So, about this slave…

Philemon 1:7-20
Luke 17:20-25

I, Paul, write this in my own hand: I will pay. May I not tell you that you owe me your very self. Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
Philemon 1:19-20

The Epistle to Philemon is one of those passages from St Paul that annoy people. See: it’s about this slave. Evidently the slave was abused in some way by his master (the Philemon in the title). The slave ran away to St Paul and, after some time together in prison, St Paul sent him back to his master with this letter. One doubts if the slave, himself, could read, but this letter was intended to serve as a hall-pass, if you will, or a doctor’s note. Yes, your slave has been with me. Please excuse his absence.

People read this today (or 150 years ago) and wonder that Paul didn’t keep the slave with him and or send him on his way. Why bother to send him back to his master? 150 years ago, white Americans read this Epistle and demanded the right to keep (and abuse) their African slaves, claiming it and other passages said such was ok. They miss the point, though. But it is clear we all impose our historical points of view on St Paul, St Onesimus, and St Philemon.

We picture, essentially, some 1st Century Greek version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, although we have no reason to imagine that all the parties here were anything other than Mediterranean and white.  In fact, St Onesimus could have been a Gaul, or a mixed race child of slaves. He could have been a street urchin who was rescued and raise up in the house, or sold to the house to pay off a debt… any number of things.  But it’s most likely that everyone involved is white. It’s probable that St Philemon is wealthy – wealthy enough not to miss a slave for an extended period of time, allowing St Paul to blithely suggest the slave’s time with him was a generous gift.

Almost everything beyond that is an anachronistic projection of our historical location.

Paul was here (as elsewhere) taking a gradual approach.  Get the master to see the slave as a Brother in Christ. Get the master to see that Christians do not enslave each other. Paul is working out his salvation, the salvation of Onesimus and the salvation of Philemon. But also the salvation of the world.

To preach destroying a transcultural institution that was widely accepted would have put the Church, herself, at risk. Then the very organ for winning the salvation of these two saints and the freedom of all concerned would be lost in the name of political upheaval. But to use that institution as the organ for salvation… this was Paul’s genius in the Spirit. He did this to the institution of Roman marriage as well – taking something deeply woven into the local culture and saying “let’s not cause a mere scandal, let’s use it to save the world.”

We walk through a world where we would, I think, rather focus on causing a scandal, a massive upheaval. We want to score points, win debates and get all the clicks. But when we cause scandal, we destroy the Gospel – itself the real scandal. It is so without our help.  The Gospel is the Mercy of God: we do not think of this today when we are so very focused on Justice. We don’t want the Justice of God, honestly, we don’t. Nor do we want to live that Divine Justice. Sure, many deserve that fate, lighting, boom. But how can you save them after you’ve killed them? God reserves that to himself: and he has not yet seen fit to use it. God gives us the tools of love, and mercy. God gives St Paul an ironic, humorous guilt trip to use on Philemon. God needs Paul to show mercy to Onesimus and Philemon. God’s mercy must flow from Philemon to his slave. But Onesimus must also be merciful here. That’s everyone’s struggle: we all want to be in the right and be gracious. But we are all sinners together. God says, “love your enemies”. That is the scandal.

To the Mother Church of All the World

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables,
John 2 (NABRE)
Simony, in the church, is the buying and selling of church offices or sacraments. It is expressly forbidden. The money changers, though, were not guilty of simony. The Temple had certain rules about the quality of animal that could be sacrificed. So, it was easy for an entrepreneur to grow only a certain type of lamb, breeding out the ones that would be good only for the butcher, selling the best at a premium. Where to sell these? In the Temple, of course. But the use of pagan coinage, with their false deities and their association in memory with the recent Antiochian unpleasantness, made their use problematic. So a new class of entrepreneurs arose, exchanging Temple coins for these pagan idols. Naturally enough, the Temple, itself, took a cut of every transaction, so the entrepreneurs raise their prices to cover this. All of this was legal. All of it was within the tradition of supply and demand. Yet, after a while, the poor were unable to shop in this place and it cut them off from Temple worship. At that point something untoward had happened.
To follow any law – the law of God, or even the law of Supply and Demand – is a free choice. When you take away someone’s free choice to follow God, you’ve robbed them of the most important thing. Jesus is saying nothing about business, per se, but he is saying, clearly, that God’s worship was intended to be open to all. The culture of the day – urban, entrepreneurial, rich – had so devalued the poor that they could no longer worship there, that they had thus, de jure and de facto, devalued the Temple itself. 
This first cleansing of the Temple (he will do it again before his Passion) is a sign proclaiming the coming Kingdom that will be open to all, free for all to enter (although not without price). 
As I write, it is early Tuesday morning. In the USA people are voting today and, sadly, it is an election that is worrying people around the world. It’s not something I want to talk about as such which is why I make it clear that I’m writing well before the election results are known (even before the silliness of “exit polls” has started). This post will auto publish at 3AM California time, 6AM New York time, 11 AM London time. (I think it hits twitter at about 10AM ET.) Y’all know who won. Some will be happy, some will be sad.
I will be sad: I don’t know who won, but I will be sad. This election has been very painful for my country, for my friends and family, for my church. One can’t sit very long in a church community, hearing one side of a political race praised and another side denigrated. Rather, one can sit for a while if one participates. One can’t sit at all if one wishes to avoid desecration of the image of God present in all persons – even politicians. So one gets uncomfortable among the ad hominem attacks and one, I confess, silently judges the folks making them. Then one decides to leave and not come back.
Earlier this week a person who had been ordained in the Roman Church, desecrated an altar on video, broadcasting on the internet, to call folks to vote for one candidate. At the point where you are desecrating the altar to make a political point, you’ve gone far, far beyond the Merchants in the Temple, far, even, beyond the simoniacs selling the priesthood for filthy lucre. You’ve become the Antichrist – where “Anti” means not “against” as in popular imagination, but “instead of” as the Greek implies. You’ve created something that you want to come first – instead of the God of Love. Yes, there is still a God of Love, but, sometimes, we have to lay aside his teachings in order to get something done.
Much of our politics of late have become this laying aside – just for now, you see, just for a moment – of the teachings of Jesus in order to make a point. We’re snarky – just for now (we can forgive and love later). We are bullies – but just for now (we can turn the other cheek later). We make fun of the poor, we devalule the less fortunate, but just for now (we can give to the foodbank later). We are happy with the “great unwashed” in abstract. But please keep them out of the voting booth.
Once upon a time, back in the days of Ancient Rome, the Urbus, the City, was the eternal center of the world. Country Bumpkins lived out in the “districts”, in Latin, the “Pagus”. In time the Urban folks, mostly rich, certainly all were legally Roman – became Christian. But the Bumpkins stayed way behind the times and they worshipped their deities as they had always done. Since they lived on the Pagus, they were called “pagans”. Today, it seems, the position is reversed: the folks that live in the hinterlands, the Pagans, are still behind the times: they are Christian despite the fact that all the cool, hip, and rich urbanites are all freethinkers and libertines. The Churches, however, in both places, have also become either Pagans or Urbans. And they both make fun of each other like the other people.
Yes, that side said and did some deplorable things. And that side said and did some nasty things as well. However people calling themselves faithful Christians not only supported each side, but deprecated the other side in painful ways. One desecrated an altar in the name of politics, as cited, but others endorsed and embraces abortion too. And one side obsessed about it in ways that make no sense, to the denial of all the other parts of the Gospel. Both sides overlooked some moral failings whilst accentuating others. Both sides engaged in judging not the politicians (although that’s bad enough) but our Christian brothers and sisters who made different secular choices. We can set aside these teachings just for a moment, to get what we want.
I do wish Jesus would do to all of us what he did to the moneychangers in the temple. We are most all of us money changers. We need to all have our comfortable (largely white, largely American, largely well off) butts whipped off with ropes flailed helter skelter by God’s own hand. We’ve bought fully into our political culture without realizing we’re cutting off each other, destroying the body for which Christ died. It is far more important for me to love my brother in Christ than it is for us to agree politically (by which I mean secular politics). 
In another post, we can talk about our love for the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the unborn and how that should, ahem, trump our secular politics. But for now, let’s go to confession and acknowledge how we let our secular politics become Anti-Christ.
Today’s Feast celebrating the dedication of the Basilica of Christ the Savior in Rome is a reminder that we all are members of one body, one Church. It is called, in the traditional texts, “the Mother Church of all Rome and of All the World”. Mother Church is a title reserved for the Cathedral Church in a diocese. Since the Bishop of Rome is seen by Rome as the Bishop of Everywhere, his cathedral (which is this Basilica of Christ the Savior) is the Cathedral or Mother Church for everyone. It is thus surprising to me that this feast is on the WR Orthodox calendar. The status of the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome seems an odd choice for an Orthodox calendar? But there it is. 
Despite all their bickering, Rome and Constantinople and Moscow have agreed on one thing: they are all the Church. Now, I know what some pious folks will say (from either of those three camps). But the reality is that although Rome and Constantinople both take to themselves the right to appoint bishops in (eg) Jerusalem – including the Patriarchs there – no one has taken to himself the right to replace the other. There is no Byzantine Patriarch of Rome. There is no Latin Patriarch of Istanbul. Moscow yields as well. Tacitly, they all acknowledge each other. If the Bishop of Rome really isn’t the Bishop of Rome the “real” Church should replace him, no?  But the see is not empty. The Bishop of Rome is Francis and the Orthodox may disagree with him, but they have not appointed another – he’s the real deal.
So, at least in our political structures, we see each other as “real” and “equal”. And today we commemorate “their” Basilica as “ours” too.

It’s like Arkham Horror, really.

Titus 2:1-8, 11-14
Luke 17:7-10

We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.
Luke 17:10

My tendency is to crave recognition for things I have done. I confess that ad libitum, ad nauseum, along with my other sins. But I’m happy to note that we live in a world where I can get little ego boosts nearly all day, every day for ever: [+1] [Like][<3][RT]

Jesus reminds us: if we have evangelized the world, if we have raised the dead, worked miracles greater than he, and run the race until its completion, we have only done what was commanded. We have led all the committees, raised funds for all the windows, paid off all the seminary debt, healed broken marriages, learned to forgive seven times seventy… We have only done what was commanded.

In short, there are no special snowflakes in the Kingdom of God.

In our Epistle today, St Paul says to St Titus that God is “training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:11-14a)

We have to do it now… not later. It’s not enough to have the “sinners’ prayer” as some kind of “Get out of Hell Free” card. Jesus is not a fire escape. “Heaven is a city on a hill, hence we cannot coast into it; we have to climb. Those who are too lazy to mount can miss its capture as well as the evil who refuse to seek it. Let no one think he can be totally indifferent to God in this life and suddenly develop a capacity for Him at the moment of death. Where will the capacity for heaven come from if we have neglected it on earth?” Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Seven Capital Sins)

That’s our job. Nothing more, nothing less: to be “in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech “. It’s kinda boring, really, this neary Vulcan religion of ours, except for that great joy and love stuff.

This was in the Office of Readings yesterday, from a 2nd century sermon:

It is not enough for us to call him “Lord.” That will not save us. As he says: It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does what is right. We must acknowledge him by our actions, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, by avoiding calumny and jealousy. We must live continently, compassionately, virtuously. We must let love for each other take precedence over love of riches. It is by these actions that we acknowledge Christ, not by doing the opposite; and remember that it is not human beings that we should fear and respect, but God. The Lord has said to you: If you are gathered together into my arms and do not obey my commands I will cast you from me and say to you, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!” 

So, my brethren, let us move forward to face the contest before us. In the contests of this world victory does not come to all competitors but only to a few who have trained hard and fought well; but in our contest, let us fight so that all may have the victory. Let us run the straight race, let us compete in the eternal contest, and let whole crowds of us steer our course towards the crown of victory. If we cannot all be victors let us at least come close.

But, this needs to be said, over and over: that’s our Job. All of us win or, really, none of us do. And even then, the reward will be “You did your job.” (The Arkham Horror reference in the title is linked to that second paragraph… if you don’t know the game no worries! Basically it’s a long one – 8 hours was the last one I played – but everyone wins together or no one wins at all.)

Be sure to like, share, and retweet, thanks. Validate me please.

Here is the Snowflake Canticle:

Antiphon: Ye shall be.

 am a snowflake, special, unique and majestic.
I am peerless in myself, though surrounded by peerless millions.
I am self-defining, self-affirming, and self-sustaining because
I am good, strong, and humble.
In my state
I freely submit to a religious discipline because
it makes me a better person and
it has nice music and pretty colors,
and drugs are bad.

Glory to my parents who brought me into this life: I’m an adult now. I am a snowflake: you can’t melt me, and I’ll call the feds if you try.

Antiphon: Ye shall be as gods.

Teacher, teach me

[A Bishop] must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.
Titus 1:9

his passage is about a Bishop or “Elder” or “Overseer” in a congregation, but it is true of all of us to the extent that each of us may be the only Christian another party engages with. Please hold that in mind…

One of the oddest things about our world today is how in touch we all are, and yet, at the same time, how out of touch we are with each other. I had an odd experience a few months ago that underscored my sense of the Church’s borkedness. (yes, I used “borked” there) In one conversation in Colorado there was blowback from an event that had happened 4 years earlier in my San Francisco parish and the “real story” behind another event. It’s all hearsay as far as I can tell, although it took me the better part of a month to come to that inner peace. In that one conversation is was made clear that if the right questions had been asked it would have resolved most of the issues. (I confess, that as the highest lay official at my SF parish, I felt some guilt over not asking those questions in a timely manner – they are pointless now.) How much of that chain of events was caused by one silly action – a bad catechesis – blows my mind.
Failure to hold on to the faith, failure pass it on in a sound manner, is so yuge. Because: God didn’t give us a book. He gave us a Church. The Church has seen fit to give us a book – but Orthodox and Catholic clergy vow to not read or teach that text in any way contrary to the Tradition. That vow should apply to all of us. If we don’t pass it on as we got it, it stops moving. There’s no way to just pick up a book and guess at it.
Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 
Luke 17:1b-2
Again, this isn’t just about clergy: for in our time we are all teachers of the faith. I certainly am with my blog posts (which only get 30 or so readers) – and I stumble a lot and I’m mindful of how careful I must be: and you, gentle readers, who have been with me throughout my 20 years of electronic journalling know how many turns I can take. If you pass it on wrong, they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on. To make it more complex, our internet will share it with millions even if you only whisper it in secret and scandal will go forth.

As teachers – all of us – in our daily life we are responsible for passing that faith whole in our relationships with friends and family, with coworkers, with kids that see us as role models. Yup… a lot. 

How can we be mindful?

Remember, Remember

Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil.
II Thessalonians 3:1b-3
I cannot do justice to the reading from II Maccabees.  Please listen to Bishop Robert Baron’s homily on that text.
Paul is spreading the kingdom through an empire. He asks that we should pray for the word of God to speed on and triumph. The Greek word here is “Logos”, ie Jesus. Paul is inviting Christians to subversion. The greeting on the street is “Caesar is Lord”. Caesar was a stabilizing force, a center around which the empire turned. When Caesar was strong, as with Augustus, there was strength in the empire, and peace – albeit with more than a bit of militarism. When Caesar went nutty as in the case of Nero or Caligula the whole thing fell apart. When Caesar is the strong center, he’s very popular. When he’s a nutter: they kill him and get a new one. Jesus is Lord forever. That’s a subversion the Romans can’t handle. It’s an existential threat.
However, if Jesus is only about a political goals: peace, stability, justice, love, happiness… then why not drop all the rest of this crap? All this can come from Caesar and we can all work it out. Let’s just admit that we’re all going to the same place and pull together for the common good! That’s not what Christianity is about. For starters, none of those things come from Caesar. That’s not what God’s way has been about since well before the Holy Maccabee Martyrs (of whom we read today, although their feast day is on 1 August on both the Eastern and Western calendars). God’s always been subverting things: it’s his reign or nothing, really. That’s why Christians do everything as “sojourners” rather than as native citizens in this world. 
We should pray for our leaders and we should honor and obey them as long as they command nothing against the Word of God. But political action, per se, seems out of the question because the work of the Kingdom of God is, itself, seditious. Saying “Jesus is Lord” means Caesar is not. Saying “Jesus is Lord” means “I don’t really care who is president, because we are all sinners and I answer to God, alone.”  Come the Revolution!
And those for whom Jesus is not Lord are not working to the same ends. We may coincide for a time, but their goal is not our goal. Their god is their belly, their end is destruction.
On Tuesday, we do not vote as citizens of the USA, but as members of Christ Kingdom who happen live here. We have a duty to subvert rather than support, a duty to make manifest God’s kingdom in the laws and procedures of this land in anyway possible.  Peaceably. At the same time, putting into practice St Paul’s teaching: that we should pray for the word of God to speed on and triumph. It’s not effective to use the system to get what we want: look at the history of Republican-appointees on the Supreme Court and pro-abortion decisions. We are lying to ourselves if we think we can get anything done playing by their rules.  But we can subvert: we can use their rules against themselves.
I had an argument once that ended with the other party saying “yeah, but all truth is relative in different shades of grey.” That begs all sorts of questions, but it’s possible to subvert that rule set.  “That’s just your truth, Brian.” I said, “My truth only comes in black and white.”  He was totally stunned into silence. When people get exotic about God not being “Really” a Father and being beyond gender, I ask “Does God not have the freedom to pick his own pronouns?” Certainly, they may deny the reality of revelation in either case, but then, at least, you know you’re talking to materialists and you can get on with the subversive work of the Gospel. Word games are theology: we worship the Logos of God.
I pray the Word of God will speed on and triumph.  At least, I pray, he will hold the trump card in this election.

I got mine. There’s just enough.

Philippians 4:10-19
Luke 16:9-15

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:12-13

One of the things that drives me bonkers about modern charity drives is how we unfavorably compare people in need to ourselves: “Here’s a child, her family lives on only $1 a day.” They don’t tell us anything about the local economy there: they want us to say, “Goodness! It takes me at least $5 a day to buy Starbucks and then another $30 or $40 a day to feed myself. Then my kids. Then there’s the animals we house with us not for food, but because the kids like them… $1 a day!” Thus we give out of guilt and become affirmed in the goodness of our wealth at the same time. I would be interested to hear it presented this way: “Here’s a child, her family lives on only $1 a day and while they need, really $3 a day, they do pray for you who live, easily on $100 a day and still complain that you want more.”

Paul has learned the real secret of “facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want” from Jesus: “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” By “mammom” we mean “riches” and by “riches” we mean a superfluity, an excess: more than is needed. The Fathers everywhere affirm the rightness of private property and – most often in the same breath – counsel against a superfluity. St Gregory of Nyssa and others go so far as to insist that “superfluity” means having two shirts or two pair of shoes. Goodness knows you really can only wear one. Right? That extra pair of shoes you are not wearing today should be on the feet of someone who has no shoes. The extra clothes hanging in your closet now belong to someone else. There is no allowance for “but I need that in case I have to go to a business meeting”.

In commenting on this passage the Fathers all seem to recognise that will will have a superfluity of stuff: it’s what happens when you work and juggle our lives in frugality as we are also counselled. The end will be our needs are met plus an excess. Hear, then, blessed Theophylact on this:

Those then are called the riches of unrighteousness which the Lord has given for the necessities of our brethren and fellow-servants, but we spend upon ourselves. It became us then, from the beginning, to give all things to the poor, but because we have become the stewards of unrighteousness, wickedly retaining what was appointed for the aid of others, we must not surely remain in this cruelty, but distribute to the poor, that we may be received by them into everlasting habitations. For it follows, That, when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

St Gregory the Great says, “But if through their friendship we obtain everlasting habitations, we ought to calculate that when we give we rather offer presents to patrons, than bestow benefits upon the needy.” In other words, the rich won’t care so much if we give them presents from our superfluity: but the poor will. He says also, “In order then that after death they may find something in their own hand, let men before death place their riches in the hands of the poor. ”  When I first visited a local parish, I was told “we end the year with about $1000 left in the bank, after all the donations have been tallied and given away.”  And I thought, that’s a good thing. We’re not saving “for a rainy day”. We’re using the poor as our bankers.

One thing we take comfort in, in America, is our “Social Safety Net” even if it is very weak. When asked for Christian Charity we reply, to modify the words of Scrooge, “Is there no medicaid? Have the section 8 houses closed?” But St Augustine seems to stand against that: “Now some misunderstanding this, seize upon the things of others, and so give something to the poor, and think that they are doing what is commanded. That interpretation must be corrected into, Give alms of your righteous labors.” Your taxes are your taxes: but you still must give alms.

Entrust your riches into the hands of the poor for safe keeping… and most of us, if you are reading this on the internet, are rich. Protip: ask for the prayers of the poor when you give them your money.  The Bible says the pray of a poor man will go to heaven as speedily as an arrow!

We think of our superfluity as our own, maybe for surety against a day of want. Yet Paul says that day of want is part of God’s plan for us, no less than the superfluity: we are to turn to God in all things, riches or want. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We imagine our superfluity proves our success – this is part of the so-called “Protestant Work Ethic”. If one is rich, one must have God’s blessing to be so, we argue. This the very rich are very blessed and “must be doing something right”. Quite the contrary: if they have hoarded all their superfluity they are, in fact, doing everything wrong, unnatural, not even human. St Ambrose says “Riches are foreign to us, because they are something beyond nature, they are not born with us, and they do not pass away with us.” When we think like them – demand wealth of “my own” – we “are those who justify yourselves before men…[and]…what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

Paul knows, “I can do all things through Christ”. We tend, however, to measure our success by the World’s standards. When we want something we demand “justice” or “our rights”. We just want our fair share, we just want what’s coming to us. Is that so wrong? Yes.

AD 2016: The Election Year of Mercy

From the Facebook Feed of

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 16:1-8

The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness.
Luke 16:8a

Do you find this passage confusing? It’s one that usually stumps me when it comes up in the lectionary. Here’s my go for this year: If this is a parable of the Kingdom, then the Rich Man is like God and the Steward is like a priest who has many sins of his own as he hears the confessions of the people. Mindful of his own sins, and of how it is that God is being merciful to him, he is also merciful to those who come to him; giving them light penances, and generous pardon.

Such mercy is also our own business. We name this and claim this in the Lord’s Prayer, right? Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Yes, the man in the parable is forgiving debts owed to his lord rather than to himself, but all sin is against God, is it not? “Against you, you alone have I sinned” says the Prophet David in Psalm 50. Even when we sin “at” another person, it is the icon of God, the presence of God himself that receives the offence. It is God against whom we always sin. This is a realistic view: the Church teaches we are all sinners. It also teaches that I can not judge the sins of my neighbor. Rather I must acknowledge that my sins are the cause of my destruction – and be merciful to my neighbor.

The Fathers say that he who covers another’s sin will find his own sins covered. He who uncovers another’s sins will find his own sins shouted from the housetops. That’s an interesting proposition in this election cycle, no? I have Facebooked in Anger about the sins of at least one candidate. I can imagine my readers coming up with all sorts of theological justifications for why we should broadcast the sins of XX or XY to the internet – as if the talk show hosts are not already doing that for us. But the reality is that all the candidates (especially the one you don’t like the most) are merely sinners like me. Dare I say, like you.

It also seems as though there are enough haters in this world without Christians adding to the pile. We – and they – fit into St Paul’s description of “many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

I’m not good at this, mind you: I think one is just dragging us down to despotism yelling and screaming and the other is smiling whilst doing the same. Neither of them will do anything to stop the killing at home, abroad, or in utero. And, being sinners, both are part of the hedonistic and usurious culture of immodesty, sex, and greed that gives rise to that killing at home, abroad, and in utero. Truly, “their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” In other words they are garden variety sinners of today, modern in every way and needing salvation. And in a system built on lies, calumny, gossip, and rancor, it behooves a Christian to remember that we are only forgiven as we forgive. That is the bargain we make with the God who loves everyone – especially the candidate you like the least – with a love so great that it cost him his life.

Certainly: to point at real sin and name it sin is not to commit a sin. But: preach, brothers and sisters, don’t make it a political point. We are all sinners. Most of the things we allow in our society will damn people to hell. It is real love to say so and call people out of that, although it will gain us no popularity, nor political strength. It is in fact, a sin of our own if we fail to do so. But it is not charity – it is sinful, in fact – to make political hay and call it theology.

Getting Gold for Dung

Philippians 3:3-8a
Luke 15:1-10

Rejoice with me, because I have found my…
Luke 15:6 or 9

Jesus tells us two parables saying, Look, some things are very important to God and he shows us in two ways: the lost coin and the lost sheep. The coin we understand, I think: If I only have 100 pennies and one is missing then I need to find the other. It’s gone: I can’t go buy a cup of coffee being one penny short. I won’t be able to exchange it for a paper $1 bill, because who would give me a dollar for ninety-nine pennies? Tearing up the house means no more bother than having to put it together again. The sheep, though, seem different: because leaving the ninety-nine alone, unguarded “in the desert” means that they could wander off as well, no? And, after all, properly tended the sheep will make more – that’s what animals do. Just wait, next year there will be more. Pennies don’t breed. So, searching for a penny seems safe, as it were whilst the sheep business is markedly risky.

Jesus is hanging out with sinners again and eating with them. As in an episode of Southpark, the crowd stands around and “Rabbles” although in the Bible everyone “murmurs”. Murmur! Murmur! Murmur! Murmur!

He is accused of “receiving” sinners. The Greek verb used (προσδέχομαι) implies reciprocity: it’s a mutual hugfest, really. They are taking him in and he is welcoming them. It’s a synergistic dance.Yet remember: God is always the leader in the dance. They are drawn to him, they are welcomed when they get there.

So it is with us, here and now, of course. Some sinners in the world are like the Lost Coin: they’re just around the corner, maybe still in the Church, just not quite connected. It’s like they’re on the inside. There’s a cleaning under the bed and a finding of the little sparkles among all the dust bunnies. The Lapsed come home at Christmas, you know.

Some, however, are more like the lost lamb: we’ve gone so very far away that God has to go to extraordinary lengths to bring them home. But so far he will go. And happily. He may have to wander far in the wilderness; there are pits and peaks, valleys and rivers to navigate. The sheep are there, but it’s harder to find them all, surrounded by their natural beauty and the glories of the world. These sheep left the church a long time ago, or were never inside at all. Some of these went astray from the very beginning: they were never even part of the House of the Israel of God. They are surrounded and engulfed by the false beauties and deluded by the illicit half-lights of the world. Yet God only made one humanity: he never intended a division, only an icon. As the Fathers say: there is only one Human Nature. Many persons share in the human nature – including, by virtue of the Incarnation, God the Son – but the nature itself, is one. And that is how far God has gone to get us: into this messy world and beyond, into Hell itself.

In Philippians Paul says, having listed his right to claim authority among his own people (elsewhere adding to this list that he was a student of St Gamaliel), he says, “All the things I have gained I count as loss for Christ.” Meaning they were wasted time, if I had known Jesus 30 years ago. And he goes further and says in fact, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung that I may gain Christ.” Paul made his own finding rather more like the sheep than the coin for he had even engaged in persecuting the Church. Fallen into a pit, God had to appear to him and say, “look, here’s the way out…” That’s how far God will go. And further.

Will you come home? Will you count the wilderness or the dusty floor to be lost energy and wasted time? Will you count it all to be dung so that you can come home, finally?

Faintly Falling Upon the Dead

Certainly there’s no snow in Alabama ‘tall. But my brain on All Souls’ Day remembers the Dead for whom a Rosary will be said and all the offices today.

My Grandparents, Bessie and Ken, who raised me for the first 6 years of my life, and at whose passing I do, sometimes, feel like an orphan, even though my own parents are alive.

My brother, Jimmy, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1983. He’d have passed 50 last year and I do wonder what it would have been like to have had a brother all this time.

My best friend, Brian, who was killed in the accident as well, and his sister, Michelle, who was murdered the year before – the first death most any of us kids had experienced.

Mills, Bernie, Timmy, William, Geoff, and Thomas, who died of AIDS-related complications, as we used to say. I got out of the plague remarkably lightly, but Mills’ and Timmy’s passings were very hard. And also a wakeup call that probably saved my life.

Edward, Joel, Linda, Paul and Edmund. Episcopal clergy (along with Mills and Bernie above) who had a huge effect on the church as well as on persons around them.

Archpriest Victor and Mat. Barbara, whose strong, earthly love wrapped me up and held me godwards.

All my other family, known and unknown.

Requiem Aeternam. May their memories be eternal.

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” – James Joyce, The Dead, in Dubliners

Dies Irae

Wisdom 3:1-9
Romans 5:5-11
John 6:37-40

God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them.
Wisdom 3:5b-6

All Souls Day: the day we set aside for these prayers in the Western Rite, although, actually, pretty much the entire month of November is set aside for these prayers – masses for the dead are said nearly every day. Individual order (eg, the Benedictines, the Cistercians, etc) will have days celebrating “All Saints of our Order” followed by days of prayer for “All Our Departed Brethren”. In parishes, the departed will be remembered by name. Some will go to a cemetery for prayers at gravesites. In the Eastern Rites, there are four such days throughout the year, called “Soul Saturdays” – they were, in part, brought into the Church from pre-Christian Slavic tradition. They serve the same purpose.

The only real difference between liturgical East and West on this teaching is that the West (at least in the Anti-western mind of the East) seems to posit a specific place. Dante draws this more evidently – a third placement of souls between Hell and Heaven. But the Roman Church teaches Purgatory is a “state of being“. In that I think East and West agree: it’s a thing in us. A state of being. The East teaches, really, there’s only one place to go after death: into the presence of God. But for some of us that will be joy, peace, bliss, and all light and love. For some, that very concept of all that light and communion will be hellish. But we will work it out, as a long-ago friend of mine said, “roasting in the unending fires of God’s love for us.” That’s it. Right there.

God hath tried them… As gold in the furnace he hath proved them Humans do not like to imagine a love so pure that it purifies them; or, more correctly, we do not like to imagine we’re not pure enough for that love. There are parts of me that must go. Maybe there are parts that I wrongly imagine are a central part of my “identity as me” that will burn away. Right now, where I am, these parts of me feel as if they “really are me”. But if they are misconceptions, if they are constructs based on false or even sinful understandings of what God wanted a human being to be, then “roasting in the unending fires of God’s love for us” will fix it.

When we hear that God is calling us to be our true selves what we vainly imagine is “my true self is this dude right here right now.” We imagine our choicest sins are, in fact, ourselves. “I AM WHAT I AM: PROUD TO BE A (fill in the blank),” as if we could really be anything other than the image and likeness of God’s purity, God’s love, God’s charity. Anything less is missing the mark, anything less is sin. When God tries us, proves in the furnace, he removes all the dross: the egotism, the prideful actions, selfish ideas of sex, failed conceptions of love; it all goes away and frees our self, finally, to be.

In the 16th Century, the English Christians produced an act of devotion called “The Jesus Psalter“. It, together with the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, sustained the Church through the persecution following the English Schism. It’s a collection of devotions centered around the recitation of the name of Jesus. By the end of the recitation one will have said the Holy Name more than 450 times together with an increasingly abstract set of prayers. It’s starts out with “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: Have mercy on me.” The tenth petition, is “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: send me here my purgatory.”

Jesus, send me here my purgatory, and so prevent the torments of that cleansing fire, which, after this life, awaits unpurged souls. 

Vouchsafe to grant me those merciful crosses and afflictions, which Thou seest are necessary to break off my affections from all things here below. 

Since none can see Thee that loves any thing but for Thy sake, permit not my heart to find here any rest but a seeking after Thee. 

Too bitter, alas! will be the anguish of a separated soul that desires, but cannot come to Thee, clogged with the heavy chains of sin. 

Here then, O my Savior, keep me continually mortified in this world; that purged thoroughly by the fire of love, I may immediately pass into the everlasting possessions.

That is purgatory – both here and hereafter – in both the East and the West: those merciful crosses and afflictions, which Thou seest are necessary to break off my affections from all things here below. It is the place where we, mere mortals, can find our perfection. That is only in the light of God’s love for us.

Today we pray for the souls in purgatory and our prayers avail much. We are all part of the same church: the Saints, the LIving and the souls in Purgatory. We all pray for each other. This is the meaning of the Three Days of the All Hallows Triduum. Christ the King rules over us all: on Earth, in Heaven, and in Purgatory. To not pray this day – and every day, in fact – for the souls of the departed is to cut off the larger part of our Church not-yet in heaven. To limit our prayers to a few lucky stiffs who happen to be walking on the surface of this orb is to have a really tiny, tiny Church.