God’s Mercy and Yours

JMJ

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!

JMJ

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.

JMJ

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.

Pray. Rest. And a Fig.

An airplane marshals a vortex. From the Wiki Source

The Readings for the 32nd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Est enim in illa spiritus intelligentiae, sanctus, unicus, multiplex, subtilis, disertus, mobilis, incoinquinatus, certus, suavis, amans bonum, acutus, quem nihil vetat, benefaciens, humanus, benignus, stabilis, certus, securus, omnem habens virtutem, omnia prospiciens. In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing.

JMJ

Wisdom, Sophia, the breath of God, is such a long long list of beautiful things. But at no point is it ever said that she makes you annoyed. The breath of God may convict you of your sin: but at no point does it depress you or lead you to despair. Sophia may prevent you from doing something but all things she does are for your salvation: always moving you closer to God. In fact, St Ignatius of Loyola uses words like “Anxiety” and “Sadness” to describe the other guy.

Then it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. Thus he seeks to prevent the soul from advancing.

St Ignatius Spiritual Exercises

How can we avoid the mad rush to “fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul” and stick with “loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil”?

Jesus warns us in the Gospel today, that “There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.” There will be those who will try to distract us, to lead us astray. He warns us not to run in pursuit of all these distractions. These distractions could lead us in to sin: “even the elect would be deceived”, Jesus says in Matthew. Our path of discernment today must be always towards Jesus. But we have to be careful.

As Catholics, we believe the Church is where Peter is. But, let’s be honest: Peter can be a bit wonky, from French prostitutes to political alliances with the English, from gluttony to simony, from insanity to sodomy, we’ve had a lot of fun with the 266 men who have sat as Vicar of Christ. But yet, the Church is not run by Peter: it’s the Holy Spirit. And as with all sacraments: the grace of the Divine presence is not affected by the sanctity of the minister. Peter can go off his rocker full tilt – he has, many times – and yet that’s where the Church is. So what are we, as Catholics, to do?

When I was a child (I can still remember it…) the Pope never left the Vatican. He showed up on TV nearly never. Pope St Paul VI did not haunt the TV News of my childhood until nearing the end of his life, when the newscasters on TV became The Nightly News and started looking for stories. Even then the actual words of the Pope were not everywhere. Pope St John Paul II was a media superstar but he, also, had a very controlled media presence that didn’t get too far afield.

However, with the election of Benedict XVI, things got out of hand not because he was wonky, mind you. It was this thing you’re looking at. Throughout the papacy of B16, his actions were discussed on the internet, parsed, sorted, diagrammed. When the Pope abdicated, the internet went hog-wild. There were speculations about why it happened and who would follow. There were anxious blog posts and there were Twitter storms. When the White Smoke wafted from the chimney in the Vatican, the scene was captured on far too many smartphones. Sky News called it a “global moment”. I and many of my coworkers were watching at the office, each at our own desk with a tiny window open, live streaming.

And then the madness truly began.

The present Pope has made things that might make a SadTrad and a GladMod. But the present Pope has also said things that would make a GladTrad and a MadMod. In this, he’s no different than any other Pope. Even leaning one way or the other, he’s no different from any other Pope. Track the Popes Pious, 9-12, and you’ll see what a hundred years can do. You know what the difference is? You’re looking at it right now. The difference is this very thing you’re letting eat up your day: the internet.

The internet and the talking heads therein would fill your day with the Things Francis Has Done that I Dislike or Things Francis Has Done that I Like. They present (as I am now) a fully subjective Hot Take and ask you to go along for the ride. The odd thing is, Trad or Mod, very few of them appeal to the Holy Spirit. And so, mindful of the story of Holy Wisdom, and mindful of St Ignatius’ warning, I want to give you my hot take:

The Holy Spirit is in charge! Let that be a peace to you, let that be joy. Let the faith of the Church fill you with happiness and love. I am tired of priests and lay folks who spend more time reading blogs and watching videos than praying and reading Vatican Documents. Peace! Preach the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit lead the faithful. If you let hope die, the other guy wins. Don’t let the fully marshaled vortexes of the Internet rob you of your faith: for they cannot unless you let them. Do not let them harass you with anxiety or afflict you with sadness. Do not let them. Bind them in the name of Jesus and they will go away.

Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. And a fig for those Catholics who dare say otherwise. A fig, I say.

Pray for the Pope. And rest in the Spirit.

Orate Pro Nobis

All Saints of the Dominican Order (a sample…)

JMJ

 O God, you have been pleased to enrich the Order of Preachers with a countless offspring of saints, and have gloriously crowned in them the heroic merits of every virtue; grant us so to tread in their steps, that as today we honor them with one solemnity on earth, we may at length be united with them at the unending festival in heaven. 

When Empires Collapse

Readings for the 29th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Non ergo regnet peccatum in vestro mortali corpore ut obediatis concupiscentiis ejus. Sed neque exhibeatis membra vestra arma iniquitatis peccato.
Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness.

JMJ

Walking to work this morning, at about 8:15 AM, I passed a salon with large windows and a long marble countertop. Inside, even at such an hour on a workday, women were already getting their hair done. Two things struck me about the image: I saw no beauticians. Apart from the woman at the front door, there were no staff visible. All the women inside were seated as far apart from each other as possible, looking into their phones while their colors sat. There was no gossip, no friendly chatter. Even the receptionist at the door was watching her screen. So in what was once a traditional center of feminine social culture, there was only isolation and silence. The second thing that struck me was the Party Slogans painted on the wall, all in cheery scripts. One lept out at me and stuck me upside the head (after hearing today’s scripture read at Mass):

Never say no to something that makes you happy.

Contrast and compare to St Paul’s advice that we must not let sin reign over us so that we cave in to every desire our body has. And we’re not to offer up the parts of our body as weapons for evil.

It struck me that we’ve hit the heart of darkness here. Even 10 or 15 years ago the motto would have been “follow your bliss” or “do what you love” or something like that. As much as that’s not right it still put us in control. We had to follow or do. This new motto puts all the things outside of us and we have to only say yes. The world offers us all the goodies and we only have to say yes like some addict giving in to a dealer – even when we want to say or know we should say, “No”. Even when what “makes us happy” isn’t the same thing as “what is good for us”. Even when it means sitting in stonely silence reeking of hair dyes and permanents at 8:15 in the morning… this will make us happy somehow, we guess, until we decide we want to change something else.

What makes the parts of our bodies into “weapons for wickedness”? What makes those same parts into “weapons for righteousness”?

When St Paul was writing to the Church in Rome, that city was the center of a global empire: all the wealth and goods, all the power of the known world flowed into that city. Rome had created a huge funnel that brought everything to the doors not only of the wealthy and powerful, but even to the poor of that city who fared better than their country cousins and were able to look down on them. Being a Roman Citizen was not a citizen of the Empire: it meant a citizen of the City of Rome. In our culture, “I’m a New Yorker” nearly never means one is from Poughkeepsie or even Buffalo. It means “I’m from the City so nice they named it twice.” To be Roman was to be one of the lucky ones.

It also meant that one was surrounded (as in today’s cities) with the opportunities to meet every possible desire and craving. Like San Francisco, in Rome you could meet any food craving, any sexual craving, any sensual desire. Like New York you could meat actors, politicians, the rich and famous, the families of kingmakers that – even under the Caesars – were still making kings. You could find any kind of religious cult, any sort of social gathering, any delicacy to consume until it made you sick.

To this, the entire Christian religion said a profound and unsettling, “No”. Profound because of it’s universal nature: While sex was the most obvious break with the local culture (as it is today), everything from food sacrifices to dinner parties with friends, from political duties to military service fell under religious taboo for these Christians. Unsettling because, as the Psalmist says, “The righteous man makes us uncomfortable for his ways are not like ours.” Even though the Christian was, until recently, a Roman like every other Roman, suddenly she was not letting the parts of her body be weaponized for evil. Suddenly he was offering the parts of his body for good things instead. She was sharing all her wealth with the poor. He was caring for his wife as if she was a human being and not property.

Paul had started a revolution or rather had cooperated with the Holy Spirit instarting a revolution. Hashtag Resist indeed! We need this same revolution today.

We need a class of people who will resist the culture of just accept what makes you feel good. We need a class of people who will only say yes to what saves their souls. We need a class of people who will resist their feelings and instead will strive for their virtues. This class of people will let their “lights so shine before men that they see your good works and praise your Father who is in heaven.”

The ancient Romans imagine that because they tolerated Christians in their midst the Roman Pantheon were angry with them. But we do not need to imagine a vengeful deity, an angry thunder god who will destroy us. Many evangelical Christians have imagined that that was what was happening – ironically following the example of pagans in Rome rather than Christians. In fact all we need is the natural consequences arising from our consumption, greed, and license. All we need to do is stand back and watch our culture collapse. It is the same natural consequences that destroyed Rome. They play out in political, social, cultural, and moral spheres. When the whole structure is weakened as by termites it collapses. The same is happening to us today in our culture that so aptly parallels ancient Rome.

The witness of Christians as different from this culture will not save this culture, however, any more than it is the judgement of God that is destroying it. The culture of cheap plastic junk is present on the left and the right. The culture of I do whatever I envision and don’t bother me is present on the left and on the right. The only difference between Trump saying this and Oprah saying this is which side you voted for in the last election.

In such a culture the Christian choice for chastity, celibacy, prudence, for the life of Virtues will be a condemnation; and, more importantly, will be condemned.

Who’s with me?

Be Not Afraid

JMJ

The Office of Readings for the feast of Pope St John Paul.

From the Homily of Saint John Paul II, Pope, for the Inauguration of his Pontificate

(22 October 1978: AAS 70 [1978], 945-947)

Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.

Peter came to Rome! What else but obedience to the inspiration received from the Lord could have guided him and brought him to this city, the heart of the Empire? Perhaps the fisherman of Galilee did not want to come here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the shores of Lake of Genesareth, with his boat and his nets. Yet guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!

According to an ancient tradition, Peter tried to leave Rome during Nero’s persecution. However, the Lord intervened and came to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.

He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’s Son (as he was thought to be), the Son of the living God (as confessed by Peter), came to make us all “a kingdom of priests”.

The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that Christ’s mission as Priest, Prophet-Teacher and King continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past the tiara, that triple crown, was placed on the Pope’s head in order to signify by that symbol the Lord’s plan for his Church, namely that all the hierarchical order of Christ’s Church, all “sacred power” exercised in the Church, is nothing other than service, service with a single purpose: to ensure that the whole People of God shares in this threefold mission of Christ and always remains under the power of the Lord; a power that has its source not in the powers of this world, but instead in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk. Make me a servant: indeed, the servant of your servants.

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind.

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “that which is in man”. He alone knows it.

So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

Stuff and Things. Mostly things. Some Stuff.

The Readings for the Feast of St Luke (C1)

Penulam, quam reliqui Troade apud Carpum, veniens affer tecum, et libros, maxime autem membranas.
When you come, bring the cloak I left with Carpus in Troas, the papyrus rolls, and especially the parchments.

JMJ

This one verse, St Paul’s list of Things I Forgot to Pack for This Trip, was the opening line in Fr A’s homily this morning which left me meditating on God’s action in our lives.

This shopping list is part of Holy Scripture: part of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church is St Paul saying, “Dang it, I forgot some stuff…” and that has come down to us as part of “the Word of the Lord (Thanks be to God)” for today. Ruminate on that…

Word reached me today that I’ve been given the ok to make my Temporary Profession as a Third Order Dominican. The Third Order lives the Dominican Life in the world.

The Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic was founded with their own rule in 1285 and was officially recognized by the Church on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1286.

Lay Dominicans “are accordingly distinguished both by their own spirituality and by their service to God and neighbor in the Church. As members of the Order, they participate in its apostolic mission through prayer, study and preaching according to the state proper to the laity.” (The Rule of the Lay Fraternity #4).

Lay Dominicans come from every background, joining the Dominican charism to their state of life in the world. In this unique Dominican way, they live out their special vocation “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will.” (Lumen Gentium 31)

Source

We may be lucky enough to find ourselves in community but for most of us, that community is a once-in-a-while thing. The family, our friends, our parish life, the local Knights’ council, etc, are our community. That’s where we live out the Dominican life. The Charism is really about Bringing the Gospel there… where we are. In other words, I will be able to continue exploring what it means to be a Dominican who is employed in Tech, who has friends in all walks of life and in various stages of their journey towards God.

Today’s reading with St Paul forgetting is cloak – the Word of the LORD! – highlights God working the ordinary, the mundane, the daily grind. God working as you take out the garbage. God working as the litterbox needs changing. God working as your child is born. God working as you fry eggs. God is working his purpose out – if you will let him – in each action of your life, each step of the dance. And changing all of this into Verbum Domini, the Word of the Lord.

St Benedict’s rule (to appeal to another monastic tradition) highlights normal, daily life as well. When I was inside the monastery, there was nothing magical, nothing at all like the wooji-wooji one might imagine. My first day at the Monastery was spent cleaning the kitchen. I heard Sue Anne Nivens say to Mary Tyler Moore, “Start at noon and work your way around the whole room like a clock.” I was vacuuming dead flies off the top of the fridge and using a degreaser around the room. Life in a Monastery. Stuff and things.

We are saved like this. One step at a time, one dead fly vacuumed up at a time. One new book studied, one new friend made in a coffee shop, one holiday meal cooked, served, and cleaned up after. Then death.

And glory.

You may be the only Gospel someone ever reads. What are you doing to make sure it’s not just a shopping list, but the Word of God?

The Calling of St Cletus

JMJ

The Readings for Monday in the 28th Week, Tempus Per Annum (C1)

Omnibus qui sunt Romae, dilectis Dei, vocatis sanctis.
To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints.

Romans is Paul’s most amazing letter. It’s also his most problematic. He will rattle of lists of forbidden things that are very popular today. We won’t be reading those: the Mass lectionary has skipped over those since, at least, the council of Trent (those who say this is a “modernist concession to the world” need to pay more attention to the Church). But, they are there. And they are listed in contrast to this first passage which is in the old lectionary in a very telling place: this passage was read at Mass during the day on 24 December, the Vigil of Christmas. In a way, this Epistle is the “last word of Advent”. In that light (that dawning light) let’s look at it again.

The Coming of Jesus, the arrival of God in the Flesh, means that something new has begun, something unprecedented in all time and space. This is a scandal to Jews and to Muslims alike: for God, born in the flesh, means not only the Creator God has walked on the Earth, but that all the things we experience he, too, experienced. I’m not referring to the things that end up in Hallmark cards like sunrises and birdsong, dew, and the scent of spring. I mean the stuff of life that is more realistic: blood, pain, fear, farts, bad food, and preferring Mom’s hummus to Aunt Elizabeth’s – which tastes funny.

God becoming human means there was a moment in time – several long moments in time by our standards – when God the Word was without words, not only on his lips, but in his brain. Babies do not yet have the synapses needed to cogitate towards words. Baby brains have a very binary mode which we would call “good/bad” but they don’t have those concepts. For God in the Flesh, for a few months there was only “Cry/Don’t Cry”.

On this day before Christmas, Paul reaches out to us and says, “Today we begin.” And the Church here reminds us that today is always today. Today, Monday of the 28th Week, we begin.

Paul – after a reminder of who he is and who Jesus is – says to the Romans (that is, us) “to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Going backward in this reading, called to be holy is paralleled with called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Called is the Greek word κλητός kletos. We are summoned, invited. We are playing with our friends in the back yard when Moms begin to yell names across the neighborhood: BI-LEEEEEE, AN-THU-NEEEE! SUPPER! Called. And someplace, God the Father, standing on the back porch, did the same thing by sending Jesus into the world. We are called to belong to Jesus, called to be saints. This is the Gospel, the good news, for God doesn’t not call us to things we cannot do – by his Grace. The second Greek word is ἅγιος agios and it means holy, set apart for God. That is the meaning of Saint – not miracle worker, not inspired teacher – wholy holy. Set apart for God.

This is the pitch.

But the how is still coming up. You are called to be a saint. This sounds good you say, ok, Paul. How? Paul’s got a list of things to stop doing but the Church has named this the “Universal Call to Holiness” and they can best be summed up in the “Evangelical Counsels”: living as Jesus lived according to Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. These are not just for monks – they are for everyone.

Poverty first. Remember that Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God – but all things are possible with God. Jesus had nothing against rich people but he recognized that attachment to things of this world was all it took to keep you out of heaven. Any undue attachment will take you straight to hell. The Apostolic and Patristic writings are filled with advice on this topic. Share all things, give away all things, give to anyone who asks; your extra clothes are stolen from the poor; food you let spoil is stolen from the hungry. All things come from God and are yours to distribute as God would. The Church insists on the universal destination of goods, professing that the goods of creation are destined for humankind as a whole. Possessions are part of our vocation to care for those around us. This includes a fair and just use of Creation nd her resources – food, water, land, air – for all of the people on the planet (now, and in the future).

Chastity is the most misunderstood of the evangelical counsels. It is not the same thing as celibacy. Some Christians are called to a vowed abstention from marriage but all Christians are called by their Baptism to chastity which means to make appropriate use of God’s gift of human sexuality according to their state in life. Christians within a sacramental marriage are to engage in the gift of sexual union as a means o furthering the relationship between husband and wife and open to the generation of new life in their children. This includes abstaining from sex at times that would be spiritually (emotionally, physically) harmful for the participants in the relationship. Christians outside of a sacramental marriage are called to abstain from sexual actions which are generously gifted by God for a specific place in the created order. This includes not objectifying others sexually, not using the sexuality of others for financial gain (violating their chastity), and not allowing onc self to be used in those ways either.

Obedience is the one that drives many Christians bonkers. At least in social media what I tend to hear is some version of “The Church says X, but I disagree, therefore it’s not part of the Magisterium and I don’t have to follow it. The Church says Y and I agree and therefore it is part of the Magisterium – and you’re a crazy heretic for disagreeing.” In fact, the Documents of the Second Vatican Council are rather broadly drawn when obedience to the Pope is involved:

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Lumen Gentium #25

Working up to that statement, the same document underscores the hierarchical nature of the Church, with each layer owing humility, reverence, and service across the board to priests, bishops, and especially the Pope. That, however, is the Magisterium. Paul – and the Church Fathers – carries this further. We owe reverence and obedience to each other. The enemy calls us to self-will. Any chance to escape what the Fathers call our “slavery to my own reasoning” is a gift from God and a chance to grown in virtue. This does not go against our divine gift of Freedom. Our Freedom in Christ is not the freedom from rules. It is the Freedom for the power of this world, from the power of the Devil, from the slavery to sin and “to my own reasoning” that we may grow in Virtue. It’s not, the license to do whatever but rather the restoration (in Christ) of a freedom to do the Good that we lost in the fall.

Miss Aretha sang it best. Wholy holy. We’re called to be Wholy Holy.

Oh, wholy holy
Oh Lord
We can conquer hate forever, yes we can
Ah, wholy holy, Oh Lord
We can rock the world’s foundation
Yes we can
Better believe it
Wholy holy together and wholy
Holler love across the nation
Oh, oh
Wholy holy
We proclaim love, our salvation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-XtO9Bov64

The incarnation means that this physical stuff of us is called to Holiness: and we are called to holiness by doing the things of this world. By living the life God has given us. If you are a married bridge builder raising a family, that is your path to holiness. Wrap it up and give it as a Christmas present to God.

St John Henry Cardinal Newman offers us this simple way to perfection, a way to hold our life out to God:

If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first-
– Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
– give your first thoughts to God;
– make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
– say the Angelus devoutly;
– eat and drink to God’s glory;
– say the Rosary well;
– be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
– make your evening meditation well;
– examine yourself daily;
– go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.

These three then, poverty, chastity, and obedience are our pathway to answer the Universal Call to Holiness. When Paul says to us we are “called to be holy” or “called to be saints” as it is in some translations, this is what he means. All the lists that follow in St Paul’s text that are skipped over boil down to these items. It’s possible to go all your life as a Christian without addressing these. But what’s the point?

Becoming a Saint is the greatest adventure possible.

St John the Melodist

St John Henry Cardinal Newman pray to God for us!

JMJ

St John Henry Cardinal Newman was a very accomplished hymn writer. Many of his hymns are here in the Hymnary. There’s also a long biography there.

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive and should prevail;

And that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

O generous love! that he, who smote
in Man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo;

And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.