The Gift

JMJ

ONCE UPON A TIME, back in the days when you could go to see Santa Claus in the department store and he would give you presents that were not just sticky candy, two best friends, Jimmy and Billy, went to their local Belks before Christmas. They stood patiently in line and, when their turns came, each one went into a little house made to look as if it were made out of gingerbread and told the man inside what they wanted for Christmas. What they did not know was that the man inside was actually Saint Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra and Lycea, venerated all over the world as the patron of children, which is to say he was the real Santa Claus. I’m not sure what he was doing there, but the important thing to know is he was the real Santa Claus. As each boy was finished telling Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas he smiled and gave each an apple. It was the same apple he’d given to all the other children in line: it was gigantic! It smelled amazing! Being polite boys they knew better than to eat it outside where they could get their clothes messy, so each took his apple home.

When Jimmy got home with his apple, he knew immediately that he wanted to eat it and share it with his family. His parents were amazed at the delicious smell it gave off and they wanted to eat it as well. It was big enough to share, so Mom and Dad and Jimmy sat down to supper, and then, for dessert, sliced up the apple and chatted as they ate. Mom added some really superb cheddar cheese which she sliced up, and, to make the evening extra special – even though it was Advent – Dad brought out a bottle of tawny port. Jimmy tried this and, at least in little sips, it was ok. When the fruit was all gone, nothing left but the core and the seeds, Mom said that this was such good tasty, fruit maybe they should plant the seeds and see if they could grow some more. Everyone agreed.

So, Jimmy got himself a project for Christmas that year. He planted the seeds into little seedling pots and waited to see what would happen. In time there were four sprouts which he took outside in the Spring and planted in the backyard. They all did very well and they became young saplings, although it was several years before they bore fruit. Not being grown in Saint Nicholas’ own garden as the first apple was, these apples, though amazingly tasty, were ordinary-sized apples. They smelled much better than the ones you could get in a store, though. Mother canned some every year and baked some into pies. These were coveted gifts even after Jimmy went off to college and then Seminary. He was called James by this time, of course. When he became a priest, he would give these apples, grown in his parents’ own back yard, to folks year after year. In time, when his parents fell asleep in the Lord, Jimmy would take breaks from ministry to go rest in the house, praying for his parents, and offer Mass for their souls in the back yard under the shade of four apple trees he never knew came from the real Santa Claus.

The story of Billy’s apple is different, though. When he reached home, he knew immediately that he would share it with his family. He and his parents were amazed at the delicious smell that it gave off: it seemed to fill the house with a sense of Christmas. They sat it on the mantle thinking they would enjoy the smell for a bit and, in the light of the Christmas Tree, it suddenly seemed to reflect, filling the room with twinkles. They were surprised the next morning to discover it still smelled like Christmas in there! They couldn’t bring themselves to eat the apple, but when friends came over – as friends do in the holiday season (even though it is Advent) – everyone commented on the beautiful smell. Billy’s house seemed to be especially filled with the Christmas Spirit that year. And, when Epiphany came round and it was time to take down the decorations and move on with regular things, Billy and his parents realized this was something of a magical apple (although they didn’t know the giver was the real Santa Claus) and they placed it away gently in a small wooden box filled with excelsior, and they stored it safely.

When they took it out the following year it was still whole, fresh, and smelled like Christmas. Year after year the apple from Santa Claus continued to fill their house with hospitality and Christmas spirit. Invitations to their house at the Holidays were almost like being invited to a royal banquet. Billy’s family was known for their generous table and their love and care for their guests all year round, but never so much as at Christmas time. And didn’t the house literally smell like Christmas?

In time, when his parents fell asleep in the Lord, Billy inherited the house – and the apple. He was called William, by this time, of course. He and his wife and their children were known far and wide for their hospitality in this house that was filled with the smell of Christmas. They knew it was a magic apple, of course, and Billy knew it was given to him one day when his parents took him to Belks, but they never knew that man in the mall was Saint Nicholas, who always gives gifts anonymously.

And then goes away quietly to pray for us.

A New SF Calendar

JMJ

ONE FORGETS IN WHICH of her books she did this, but Starhawk commented on how Lunar Calendars all have regional names and she suggested one for SF. Legit, I’ve read almost all of her books except the most recent couple, I can’t remember which one this was. But it was back in the 80s before climate change brought us the annual heatwave + smokewave & droughts were a regular thing in Northern California. So I’ve decided to make a new Lunar Calendar for us. I’m doing this purely out of spite. I realize that Orthodox SFers will stay on their old calendar anyway and Trumpettes will say, “There is no climate change in Ba Sing Sae.”

Each month starts on the new moon, but it’s the full moon that sets the title as is tradition. Since it’s for SF, the first month is which ever full moon follows the Summer Solstice.

1st Full Moon after Solstice: Rainbow Moon 5 July 2020
2nd Full Moon: Karl’s Moon 3 Aug 2020
3rd Full Moon: Karl’s BBQ Moon 2 Sep 2020
4th Full Moon: Karl’s Brother Smarl’s Full Moon 1 Oct 2020
5th Full Moon: Keep Away Rain Moon 31 Oct 2020
6th Full Moon: No, really, it should be raining by now Moon 30 Nov 2020
7th Full Moon: Crabfeed Moon 29 Dec 202o
8th Full Moon: Microbrew Moon 28 Jan 2021
9th Full Moon: Rain! Bout Damn Time Moon 27 Feb 2021
10th Full Moon: Drought Moon 28 Mar 2021
11th Full Moon: Spring Moon 27 Apr 2021
12th Full Moon: Wow! Look at this Weather! Moon 26 May 2021
13th Full Moon: Glitch in the Matrix Moon (For years with 13 Full Moons between Summer Solstices)

Have fun with that.

For me, the best parts of Starhawk’s writings have always been her future dreaming where she imagines what the future could be like. The Fifth Sacred Thing seemed to be impossible back in the day, but it feels very current now.

Not trickle-down

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

Missa Protector noster

JMJ

GOD IS IN CONTROL. This is the message of this Mass. Yet this idea can quickly become one of victim-blaming. If God is in control then he made some poor and he made me rich, so all is well. If God is in control then he made some people white and while he may not think of others as “less” he clearly wanted white people to be in charge. This is not the message of this Mass although a homily along those lines could easily be preached if you totally disregarded the entire teaching of the Church and God’s preferential option for the poor.

We’ll start as always with the Collect for the Mass, pulling all our thoughts together. The first word of the prayer in Latin is Custodi. Sermonry renders this as “Keep”. Keep, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy Church with perpetual peace. The Baronius Press missal has it as “Favour.” Favour thy Church unceasingly. Both of these miss the point. The root is the Latin Custos which means “Guardian”. Keep is close, but weak. Do the verb thing that Guardians do. The St Andrew’s missal renders this as “Guard.” Guard your Church, Lord. From what? The next phrase speaks about human frailty and how, without God’s help, we always fall. I believe we’re asking God to keep his church safe from us. Keep your church safe from the ways that we would want to run it, contrary to your law. Keep your church safe from our tendency to want to be Americans first instead of Christians first. Keep your church safe from those of us who would harm it with our drive for political power, or social media power. Keep your church safe from all the stupid things we do.

Yes, the church is a divinely-inspired and divinely lead institution. She is also human through and through. This prayer asks God to assert his control over his church which is us. The Introit asks God to look on us and see the face of Christ. It asserts that the courts of God are better than all the wealth and favor of this world. There was a time when the church was mostly the poor of the city of Rome and of the eastern end of the Roman Empire. By “poor” I mean the workers: fisherman, tentmakers, weavers, dyers of cloth, merchants, all-night security guards, slaves, and the families of these. For these coming to a liturgy was a chance to experience the freedom that God offered and the chance to get away from the drudgery of their day-to-day life. A day in God’s courts (the Mass) was better than thousands of days spent elsewhere. Please, God, guard this heaven here on earth that you have given us in the Mass.

When we return to the Epistle for today, we certainly get an earful from Saint Paul! He reminds us that the Flesh and the Spirit contend with each other for mastery in our lives. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Those “enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, (and) envies” sound a lot like a day spent on Social Media, especially if you float around those quasi-Catholic circles that reject Pope Francis or Vatican 2! Those are in the Church, though. They are part of us. This is why we ask God in the Collect to guard the Church from us. The most damage can be caused not from rioters destroying statues, but rather from those inside the Church doing the opera carnem, the “works of the flesh”. They sow dissension among the flock, destroying the Peace of Christ. If possible they would destroy the very Church herself. Against these, Paul offers the Fruit of the Spirit; charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. You’ll find none of those in any Matial Vortex.

The Gradual reminds us that it is better to trust in God than in any political power. Too often in these days the Church will cede her power to the local political authority instead of insisting that she has her own authority. Too often she will cede charity to the state, taking state funding for her work (and then having become addicted to that funding she will give up her moral authority as well). This is why we cannot trust princes or the sons of men. We have to trust in the Lord: God is our protector – not the state fund for child services or the Federal agency for XYZ. We are not in a Christian country. There’s nothing wrong with getting benefits from the State, but when the removal of those benefits means that the Church’s work has to be curtailed then something was wrong. Either the Church’s work was not being done in the first place or else the Church was overextending herself in a contract with Mammon. More on that in the Gospel before which let us joyfully sing Alleluia!

Jesus opens today’s Gospel with a commentary on serving two masters and the famous, stern line about God and Mammon. Following that are poetic and beautiful lines about the lilies and the birds. It’s possible (and I have heard it often) to preach on either of these sayings ignoring the other. English translations, though, join these two sayings into one with a “therefore”. I remember my Methodist pastor saying in the late Seventies (speaking of the KJV, of course), “When there’s a therefore always find out what it’s there for.” In the Greek, Jesus joins these stern and poetic lines with δια τοῦτο dia touto by means of this or through this. So: don’t try to serve two masters, God and Mammon, and then though trusting in God, all these things…

We are used to thinking of “Mammon” as meaning money, but it can also mean political power, family, or social position. Word studies on the Greek share the following context:

3126 mammōnás – a Semitic term for “the treasure a person trusts in” (J. Thayer) who is transliterated as “mammon.”

[3126 (mammōnás) is probably an Aramaic term, related to the Hebrew term ̓aman (“to trust,” J. Thayer).]

Even if it’s not related to the value of your income, do you put your trust in your job providing that income? Do you put your trust in what people think of you? Do you (like me) find value in “being seen” on the internet? Why did no one like that post – am I a failure? Do you worry about job-loss resulting in a loss of all the things you have? This is Mammon.

Jesus says God is in control. Things might suck, but trust God anyway. Always.

The way this becomes victim-blaming is when the poor ask for help and we say “trust God!” Keith Green sang his Asleep in the Light about this.

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“God bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weeps,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the streets
Open up! open up!
And give yourself away
You see the need,
You hear the cries,
So how can you delay?!
God is calling,
And you are the one
But like Jonah, you run
He told you to speak,
But you keep holding it in
Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the Church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!
How can you be so dead?!
When you’ve been so well fed!

Our failure to be Christ-like to be kenotic, self-emptying with our Mammon is a sign that we’re not trusting God. God has given you a superfluity of mammon exactly to share with the poor: you are God’s steward. If you think “I can’t give this away because I might need it later” you’re thinking of that other master you have: a personal sense of security. The current constellation of crises should prove to you that literally nothing can be used to prepare for any future. The only thing we can do is trust God. Our healthcare system leads to social collapse which results in economic collapse. We have not yet begun to deal with the economic reality of the lost of >2ook people from the US or millions who cannot work because of being sick. We will have a new reality in 6-8 months no matter who gets elected.

And our Mammon will fail.

Now is the time (while we have it) to give it away before it drags us down. Now is the time to feed the poor from your savings. Now is the time to entrust your stuff into the hands of Christ who begs at your door. Now is the time to say God is in control. Seek God’s kingdom first: live as if you are in the kingdom – because you are! You no longer need to care about the concerns of this world. Insert birds and lilies here. We are free. Rejoice for God has given us everything!

The Offertory reminds us that the Angel of the Lord is here defending us who trust in God. It also dares us to “taste and see” how good God is. Yes, certainly, this is a Eucharistic invitation, but it’s also a dare: let go of your Mammon and trust God instead. Try it: you’ll like it! The Communion repeats “seek ye first” promising that all these other things will be added to us: it’s not a promise to give a little and get more back. Rather it’s a call to give away all and God will keep giving you more to give away. Be kenotic – self-emptying – like Jesus and you will never run out.

This is the pour-out economics of the Holy Trinity and the Kingdom of God. God gives us infinity in a wafer: the smallest part of infinity is also infinity and no matter how much he gives us there is always more. God guards his Church from the evil not by kicking them out but by constantly pouring himself in so that they may be converted. God wants us to do the same: pour out everything to others so that there is always room to pour more in. This pouring in purifies: it’s not like pouring water into a bottle but rather like standing in front of a flame thrower to get your clothes clean. The spots go away… The Holy Spirit – God’s consuming fire – indwells. This leads, as said in the Postcommunion, to strength in this life and eternal salvation.

Sock it to me, God

The Readings for the 23rd Sunday, Tempus per Annum (A)

Jeremiah 20:7-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27

JMJ

AYEAR AGO I weighed 300 lbs. This was a symbolic weight for me as sometime in the 1980s, in my mid20s, I had said to someone, “If I ever get to 300 pounds you can shoot me.” At the time I had gone from wearing 34″ pants to wearing 36″ pants and this was entirely a joke, but we say things that get stuck on auto-replay sometimes. Stepping off my scale in August of 2019 I was more than depressed. Truth be told, it was an old-style spring-loaded scale that had to be manually calibrated and I probably weighed more. But let’s be thankful I didn’t think of that then. I was disgusted enough. Nevermind the fact that I could not put my arms down fully at my side or comfortably clasp them in front. The vision I presented to myself in the mirror or in pictures horrified me. This was not who I wanted to be. One day standing in the shower I asked God, “Please give me a new relationship with my body.” That was it. I didn’t want to break up with my body, but I didn’t want to go on like this. I knew my food choices were not the best. I knew my other health choices were, equally, not the best. Knowing this of course made it worse, and making it worse made me fatter in the long run. More than knowing, I needed doing and doing the right things.

A year later and 70 lbs lighter, I’m still working out the implications of this new relationship. All I knew was I didn’t want to be where I was: I wasn’t sure (I’m still not sure) where the journey will end up. My food choices have changed as have my exercise choices. My blood pressure is lower. My blood sugar is healthy. My pants are smaller. We shall see.

In 2002 I entered the Orthodox Church. All I knew was I couldn’t go on with God the way things were. The only thing that horrified me was being theologically out of step with the historic Christian faith. I could see it right over there, as it were. I was afloat, getting further and further away. One day I asked for a new relationship with God. I wasn’t sure where the journey would take me. 18 years later I’m still not sure.

The NABRE says Jeremiah was “duped.” That doesn’t seem quite right to me. The Hebrew word is “open” and “spacious” but in a metaphoric sense. In another passage, the same word is used of a wife enticing her husband. Meaning no scandal the word has implications of sexual availability.

The Greek text in the LXX renders it “deceived” and that comes closer. St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate uses the word “seduced.” Seduxisti me Domine et seductus sum. That’s pretty dead-on if you ask me. God uses beauty and truth to get us to buy into his vision the same way that go-go dancers get us to buy cocktails or ad agencies get us to buy new cars. But God is actual beauty and truth – the real thing itself. When we get close enough, the “sock it to me” moment is a revelation of blinding love, not a cheap trick. He’s reality itself: Truth wrapped in goodness, inside beauty.

Unlike my dietary journey, however, I did not go in with my eyes closed or with any sense of disgust. One Sunday, sitting in the back of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral watching Father Victor pass back and forth through the Holy Doors in preparation for Liturgy, I stroked my beard and wondered to myself, What in tarnation am I doing here? I knew then – before I started – that whole swathes of my life were out of step with God. Yet I also knew he was “enticing” me forward into that beauty and I’d have to change.

“God, you were like a dancing girl seducing me… and I let myself be seduced. You were too beautiful.”

I knew going in that if I were to be serious about this God and our relationship, I was going to have to give him my physical life as well as my theological life, my heart as well as my brain, my libido as well as my ego. While there are many that depart from it, the Christian teaching is quite clear about what sex is for, how and when it is to be experienced, and to what ends. I walked in with my eyes wide open, knowing that. 18 years later I’m still learning what it means to live that knowing on a daily basis.

Paul’s letter to the Romans asks us to make of our bodies a “living sacrifice” which he calls a type of worship. Almost all English translations call this our “spiritual worship” but the Greek calls it our “logical worship” where “logical” means “in imitation of the Logos.” Our bodies are offered as living sacrifices exactly as Jesus offered his body, which is on the Cross. Our flesh is crucified or, as one Byzantine prayer has it, “Nail my flesh to the fear of thee.” This is the meaning of “take up your cross” in the Gospel. Not “carry it” so much as “be nailed to it. Offer your bodies as the Logos did his.” We, however, will not die – only live more. Elsewhere St Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, not I but Christ who liveth in me.” We offer ourselves, our souls, and bodies to be nailed to the wood of the Cross and the resurrected Christ lives in and through us, continuing his work in the world.

Paul says don’t be conformed to the world of this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. You’re thinking about this all wrong, he says. If you’re open to this logical worship, your mind will be changed: you’ll eventually think different. You will know “what is the will of God” which he describes as “good, pleasing, and perfect.” That “perfect” is the Greek word τέλειος teleios meaning ordered to the right end. In God’s plan, everything is ordered to its perfect end. We don’t get to choose things just because they’re fun or what we feel like doing: everything including us, too, must be ordered to its perfect end. If we lose our life for his sake – meaning if we give up what we only imagine to be life, including our self-definitions, petty desires, and our departures from his plan – then we will have the more-abundant life that he offers us. We will reach teleios. It’s neither instant nor easy. Death never is. But after death resurrection is very easy indeed.

You seduced me… but I totally let myself be seduced. To get more of the beauty you offered me I needed to give myself wholly to you. Partake of the love you were dancing I needed to give myself wholly to the music you called.

There are those for whom weight loss will not be a good analogy: weight can be a matter of medical issues, for example. But for me, it was a matter of choice – a choice that I was unwilling to make until about a year ago. At 300 lbs I was not using food or my body to its properly ordered end. This required a new relationship with my body and a new relationship with God. Going from 300 pounds down to 180 – which is my goal although I am not there yet – requires an act of God’s grace, as well as an act of will in concert with that grace. It requires a renewal of my mind which is ongoing.

Everything else about the Christian faith is exactly the same: an ongoing choice we need to make. We can choose to stop thinking with bodily desires, fleshly cravings, and worldly thoughts and, instead, choose to offer logical worship, thinking in concerted harmony with God rather than demanding he do so with us.

When we move in time to the tune that God is piping, the whole dance becomes a reflection of his beauty which is, in truth, our only beauty as well.

The Promise and the Promised.

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

Missa Respice Domine in testamentum tuum

JMJ

ABRAHAM IS THE FATHER, in faith, of all God’s people. God’s covenant with Abraham was to bless all people through his line. This promise is fulfilled in Christ. Traditional Dispensationalist theology sees a series of covenants proceeding between God and Man in different dispensations: Adam (which was broken by us), then Noah (which was broken by us), then Abraham. The Torah given on Sinai, in this mistaken theology, is kind of a sidestep that God took, a dispensation that has nothing to do with the Church. When Jesus comes, the Torah goes away and we “get back” to the Covenant with Abraham, now fulfilled in Christ. This line of reasoning is rightly rejected for its anti-Jewish tack.

Another way to read history is to see God leading humanity back to the place where we were supposed to be – but lost in Eden. Eden is not the place we’re supposed to be: we were only beginning there. In Christ, yes, the promises are fulfilled, but all parts of the life of faith – including Sinai – have been bringing humanity to that final stage (we’re clearly not there yet).

The Collect for today begs God for the three Theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. This is our clue to what the place is. These three virtues are linked with the four Cardinal virtues:prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. These may be thought of as the four cardinal points of a compass in circle, north, east, south, and west, with the three theological virtues as a pillar rising in the center: faith as a foundation, hope as the energizing center, and charity or love at the crown. The seven points thus describe a sphere, the traditional image of a cosmos in balance. Without this central pillar, the four points of the compass devolve into legalism.

The final destination is also clearly seen in today’s propers, the Postcommunion begs God that by the grace of the sacraments we may “steadily advance towards eternal redemption”. This final state, redeemed, is where we should have been. We would have grown from the Garden to a final state we do not yet know, but by the Grace of God, we are being returned to it (by a longer route).

In this teaching the promise of God to Abraham was manifested in the Law of Sinai. The entire Torah being a human instantiation of the divine law, not only for how to relate to God (couched in language and symbols easily understood by a people freed from Egyptian slavery and living among the neighboring tribes) but also how to relate to each other. God’s Torah provided clear rules, “worship me like this” and “live together like this.” It created, on parchment, the design of a perfect society as it could then be understood. It also drew the people forward, aspirationally, toward a goal they could not achieve: the point was not to follow each individual law (automatons could do that better) but to live them, to reform the human heart. We see this in later wisdom literature where God makes fun of the sacrifices, “do you think I eat bulls or drink goats’ blood?” but mankind, without God’s grace, could not live this law. We still needed our “heart of stone” be replaced by a “heart of flesh”.

The Introit opens with our lament: Remember your covenant, Lord. Don’t forget us or shrug us off. We are seeking you. This is repeated in the Gradual. But although it is the continual cry of the People of God – from Abraham til now – we find our hope expressed in the Alleluia: Thou hast been our refuge in every generation. Both the aspiration and the hope are true: for we cannot seek God without his grace. A sign that we are in the process of being saved is that we are actively seeking our salvation. Not despairing of our salvation we cry out to God in hope – this cry itself is part of our salvation being worked out in our lives.

The Epistle from Saint Paul explains the relationship of Sinai to the promise. God’s promise was made to Abraham and then, 450 years later, the Covenant at Sinai was given by God. This does not annul the Promise which was received by faith. Rather, says Paul, the law was given because of sin. One way to read this would be that Israel was so evil that they needed law. Again, this falls into anti-semitism. Another way to read this is that God gave us – all of us – Israel living in Covenant with God to show us what his rule for a just society would be like. Yes the law was the Covenant with Israel but Israel-in-Covenant-with-God was a gift to all of us: as God promised Abraham in his seed the world would be blessed. The promise was fulfilled in Christ but the moral law was not done away with, rather the grace needed to live in the Just Society described by the Law was given to the nations to correct, to reform, to radically destroy and rebuild the social order after the image of the Kingdom.

At this time we may see a chance to eradicate one such sin – racism – and reform ourselves closer to the kingdom. But the law of Israel described economic justice, social justice, and right relations between people as well. All of these need to be worked into our modern living out of Christendom in the world. We are still intended to be a blessing to the world as children of Abraham. Instead, we fall into partisan bickering over liturgical forms and secular powers.

As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Teh Ching:

Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.

Chapter 38

This Samaritan arrives in the story a few chapters after the “Good Samaritan” story from last week. The continued use of Samaritan as “Good Guy” highlights Luke’s focus on including the Gentiles. The sign of the Ten Lepers Cleansed can be read as either anti-Semitic or not; further, the anti-Semitism can be very subtle or else very overt. Let us avoid both options as we read the Gospel for today. It is tempting to see the nine men who were cleansed of leprosy as going their own way and not thanking God. Yet, they are doing exactly as Jesus directed them: they are going to the Temple, as required by the Torah, to show themselves to the priest and be declared free of leprosy. This is an issue of ritual purity, not sin. The tenth man, the Samaritan, would not go to the Temple. In fact, he could not go to a Jewish priest at all. We are not told what the other nine men did after this story, but we do not need to assume that only the Samaritan was finally healed. Jesus says, “Ten were cleansed”. For all ten, their faith has saved them. When one came back and Jesus seems to call out the other nine for doing exactly what he told them to do, and also exactly what was required by the law.

Before they could interact with the public pious Jews needed to be declared clean by the priest. The Levitical rules for the cleansing of lepers are quite complex: involving 8 days, bathing, multiple sacrifices. The Samaritan was under no such stricture. Or if he was, it was not at the hands of the Jewish priests, but with his own clergy. Jesus is not commenting on the Jewish Rules (from which “one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass until all is fulfilled”).

The entirety of the story then must be a sign. From the first time all ten calling Jesus as “Master” to the closing scene with the Samaritan is one action in Luke’s story. Luke, working with St Paul, is mindful of the inclusion of non-Jews in the Christian community. Here those might be represented by the Samaritan. A Jew believing Jesus to be the Messiah might hear a call to bypass the older system because of Jesus: this story can also be read as to highlight the importance of thanksgiving (eucharist) over and above the older rules. The purity rules are not part of the moral teaching of the Torah. So the Samaritan (the Gentile, as it were) comes back to give God glory – here, at the feet of Jesus.

We imagine that we must do something ourselves to fix things, forgetting that God is in control. The full text of the Offertory speaks to us of this: In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; I said: Thou art my God, my times are in Thy hands. Our times are in God’s hands. It’s not up to us to control the times or even fix the times: it’s up to us how we react or move through them, however.

All things – including the social change of Christianity – flow from Thanksgiving, all things flow from the Mass. The Eucharist, as the Communion says, is bread from heaven, having in it all that is delicious, and the sweetness of every taste. The Eucharist is the promise carried to each of us personally: what we do with it, however, is up to us. We are not saved because of the Euacharist but rather by the Eucharist if we let the motion of Thanksgiving and offering carry through to the rest of our lives. We are not offering limited, human resources to God: we are offering God, himself: unlimited, eternal, and omnipotent.

The arc of action for Missa Respice Domine in testamentum tuum goes from “Why is this all sucky and why does God not fix it” to God fixing it through our action of thanksgiving and our response to that repair. We too can be lost in ritual, which is only the husk of faith. We can be like the nine who did exactly what they should do… and somehow missed the boat. Or we can be like the tenth, who suddenly discovered that God was acting and turned down a different path to his own salvation. When the promise is fulfilled, the promise passes away.

Resist. But not what you think.

JMJ

NEIL POSTMAN’S TECHNOPOLY has been a slow-go for me, although I think I’ve had it for about a year. It’s hard reading a fully-valid cultural critique of your industry (and your quarter-century career arc) that was written before your industry or the possibility of your career arc existed. To say Postman was a prophet is an understatement. When I was working at the Seabury Bookstore in NYC, I wish someone had come to my cash register with this. If I had rung Postman up twice at my register at the same time I was learning about email, I might have noticed. So I don’t have a review so much as a recognition that I have not been in the “Loving Resistance”, as he calls it.

Although Bishop Barron has a few comments on another Postman work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, this work seems not to have hit the radar over at Word on Fire, although I may be wrong. It would, perhaps, be seen as a critique of the whole idea of evangelism via the internet and how gleefully we give ourselves up to the mercy of the Algorithm in the hopes of gaining one convert who is not worse than we are.

Rather than a review or even response, by way of capitulation, here’s an extended quote from the final chapter. It really is a description of a proper reaction to everything the internet has become since Postman died.


By “loving,” I mean that, in spite of the confusion, errors, and stupidities you see around you, you must always keep close to your heart the narratives and symbols that once made the United States the hope of the world and that may yet have enough vitality to do so again. . . . Which brings me to the “resistance fighter” part of my principle.

Those who resist the American Technopoly are people:

  • who pay no attention to a poll unless they know what questions were asked, and why;
  • who refuse to accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal of human relations;
  • who have freed themselves from the belief in the magical powers of numbers, do not regard calculation as an adequate substitute for judgment, or precision as a synonym for truth;
  • who refuse to allow psychology or any “social science” to pre-empt the language and thought of common sense;
  • who are, at least, suspicious of the idea of progress, and who do not confuse information with understanding;
  • who do not regard the aged as irrelevant;
  • who take seriously the meaning of family loyalty and honor, and who, when they “reach out and touch someone,” expect that person to be in the same room;
  • who take the great narratives of religion seriously and who do not believe that science is the only system of thought capable of producing truth;
  • who know the difference between the sacred and the profane, and who do not wink at tradition for modernity’s sake;
  • who admire technological ingenuity but do not think it represents the highest possible form of human achievement.

A resistance fighter understands that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things, that every technology—from an IQ test to an automobile to a television set to a computer—is a product of a particular economic and political context and carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore require scrutiny, criticism, and control. In short, a technological resistance fighter maintains an epistemological and psychic distance from any technology, so that it always appears somewhat strange, never inevitable, never natural.

From Chapter 11 of  Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman

Under a Loving Gaze

JMJ

THE ANGELIC WARFARE Confraternity has its members promise to say a certain set of prayers every day. In addition to invoking the aid of Jesus and St Thomas Aquinas (the Confraternity’s patron), the members also pray 15 Hail Mary’s for specific intentions. Recently the intentions have evolved into 15 little prayers but it is the intentions, themselves that have been the topic of my meditations. (I think that at an even earlier stage it was just 15 Hail Mary’s and a daily self examination, but I’m not sure.) I’ve been about this business for 4 years now: I was doing this before I became Catholic. This mostly-daily meditation continues to yield fruit.

Intentions 1-4 have recently been unfolding into a complex pattern for me. All of these seem to involve how we interact with the world. We pray for:

  1. Our cultural climate;
  2. Our relationships;
  3. Our modesty; and
  4. Our five senses.

It is possible to read these intercessions as dealing with people and things outside our control, as if we are asking God to fix these. In fact the recent prayer adaptations seem to strengthen this reading. I think that fails in that my salvation is never about how others act. In fact a lot of St Paul’s letters are about how my actions affect others. This comes up when we are thinking about modesty (if we do it right) but even that idea often gets spun into “what others do to me”. How often have talks about modesty been spun into “women shouldn’t wear tight dresses because it bothers the boys”? An entirely different reading arises if we think of all these in first person.

While much can be said about our cultural climate, pointing out our production of and addiction to adult content on the internet, our sexualization of just about everything, and our polymorphous perversity shrouded under a dysfunctional veil of Puritanism, the Church does not ask God to fix the world: rather God has put the Church in the world to evangelize. So a prayer that says “God, fix this!” would be out of keeping with the tradition. We might pray for the strength to resist it, but our purpose, as Christians, is to draw folks out of that system into the Kingdom of God. Since such evangelism is an act of Love, that is what should color not only our read of the first intention, but of all four. This is act of love directed outwards to others. The prayer for the culture is better seen, pace Bp Robert Barron, as begging God to show us openings, places where we can break in to help others escape.

As penance once, I was told to pray for pornographers. Let this idea grow. It can be about praying for those who struggle, but also about those who distribute, for those who produce it, those who are addicted, those who are trapped inside it, and those who feel there is no other way to get through life. I just do this so I can feel something has become a cri de coeur on the internet in these days of lock-down. Sometimes we may all go through life looking for something that makes us feel. This is our climate right now in which we are not only likely to use pixels on the screen as erotic feedback. We are just as likely to forget that all of our relationships (even on Zoom) actually involve persons created in God’s image.

So next we pray for our relationships, but for Christians this is not a matter of individual choice. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said God in the Garden. We are, in the image of God, created for communion. There is almost no such thing as an “individual”. Our whole personality, our experience of reality, our idea of self is mediated through others. When we try to define reality “internally” we end up in psychosis and disorder. Paul’s letters as well as the Gospels continue to expand this trinitarian anthropology. Each of us is to be kenotic, that is, self-emptying. We not only cannot define or create ourselves, we cannot change our nature, which is to pour out ourselves in the service of others. We can corrupt our nature, we can distort it, but we cannot undo it. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that it doesn’t matter who is in “good relationships” with us – we must put ourselves in the role of neighbor to everyone. Christians are to be the ones who go out in Love to the world.

Again this puts the lie to any attempt to read these intentions as “God, fix this!” That is a cry of defeat: I cannot live virtuously until God fixes things. In fact, the reverse is true: living virtuously is the beginning of God fixing things. When we begin by letting God fix our hearts, he will follow through by using us to help restore others. If my actions cause you to fall, then I have damaged our relationship. Equally, if I let you lead me into sin, I have again damaged our relationship. Always remember that a sexual sin costs two souls. When we pray for our relationships we don’t pray that God will take us away from those who could lead us into sin (although that may be needed sometimes) we pray rather that we may lead them to God. Yes, this may make them back away: but that’s the risk of the Gospel. I am not only responsible for my soul, I am responsible for yours as well.

In this light, now, we pray for our modesty. I have written elsewhere about how clothing and how important it is that we be mindful of our brothers and sisters in our clothing choice. Even that is an act of love. But there is another aspect: for people will dress immodestly, that is true. Others will just “be hot” in our estimation. We must have a modest gaze. We must have, as the ancients said, custody of our eyes – in fact of all our senses.

Do not begin by saying, “God fix this!” instead We Begin by presenting [y]our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [y]our reasonable service (Romans 12:1). St Paul’s “reasonable service” is λογικὴν λατρείαν logikeyn latreian logical worship or, better, “worship in logical way”. We are called to bring our bodies into order. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is a life-long struggle, but it begins with the modest gaze: to have not only custody of our eyes but of the thoughts that arise from what we see.

And to highlight this, the next intention is for all our senses. It is entirely possible for music or art, what literature or politics, movies and television – of course – but also for advertisements on the street, conversations on the internet, etc, all to arouse our passions. And not just sexual passion either! Things that inspire gluttony or self-indulgence it is possible to let ourselves go in so many ways but this is not our logical worship. This is not offering our bodies as a holy and living sacrifice. And Saint Paul even calls out the Corinthians for their drunkenness and their gluttony because by doing so the rich exclude the poor and they exclude them from communion with Christ. So it is today for us that our gluttony might injure others in their poverty. We deny the image of God in them.

Our history is full of the fiscal success of our country built on the backs of the poor. It is true that without indentured servitude, slavery, and wage inequity our country would never be as great as it is today. That we use our country’s success as a defense for our slavery is a sign of our own sin that we refuse to admit. No full stop. We would not be where we are today. But at what cost did we get here? The same is true of other sins. Lust, gluttony, envy, hate, fear, oppression, and death. These all arise from denying the love that we owe to our brothers and sisters.

All of these intersections can be gathered under the banner of a loving gaze. We must see the world through the eyes of God’s love. To do that we must be self-sacrificing: giving up the legal fictions of “rights” and “privilege” in the name of service to others. We must give up those functions of society and secular order that we invoke to “keep us safe”. Ad we must risk our lives to save the souls of others in love. Christians have no rights to demand, only to give up in love.

Again, this is not something we can do on our own: we can only do this with and for God’s help, and with and for each other. The other intercessions of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity arise from the matrix: it’s not about the first person – me – at all. My chastity and my purity do not arise from me, but from sacrifice for others, in love.

How to Love like God

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

Missa Deus in adjutorium meum intende

JMJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IntegraLeft

JMJ

CATHOLIC TWITTER HAS BEEN going over (rehashing?) what seems to be an old argument this week:

To be honest, I don’t know. This argument is going on in a column on my Tweetdeck called “I’m learning” into which I throw everyone that’s arguing about politics so that I can learn more about a Catholic approach to politics. What I’m clear on so far is that the argument that we must vote for Trump is specious – if not heretical – since Church teaching clearly says otherwise:

What I am not clear on, however, is this idea that in order to support integralism I must be fascist. Actually, this all seems to be a problem with history. The church today seems to have a problem with history.

For example: while many missionaries of the last two centuries brought many souls to Christ they also participated in political oppression. The church seems to be incapable of recognizing this. St Junipero Serra defended indigenous people from the Spanish military and brought them to Christ, it is true. But he also kidnapped them to keep them “safe”. And his kidnapping was part of the Spanish Empire’s way of colonizing this part of the world. Missions helped clear the land so that the military could move in and distribute the uninhabited property to the wealthy Spaniards. Yes, St Junipero kept folks safe. But he, himself, was part of the machine that was making the environment unsafe for the indigenous persons. The Catholic Church has a problem admitting this.

Another example is Christopher Columbus, who likewise set up a system that enslaved indigenous people while talking piously about their salvation. I have no doubt that he in fact worked and even prayed for their salvation. But he also enslaved and oppressed them. He was part of the machine that did this. Again, the Catholic church has trouble admitting this.

The fact that both of these men are not only Catholics but celebrated American forebears, creates a conflict of history, hagiography, and political mythology that Modern Catholics refuse to untangle.

I think the same is true with Integralism. There is a history. That does not define our present however, nor our future.

At its root, Integralism is simply the idea that the state must be subject to the final end of man which is his salvation.

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that, rejecting the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holds that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end, the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

Anything the state says which is in conflict with man’s salvation is null and void. The best state would be the state which cooperates with the church to the final end of man. Some Integralists have argued in support of a fascist state. I recognize that and it would be a lie to say otherwise. Does that, however, mean that all Integralists must be fascist? I refuse to accept that premise. Any theorist that says this or that political or economic theory will help us forward Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is making an Integralist argument if he is saying this is for man’s salvation.

So I argue that a person who is claiming socialism is more in line with the church’s teaching than capitalism is essentially making an integralist argument.

Further a Catholic Integralist could argue that while the church should rule over the state in terms of political authority, the economy of that state should be Socialist, for example. I think we are limiting our political imagination when we accuse one side or the other would being the end-all and be-all of a certain political stripe. Does the DSA exhaust all possible options for Socialism? Does the “absolute Divine-Right monarchy” of a Catholic kingdom require a capitalist economy? I don’t think so. I wonder what a socialist monarchy would look like. In fact, since Pharaoh owned all of Egypt was not Egypt simply an unjust socialism?

Is not the demand to use Catholic Social Action to reform society a Catholic Integralist request? Is not the Catholic Worker Movement Integralist at heart?

Is there something I’m missing? I don’t know the answers that’s why this is is par of I’m learning. You’re welcome conversation in the comments below or on Twitter or on the blog’s Facebook page.

I am what I am

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

Missa Deus in loco

JMJ

FOR TODAY’S MASS the Church has given us a reather powerful Collect, asking for what we dare not ask, begging forgiveness for what we dare not name. The recognition of our sinful failings manifested in our weakness is important. Sometimes we do know what we need but we dare not say it out loud. I don’t think this is like St. Augustine’s famous “make me chaste but not yet” prayer. We’re too afraid to even say these things out loud. This might be a prayer useful for everyday, in fact, but I think it ties in particularly well with today’s Gospel, the Healing of the Deaf Mute. He can neither ask nor, as we shall see later, even think what he needs. We are like him and we need Jesus.

The Introit calls us all to a “unity of mind” while reminding us that it is God that gives this unity. So right up front, it seems possible that this Unity is one of the things that we dare not ask for. We seem to enjoy being disagreeable, or rather to enjoy being in disagreement. Think of how many times politics have easily divided us as a Christian Community. Think of how many partisan conversations you may have heard at coffee hour or read on Twitter. Even as I write I know I am guilty of this as well. What would it be like to find myself at unity of heart and mind in one house with people with whom I have great political disagreements? Dare I ask for this? Can a person experiencing oppression seek a unity of mind with those, in the same Church, who are the oppressors? More importantly, can the oppressor seek a unity of mind with the person he is oppressing? The oppressed can seek unity through constant acts of love and forgiveness. The oppressors, on the other hand, can only seek unity by ceasing to oppress. Dare we ask for this?

In the Epistle St Paul clearly states his right of place as an Apostle who preaches the Gospel. It is this Gospel proclaimed that is our unity.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I Corinthians 15:3-8

As we used to say in the Mysterium Fidei, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the Gospel that we proclaim. When we proclaim it we are in line with Paul and the other apostles.

Paul says, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” That last line is of interest because it seems to include the holy name of God, I Am. In Greek he says, Χαριτι δε θεου ειμι ο ειμι chariti de Theou eimi ho eimi with the eimi ho eimi being I am what I am. In Exodus 3:14, though (LXX) the Greek is very different: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on using four words that could be rendered I I-am-being the Being. Paul settles for just I am what I am. It’s not the Divine Name, but it is a claim: God has made me as I am.

If you are of a certain age you may have heard St Paul’s claim echoed in another context on Broadway. In the early 80s, the musical La Cage aux Folles by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman included a key song called I am what I am sung by a character proclaiming his status on stage proudly. But it contained a crucial error in that it celebrated the character as self-made whereas St Paul identifies himself as God-made. The “back story” of each is not important, but the parallels are: both were doing what they thought was right. Paul is who is his not despite his history, but rather because he has turned his history over to God’s grace. He knows that God has to work with the self that St Paul brings to the party. God’s grace builds on St Paul’s self. To parallel last week’s Gospel, St Paul is the Publican who knows his history and says, “God will do something anyway. The Broadway character is a Pharisee singing out, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”

Grace builds on nature – if we bring our nature to the altar. So the Gradual and the Alleluia help us: Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent; depart not from me. Sing aloud to the God of Jacob! God is no far from us, but rather in him we can trust and we will be helped.

To this writer the Gospel in today’s Mass is one of the most important in our (EF) lectionary. The full content of this Gospel was not known – could not be known – until the 20th Century. A man deaf and dumb from birth – we know now – does not even have the brain cells or neural pathways needed for speech. We also know that the brain is thermoplastic, it looks set in its ways but given the right heat, it can be reformatted. Jesus’ cry of “Ephpheta” is like a nuclear blast changing all the circuits in this man’s brain. He goes from nothing to full grasp of the language in a moment. (The same sort of neural explosion happens again in a passage about a man born blind.)

When we turn our nature over to God’s grace what is there that he cannot do to us? He can turn an attacker into an Apostle. He can get a rich man into heaven. He can turn a prostitute into a preacher. He can turn death into life. What can he do in my heart if I but let him? What can he do not in spite of my nature, but through it? If enough people offer their hearts what can he do in a society or in a culture? If Salvation is preached to the world what will the kingdom of God look like? We will be like the voice in the Offertory saying, “O Lord, I have cried to Thee, and Thou hast healed me.”

Although the Secret is speaking of the bread and the wine, we can pray this over our whole lives: Look down in mercy upon our service, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that the gifts we offer may be acceptable unto Thee, and a support in our weakness. If we are looking for God now it is because of his action in our lives. Those prompts which we have reacted to and cooperated with have brought us to where we are. We offered these which have already been our support. These things which brought us here have already been your gift. We offer them and we hope you will build on them to do more in our lives.

In the Communion we see: Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first of all thy fruits: Substance here is everything. Honor the Lord with your offering of “I am what I am” and let God cry to you Ephpheta and thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine. You will feel supported in soul and body; that being saved in both, we may glory in the fullness of the heavenly remedy. (Postcommunion.)

Today’s Missa Deus in loco Does not mean “God is crazy”, but we certainly know that our world at this time is very crazy. God is “in the crazy” with us. Our religion is one of incarnation – not escape. God’s holy place is here, with us, in our hearts and in our lives as he opens us to more grace that we may be filled with abundance to give to all the world around us. What this may be, we dare not know – but God will do so if we let him even if we do not dare. God takes our “I am” and makes it his own, that we may proclaim his salvation to all those around us.