Salvific Synergy of SIn

En to Pan

The Readings for the 30th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Domine, si pauci sunt, qui salvantur? 
Lord, will only a few people be saved?

JMJ

As with other questions, this one is transparently not what it seems and Jesus sees through it. Notice how Jesus instantly goes from “will only a few people…” to “you must…” Jesus knows that the question will only a few people be saved is really a coverup for, “How little do I have to do?” the man that’s not wondering if his notoriously sinful stepfather will actually get into heaven. The man thinks “If my notoriously sinful stepfather can get into heaven I don’t need to worry about it.” This often becomes the God-Win’s question: God’s going to let everyone in – including Hitler – so why bother? If Hiter can get into heaven then it’s ok. Or: if even Hitler can get into heaven, then this is all a load of fewmets striking windmills.

Domine, si pauci sunt, qui salvantur? We’re asking is there hope for me? If it’s only a few, there’s really nothing to be done, let us despair and fall into grave sin. Jesus puts it back on us: Contendite intrare per angustam portam : quia multi, dico vobis, quaerent intrare, et non poterunt. Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. This is the same lesson as “a camel passing through the eye of a needle”. It’s hard enough for this thing to happen – with all the things of this world, with all the pains, distractions, joys. I saw a four-box comic today in which a cat is looking at autumn leaves and comments, “Life is transitory… but so enchanting.” That’s all of us: we become enchanted by the things of this world. We struggle for a little while, but then we fall back into watching the world and being enmeshed by it.

Scimus autem quoniam diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This line from St Paul is the hinge, on which these two readings turn. For really, omnia (the Greek word is πᾶν pan) means “all”. All. ALL. All things. If you love God, then all things are working for your good: Paul’s Greek phrase is πάντα συνεργεῖ panta synergei. If you love God, then your past sins are not wiped out (as I heard in a sermon on Sunday from the Master of the Dominican Order). God doesn’t forget (God can’t forget), rather God repurposes. By the grace of God in the sacrament of confession – even your sins are turned into stepping stones towards heaven. All things. All means all. Even the things that you have to dredge up in a life confession, even the things from high school that make you blush.

There’s great comfort here in realizing that I am the only sinner I will ever know. No one but you knows what you’ve done (even if you tell me, I can’t look into the state of your soul when you were doing it). I am literally the only person I can look at and say, “I knew that was wrong. I knew why it was wrong. And I dismissed all that and did it anyway.” I don’t need to rewrite your sins – or even know them, they don’t exist.

Other things work for our good too – all things – that abusive parent, the job that objectified you and fired you for illegal reasons (but you can’t prove it), the sexual partner that ruined your teen years, the accident on the freeway that made you late for work, the wildfire that destroyed your house, the wind that sent you to Oz, the wardrobe that sent you to Narnia, the rocket that exploded in midair and made you afraid of flight. The job that opened your eyes to new careers, the teacher that changed your mind about world history, the baker that gave you free coffee, the priest that makes you laugh in confession. The cat, the computer, the laundry, the bus that breaks down in the middle of the Californian desert so you can’t get to a wedding on time… all things work for our good. There is only one good, though: entering through the narrow gate.

Passing through the narrow gate, I want only to hear one thing: Wow, you made it. The crown of heavenly witnesses may only gasp and let out a sigh of relief, but I pray to hear Wow, you made it.

If I lose Jesus, literally nothing else matters. If I gain Jesus, literally nothing else matters.

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The Danse Macabre (2019)

All hallows eve enchanted dark
A stroll I took in chill
To see the children on their lark
And thus a pipe to kill

The sunset orange watching pass
And night on coming strong
When deep from Mission hill and grass
I heard a haunted song

Then followed I this tunèd curse
Until i found the source
And deep beneath Dolores firs
I saw a morbid course

And dancing came the doomèd mob
In pairs of flesh and bone
A line was paced to plaintive sob
And cold as chiseled stone

Now though I thought in fright to flee
Before my feet would fly
Their rhythmed steps came round me
That each might pass me by

And silent were the corpses all
But skeletons well said
Without the breath or fleshy pall
Upon their bony head

They spoke addressing me by name
Well done to find us here
And will you make our chorus fame
In gruesome verse appear?

I nodded silent as I typed
In thumbs upon my screen
unbidden verse my phone had striped
In pixeled eerie sheen

The first pair came in courtly swirl
And round me then to go
The bone man led a regal girl
Whose years made dancing slow

An empress grand she ruled the globe
A century bears her mark
Now unamused in weeds her robe
Death has a Victory stark

The second pair now came aside
In black and white a boy
The bones and he hob’d horses stride
With a candle as a toy

At altar knelt he near the south
And well he served the priest
But now for prayers he has no mouth
We take both great and least

The third pair came a man in suit
With marching hails the chief
and wearing chains of free world’s loot
The leader of their grief

We get them all said clacking jaw
In top hat or in none
No leader yet the world has saw
Who has this dance not done

And next there came in sleeves ore long
A song book in her hand
The lead soprano with her song
And shin bones for her band

Her voice ere piped on eagles wings
Her hands on guitar strummed
But deeply buried graved things
Like songs have her made dumb

Antifa danced by my side
With Patriot Prayers in tow
Their axes chopped each their hide
An eternity of woe

One skeleton danced by their side
The two between had but one soul
Eternally now they are mates
And in one space they troll

Up came an athlete with a bat
A beard and muscles slack
The dodger blue upon his hat
Was fading now to black

In leaving Brooklyn bone man said
The team betrayed their home
And round the world the cursed dead
as traitors made to roam

A priest came next his back to me
His robes arrayed for Mass
In Dance his face I n’er did see
Tho him did thrice me pass

His liturgy was drama trim
The showman ever played
And so in death his penance grim
His face away is staid

A cardinal with Capitol
Was turning on the ground
The skeletons would take their tole
As each his body found

A tech bro came: lyft, scooter, vape
And options like the dew
the ghosts of startups round him drape
and dreams are all askew

A data science preacher stood
behind his keyboard dark
with graphs and charts both mighty good
Predicting earnings dark

But prophets cannot profits tell
An ivory dancer said
And Mammon leaves one strait to, well…
It’s just enough he’s dead

A Jesuit next came down the pike
Accompanying his charge
No heresy he didn’t like
His tent was mighty large

A politician found her mark
and made a Arabesque
So firm her planks her promise, hark!
To voters now addressed

An Abbot tall with croizered hand
was further down the queue
A skeleton did by him stand
as with all the others too

Then Death herself the reaper grim
astride the path did stand
and all around her they raised a hymn
this morbid bony band

We get them all We slay them all
And none can say us nay
We wake them all we take them all
as night ore-takes the day

And last alone some lonely bone
said to a novice he was sent
Tis I, I said and dropped this phone
and dancing off we went

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SNAFU

The Readings for the 30th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Scimus enim quod omnis creatura ingemiscit, et parturit usque adhuc. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;

JMJ

Have you ever had a bad manager or a boss who couldn’t lead? Hopefully, this is not now! If you remember, a broken leader ruins everything. Man was intended by God to have the place of kingship in Creation; to rule in God’s name (and some think, possibly, in God’s power) over the world. But man fell. Paul says all of creation suffering s because of us: the fall of man broke everything. This doesn’t mean that plants and animals are stained by original sin but rather that the management is so dysfunctional that everything else sucks.

What’s that mean for us? We can’t know. Everything is broken – even the tools we have available to us (as of perception and expectation, experience and knowledge) are all disordered. What we see, what we find out, what we can know is limited not by our ability but by our broken perception. Life feeds on life now – not just animals, but humans as well, and when we die our bodies compost and rot and our souls depart. This is not as it should be: we don’t know what it should be, but we know it’s wrong. Our very heart cry out – even watching Wild Kingdom we know that the cute animals are going to get eaten. Yet, we know the predators have to eat as well. We can’t reconcile this. Could we have if we had been the rightful kings of creation?

Even when we try to fix things we make things worse. What have we done in the last half-century to fix things? What has not made things worse? Recycling seemed like a good idea, but it’s not working unless shipping all our plastic to China seems like a way to save oil. We’ve tried to save plants and animals by carving out tiny strips of their homeland, like reservations on which they can be trapped in dwindling populations. We find more and more ways to do things we don’t need: like travel, shop, consume luxuries, and be offended. Yet we do so at great expense to our world and yes, I know I’m saying this on a computer.

Our greatest boons become our greatest banes. The internet is a warehouse of porn and child abuse. Airtravel destroys our atmosphere. Cars ruin our lives. Electricity starts fires, kills birds, and ruins our sleep cycles. Our ability to produce huge quantities of food has resulted in nutritional deficiency, addiction to sugar, and perhaps even genetic damage. Our technology destroys older cultures, habitats, and our own jobs. Our democracy elects demagogues. Our freedoms become license. Our liberty becomes hate. The more we prop up, the more falls down. Yet we continue, refusing to listen.

Softly Jesus whispers about the kingdom, Simile est fermento, quod acceptum mulier abscondit in farinae sata tria, donec fermentaretur totum. It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened. Take it from a San Francisco baker: Jesus wasn’t talking about a packet of yeast, but rather sourdough. Jesus knew from his Mother how to bake bread. You have a pinch of yeasted dough from the last batch that you keep. You put that into the new batch and the whole thing turns into yeasted dough. Take a pinch of dough and save it for next time. We are that pinch of dough, Christians. A little leavening in the societal dough results in the whole thing rising.

What are we doing about this?

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Fake News & Latin Rite Baptists

The Readings for the Feast of Sts Simon and Jude, Apostles

Estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Dei, superaedificati super fundamentum apostolorum, et prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide Christo Jesu : Liberavit me Dominus ab omni opere malo : et salvum faciet in regnum suum caeleste, cui gloria in saecula saeculorum. Amen. You are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.

JMJ

On all feasts of the Apostles we celebrate the unity of the Church around Christ, and the living continuity we have with the Apostolic Church in the unity, today, of all the Bishops around the Pope: where Peter is, there is the Church. I’m a new convert and I tend to get a little Rah Rah about Francis. When St John Paul II died, I cried. Our Orthodox Parish went to the Catholic Basilica in Asheville as a group (at our Priest’s suggestion) and prayed for his soul’s ease. When Benedict XVI was elected and later liberated the usage of the Latin Mass, I nearly became Catholic. I followed “reform of the reform” blogs. Then one day (as the Cardinals were meeting) I found myself thinking what if the new Pope was named “Francis”? And I got verklempt, living in San Francisco. My entire office was livestreaming the Papal Election. When the name Francis was announced, we all gasped.

Although I’ve been aware of Popes since Paul VI, Francis is – in a way I can’t explain – my Pope. I love Benedict, and I sorry to have missed the young John Paul, but I became Catholic under this Pope.

One of the things that has been driving me bonkers lately is watching American Lay Catholics pull away from the Pope – this Pope. My Pope. The German Liberal bishops don’t bother me. The conservative African and Asian Bishops, the liberal ones from Latin America and all the American Bishops are with the Pope. But American Laity are pulling away. Why?

Underneath issues of theology – even when the Pope speaks clearly – I think it’s politics, by which I mean the American Culture wars that have been driving us batty for 50 years. Follow along on this Twitter thread, which starts with Fulton J Sheen and includes the Tweeter’s own meditations. (I’m not sure where one ends and the other begins.) In the beginnings of the culture wars, when American Catholics were – largely – white, middle-class folks in fedoras, union men with good jobs, and wealthy foreigners, the idea was to fit in. Catholics excelled at fitting in. Kennedy basically sold us all down the river by saying “Elect me and I won’t be Catholic.” He literally said exactly the reverse of what he should have said. American Catholics became convinced that to be “a good Catholic” was to be “a good American”: Patriotic, Successful, Boring.

The decades leading up to the Second Vatican Council were very prosperous – and spiritually dead. Fulton Sheen points out that “the youth” are leaving the Church because the Church was just an aspect of “The Good Life” and they discovered they could have “The Good Life” without it. Getting rid of all their parents’ markers of culture was more of the same: and so the church doubled down. (This is not in Sheen.) The Church became what the kids said it was.

Cardinal Spellman turning kids into their draft boards for the Vietnam War and using his priests to sniff out peace activists. Turning Catholics over to federal investigators… the Church caved in completely to the Political Culture. Some churches still bear these marks, having in them American flags near the altar and (usually) a Papal Flag as well. The Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus both bear the marks of this: requiring the Pledge of Allegiance and other shows of patriotism out of place in a religious organization, but largely harmless. But middle class, successful, boring, patriotic Catholicism became identified with what would be known as a “right-wing” position and, increasingly, a partisan one.

Then came the Vatican Council and the left fought back. And, it must be honestly stated, they did a lot of damage, they espoused not just harmless political positions, but sometimes openly anti-Catholic ones: communism, socialism, liberalized moral laws, etc. The war of Boomers against their parents Cultural Catholicism remained partisan, still had no depth, and was only just a Catholicism of a Different Culture. Hippies winning instead of squares. Clergy making bad choices to be relevant to the kids. Two guitars and a flute, felt banners, hand-holding, happy clappy, Kum-by-yahlicism.

And so now… we have people trying to reassert the tradition: the Latin Mass returns, the reform of the reform grows, the Tradening taking root and throwing far out the Modening Crowd. But confusing the perennial tradition of the Church with the conservative politics of the 50s. The Mods fight back with the policies of the Liberated 70s – and insist they need their felt banners for social justice.

Into this madness wade the hierarchs – some having taken sides in the political wars and others having the spiritual health of the church in mind.

The truth comes out when the Pope does something “anti-American”. But this is not a partisan issue for it comes from both the left and the right. If the Pope speaks of the Environment or Economy, the right gets upset. If the Pope speaks of sexual morality or tradition, the left gets upset. Both claim the Pope should stick to religion and not talk about these things… by which they mean the Pope should be more like Kennedy and leave us alone.

Catholics who have political axes to grind take over media outlets and talk schism. Raymond Arroyo is as dangerous as James Martin. Social media (including blogs and podcasts) become tools of wanks marshaling a vortex to spew political agendas. With the left in control of many publishing houses, the right gets TV and Radio, and both urge us to diss the Pope. The social media generate fake news because it covers up the real issue: our economic policies and environmental practices are unjust. But to fix them would make life in America a lot less opulent. So this is bad. Our passions and consumption – sex, food, greed – are all out of line. But scandal keeps us looking at the sins of others instead of our own sins.

We had this issue in the Orthodox Church: mostly converts (but also some troublemakers from “the Old Country”) who were certain they were more correct than their bishops. We called them “Byzantine Rite Baptists”. They could walk quite far from the faith in their “purity”, becoming Congregationalists in all but name. It’s good to see this is another way in which Catholics and Orthodox are alike in America.

Look: you can walk away from Pope Francis if you want – even because of politics – but that makes you a Protestant. You’re more like Henry VIII than Luther, granted: so you can still have Mass and robes and stuff, but you’re still Protestant.


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This Line Runs Through the Human Heart

The Readings for the 30th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Oratio humiliantis se nubes penetrabit, et donec propinquet non consolabitur, et non discedet donec Altissimus aspiciat. Et Dominus non elongabit : et judicabit justos, et faciet judicium : et Fortissimus non habebit in illis patientiam, ut contribulet dorsum ipsorum. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.

JMJ

These two get their own Sunday Feast in the Byzantine liturgy. We’re reminded to be not like the Pharisee and to be rather like the Tax Collector. Still, Sirach says that God listens to everyone. But he leans on the side of the weak, the poor, the orphan, the widow. We want to make sure we’re on the right side, of course, and although the Just will be heard, regardless of who they are, the poor get heard first. So, it’s entirely possible that God will hear the Pharisee in the Gospel today when he prays. But we want to be on the right side. It’s easy to see where Jesus was going: this dude was doing it right. That dude didn’t even do it. That said, a parable is not a 1:1 correspondence. It’s not a story about all Jews are bad (the Tax Collector was a Jew as well) nor is it a story about Pharisees (who were, actually, the liberal party in Judaism at this time). It’s not a story about Rabbinic Judaism, nor is it a thing about the social outcasts.

The Greek doesn’t even say that the Pharisee is praying properly: the Bad Guy is, in Jesus words, praying πρὸς ἑαυτὸν pros heauton “towards himself”. The Pharisee starts out with a traditional prayer within Judaism: “Blessed are you O Lord, Our God, King of the Universe, who has made me a man…” and then gets lost ruminating. The Pharisee is doing what many of us do when we get to Mass, really: an attempted prayer becomes a falling down a rabbit warren inside the heart, planning lunch for after, thinking about shopping lists, or what happened on the way to Church this morning. The Rosary goes from “meditating on the passion” to “thinking about that guy I hate at the office” rather suddenly. My evening prayers seem to always get taken over by thinking about moving the furniture.

The Tax Collector can’t remember liturgical prayer and says only what’s really on his heart: ἱλάσθητί μοι hilastheti moi. (This not the origin of the Jesus Prayer, which is a different verb.) Be propitious to me, or even propitiate for me. He sticks with something short and sweet. He doesn’t brag. He just asks God for help.

Honestly: we are both of these things, right? It matters not if one is a rigid Trad or a floppy Mod. One can be lost in ruminations and pride, or one can be praying from the heart. We can read from a book or make it up as we go along. But either way, if we’re’ not careful, we might find ourselves thinking “Whoa, where did she get that dress?” or “Dang, I really need to get denture tablets on the way home.”

Who or what triggers your Pharisee moments? When do you go from talking to God to talking to yourself? When do you catch yourself – or do you not? Is it a moment of lust, or of envy? Is it a moment of judgment? Do you find yourself lamenting the aging soprano that can’t keep up with her section, or does the altar server in sneakers drive you bonkers? Maybe you make it your business to know all the folks who are in cohabitations, or the same-sex couples that are actually couples. Does Father have some liturgical ticks that suck all the blood out of your face or do his homilies leave you wondering about the possibility of having him replaced by a simplex priest? When you get ready to pray is it work that you end up thinking about?

In a podcast I listen to, a priest admitted that sometimes his prayer consists of running into the chapel, placing both hands on the tabernacle, and screaming. Thus the spirit, with cries and groans, prays through us! It would seem by today’s Gospel that such a prayer is more effective than sitting with a prayerbook, finding the prayer, reading the prayer, and closing the prayerbook. I know the Pharisee is the Bad Guy: but how we end up praying like him is important. How can we pray more like the Publican?

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Theodicy

Rev’d Canon Edward N. West

The readings for the 29th Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Putatis quod hi Galilaei prae omnibus Galilaeis peccatores fuerint, quia talia passi sunt? Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?

JMJ

Back in 1985, I took a year off college. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing and by a twist of the post office and federal record-keeping no one could tell me where my financial aid forms were. Thus, three days before the school year started (I was already living on campus) as I was sitting in a student club office in the Loeb Student Center, I freaked out, filed for a leave of absence, and moved out of NYC to Atlanta. That worked for about 4 months. When I went back to my parents’ house for Christmas I stayed. Then, in the back of the (Episcopal) Diocese of New York newspaper, I found an advertisement for the Institute of Theology. It was a “late vocations” program as we would call it now. It met on Saturdays (and a couple of nights in the week) and was taught actual professors from actual seminaries. I begged permission from everyone to attend, got my pastor to write a letter, got references from some surprising folks, begged and got a waiver on paying for it… and off I went. A semester in “Seminary” to see if I liked it: a pre-vocations program if you will.

My favorite class was homiletics, taught by the Rev’d Canon Edward N. West. That’s him up there. He called me (and anyone else under the age of 70) “Ducky.” He was as familiar with Eastern as with Western Liturgy, and in terms of heros and people I’d like to be like when I finally grow up, he’s on the top of the list. He had a life-sized painting of the late Czar Nicholas in his apartment that was a gift from a scion of the Royal Family. His first public liturgy was the funeral of Mayor Laguardia. Ok, enough geekery.

My least favorite class was called, “The Problem of Evil.” “Theodicy” is the technical term for this.

I know this has bedeviled Christian theologians for two millennia – and it’s in the Books of Job and the Psalms as well. Rabbi Harold Kushner’s classic work, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, has given a cliched phrase as a talking point. This issue is best put this way: If God really loved us he would fix it so things did not suck. If there is a loving God, things shouldn’t suck. If there are sucky things (and there are) it proves that God is either not loving or not all-powerful.

We had a whole class on this. Two weeks in we had to discuss why people die. I blundered in with “Everything in nature dies, that’s just what happens. And we sinned. So we get to be natural too.” The professor countered with “What about good people?” And I responded with “There are no good people: we’re all sinners.” And he pushed back really hard. Then dismissed me as a young’n who didn’t know nothin. And I had essentially failed the course.

I’m kind of cold I think. Life sucks. Jesus offers us no reason at all why some folks were crushed by a tower and why others were turned into mortar for Roman masonry. And then he says, “Look, you know life sucks, so repent.”

This is God talking. It made sense to me, having lost my brother, his best friend, and the best friend’s sister within 1 year when I went to college in 1982, I find this oddly comforting. It was even more so when in 1984, I lost my grandmother. The world sucks. Yeah, so?

The Greek word most often rendered as “sin” is ἁμαρτία harmatia. It doesn’t mean “breaking the rules” but rather “missing the mark” as in not hitting the bullseye on a target or maybe better missing the target altogether. This is not a more-liberal reading of this verb: in fact, it expands it. It’s not just this sort of thing here – it’s a whole class of things! It’s not just a rule broken: it’s a relationship. With that idea in mind, we can see what St Paul means. An addict doesn’t just get drunk, doesn’t just shoot up: she ruins lives including her own in the present and future tenses. A moment of harmatia breaks communion.

St Paul doesn’t talk about breaking the rules: he talks about “sinful flesh” σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας sarkos hamartias. What is in the flesh misses the mark. See that? Our flesh is not out and about breaking rules (although we do do that sometimes, yes). It is not being “bad people” that makes life suck: it’s being humans in the flesh. What we have here is a broken, dysfunctional thing. We should not be surprised that it is broken and dysfunctional.

This problem of evil raises another concern: what’s evil? I think we know what evil is: it’s anything we don’t like or – sometimes – don’t understand. We are convinced the Christmas Tsunami was evil, that the boss I hate so much is evil, that the diagnosis of cancer is evil, that having my car broken into is evil, that this election or that is evil. What we may mean is these seem wrong but we’re saying Evil not wrong.

Later in Romans 8 St Paul says, Scimus autem quoniam diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum, iis qui secundum propositum vocati sunt sancti. We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints. (We’ll get there on Wednesday next week in the lectionary.) And so, if all things work together for our good – even the things we call “evil” – is there anything actually evil that can happen to us?

We can be killed, we can become ill with cancer, we can have a tower fall on us, we can have our blood mingled with cement for the Empires building projects, but: if we love the Lord, if we desire to be saints, these things are not evil. They are mysteries leading us to salvation. I realize there was ways for humans to be evil, to miss the mark entirely, but even then God is working out his purposes. Who was more evil in recent history: those who killed millions of people or those who knew what was happening and did nothing? I would not like to face that question on Judgement Day.

The professor, I later found out, had – early during my 4 months in Atlanta – lost his wife to cancer. The entire class was, really, a way for him to work through that. His pushing back made sense after a while. But – legit question – is losing your wife to cancer an evil or just an example of the world being broken? Like I said, maybe I’m cold. But Christians don’t believe that death breaks communion. “For your faithful, Lord,” we say at Mass. “Life is not ended but only changed.”

Is there evil? I think so – but I think when we say something is evil we mean only, “that thing was surprising and confusing.” So many things arise from Natural Consequences, are they evil? If I drink to excess, I will possibly pass out on the subway. Then my wallet could be stolen during my long, sleeping subway ride back to Brooklyn. Is that evil? There’s a sin there, yes (theft) but is that better or worse than the sins of drunkenness and wasting the resources God provided for me to care for my needs and the needs of others? But is it evil? Or just the way the world is always missing the mark?

I don’t know, Ducky. But all things work for our good. I’ll take that.

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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?

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Do You Even Colitas, Bro?

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of ascesis, rising up with the prayer
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My heart grew lighter and my sight grew clear
I had to join in the fight.

There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself
‘This could be heaven if we but could do well’
Mary lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were angels up the central nave,
I thought I heard them say

Welcome to Ecclesia Catholica
Such a lovely place
Such heaven’ly grace
Plenty of room in Ecclesia Catholica
Any time of year you can find it here

Her mind is differently-ordered, she got the crusader bands
She got a lot of pretty, pretty cups and golden patens
How they dance in the boxes, filoque
Some dance in contrition, some dance liturjay

So I called up the pastor,
‘Please bring me my wine’
He said, ‘we’ve got spirit here: Vatican two? Fine.’
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Adoration in the middle of the night
You can hear them say:

Welcome to Ecclesia catholica
Such a lovely place
Such a heaven’ly grace
We’re livin it up in Ecclesia Catholica
There’s more life here it’s abundant here

Frescos on the ceiling,
The pink vestments are nice
And she said, ‘we are all still prisoners with addictions to vice’
Yet in the master’s wisdom,
we gather for the feast
Michael stabs hard with his sword,
Look he just now killed the beast!

Last thing I remember, I was
searchin all the floor
I had to find the water’y font just beside the door
‘Relax’ said the deacon,
‘We are ready to receive.
We’ll confirm you any time you like,
To Christ you’ll always cleave!’

Welcome to Ecclesia Catholica
Such a lofty place
Filled with heaven’ly grace
Plenty of room in Ecclesia Catholica
Any time of year you can find it here

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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.

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Mercy and Justice have Kissed

The Readings for Monday, 29th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1)

Stulte, hac nocte animam tuam repetunt a te : quae autem parasti, cujus erunt?
You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?

JMJ

It was an interesting discussion yesterday with the Third Order Dominicans: how do we care for the poor? Actually, the discussion started with a discussion of Theft and the discussion of the 7th Commandment in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Did Jean Valjean commit a sin when he stole bread for his family?

The Rich Man says, “I will build barns for my surplus…”

In the Catholic Church there is a doctrine on Private Property: we have the right (from God) to own things. But “The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind.” That is to say, God gave everything to everyone and while you have the right to own your home, for example, “The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.”

The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

In short, after providing for your family, everything else is yours in trust from God for the care of others.

I, myself, have no family so I wonder how this pertains to me. I’ve made several choices since leaving the monastery about not owning extra stuff, although I think I fail in this. My apartment seems filled with clothes I can’t wear and food I won’t ever get around to eating. How do I become a good steward? At my age and income status, I can’t pretend to be poor. So, I think I’m obligated by today’s Gospel not to be the stupid man in the parable. But how?

This discussion on care for the poor was preceded by a discussion of the false dichotomy between God’s Mercy and his Justice. God cannot be both, it is claimed. Either in Justice, we’ll all get a slapdown, no matter what we do (because we’re that bad), or in his Mercy, we’ll all be ok – no matter what we do or have ever done. The payoff for this argument is usually not at all theological: we mean it only (usually) in the second person. If I project lots of mercy on God, then, really, you have no right to tell me I’m wrong. If I project a lot of Justice on God, then, really, you had better start doing all the right things and I have the right to judge you too.

Both of these aspects play out in a discussion of sexual matters because the world only thinks about sex as a matter of liberty, but that’s an issue of western, wealthy entitlement. There’s nearly no one involved in the Culture Wars who is poor. So, we tend to argue about matters of leisure (such as sex) because otherwise, we might have to discuss the injustice of our wealth. So, it’s better to say, “You, fellow rich white person, are committing a sexual sin.” And to reply, “You, fellow rich white person, have no right to judge me.” Then we all feel good, having done our religious duty, and go back to being fellow, rich, white folks.

In this we make justice to mean “punishment” and mercy to mean “letting me off the hook”. These definitions are neither of them true, and they make God to be petty as we are.

Mercy is God’s divine and infinite condescension to us in kindness and love. The first instance of this, personally and for each of us, is the creation of the entire world. The second is the creation of your individual soul, an act of infinite love and creation in time that took place at the moment of your conception. All things – all blessings, all punishments, all teachings, all correction, all salvation, all purgation, all joys, and all sorrows – arise from this original mercy, or original blessing, as the former Dominican, Matthew Fox, called it. This is an act of Mercy because God has no need of you, no need of the universe, no need of creation at all. God’s love did this.

Then we want to think of human sin and its punishment. Yet we do not think of, even then, God’s constant mercy. For we know that sin is death. We know that we are cut off from the divine life by mortal sin (that’s why it’s called “mortal”) yet, in God’s mercy, we do not die, we are not “smote”. God lets us go on with an eye towards our repentance and restoration. Almost all of life, then, is a mercy. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions for that is part of the way the world functions: if you kill someone, they are really dead. You will grieve that action even if you are absolved. If you spread hate, you will suffer the social blowback from your actions even if you are able to grow towards love. If you commit sexual sin, there’s the possibility of a child, of disease, of re-writing the reward pathways in your brain towards an addiction. These are parts of the world in which we live and each sin means that we must deal with the actions. That’s not justice, though.

God’s justice is a restoration of right relationship.

Imagine you are building one of the barns in today’s parable. The floor should be perfectly level. From that floor, at perfect 90° angles, should rise each of the walls. This means the walls are “plumb”. The structure is “level, plumb, square, and true”. However, let us say that one wall begins to sag inwards. This wall will – eventually – make the adjoining walls weaker. They may begin to sag. And the roof could possibly collapse. So the rich man calls you back and asks you to fix it – to make the wall square again. The process of returning the wall to plumb, when projected on human relationships, is justice.

If we pitched our economic morals with the same arguments we use for sex, it would sound like this: “You have to stop being rich and share with me!” “You can’t judge me, go away.” Environmental morals are the same: our wealth is destroying the world, we are the rich man in the parable.

We want to think of Justice and Mercy in opposition, but, in fact, they are part and parcel of each other. Justice demands a right relationship. Mercy makes it mutually possible. Justice demands I share my surplus with the poor – not store it up in my new barns, level and plumb. Mercy (God’s kindness) allows me to have the grace to do it. It is not “just” for the rich man to build barns unless it is for him to use the barns to more easily invite in the poor. It is not mercy for us to say, “He can do whatever he wants” for that leaves him in wrong relationship, leaves him in his sins. When we remind the rich man of his duty to justice and move him (through God’s grace) to restore a right relationship with the poor, that is mercy. When we use love to show someone walking away from God the right path, we are merciful: and that restores right relationship to God and others, that is justice.

They do not kiss together: they are the same thing.

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