We’re All Idiorrhythmic Now

St Anthony the Great, pray for us.

JMJ

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.

Saved.

Amen.

The Rosary: The Institution of the Eucharist

JMJ

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!

JMJ

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

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.