Unrighteous Mammon

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

Missa Suscepimus, Deus, misericodiam tuam

JMJ

THE COLLECT TODAY REMINDS us that we do not exist without God. God is the ground and source of our being, our very essence is tied to his continual will for our being. We are not of the same essence as God, but rather even the constant motions of atoms and the very being of our spirits is a continual act of his will for our well-being. And this is not only collective abstraction: God does not only will that all things continue in being. He wills it individually, personally. You and I are here as a blessing from God, by an act of his will, that sustains us for all things and through all things. But for what end? The Collect adds to live according to Thy will. We have things to do here. Much of the rest of this Mass is about what and how to do those things.

In the Introit we sing of having received God’s Mercy. In Latin it is “misericodiam”, but in Hebrew it is חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ chesed and in Greek it is ἔλεός eleos. We think of “mercy” in nearly a punishment way: the master is whipping us and we cry out, “Have mercy, master!” That is not what mercy means at all. I desire mercy not sacrifice does not say, “Don’t beat up sinners.” Instead, it means something further down the scale: comfort them. Chesed is such a hard word to render that the translators of the King James Bible made up a new word: Lovingkindness. The Greek word, eleos, comes from the same word as olive oil. Give me comfort, soothe my wounds, bind up my aches and pains. Have mercy, Lord: today is hard. In the temple, in the Liturgy – here, at Mass – we have been soothed, healed. As Christus/Moshiach means anointed, here in the Mass we are anointed with God’s chesed and made little Christs.

To what end? St Paul tells us directly in the Epistle: we are not to do the works of the flesh, but rather the works of the Spirit. We are not to let our flesh lead us around, but rather to follow the Spirit. We are not here in fear, but in love. We no longer expect God to merely stop beating us, we call on our Father’s mercy, his chesed. What is this division between the works of the flesh and of the spirit? We already know what God wants us to do, what having God as our Father empowers us to do. The clue is in what we have received from God in the Mass. In Micah 6:8 we see that we have a very simple duty: He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly (Mishpat), and to love mercy (Chesed), and to walk humbly with thy God? We already know chesed, but mishapt is new. It can mean law or judgment, but it is most often used for the description of how to treat others, especially the poor, the orphan, the widowed, the oppressed. This is the work of the Spirit.

So often we are given to imagine that “The work of the spirit” is something etherial, otherworldly, but this is how we walk with God: in works of justice and in love of mercy. The works of the flesh are physical works: lust, greed, gluttony. But they are not wrong because they are physical (as opposed to spiritual) but rather because they are selfish. In our greed we steal from others. But in the spirit of adoption which God has given us we are Sons, like Jesus himself. We no longer need to be greedy: for All Is Ours.

The Gradual and Alleluia inspire us to confidence in God and to the courage to act, dwelling in the shadow of his refuge. What is there to fear? The world will hate us. But we knew that already. Still, there is nothing to fear. I have hoped in God and nothing will trip me up.

Now comes one of the most confusing Gospel readings in the whole of our tradition: the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The Fathers have an interesting read on this, for they see the Certain Rich Man as a symbol of God the Father. The unjust steward is, well, you or me. He’s us. We are all rightly accused of squandering God’s wealth. In his Commentary, Fr Haydock says:

Verse 1. There was a certain rich man, &c. By this parable, our Saviour advises his disciples to accompany their penitential works with deeds of mercy to the poor. Ven. Bede. — There is a certain erroneous opinion, that obtains pretty generally amongst mankind, and which tends to increase crimes, and to lessen good works: and this is, the foolish persuasion that men are not accountable to any one, and that we can dispose as we please of the things in our possession. S. Chrys. — Whereas we are here informed, that we are only the dispensers of another’s property, viz. God’s. S. Amb. — When, therefore, we employ it not according to the will of our Master, but fritter and squander it away in pleasure, and in the gratification of our passions, we are, beyond all doubt, unjust stewards.

Haydock Commentary

When the steward begins to give away his master’s belongings, his master actually Praises him. Since all things belong to God, and since God has given them to us freely, we are to participate in the giving: to give away all. Sell all you have and give to the poor. And we are to do this without fear for in doing so we are participating in the nature of God whose self-gift is unending, unrestrained, and the source of all that we have or are. More than this, Jesus comments that the children of this world are more inclined to look out for their own care than we, as Christians, are inclined to look out for our soul’s well-being. How many Christians do you know are as zealous for souls as a Wall Street Banker is for profit? How many Christians do you know are a zealous for their own salvation and Heavenward journey as a political activist (of any stripe)? Truly, the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.

Conversely, how many Christians do you know who are more zealous for others to be punished “justly” for their sins? The Unjust Steward goes around forgiving the debts of others who owe him nothing. So are we to forgive others – even if they “only” sinned against God. Here I do not mean offer sacramental absolution: that is a priestly function. But rather, how many of us want to get “righteously angry” about protests or graffiti, about violence against the church, real or imagined, or about oppressions we are made to endure? Instead, we should be “loving mercy” and “doing justice” ourselves, like the Steward: we should say, “How much do you owe our God? Here, it’s now only half that…”

At the beginning of the first Gulf War, under President Bush the Elder, protesters gathered in front of the United Nations daily and they filled the streets around my 2nd Avenue work place in New York City. Monday, walking back to the office after lunch I saw a mounted squad of New York City Police ride into the crowd at the corner of 44th and 2nd. There was stunned silence for a few moments as people wondered what was to happen next. A group of priests, standing only a few feet from me on the corner, under the street sign, looked at each other, nodded, and took out their stoles which they draped over their clerical suits. They stood looking at the policeman who sat on their horses and looked at the priests. There was stony silence and the clerical stoles move gently in a breeze. Then the policeman turn their horses and rode away.

Rejoice: all is ours, and there is nothing to be afraid of.

In the Secret the priest prays that our lives will be fulfilled in this world and in the next. The world of “the flesh” are greed and lust. But nevertheless it is possible to be made holy here and now, “in the flesh,” if we but do the works of our Abba. This thought is repeated in the Postcommunion which asks God to heal us (the Latin is “repair us”) in Soul and Body. Again, that’s in this world. We are not gnostics: the flesh is not in opposition to the Spirit, only we want it to be out of balance. We use our fleshly passions and say, “This must be my spirit.” God wants us to embody the actions of His Spirit in our flesh.

The Communion verse underscores our hope in God as we taste and see that he is good.

More than praise for his gifts, God calls us to embody his action in the world: to act in lovingkindness, to be merciful at every turn. In a world where greed and self-interest are the norm, God calls us to act in merciful justice, to give away everything he has given us so that he can continue to give us more – to give away.

There is no need to fear in this action, for we already know they hate us.

The Kingdom is Like a Trigger Warning

The Readings for the 16th Sunday
Tempus per Annum

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43

JMJ

ALL OF THESE PARABLES in Matthew 13 begin “the Kingdom of God is like…”and they always leave me wondering, is the Kingdom like the whole image in the story or like the first symbol in the story the actor or the one to which things happen. In today’s collection of parables each “main thing” is
– a man who sowed good seed in his field;
– a mustard seed;
– yeast.
There are actors in each story – men and women – and they do things like planting a seed or making bread, but which part of the story is the kingdom?

Each of these parables also addresses what should be the action of the Church (God’s Kingdom) in the world. They address evangelism and “church growth” in ways that are unexpected but are very necessary in today’s situation. The actors in the story could each be Jesus (even the woman making bread) or the Holy Spirit, but they are also us, the Evangelists who announce the Good News in the world.

The Mustard Seed is probably the most familiar one in our post-Christian culture. Everyone knows if you have faith “like a mustard seed” you can get a car on Oprah’s show or earn money like Joel Oralsteen. The open secret is, of course, that’s not what Jesus is offering us here. Jesus says the Kingdom starts small and then grows into something huge that even protects others.

The Parable of the Yeast is even more exciting: the woman, of course, is not using dry, powdered yeast from the grocer, but rather sourdough starter. When you mix that with three measures of flour and let it rest the entire thing becomes starter which you can use in the next batch. (The normal thing is to save only a bit of the dough as the yeast for the next batch, but the whole mix is the same thing.) Thus, the Kingdom starts as this small thing – that changes everything! You can take any part of the Kingdom from here and set it over there and it will grow more!

The first being last, the series opens with the Wheat and the Tares or Weeds. You can’t tell the tares from the wheat, the food from the garbage. Tares are, in fact, poisonous and look like wheat so much so that they often get saved, ground as flour and baked. In a small dose can just make the bread taste bad – they can also make you sick. The experience of the Church can be like that: there are bad places where you can get quite sick. There is sexual abuse, yes, but there are also well-meaning folks who just water the faith down enough to be dangerous. There are rigorists who make it so hard to enter the Kingdom that they damn everyone. There are politicians who claim the name of Christian only for their political ends. And there are clergy who play the same game for the sake of power. Yet (especially from the outside looking in) it’s heard to tell the wheat from the tares, until you taste and your stomach is turned.

As Jesus was speaking the Church was 12 men (one of whom would turn traitor), the Blessed Mother, and a handful of other men and women. By the middle of the First Century, there were only a few thousand out of the entire world. There were – at each stage – already some who were tares. No less then than now. Jesus tells us not to worry. Yes, there are tares, but don’t be one of those. There’s a whole process here that is really none of your concern: God’s working this all out. But there is also hope: the whole thing will be leavened. The entire world will be changed, the kingdom will shelter even the birds of the air.

The Church now fills the whole world but truth be told she seems to reflect the world as much as she leavens it. How can she fill the world with hope? Can she purge out the tares so that the crop is pure? The Gospel says she can’t: for they – like the poor – will always be with us. Only at the end of the age… but Jesus puts an interesting spin on it: it’s not only sinners that are tares. He says the angels “will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin.” That’s actually pretty strong language: for we can all do that if we’re not careful. Even in what we imagine to be righteous acts we may cause others to sin. The Greek word used there is σκάνδαλα skandala. The Angels will gather out of the kingdom all the skandala. It literally means “trigger” or “bait”. Jesus is telling us don’t trigger each other.

Saint Paul will later tell us don’t do anything that will make the weaker brethren stumble. He acknowledges that some people might stumble because he eats meat. He said he would rather give up meat than keep others from entering the kingdom. How often do we do things – even things which might be good, in and of themselves – that cause other people to stumble? How often are our actions scandals? The Byzantine Rite has a prayer asking for forgiveness for sins we did not know we had committed: “things known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary.” These are called venial in the Latin rite (CCC ¶1862) “without full knowledge or without complete consent”. Yet they damage a relationship with our weaker brothers and sisters – and so with God. I don’t think God will keep out of his kingdom those who feel compelled to run away by our scandals. On the other hand, those of us who are scandals may have trouble.

The reader may or may not know that sometimes Orthodox monastics can be viewed with suspicion by lay people or by parish clergy. This is a cultural thing in the East. I remember that the late Metropolitan Philip, may he rest in peace, once said, “I don’t want monastics in my church they cause trouble.” I remember hearing of two Orthodox nuns were visiting a parish on behalf of their religious community. One member of the parish took it upon herself to follow the two Sisters around to make sure they didn’t “do anything”. I’m sure that they did nothing, but this member of the parish accused them of stealing food out of the kitchen, since there was a lot of food in the Parish’s kitchen and certainly none at their convent. She called several other members of the parish together to hear the accusation. One of the nuns offered a defense, saying that they had done no such thing. The other nun fell to the ground prostrate and begged forgiveness of the member of the parish for whatever she had done to cause such a scandal.

That prostration, my brothers and sisters, is not causing the weaker Brethren to stumble. In the Gospel the only Sinners we’re given to know is our own self in the first person. Everyone else reacts to my sins, but they are not sinners: I cannot know the state of their heart. So when we see churches burnt, or statues torn down. We should not be like the first nun or the tares amidst the wheat. We should wonder what our sins are: what did we do to trigger this? We should pray for forgiveness – as well as beg forgiveness of the others against whom our sins were committed.

We should evangelize in love.

Of Masks, Statues, and Jehoshaphat

JMJ

FRIDAY IN THE 15th WEEK, Tempus per Annum, the readings in the Daily Office all conspire as if someone had set up it on purpose. In the Office of Readings, David and the story of Jehoshaphat, in Morning Prayer, David again, Jeremiah and St Paul all come together in one great story.

In the Office of Readings we say Psalm 69, split into 3 parts. The says that he feels betrayed by his friends and all those around him. He prays to never be a cause of shame to those who love the Lord. But then he says that even in his poverty and pain he will bless the Lord.

I will praise God’s name with a song;
I will glorify him with thanksgiving,
a gift pleasing God more than oxen,
more than beasts prepared for sacrifice.
The poor when they see it will be glad
and God-seeking hearts will revive;
for the Lord listens to the needy
and does not spurn his servants in their chains.
Let the heavens and the earth give him praise,
the sea and all its living creatures.

In this praise, the writer knows

For God will bring help to Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah
and men shall dwell there in possession.
The sons of his servants shall inherit it;
those who love his name shall dwell there.

Then comes the reading about King Jehoshaphat. A whole bunch of Gentiles – from several nations – came together to slay the people of Judah. The King was very afraid, called a day of fasting and prayer and sought help from God. The whole nation gathered in Jerusalem at the Temple and prayed. And God spoke through the mouth of one of the men of the Tribe of Levi saying:

Do not fear or lose heart at the sight of this vast multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Go down against them tomorrow. You will see them coming up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will come upon them at the end of the wadi which opens on the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not have to fight in this encounter. Take your places, stand firm, and see how the Lord will be with you to deliver you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not fear or lose heart. Tomorrow go out to meet them, and the Lord will be with you.

So Jehoshaphat organizes the Army and, instead of spears or chariots, he put singers in front. They sang: “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” The second half of that verse, כִּ֥י לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּֽוֹ ke l’olam khasdo, is the refrain to many of the Psalms, especially Psalm 136 where it is repeated in each verse, celebrating God’s victories on behalf of Israel. I would like to imagine it was this Psalm the singers were chanting as they went. No sooner did they start to sing – no doubt the song echoing off the mountainsides – than the army of the enemy was put to confusion and began killing each other! This is like the three Trolls in The Hobbit, great terrors easily made silly by their own greed and some crafty voices.

When Judah arrives on the scene, the only thing left is to step over the bodies and get their loot. Judah was three days gathering the spoils from the army that they conquered by singing.

Today (the 17th as I write) is also the feast of the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne: 16 Carmelite nuns executed by French revolutionaries on this day in 1794, for refusing to accept state control over the Catholic Church. They were beheading singing the Te Deum.

In today’s Morning Prayer, after confessing our sins with Psalm 51, we sing this mournful Canticle from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.

If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
if I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.

Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?

We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O Lord, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.

For your name’s sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.

While this comes up every four weeks or so, I remember singing it last year in the smokes of wild fires and weeping as I felt like precious things were passing away. This time, it stirred up memories of violent mobs and parties that cannot be repeated, of being at Church with a rejoicing throng or even going to the Rosary Rally last year or my Birthday Party in Dolores Park. These things will not be again this Summer. What will happen? I had forgotten all about Jehoshaphat, from only a few pages ago. So St Paul had to remind me.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

II Corinthians 12:7-10 (AV)

And so were tied together Jehoshaphat, Jeremiah, David, the Carmelites, and St Paul: it is when we are weak that God is strongest. Always he is saying to us, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

My Mom’s friends worship with a Baptist community where the preacher keeps a gun with him in the pulpit. He has done so since the first Obama administration and that says something. But his attitude is spreading. Recently I heard of a priest inviting men of his parish to get ready to defend the place in case of attack. It struck me then that something was off, that we are missing an opportunity to evangelize here. Friday morning’s office underscored this to me. God never once asked all the Christian to Man-UpTM in case the Romans would arrive. No. In fact, the Christians then tended to look like the Carmelites in Paris:

And yet we chafe at masks and mourn our statues. God’s strength will be seen in our weakness. In fear, though, we arm ourselves.

When we should be singing.

God is in Control

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

Missa Omnes Gentes, Plaudite Manibus

JMJ

THE TIMES ARE CERTAINLY STRANGE. Between the Plague, the Denial of the Plague, political doctors, riots by white people with guns complaining about their right to endanger others, protests by people of color complaining about their inability to live without being endangered by power structures white people have built, and corporate greed driving so many false messages in and through all of the above, we can perhaps be forgiven for wandering in confusion through our days. The Collect though, reminds us the God is in control.

O God, Whose providence in the ordering of all things never fails; we humbly beseech Thee to put away from us all harmful things, and to give us those which are profitable for us.

Deus, cujus providentia in sui dispositione non fallitur : te supplices exorámus ; ut noxia cuncta submoveas, et ómnia nobis profutura concedas. 

This collect reads like the Advent antiphon, O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly. O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia.

Since it is the wisdom of God to order all things, then how can anything be unjust? This is sort of the default how can anything be evil question isn’t it? If your God is so good why is there evil in the world? If your God is so good why are there poor people who are slain by tsunamis on Christmas Day? Christians have an answer for that question but no one likes the answer.

The Introit reminds us that God is the “great king over all the Earth.” Everyone is invited to praise him. Clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of joy. So, again, why is there Injustice in the world?

In the Epistle St Paul speaks to the Romans, reminding them that they used to be in their sins “because of the infirmity of the flesh”… offering their body to “uncleanness” ἀκαθαρσία akatharsia in the Greek. This means “impurity” or, more to the point, “unpurified”. Think of unrefined silver, with all the impurities still in it. This status of non-purification leads to something else: lawlessness ἀνομίᾳ anomia. But more important for our discussion, it’s ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν anomia eis ton anomian. Lawlessness unto lawlessness. Sin builds on sin, as was discussed earlier in this post citing 1865 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says elsewhere our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. Then, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” This ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν which arises from our impurity creates structures of sin in which our society runs amok.

Sins all lead to death, but St Paul does not leave us there. There is hope for us! In Christ we are now to yield our body to δικαιοσύνῃ εἰς ἁγιασμόν dikaiosune eis agiasmon: righteousness until sanctification. See the parallel: instead of “lawlessness unto lawlessness” we are now “righteous unto sanctification” and as the old bondage lead to structures of sin woven through the world, so our righteous living will lead to structures of sanctification – not just in our hearts but in all our lives through the world, to the proper end of mankind, τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον, telos zoen aionion, to life everlasting. Here St Paul uses ζωή, Zoe, which means not the life of “the breathing” but the everlasting life which is our participation (by Grace) in the very life of God. But this is only the final end: it’s our time now not to “yeild fruit” of those things which we are now ashamed. Rather we are to become “servants of God” with “fruit unto sanctification.”

As the whole pattern of individual sin wove together to form fractal patterns woven through all of society, so also our personal motion in theosis is intended to save the whole pattern of the world. “Acquire the Holy Spirit,” says St Seraphim of Sarov. “And thousands around you will be saved.” This is our job as Christians.

The Gradual and the Alleluia call us to praise God, but also they call us to come to him for enlightenment that our faces might not be ashamed. How is that tied in? When we see the Lord, then we know that we are the Servants of all. But we know this because he has given us Grace. We are no longer confound it, no longer ashamed of our servant status. We follow him who became a slave to save us. In this way no matter how we lower ourselves in the service of others, we can never be lower than he who now raises us to heaven.

St Matthew challenges us in the Gospel to bear fruit. Worse, Jesus threatens us: if we do not bear fruit we will be cut off and cast into the fire. This is not a kind or comforting passage. We should hear this as a threat, quite literally. When I look at my life do I see fruit that glorifies my Lord? Absolutely not. What is the will of Our Father in heaven? If we do this we will inherit eternal life. St Paul has told us that this is the fruit leading to sanctification. It’s not something that comes after our salvation, it’s the very process itself. The fruit leading to sanctification are the little steps we take to weave God’s kingdom into the world around us.

We know that our actions of righteousness, of justice do not benefit the individual: a rising tide raises all ships. As you become more Christlike, you participate (in emulating him) in the salvation of the world. God is ordering the world through you and you are participating in his ordering of it.

Matthew tells us that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will inherit the Kingdom. How many days do I spend simply going through the motions with Christianity, the daily actions of liturgy without ever once performing an action inside the kingdom of God? How often do I fail to weave the kingdom of God into reality around me? I can say Jesus is Lord without ever needing it to be true in my life or in the world around me. I can pray a rosary, walking down the street, shedding curses on those I step over as they sleep, homeless. This is not the kingdom, this will cause me to be cut off and cast into the fire. What is the will of God? The salvation of all where “salvation” means the wholeness – the all-around health – of all. If I am not weaving structures of holiness into the world around me, then I am building structures of sin instead.

Jesus reminds us of false prophets – that speak in the name of God but fail to proclaim God’s Gospel. They do not bear the right kind of fruit: instead, they are greedy, ravening wolves. They prey on the sheep – sexually abusing them, financially abusing them, theologically abusing them by denying the teachings of the faith, downplaying the sexual morality of the church, or making liturgy “fun”. They are popular, yes, but they damn us to hell. Equally false though, are those who deny the actions of Justice that result from the faith. Usury is wrong, racism is a sin, oppression of others – even those who disagree with us – is wrong.

The verse sung for the Offertory today may seem out of place in all this context. But the prophet Daniel reminds us that our actions, done in praise of God, are equal to thousands of burnt offerings pleasing to him. And as we serve God, there is no confusion. Indeed, as sin replicates more sin, the closer you come to God, the easier it becomes to continue to serve him. An old hymn says, “The longer I serve him the sweater he grows”. God’s grace moves through you to pull you more and more into his will for you, and the more it happens, the more you freely cooperate with him. There is no confusion in this, but enlightenment (as mentioned in the Gradual).

The Secret sums all this up, asking that our sacrifice will be both an honor to God and for our salvation. Remember, our sacrifice here in the Mass is not a new thing but rather a participation in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary 2000 years ago and here today. And yet, here today it is a discrete action: an individual action of our congregation and of our priest, here and now. It is a part of the building of the kingdom of God on this Earth in the same way that our individual acts of justice and righteousness are performing the same construction. The Mass, as well as our individual actions of economic justice, racial equality, and political liberation all work together to bring the Kingdom into the presence of the world.

The Communion verse asks God to deliver us, using the Hebrew, לְהוֹשִׁיעֵֽנִי, meaning to save (and using the root that also gives the name of Our Lord). Finally the Post-communion speak of deliverance and healing, bringing us into the ways of righteousness.

The whole motion of this Mass is one of repetition: we praise God (clap our hands) in order that we might do the works of righteousness in order that more acts of righteousness may come to pass in the world, in order that the world may come to praise God and the whole cycle repeats. This is the order of the world as we set aright (by God’s grace) those things that have destroyed righteousness and justice around us.

Fractal Structures of Hell

JMJ

1865 Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

Peccatum exercitationem constituit ad peccatum; per eorumdem actuum repetitionem vitium generat.

IF YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO THE Every Knee Shall Bow podcast you should be. Right now they are in the middle of a series on the struggle against habitual sins that is astounding. (Like: you walk down the road with your headphones on and Gomer says something and you are catapulted into the heavenly contemplation and you’re crying because God’s grace is so amazing.) In the most recent episode, I was struck as Gomer discussed something that will be familiar to my Orthodox and Eastern Catholic readers: sin is not only a discreet action. Rather, sin is a web of antecedents, a cultural context, of personal weaknesses and history, and – yes – discreet actions as well. Sin is a violation of our relationship with God. More than that, as mentioned in Paragraph 1865 of the Catechism, Sin leads to sin. Sin clouds the mind and corrupts our conscience. The more habitual a sin is the more habitual sin becomes. As was said on the podcast a trillion venial sins are not “worth” one mortal sin, but sin leads to sin: and a venial sin is a pathway to damnation.

If we think in terms only of discrete actions then our confession becomes just a laundry list where we have no self-awareness. Where we are not aware of why we sin, of when a sin began, of which actions first launched us into sin. If we are to root out sin entirely, we need to be aware of when the relationship with God started to go wrong.

And so back to Paragraph 1865.

Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts.

This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. We no longer think in terms of identifiable Good and Evil. Suddenly, since we’ve already discarded one moral law on the basis of feeling good, we find it easier to discard others for the same reason. Our conscience ceases to function not only along the lines of our chosen sin, rather it ceases to function at all. We have successfully silenced it – seemingly – or rather we have successfully stuffed enough cotton in our ears to ignore it.

Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

This is where it’s important to realize that “a sin” is not a discrete act but rather part of a web, as Gomer said, or a fractal pattern. All sin is a manifestation of the same destruction of the relationship we have with God. Sometimes the destruction is only partial and sometimes it is total. Sometimes it’s only a minor rip in the fabric and sometimes it’s a case of “burn it all down”. Yet, all sin is a fractal of itself: all sin is an action of pride. The fruit was looked good to eat and she took and ate it. That’s all we do, over and over again.

Read the rest of the Catechism’s Part III Section 1 Chapter I Article 8.V. on the proliferation of sin. After detailing a list of capital sins and ways in which we can participate in another’s sin, it says, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” If we let sin have its way, soon it creates a rut, if you will, that we just follow: this is the way it’s always been. Like an addict, we just go along without questioning what (now) seems perfectly normal. We are sinning not because we are tempted, not because we make a choice, but because this is what we do. The conception of another way to act is entirely lost. We might even convince ourselves that we “are” this thing that we’re trapped in.

The Catechism clearly says there are structures of sin, there is social sin: there would have to be. We are not individuals, rather we are persons. Persons only exist in communion. The communion is not broken: it sours and the infection spreads.

Increase Religion

The Propers for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: this is the first entry of my People’s Missal Project

JMJ

IT IS TRADITIONAL when reading the propers for a Sunday to think of the scripture readings, the Epistle and the Gospel, as one thing and then prayers and other verses and some other thing. However, the propers of a Sunday go together as a set: they are combined together to give us a picture to meditate on. There is not a rank – the Gospel first, the Epistle, then everything else. Some preachers might think of each proper as a piece, and then think of what picture might be constructed of each piece. Others might focus on the Gospel to make some point and then see if other pieces might line up – keeping or discarding each one. Contra this, it seems it might be better to look at the collect, the prayer of the day, wherein the Church has seen fit to sum up her thoughts, the root intentions if you will of the whole enterprise. It seems the collect is the key by which we may unlock the intended meanings of all the other parts. Let us begin there.

Deus virtútum, cujus est totum quod est óptimum : ínsere pectóribus nostris amórem tui nóminis, et præsta in nobis religiónis augméntum ; ut, quæ sunt bona, nútrias, ac pietátis stúdio, quæ sunt nutríta, custódias.

O God of power and strength, from whom comes every perfect gift, implant in our hearts the love of your name, and increasing us True Religion; foster what is good in us and protect with your watchful love what you have fostered.

Literal Translation: O mighty God of hosts, of whom is the entirety of what is perfect: graft the love of Your Name into our hearts, and grant in us an increase of religion; so that You may nourish the things which are good and, by zeal for dutifulness, guard what has been nourished.

Fr Z notes this is still the collected for the 22nd Sunday, Tempus per Annum.

Let us start with the word “religion”. The Romans understood religio as coming from the root meaning to bind. It is a complicated word indicating things that bind us to the gods, to tradition, and to each other. Religion is the bonds that creates society. That’s all well and good for a pagan but we are Catholics. All of these bindings are still true but they are no longer generic. Religion is what binds us to the Holy Trinity, to the Catholic faith, and to each other in the body of Christ. What is religion? My 1962 missile has us looking for something it calls True Religion however the literal translation does not have the word “true” in it. Increase in us religion. What could that be? Increase in us the bonds that hold us together? The prayer can be read that way:

Make us love your name
Increase religion in us
Nourish in us the good
and by increasing our zeal
help us to hold on to the good.

Yet what is religion, this love of the good, that is a perfect gift from God? St James tells us (James 1:27): Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world. He uses there the same word, religio, which is a translation of the Greek θρησκεία thréskeia referring to religious actions, ceremony, liturgy if you will. The true liturgy, the true religion, is to take care of orphans and widows and avoid sin. To increase religion, then, means to increase the Corporal Works of Mercy. That is the key: give us the Love of your Holy Name, and the love of orphans and widows. With this key we can unlock the rest of these texts.

The Introit reminds us that everything depends on God.

The Lord is the strength of His people, and the protector of the salvation of His anointed: save, O Lord, Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance, and rule them forever.
Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent to me, lest if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.
Glory.

The Lord is the strength of His people, (O God of power and strength)and the protector of the salvation of His anointed (from whom comes every perfect gift). It to this All-Powerful Lord that we turn asking him to give us good gifts and to nurture the gifts in us so we do not leave them behind in our pride.

The Epistle reminds us that by virtue of our baptism we have been slain with Christ. “Our old self is crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, and that we may serve sin no longer” and we are dead to the values of this world. This world “no longer has dominion over us.” This is what makes the Corporal Works of Mercy possible: the outpouring of love that becomes part of us in Christ continues through us as a result of our baptism. Everything becomes an act of kenosis, self-emptying, an imitation of Jesus. This kenosis is participating in our Salvation, responding of our own free will the grace that is given to us. And as we are dead now so we shall be alive with Christ. Chrysostom says that Paul leaves it up to the believe to work out in his conscience, but he also says, “When then the fornicator becomes chaste, the covetous man merciful, the harsh subdued, even here a resurrection has taken place, the prelude to the other (the Resurrection on the Last Day – DHR)”. When we turn from our life of sin and begin to do the works of mercy, we experience the resurrection here and now.

In the Gradual we are reminded that God has always been our refuge from generation to generation. God, our refuge, fosters what is good in us and protects with his watchful love what he has fostered (Collect). And the same reminder comes in the Alleluia. In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded, these are not pleas to have God protect us from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, but rather to keep us safe so that we can do his will. We’re are “planted with Christ” as the Epistle says, referring to a mystical burial, but it is as the seed falls to earth and then yields a hundred-fold harvest. It required nurturing, protection from God the farmer.

Tradition reads the Gospel story as prefiguring the Eucharist, yet it is so much more. Isaiah prophesied that when the Lord restored the kingdom of Zion everyone would be said on the mountainside. And the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people in this mountain, a feast of fat things, a feast of wine, of fat things full of marrow, of wine purified from the lees. (Isaiah 25:6) Unlike the Eucharist – open only to believers – this Feast on the Mountainside was open to all. It is an apocalyptic enactment. God is calling food out of nothing and restoring Harmony. Tht this takes place on the model of the Eucharist – Jesus, to the apostles, to their “churches” in groups around the grounds – indicates a deeper meaning for the Eucharist itself. The heavenly banquet is a sign of the kingdom of God. But also our acts of feeding others are a sign of the heavenly banquet. When we share from the abundance that God has given us to others who are poor we are enacting in an Earthly way the Heavenly Eucharist. When the priest gives us with the host and says the body of Christ it is a foreshadow of the Heavenly food. But when we give food to the poor we are serving the body of Christ itself in the person of the poor, just as Jesus had the Apostles do on the hillside.

Church fathers especially underscore this two-fold feeding of earthly and spiritual food. Jesus would not send the crowds away hungry lest they faint on the way. You cannot do the will of God always on an empty stomach. As God gives us spiritual food in the Mass, he also gives us the sustenance needed for our bodies. And if we turn to the starving and merely give them a host and perhaps a blessing (or only a blessing) have we done anything at all? From the Holy Mass we draw the life of the world himself – who has told us to feed the hungry. This is why he gave us the Mass – that we might have the spiritual strength to do the physical works he asks us to do as part of our salvation and the repair of the world.

Offertory Anthem: Asleep in the Light (1978), Keith Green

The Offertory continues the theme of blessing and nurturing the blessings: Perfect Thou my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps be not moved: incline Thy ear, and hear my words: show forth Thy wonderful mercies, Thou who savest them that trust in Thee, O Lord. When you unpack the words mercies and savest. There’s a whole theology implied:

Mercies is the Hebrew word חֲ֭סָדֶיךָ lovingkindness, as the Authorized Version has it: it’s God condescending to fulfill our needs – again, not just the spiritual sort.
Savest is מוֹשִׁ֣יעַ from the same root that gives us Jesus name, יָשַׁע. We are seeking a greater love of his name to be planted in us (as we asked in the Collect). God’s salvation is not only spiritual. It’s all of our life (mind, soul, body) that he is saving. This is why God was incarnate as one of us and why we cannot let the cries of the poor go unanswered.

The Secret which is said over the gifts before they are consecrated: Be appeased, O Lord, by our supplications, and graciously accept these offerings of Thy people: neither suffering the hope of anyone to be in vain, nor his prayer to remain unheard, that we may obtain that for which we faithfully pray. We lay out our offering in firm faith that God will not let the prayer or hope of anyone fall unheard. This is not a prosperity Gospel: but our prayers down’t bounce back off the ceiling. God’s purpose is to save us. Nothing we ask rightly to that end will be denied us – and there are some for whom salvation requires the very next meal, a new set of shoes. God has appointed us to provide those. God hears the prayer of the poor. And asks what are we going to do about it?

Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from? If you say they just spontaneously appeared, then you are an atheist, not acknowledging the Creator, nor showing any gratitude towards the one who gave them. But if you say that they are from God, declare to us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally? Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

From St. Basil the Great, Homilia in illud dictum evangelii secundum Lucam: «Destruam horrea mea, et majora ædificabo:» itemque de avaritia (Homily on the saying of the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed), §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A).

The Communion verse is a line of praise to God. I will go round, and offer up in His tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation; I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord. What is the sacrifice of jubilation? The word rendered jubilation can also mean “War Cry”! How do we make sacred a war cry? God would have us tear down the oppressions around us, to destroy the system that lets it happen, that continues it.

And finally the Post Communion Grant, O Lord, that we who have been filled with Thy gifts, may be cleansed by their virtue and strengthened by their help. What is our goal, as stated by the Collect? That God plant in our hearts a love of his name and increase religion – the care of the poor and the widow. These are two sides of the same coin. Latin is actually good word play here: Repleti sumus, Domine, muneribus tuis:tribue quæsumus; ut eorum et mundemur effectu, et muniamur auxilio. While two different words are coming into play here, the “mun/mun/mun” creates an alliteration and the “mundemur/muniamur” is a reflection – we want the strength of the Eucharist to strengthen us.

The 16th Century Anglican post-communion prayer (written by Thomas Cramner) ask God, by the gift of Holy Communion, “so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” This is where this Mass leaves us, asking God to assist us with his grace to walk in all the Good Works he sends our way, to foster what is good in us and protect with your watchful love what you have fostered.

Waking from the American Dream

JMJ

THINGS LEARNED AS A CHILD: when flag passes in a parade, or when it is brought into the room/stadium/meeting in a formal manner, when singing the Star Spangled Banner, or when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance: stand up, take off your hat with your right hand, and, with the same hand, cover your heart with your hat until the flag has passed or the singing/recitation has ended. When displayed, the Flag Code of the USA is to be followed. Equally, the flag is not to be worn nor are clothes based on the flag to be designed or worn (although the thematic elements – stripes, stars, etc – can be used). This latter tradition went out of popular usage in the 70s and so, today, garish shirts, pants, ties, scarves, hats, patches, etc are all to be found and worn – especially in the high summer of our patriotism. But also, no one else pays any attention to the quaint rules of public piety in our state religion. In a way, we grew up, but though some of the trappings changed, the system has stayed the same.

Although my High School social studies classes only discussed the ways the South was racist, the first time I saw the Chicago towers and the same constructions on the fringes of NYC, I knew racism was in the North as well. Later, I learned about the racism of our first European settlers, and then the continued maltreatment of aboriginal residents of this Stolen Land. The Cultural Myths of the Tabula Rosa and Manifest Destiny gave rise to our imperialism and our racism. The original sin of the Americas is not slavery, but entitled occupation. Entitlement – I can have that because I want it – is the sin of our first parents and the credo of our American culture. Racism is only a symptom, but it seems to be our dominant one.

The Recent Electoral Unpleasantness which resulted in the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue provided us a with a choice between two persons who equally despised at least half of the electorate in a public manner. I’m not privy to their hearts, but I imagine that figure was closer to 95% in terms of private feelings unexpressed in their “baskets of deplorables” and “nasty women”. 4 years later, I cannot imagine the gaslighting, the internecine bickering, or the social dissensions would be any worse – or better – had the outcome been opposite. The last real policy change I remember was when Nixon opened China. Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush Jr, Obama, and Trump have changed nothing except the political tone of voice and their choice of shills vrs dupes. As we rev up for the conventions this Summer all I can think of is Chicago and Miami in 1968. I’ve been here before.

In the meanwhile, COVID-19 has – in a nearly miraculous way – exposed every other division in our country which is not related to partisan standing in most cases. I’ve seen nutty discussion of 5G towers on both sides, ranting about our health care on both sides, and reality denialism on both sides. Both sides have shown their concern for business rather than people, and both sides have shown that literally everything from prayer to health care is a political tool. Then the riots started. Anyone who thinks that the riots are somehow less valid today than they were in the 60s is just stupid (that’s charitable) or else simply racist. Blaming people of color for their oppression by a system that was built to oppress them is the mortal sin of lying. Full stop. I am reminded of a saying from my childhood that explained the ways non-white people experienced racism in our country: If you’re yellow, you’re mellow. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, get back. Watching the assumed Catholics in charge of Guadalupe Radio call Gloria Purvis “uppity” with a whole thesaurus has proven to me nothing has changed since my late grandparents in the Deep South could use the same thesaurus to avoid the N word and yet never acknowledge the personhood of our neighbors in even polite conversation. It is miraculous that a virus which has kills so many people has also removed all the scabs on our wounds and exposed our already dead hearts. Again, I’ve been here before.

Our founders are credited with setting up a system for the betterment of the human person, unfettered by the ways of “the old country”. Yet they built a system flawed from the beginning, marked with our original entitlement – ignoring the original inhabitants of this “property” and also a huge population of people whose skin happened to be the wrong color. They, too, were treated as property. This system is the one they created in the original political victory we celebrate today. In the salad days of my political activism, there were defeats, of course, but not many. And every victory seemed to indicate we were making something new, something better. Yet every such victory came inside this same system. Every such victory left me hopeful: we have progressed closer to what the founders wanted. Only each progressive victory has helped build exactly what we have now. The very things we did not want we have done, the things we wanted did not come to pass. How is that possible? I think the answer lies in what we can see happening in light of the recent riots.

The simple request – as I understood it – was “please make your police stop killing us.” I do not – as a white man – experience any fear of the police. I cannot related to it in the same way. But I can empathize and I can see not only the oppression but get a sense of how it affects people. Yet, within a couple of days, the whole tone of the conversation was changed into “Yes, but not looting” and then, a month later, we were celebrating the victories of Texans no longer referring to “master bedrooms” while actual lynchings and police killings continued. Are the Texan realtors showing the same houses to all people? This is what I want to know. Are banks giving loans justly? If someone moves into the “wrong neighborhood” in Texas, do their neighbors make them feel welcome or do they go buy crosses decorated with Christmas lights an say “oh, they’re just Christmas lights…” Movies are coming out of circulation. Fine: but is Hollywood ready to let people of color into all levels of production and status? My political victories – as small as they were – helped build this system. When preachers worry that single-parent families cause disadvantages for the children without blaming the system of economic deprivation and political oppression that causes those families, we only perpetuate this system and our own empowerment.

This doesn’t even address the economic or class divisions in this country – also fully uncovered in the last 10-15 years. Does anyone remember the G7 (G8, etc) riots that happened literally around the world while the Neoliberal Economic System was being locked in place under previous administrations?

We built this. I built this. You built this. Somewhere my sense of warm mushiness at polite displays of secular piety died. You can’t pretend to live in Mayberry anymore. Sheriff Taylor, with his keys hanging near the cell so folks can go home for Sunday dinner with the family is not the legal system we have built. America currently has 2,193,798 in prison. Mayberry is only the mythical, mostly-empty Limbo in our hellish inferno of perpetual prison and hate. We built this.

There was something comforting about beginning every meeting of our Knights of Columbus Council with the Pledge. It reminded me of grade school when every weekday began that way. It was a continuation of those things I learned in childhood – which were lies, but we can pretend different for a few moments. Right? Yet I’ve also learned that the Knights of St Peter Claver were founded because some Columbian Councils wouldn’t let blacks in. The pledge, which was an obscure text for a long while, came to the fore in the last century as a talisman against “reds”. The Holy Name society requires of its members the same respect for the Flag as the Holy Name. That tells you something. Nothing is as it seems.

St Paul says, though, that when he became a man, he put away childish things. My nearly Late-Fifties self is wondering if it’s finally time to do so as well. Somewhere the dream died – or rather I awoke into a hellish reality, able to see the dream as only a distraction, a carrot that we never get to have while we are beaten with a switch we cut for ourselves.

Putting out the fire, putting away childish things: What would it look like if we let it burn down, turned the ashes over, added fertilizer and started something new? The integralist side of me wants a world where “State” and “Church” and “Economy” as we know these today do not exist, where the Kingdom of God runs with only as much mediation as required. The realist side of me sees that quite a lot of my fellow countrymen as well as not a few of my coreligionists cannot imagine another world and, given their druthers, would rebuild this system but “better”. Burning it all down would only result in more of the same but, we hope, less of the bad stuff. That seems impossible since the only hope at all is Jesus Christ and his Kingdom (the Catholic Church). So any human activity is doomed to fail, all the more another Enlightenment-inspired Masonic Liberal Democracy. The only hope, then, is evangelism: proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is the only King that matters. Satan, we must remember, is the first thief who stole the whole creation. God has won it back it back by the force of love on the only tru weapon of peace: stretching his arms out on the cross.

So there’s hope that is not a dream.

But What If

The readings for the 13th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum

Amos 3:1-8; 4:11-12
Matthew 8:23-27

Quid timidi estis, modicae fidei?
Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?

JMJ

THIS MORNING, Fr Michael’s homily took this scene all the way back to the creation, reminding us that God’s first actions (on the first three days of Creation) were related to God calling order out of Chaos. Here Jesus is stepping into the role of Creator, calling order back into his creation. Another priest also reminded me that this was a Theophany: a manifestation of God. Jesus used the disciples’ lack of faith to show them who he was. It’s the standard homiletic reading of this text: I think it aligns firmly with the Patristic reading here as well. But I immediately asked, Is that all there is? I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but…

The Disciples are terrified. I get that. These men who have been fishermen all their lives are seeing a storm – perhaps a once-in-a-century storm. Whatever is wrong they are terrified, so this seems to be more than the normal thing.

Yet, Jesus – God incarnate – is asleep in the boat. Will anything happen to them? I ask you here and now. Will anything happen to them? Even if they do not wake up Jesus, asleep in the boat, will anything happen to them? I think not.

In another passage written decades later, St Paul tells us that we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. The Apostles surely fit this description. So what would have happened if they had had faith to say, Goodness but this storm is bad. We have Jesus sleeping in the boat though, so everything is ok.” When they do wake up Jesus, he chides them. Why are ye fearful? O, ye of little faith. (Jesus uses the Greek neologism, ὀλιγόπιστος, oligopistos. It’s only found in the Gospels and it only refers to the Apostles, in other words, to us.) Why does Jesus snark here? I mean he does wake up… he fixes things… what complain?

I’ve been thinking about this in light of our problem with statuary.

No one but Unreconstructed Confederates cared when the targets were Confederate memorials. Yet even secular statues of men who happen to be saints seem to need defending by the Church and I’m wondering why. The storm, you see, rages all around us: is Jesus sleeping?

Pope Francis’ meditation on St Mark’s version of this story is important here:

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi 27 March 2020

The storm. It’s breaking all around us and all we can think to do is scream back into the darkness. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet.

I think it’s strange that we have yet to connect (in our hearts) the terror of March with the anger of June. We don’t realize this is all one pattern.

Why are we still afraid?

The Holy Father continues, Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.

I find myself wondering why we are afraid… why we are ashamed. We have to confess our sins to be forgiven – we are Catholics and we know this. Why are we afraid to admit that the Mission system was part of a colonialist campaign by Spain, attempting to protect the West Coast from the Russians? Why are we afraid to admit that we destroyed a culture nearly a millenium old, replacing it with food, language, polity, and social structures alien to the locals? We wanted to make Christians out of them – that’s certainly Good – but we added to “Christian” the title of “Spaniard”. We wanted to make Spanish Christians out of them, as certainly as the earliest Church wanted to make Jews out of Gentiles before they could become Christians. Certainly, it was wrong this time as well? Why are we afraid to admit that? There might be sins that cause people to hate us. And we might have to repent.

Why are we afraid to admit that our alliances with false princes and potus-tates have left us mirroring the world, unable to work for its healing. We’ve become partisans. We can’t repent – that would mean we’re wrong. Instead of the Hail Mary we keep chanting the mantra about “The judges” even when the judges have betrayed us and given the lie to all our panderings. Instead of the Bride of Christ, we are only the call girl of Washington. What if this storm is our cross now and our redemption? What if we are only to let go… to remember Jesus is sleeping in the boat with us. All will be well if we but sacrifice our place, our power, our illicit lovers.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity.

Pope Francis, speaking in March, seems nearly prophetic now, reading his words in June. Why do we double down on our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities? Now is not the time to screw our courage to the sticking place and tell the world where to get off in “all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead… we deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”

Now is time to confess our sins, to embrace our cross, and save the world.

Day 108: On the Gospel Side

fixed it

JMJ

THERE WAS VERY LITTLE POLITICAL CHOICE in my household growing up: one was either Democrat or one was silent. My stepfather was brave enough, once or twice a year, to pick fights on this issue. I don’t think he ever actually voted Republican, but I think it was something. to fight over, in those adult ways that make children terribly uncomfortable at the dinner table. When Mom was on the NY State Democratic Committee, my Aunt June was on the CA State Republican Committee. And so, friends on two sides of the family, with the Cuomos and the Reagans. Life was odd for us from the 70s into the 80s. When I got to college, Mom made me register to vote, an honor I accepted under protest, and when I got my absentee ballot that year at my Evangelical Christian College in the suburbs of Westchester County, I held open the double-wide newsprint and scandalized my dorm-mates by voting, in a bright red magic marker, across the board on the Socialist Labor line. I sealed it up, dropped it in the mail. Twelve years later my Mom called one November and said she was happy to see I had voted again: she always knew my across-the-board red vote. I confusedly asked her why she checked on her 30 year-old son, who had not, in fact, voted since he was 18 in that one election. But at least I know that someone in my home district was keeping up my traditional voting patterns.

The next time I registered to vote was when an actual leftist was running for Mayor in SF. I don’t mean a Democrat, although he – like anyone else in this town that wants to get elected – was registered in that party. I mean a leftist. He didn’t want real estate or tech money, bankers or the old guard to decide things in SF. He wanted, you know, electoral power and civic justice, better city taxes, health care, and education, high pay for teachers, lower pay for cops… naturally, he lost.

These stories are to indicate I have no partisan bona fides at all. Which is appropriate for someone who thinks of themself as an Anarchist, although not in the stereotyped, Molotov Cocktail sense of the word. I consider the state a real construct, and I consider the social contract to be real (and even for me to be beholden to it). But I do not consider myself to be bound to it. I am an ontological Anarchist: my person is mine. But before you get all grumpy about American Atomism, I give my person to the only King that is, Jesus Christ. That involves submission to his will, in his church. How can I be an anarchist then, you may ask: because no one coerced me into doing so. Not even I coerced me into doing so, for you can only submit out of a grace freely given to all: you cannot be drawn by force, it is the ontological nature of the human soul to seek truth and, having found it, to submit.

Much of our recent shared experience has been political theatre.

By political theatre, I mean something to distract us. Anarchist theory suggests that any protests are part of the state’s system for letting off steam in order that the system can keep going. Protests are like a valve on a pressure cooker. When the system changes bedroom names and says “small gatherings – except protests” this seems to be exactly the case. We are watching only the existing system of injustice give vent to the energies raised by shelter in place and fear of the covids. Businesses all over the political spectrum are making official actions to publicly adhere to the current political vogue. This is virtue signaling in the purest sense of the word: unless there is systemic change, which is beyond the power of any business, this will all be for naught. But we will all feel good. Then we’ll go back to being productive. Even tearing down statues is only a political drama: we feed into it by defending the statues and performing exorcisms (while carrying the American flag, no less).

Political theater reached unheard-of heights when the current incumbent departed 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under cover of pepper spray and twice went to church. The predictable reaction was for members of the opposition party to waive their Bibles like flags, dress in cloth stoles like clergy, and be seen to pray. Both of these scenes triggered a new round of sectarian violence in the Catholic internet. This came to a head, recently, when the crypto-schismatic Archbishop Vigano came out of crypto, openly siding with President Trump against the canonical head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory. Catholics, online and off, lined up in predictable sectarian fashion under these two princes of the Church.

Another part of the Catholic Drama has been our reaction to the protests and riots that are happening around the nation. Sadly this is parsing out in predictable, sectarian fashion as well. Not only Roman Catholics, but also the Orthodox, as well as various ecclesial communities and denominations, have all divided (as we did in the US Civil War) and simply mirrored our society. This division and political mirroring is kind of humorous when it comes to most issues. I don’t care how you feel about the Second Amendment, you can’t make me believe there is a theological reason for that feeling. But you can try so I can enjoy the political theater. Ditto taxes, single-payer health care, and the designated hitter rule.

Racism, however, is different. The Church should not mirror society on the issue of racism. It is not a political choice: there is right and there is wrong. St Paul (and the first council of the Church at Jerusalem) made it clear: there is no race in the Church, all are one in Christ. Racism (directed against previously-Gentile Jewish Christians) was the first thing that the Apostles were asked to deal with. They had to appoint men (Deacons) whose job it was to keep things rightly ordered. Still, we know that for a long time, on the topic of racism, the Church has simply mirrored society. We have bad actors in the Church and we also have the rest of us. As someone mentioned, the issue is not that there are “bad cops” but rather that the “good cops did nothing”. This is us in our current situation: it’s not that there are not bad actors – we all know there are. It’s that the rest of us do nothing. Pope Pius XII compared American Jim Crow laws to Nazi Eugenics and Pope Francis refers to how our “…toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.” But most of us seem quite happy with our crystals.

This is not a matter of data: you can’t count the number of “racisms” and say it’s going up or down. This is a matter of failed personal relationships. This is a matter of doctrine, a matter of right and wrong. I respond to you differently because of some element (skin color, usually) that I can see. I treat you as less than a person (usually by treating you as less then me). That is racism. It’s not a data point. It’s a failure of love. Christians know this: we know all sin is a failure of love, a failure in rightly-ordered relationships between human beings, each other, and God.

But, as the church works for salvation – not of some, but of all, we must realize that everyone out there needs Jesus. BLM needs Jesus. PBA needs Jesus. It’s not our job to support one to the damnation of the other. The Church, in order to be the Church, must bring Jesus to all. You cannot be silent: a choice has to be made, to stand with – and spread – God’s kingdom, or to be outside it. When someone who says “there’s nothing wrong” gets blocked by a Bishop on Twitter, with which side do you stand? There are sides there. Really. Don’t stand on the side that says “some don’t need Jesus.”

The air is full of plans, and of pacts and proposals. Every wind that blows through press and air carries patterns for new leagues, Federal Unions, Spheres of Influence, and Hemisphere Controls, each of which is spread out on the bargain counter of the world, and offered at a price so cheap as to require only a little manipulation of politics and economics-but never a change of heart. Are we not still suffering from a mental “hangover” from the days of liberalism and the doctrine of the natural goodness of men? Does not the enthusiastic and fulsome praise we give to every three-hundred-word generalization prove that all we think the world needs is a few structural changes?

Ven. Fulton Sheen, Seven Pillars of Peace

It is a mark of the failure of the American system that our political spectrum tends to run from center-right libertarian to further-right libertarian. At the farthest left end of our political spectrum are those who say it would be okay to tax others for social goods – usually the “wealthy”. But no one ever says, “Sure, tax me 40% more to pay for social goods.” For most of us, our idea of Justice involves correcting somebody else. Racism, however, asks us to deal with our own, personal acts of injustice. We want the government with political authority to correct other people but we also want that same government to leave us alone. As such, we are nearly all center-right Libertarians. Racism- and classism – however, is always in the first person. How to I show favoritism?

The protests offer us only more statism: they don’t like the system in place (rightfully so), yet they only want to give us a new system. What is that new system? Do they know? They reject the idea of “absolute truth” so what is their idea of “justice”? Is it merely revenge? That seems to be the case sometimes. Without a stated goal, a desired outcome, the protests will be hijacked (as they already are) by people with their own agendas and more skill at leading crowds. The protests, the yelling, the iconoclasm are not Justice coming into focus. They are only a distraction. From what? From the only hope any of us have.

Jesus wants to give us life. I do believe that Jesus fixes racism – but only by changing our hearts. The Church cannot mirror the world in this. The Church must not mirror the world or she is lost. Fa and AntiFa, everyone needs Jesus. If the Church picks a side, everyone loses. This is not political theatre: this is the souls of everyone we reach with the Gospel. Bl. Pier said that we need social reform: he was speaking of a reform that was possible at that time, in his country, when the vast majority of his fellow countrymen understood that to mean Christian Social Reform. He was not advocating merely more politics, but Christian politics. We must do the same. We cannot be partisans in this: we must be Christians. It is not enough to decide which side is right enough: we need to preach the truth.

There was a tradition of socialism in Anglo-Catholic circles in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. An old website devoted to this subject still lives at the Internet Archive in all its early-internet glory: Anglo-Catholic Socialism. This quote, from Anglican Bishop Frank Weston, late of Zanzibar, ties it all together nicely in two ways:

Frank Weston, Anglican Bishop of Zanzibar

The Church of England stopped saying no to these “ritualists” but they got them out of the way. They stopped them from making too much trouble. In England they were assigned to the poorest parishes: sent into the slums and villages too far from the railways, they were assigned to care for sailors in the dockyards or miners. As Bishops they were sent to the fringes of the Empire, to people who didn’t speak English, to places where no one important ever went. Blessedly that only made stronger their sense of social justice, as we would say now. Serving the poor, the marginalized, the weakest of society, they built up huge, strong communities with their Tridentine (in English) Mass, their Breviaries, and Religious Orders that looked “more Catholic than Rome”.

Our “ritualists” tend to drift right. I’m not sure why. There are very few open racists singing On Eagle’s Wings or holding hands at the Our Father. But the actual texts of the Extraordinary Form are as Revolutionary as the Novus Ordo. There is no reason a person praying the Latin Breviary should not walk out of Vespers wanting to

Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.

Cast down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the meek and the lowly. Fill the hungry with good things and send away the rich in their stupidity.
Full stop.

Yet they wave flags on their censors, cast aspersions with their aspergillums, and dismiss “social justice warriors” as a bunch of silly “snowflakes” and – at the same time “terrorists who are persecuting us and destroying everything that’s good”.

Where’s the Catholic Left? For that matter, where is the Orthodox Left that would bring us the promise of the Paschal Homily?

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

Attributed to St John Chrysostom

Is there no one who will say a Latin Mass and then turn and lead a march? Is there no one who sees the connection between the Sacred Heart and the sweat of the poor, between St Joseph the Workman and the union organizers at Starbucks? Do you not see the link between the Litany of Loreto and Laudato Si?

I have been listening to a number of political Catholic podcasts recently. I have been interested mostly in the discussion of Catholic socialism which is been taking place on Twitter and in several podcasts. These tend to fall farther to the left than many of my friends and social circle. (By way of listing the resources, see the end of this post.) What I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a marked lack of political theatre, although there are some abstractions. When the Gospel gets too far from the person-to-person relationship it drifts into political abstractions and heresy. But these folks seem to realize that it’s based on relationship.

I’ve also been intrigued by the overlap of the integralists and the socialists – although they rarely talk to each other, seemingly. I’m on the outside looking in. Both want a society built on Catholic principles, but the former are vague about the endgame, while the latter are not vague at all. Yet both seem to avoid a statist version of their history, seeking rather something that fits well with my ontological anarchy. God seeks your salvation… but it’s only in relationship. Submit to this yoke of your own free will, not through coercion. But it will be encompassing. Racism must be destroyed in our relationships. If we cannot relate as equals before God, no law will fix this. But charity is not enough and we need social reform. That can only come through changing society into the image of God’s Kingdom, the Church.

And this last can only come when the Church stops trying to mirror society and, instead, seeks to change it.

Josias Rex

Tradistae

Links from this thread of posts & links on Integralism (The thread, by Fr Edmund Waldstein, O. Cist., maybe. there or not as the twitter comes & goes, but here are the articles.)
– 2014 Integralism
– 2015 The Good, the Highest Good, and the Common Good
– 2016 Integralism and Gelasian Dyarchy
– 2016 Integralism in Three Sentences
– 2017 An Integralist Manifesto
– 2018 Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Critique of Integralism
– 2018 What Is Integralism Today?
– 2019 Integralism and the Logic of the Cross

The Institute for Christian Socialism

This post on Catholic Anarchy

Day 100. Facie ad Faciem

JMJ

QUARANTINE’S FIRST TERRIFIED PANIC led to a tedium where days blent together in disordered shades of fog. This, in turn, parted like a curtain on a sort of political theater which allows us to pass the time with a modicum of excitement unrelated to our sickness or death. In my fear at the beginning of this excitement, I did not realize but I was watching political theater. Only as things settled into a new normal did I begin to realize that some of this was merely drama and entirely unnecessary. The Theatre has been (for me) most prevalent in the Church. My friends were not fighting for toilet paper or hand sanitizer, but they were arguing over how “The Rules” (health orders, etc) are “oppressing” the Church. There were some who felt otherwise, and so they fought online. I’ve learned that many who are Catholics and proud of our intellectual tradition become just as keen to deny science when it serves their political (theatrical) ends. Also, as wealthy, mostly-white Americans we have a very distorted view of what “oppression” actually is. This is playing out in our reactions to other cultural moments right now. While oppressed people are actually demanding justice, some – politicians, clergy, and laity – are simply reacting to the demand in a theatrical manner. This political theatre even though it’s inside the church had to be ignored as the worldly distraction it really is. Even the debate about socialism was only more political theatre.

One hundred days into this new cultural pattern things are more than beginning to fray around the edges. First, when I and almost all of my friends who lived through the 80s noticed the parallel with AIDS, it seemed sort of OK but even so, every reaction was fear-driven. Then, for a while, there was a depression that wasn’t letting go. One day I realized I could offer this cross to God – that I should offer it to him – and then things got markedly better. Then I learned that I have one extroverted quality above all others: processing things externally with the help of others. It’s not just being around others that’s important, but rather processing around others. Going to the park is not just fun, but the maddening crowd forms a meditative space where thoughts, feelings, and process all happen.

Additionally, my extroverted self is not just struggling to process things in public, but struggling to be seen from an external point of view: when you see me, I can be. Somehow this seems to be part of my struggles around intimacy, sex, friendship, and love. Being alone means for me non-being: how can there be any being if there is no validation, no interaction? This struggle arises at work as well as when a whole day goes by without any Slack interactions. How can today have gone well? No one spoke to me. In these mental habits living alone means never having time to think. Destructive, sinful patterns that come and go in my life are resurfacing and – like depression – it took forever to realize these are crosses that need to be offered up.

Writing to the Corinthians, in the concluding passages of “The Love Chapter” St Paul turns a curious phrase:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away… For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12 (AV)

We only know in part, he says, starting out, seemingly, with something theological, mystical, but then it suddenly jumps to first-person intimacy: Face to face, I shall know even as I am known.

The Greek here for face-to-face is πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον and yes, it means “Face to Face” but it also means so very much more. Πρόσωπον prosopon is the mask an actor wears in Greek theatre – which theatre was often a religious act. It means not just “face” (as in I put on a mask to look like someone else) but rather it means the entire persona that the actor became when wearing the mask. Prosopon means the intimate personhood of a being. Paul means here, person to person, divine to mortal, God to Man. What that would be like, Paul does not say here, although it is related to love, to charity, to agape. Yet in his next letter he has cause to use prosopon one more time. Saying that God has given us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face (prosopon) of Jesus Christ. In the very person of Jesus the Messiah, we have the very knowledge of the glory of God. In looking into the face of Jesus – the full prosopon of God – we are each revealed as prosopon. We have become ourselves, knowing as we are known. God sees us as subject of his gaze and offers himself as subject for ours as well.

The desire to be known which pretends to offer validation to me is but a corruption of this revelation that each of us – in his fullness – is known (and validated) exactly in this way by God. Not only that, but God does not seek just to see us in an omnidirectional panopticon. He’s not watching: he’s relating. He seeks to reveal himself to us, person to person. God reveals himself in the personhood, the prosopon of Jesus.

That this should be done in the context of an offered cross should come as no surprise since that’s the way God revealed himself to us, stretched out on the beams of a cross, pierced in hands and feet and side. That this should come a personal cost should be no surprise either, vide supra. That this should come as a gift of a very personal weakness, a very personal failing: that’s what we call grace.