only connect” with the continual divine moment. To the Orthodox, then, some Western devotions can seem to focus on the consecrated elements in a needless way.  Speaking of Our Lord as a “Prisoner (of Love) in the Tabernacle”  – a common-place in a certain mode of Roman Catholic piety – seems very odd in the liturgical East. Yet for the Fathers, the Eucharist, itself is “the meal that consumes us”. It’s the vehicle by which we are purged in fire.

Even though in the Western Rites of the Orthodox Church there is the feast of Corpus Christi and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, these things do not exist in most Byzantine Rites. One must look – as below – to devotions before and after communion to find what the East teaches on this matter.  I have used the Canon of Preparation for Holy Communion to provide the texts below.

The embolism I use in this decade after the Holy Name is …giving us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink…

The Fifth Luminous Mystery:
The Institution of the Holy Eucharist

Let us contemplate in this Mystery how Our Lord took, in his holy, venerable, and blessed hands, the elements of human food and drink, and making them into his flesh and blood gave them to his disciples – and through them to us – as instruments of divine grace, feeding us salvation.

Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen

O blessed Bride of God, O good and unturned land which produced the corn which saves the world, grant that I may be saved by eating it.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

O all-holy Lady you are the Altar of the Bread of Life coming down from heaven in great mercy giving new life to the world; grant that I who am unworthy may partake of that bread and live!
Hail, Mary, &c.

O taste and see, the Lord is good! Of old He became one of us for us, and offered Himself for the life of the World, sanctifying those who share his human nature.
Hail, Mary, &c.

Lady pray for for me to he whom thou bore. Keep me pure and blameless that I may be sanctified by obtaining the spiritual pearl.
Hail, Mary, &c.

O Mary, Theotokos and holy tabernacle of the scent of Heaven, pray for me and make me a chosen vessel, that I may partake of the Mystery of thy Son.
Hail, Mary, &c.

O Holy Word of God and God, through the prayers of thy most holy mother, sanctify the whole of me as I now approach thy divine Mysteries.
Hail, Mary, &c.

My Saviour, may thy most precious Body and Blood be both fire and light in me: burning the thorns of my passions thus consuming the fuel of sin and enlightening the whole of me to adore thy Divinity.
Hail, Mary, &c.

Pure one, full of Grace, who gave birth to the Saviour Christ in the Holy Mystery of the Incarnation, unclean as I am, I beg thee: I seek to approach the immaculate Mysteries, cleanse thy servant from all defilement of body and spirit.
Hail, Mary, &c.

Partaking of Divine Fire, I tremble, for I should burn as wax and hay. O dread Mystery! O Holy Love! That I who am clay may partake of the divine Body and Blood and become like thee!
Hail, Mary, &c.

God took flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone. Therefore, all generations hymn thee, O Lady, and throngs of heavenly minds glorify thee. For through thy womb we have clearly seen He Who is Lord of all united with us in fully human nature.
Hail, Mary, &c.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Mother of mercy and of love, most blessed Virgin Mary, I, a poor and unworthy sinner, fly to thee with all my heart and all my affection. I implore thy loving-kindness, that even as thou didst stand beside thy dear Son as He hung upon the Cross, so wilt thou also stand by me, a poor sinner, and beside all thy faithful people receiving the most sacred Body of thy Son. Grant us, that by thy grace, we may receive it worthily and fruitfully. Amen.

Anathema Sit! Good Anathema!


Random biblical nerdery: today I learned that the meaning of the Greek word “anathema” had shifted during the time of Biblical composition. We see both usages in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures which actually predates the current Hebrew version of the Old Testament. The LXX was composed and compiled in about 132 BC in Alexandria. The purpose of this text was to give to Jews living out in the world, who no longer spoke a fluent Hebrew, their Sacred Texts in their own language. Tradition says that 70 (or 72) scholars compiled the text, hence the name Septuagint and the abbreviation LXX, both of which mean 70. Some Biblical Texts were written in Hebrew, of course, others were in Aramaic. A few books, however, were written in Greek with no precursors in other languages that we can find today. For this reason (and for others) when the Official Hebrew text was recompiled and standardized in the 9th century or so, these texts are no longer part of the “Hebrew” Bible since they were not in Hebrew at all. These books, seemingly composed in Greek (possibly not), are part of the Non-Hebrew, Jewish tradition. Is their Greek usage older or newer than the Translations of the Torah? I don’t know.

Anyway: In the book of Deuteronomy we see a use of “Anathema” which might make sense to us.

– Neither shalt thou bring any thing of the idol into thy house, lest thou become an anathema, like it.
Nec inferes quippiam ex idolo in domum tuam, ne fias anathema, sicut et illud est.
-καὶ οὐκ εἰσοίσεις βδέλυγμα εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου καὶ ἔσῃ ἀνάθημα ὥσπερ τοῦτο
Deut 7:26 (Douay, Vulgate, LXX)

Anathem here renders the Hebrew, חֵ֖רֶם or harem. Pretty much the same as the Arab word haram. It means really, really bad (forbidden).

However, in the book of Judith, using the Douay, we find “anathema” with a whole other meaning.

– And Judith offered for an anathema of oblivion all the arms of Holofernes,
Porro Judith universa vasa bellica Holofernis, quae dedit illi populus,
– καὶ ἀνέθηκεν Ιουδιθ πάντα τὰ σκεύη Ολοφέρνου ὅσα ἔδωκεν ὁ λαὸς αὐτῇ
Judith 16:23 (Douay, Vulgate) 16:19 (LXX)

Here, anathema is used in its original, Greek meaning of “Dedicated Votive Offering.” I think it’s interesting that St Jerome did not use “anathema” at all in the Latin since, by his time, the word had come to mean something literally the opposite of its original understanding.

That’s it. No conclusions, just an interesting Biblical word commentary. But here is a bit of wordplay: The Protestants say the Mass is Anathema, but not Anathema, which makes them Anathema.

God’s Mercy and Yours


When a person is brought to enter the Dominican Family, he or she kneels or prostrates before the person who is to receive them – the local or regional superior – as well as before the rest of the community. The superior asks, What do you seek of God and his Church? The response is, God’s mercy and yours. This question and answer is the same for a new friar, a new sister, a new cloistered nun, or a new member of the Third Order. Each of us begs the same thing of God and his Church: God’s mercy and yours.

Mercy is such a vague quality: for it seems something out of the distant past rather than today. We might think of a nurse on a civil war battlefield on a “mission of mercy” bringing comfort to the wounded. We might think of a judge “going easy” on a convicted criminal. We might imagine a prisoner being whipped and begging for mercy, by which is meant “less pain”. What does it mean to ask for any of these things from God and his Church? Do we want to imagine God on a battlefield, or as a judge, or as the foreman of a prison camp? Sadly, all of these images may come up.

The Hebrew word is חֶסֶד chesed. In the Septuagint, it’s rendered as ελeος eleos and in Latin as misericordiae. Mercy. In Hebrew it signifies the compassion God has on his creation and it can mean that sort of brotherly camaraderie that we see among soldiers who have shared a battle or a war together. In the Latin it can mean those things about judges and masters with whips. But it’s the Greek that I want to highlight: the historic language of the Church. So much so that even in the Latin Mass, the Greek word for Mercy gets used: Κύριε ἐλέησον Kyrie eleison Lord have mercy. This very phrase is used hundreds of times in the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and the other services of the Eastern Church. It is eleison that gives the Church her idea of “Mercy”.

This word comes from the Greek root meaning “oil” as in “olive oil”.

In Greek and Roman culture, olive oil was used for lighting, for cooking, for cleansing, for medicine, and for various religious rites. An athlete would anoint his body with oil before engaging in sport. Then, applying more oil, he would scrape off the dirt and sweat. Going home, he would find his food prepared with a higher grade of the same oil, while his house was lit by lamps filled with a lower grade. A doctor might pour oil on his wounds to seal them against infection. A body servant might use the oil in a massage to soothe cramped muscles. His wife might wear a scented oil. His bread may be ground spelt in loaves made with olive oil. Asking for God’s mercy comes with all of these implications.

As Christians we do not only receive Mercy directly from God: we also receive his mercy through our brothers and sisters. So the Dominican asks for “God’s mercy and yours” meaning mercy from the whole of the church. This signifies how we are to be to each other: we are to be exactly like God, fully present in our love and in our compassion to our brothers and sisters. In this, we participate in each other’s salvation as we make present the love of God in our lives in service to others and in humility receiving other’s service ourselves.

Naturally, mercy comes through the sacraments, most obviously the Holy Eucharist and Confession. But mercy, the oil of God’s love, flows to us each (as individuals) through all the sacraments. Baptism and Eucharist to your soul, through Marriage to you and your spouse, through ordination to the ordained – yes. all of this is true. But also through those sacraments, through you personally to the entire Church. The Man and Woman united in marriage are a sacrament of Christ and his Church. The newly baptized and the newly confirmed are named, literally, “Little Christs” and are to serve that way. The ordained man is Another Christ, standing at the altar, in the confessional, or in the pulpit being Christ to the whole Church. These rites order us individually as channels of grace and mercy to the whole body of Christ.

Since Christ is the saviour not of the Church but of the World, we become channels of mercy, the presence of Christ, to every person we meet.

A Christian, properly ordered, is Christ in her place of work, is Christ in the line at the King Super, is Christ picking up his children at preschool, is Christ having her teeth cleaned, is Christ giving a parking citation, is Christ defending his home from destruction by bulldozers and soldiers, is Christ protecting her native land from strip farming. A Christian properly ordered, is Christ feeding the homeless, Christ defending the unborn, Christ voting, Christ holding office, Christ on the subway. A Christian, properly ordered, is God’s mercy, the oil of God’s love soothing the pains of the world.

God’s Mercy and Yours.

We ask a lot. Dare we offer ourselves in return?

Yes! He! Can!


As the Class Clown (1972), George Carlin asks a sarcastic question probably already old at that point, “If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so heavy that he, himself, cannot lift it?” It was funny in the right context but some folks actually offer it as a serious question, intending by the illogic to prove the illogic of what they think of as real religion. The usual reply is to point out that the question is, itself, a meaningless contradiction in English therefore it can’t be meaningful in theological conversation. It ranks up there with “Can God make darkness light? Can God make death life?” Oddly we know the answers to those questions to be yes. So…

It came to me that not only can he make this thing, but he has already done so. He has made something he cannot move: the human heart. This came to me this morning reading this passage from the 1952 publication, My Way of Life: A Pocket Edition of St Thomas‘ classic, the Summa Theologica.by Walter Farrell, OP, and Martin J. Heally.

It would be more accurate to say that God contains us rather than that we have God within us, just as the soul more properly is said to contain the body than to exist in the body. A man can be put in prison, or an animal in a pen; but spiritual things like the soul of a man, the angels, or God are not contained by the strongest or most subtle of fences. We are, in a very true sense, wrapped around with God, penetrated by Divinity, held up every instant by divine power that saturates all of reality and exceeds it. God fills the world as summer sunlight floods a room, he is everywhere in the world as the soul is everywhere in the body; where he is not, nothing is.

Though his great power reaches to the least crevice of our lives, though every futile step of our wandering hearts is clear to his fatherly eyes, though every beat of our pulse proclaims his supporting presence, this is still not close enough for God. Has his knowledge and love of us put us in him rather than him in us, so through the gift of his grace, he is the guest of our minds and the lover enclosed by the arms of our love. He will, in his eagerness for the fullness of our happiness, be ours; in us by our act; known, desired and loved, and so given his sole free and hearty welcome in all the physical world that so depends on him.

God can woo and plead. God can command. God can make one option easier than another, but God cannot – will not – force the human heart. If he were to do so it would cease to be what he made it: his own image in mortal form, his own genius of creativity and choice. God has made something that cannot be moved saved by itself. God waits for us to comply with his grace which is freely given – but can be ignored and even refused outright.

This is the rock that is so big he himself cannot move it: and it is so because he made it so. His almighty power condescended to create the very refutation of his omnipotence. God is so all glorious that he conceived of a way to outdo himself.

And so, my dearest friends, you have a choice: not a once in a lifetime choice, but a daily, or better, moment by moment choice. Do you dance to the tune of all of life or do you seek rather to make your own tune?

Closed on Sunday. You my ???

The Martyr St Eleazar the Scribe

Non enim aetati nostrae dignum est, inquit, fingere : ut multi adolescentium, arbitrantes Eleazarum nonaginta annorum transisse ad vitam alienigenarum.
At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion.


The first readings at Mass each day this week are all from the books of 1 & 2 Maccabees. The full story told in those books (and in 3 & 4 Maccabees which are in the Orthodox Bible, but not the Catholic one) is heartbreaking and very painful to read through (we’ll get to that in a minute) however the passages in the daily lectionary are stirring, perhaps even to the point of political action!

The short version of the Maccabee story, highlighted by the Catholic lectionary and also by the popular story of Hanukah, is one of political oppression overthrown by faith. The kings who took over after the death of Alexander the Great divided up his empire and then fought over strategic bits here and there. In 174 BC, King Antiochus IV took the throne of the Seleucid Empire, stretching from Kabul to the Mediterranean. He eventually took the name “Epiphanes” meaning “God Manifest”. He came to the temple in Jerusalem and desecrated it, sacrificing pigs on the altar and ordering all the Jews to adopt the practices of Hellenic culture and idolatry. Some Jews said yes. Some Jews said no. Some fought back and some fought in favor of these new Gentile overlords. The lectionary would have us remember the stirring string of victories and the glorious example of religious martyrs dying rather than cave into Gentile customs. The story of Hanukah, as popularly shared, is one such victory, reclaiming the Temple and reconsecrating it after the Greeks and their pig blood. However, the story of Hanukah downplays the political victory, focusing on a rabbinic story of a miracle that’s not recorded in these texts. We’ll come to the True Story of the 4 Books of Maccabees in a few moments.

Recent news for Chick-Fil-A has not been very good. By all accounts, Popeye’s Fried Chicken has made a chicken sandwich that is better than CFA’s ever thought about being. I’ve not had it because I can’t get to a place selling it before it sells out. But everyone says it’s amazeballs. Even before Popeye’s though a worker leaked CFA’s “secret recipe”. I’ve made this recipe at home and at the monastery in Colorado and I’ve found it in restaurants in several cities. It’s the real thing: I know it because it 100% of the time tastes exactly like the Original. Then there’s the politics: as CFA has tried to go international, they have met with protests over the perceived political stance of the company. what served them well when they were a chain in the South has not been so useful in the North, the West, Canada, or Europe.

Something that has been interesting to me during this entire chicken-political discussion has been watching both left and right activists read Chick-fil-A exactly the same. Both left and right have assumed that Chick-fil-A’s political stance was honest and sincerely held by persons rather than a business proposition or a marketing choice. While the owner of a business has the right to make choices about how the business uses its money, a good businessman makes business decisions with business money. In America, on the left and on the right, we like to imagine that businesses are run by persons and human decisions rather than by businesses and managers. Thus, when a business makes an actual business decision there’s often disillusionment. CFA is no different. Instead of seeing a multinational fast-food chain, many people on the left and on the right wanted to see personal decisions made that they either agreed with or not. Both the left and the right wanted to imagine that CFA was some sort of Christian Business in the real, baptized, confessing sense, as if it sat in a pew on Sundays when it was closed. This despite the fact that like any business, there are P&L spreadsheets, stockholders, expense accounts, and taxes. While a human person may make donations to charity, a business makes tax choices: weighing the tax benefits of a charity with the positive or negative customer sentiment caused by the action. This is why most business owners I know make “progressive” charities their public choice, but quietly vote Republican. Progressive politics play well, but Republicans are pro-business.

Back to the Maccabees. Rabbi Eleazar is considered a saint and a martyr among the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics, he is one of many Old Testament figures to hold a place on the Church Calendar. Most of them are prophets, but Eleazar is the only named Martyr. (There are 8 more with a feast but they do not have names: the seven brothers, students of Eleazar, and their mother.) In his homily on Tuesday, my pastor noted that the clear teaching of Eleazar’s story is there is literally no action we can take that does not affect someone else. Eleazar knew his actions would affect the young and so he refrained. Another priest, commenting on the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, noted that every sexual act involved two souls at the minimum with others coming along as needed. Eleazar reminds us that we never fall alone.

If Rabbi Eleazar were around today I think he might decide not to eat at Chick-fil-a. I think that would be the wrong answer because that would say that in the past Chick-fil-A had somehow been a Christian company. It would say that the left has been right all along and that “Christian Businesses” are a threat to them, somehow. It would also say that the only thing they need to do to get us to change is to apply economic pressures. If they apply them hard enough, in fact, we will begin to help them: by adding our economic weight to theirs. And now the left and the right agree again. CFA is neither fish nor fowl. They are not progressive enough yet for the left (who already is asking them to issue certain “statements”) but they are too progressive for many on the right, who are already protesting. Political Ploy is called divide and conquer. But that assumes that the Christian faithful are divided “us” against a business called Chick-fil-A, as if CFA were somehow Christian. That’s the myth that we are all fostering instead of realizing that it was a marketing choice that no longer works. Rabbi Eleazar would be wrong not because CFA is now unkosher, but because it has always been unkosher since a business is not a “Christian business”. CFA has always been making business decisions, not doctrinal ones.

The full story of the books of The Maccabees tell of a brief triumph followed by a series of political defeats. The defeats are caused by each of the Maccabee Brothers believing the political Promises of their enemies. As each successive wave of political failure overtakes the leaders of Israel, Rome gradually gains strength and moves in bit by bit until we are left with the Roman Empire running the show. What begins in 1 Maccabees ends in the Gospels as we watch the last king, Herod, being supplanted by the Roman governor, Pilate. It takes nearly 200 years, but all the Maccabees succeeded in doing was too weakened this part of the Seleucid Empire so that it would fall all the more easily to Rome.

We can easily understand why the readings this week of martyrdom and standing up for the true faith are so important to the Church. But we can lose sight of what the books of Maccabees are really about. What the Maccabees learn over and over is that it would have been safer to put their trust only in God rather than in politics and military might. Christians today would do well to heed this lesson as well. Psalm 146 says, “Put not your trust in princes or in any of the sons of men. For in the day his breath departs and he returns to the earth on that very day his plans perish.”

Eleazar was right: pretense leads to the fall of others. Our trust in politicians, in business leaders, in media superstars is nearly idolatry. The fall of each actually ruins our witness and our ability to be Christians in the world; just as each Maccabean failure resulted in a weaker Israel, leading finally to the Fall of Jerusalem in 73 AD. Each time we elevate a politician (with all of his faults) to super Christian stats, or each time we make a church out of businesses, we make it harder for real Christians and real Churches to do the hard work of the Gospel.