Monday, January 31

A funeral of sorts

Please pardon my divergence from the normal routine, but today isn't really a normal day.

This weekend was a funeral.  Though it really should have come as no surprize, the shock of seeing things laid out was still pretty hard.  I know that I'll recover after a day or so..."Cows need milking", as Momma Cecil would say.  Life is for the living and grieving, though important, has it's place and needs to stay there.

After 6 years together, my partner and I are no more.  I know that Father has a plan and this must be part of it.  That's mighty hard to see right now.  I just see a large part of my dreams, desires and small hopes lying in a casket.  I know that tomorrow will be better.  But I live in today.

When we buried Momma Cecil, Daddy Cecil (a baptist preacher of over 50 years) said to me that funerals aren't about the dead, but rather about those who are left behind.  What happens when you're both?

Thursday, January 27

Christ the pilot

On ships, both today and in years gone past, the helmsmen steers the ship and normally needs minimal direction to keep her on course.

In particularly trecherous waters or areas known to have dangerous weather, a local pilot is brought on board to help guide the ship through the troubled waters.  No matter how experienced a helmsman you may be, without a pilot to guide you, the raging sea can overwhelm the ship.

Just a light touch on the shoulder, a reassuring gaze or a quick reminder as to the course is all that is needed.  A good pilot knows when to guide and when to let the helm mind itself.  Further, it is not the pilot who steers, but advises and provides guidance.  The ship, and it's fate, still lies in the hands of the helmsman.

"Welcome back aboard, Sir.  I'm glad you're with me."

Wednesday, January 26

Double whammy for Tim

There's a lot going on here under the hood, so you'll excuse if things seem disjointed. Today is the feast day of Saint Timothy and the epistle reading below is from the beginning of second Timothy.

"Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God for the promise of life in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear child: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control."

According to legend, Timothy was called by God when he was a teenager, was an exceptionally apt pupil when it came to learning texts and became an intimate friend of Paul, who refers to Timothy as a son. Paul give 'his son' the following advice.

"Prescribe and teach these things. Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." (I Tim. 4)


So, my first name is Timothy, who heard the call of God when I was a teenager.  Yes, I'm pretty keen with a book.  All of those things struck me when I heard the reading above at mass.  I've read scripture for a long time, but hearing it said in another persons' voice, especially brother Les' mellifluous and sonorous baritone, is different.  More to the point, unlike most any other reading, that was to me..personally...My name.  "Timothy, my dear child."  It felt as if there was nobody else there.

That's when I knew the door had closed.  I can't just sit in the pews...mumble through the forms...just be a 'good guy' and average parishoner.  What kind of formal orders (or if they are even necessary) doesn't matter, but that Call...that Voice...I cannot ignore it. 

Tuesday, January 25

Lessons from the saints - conversion of Saint Paul

The story of Saul's conversion into arguably the most influential disciple of Christ is given to us twice in Acts and is very trodden ground.  As such, I'll skip the normal preamble recounting facts and move onto the analysis.

There are a number of ways one can interpret and apply this story to today...whether it be the Church as Saul, persecuting [insert group here] only to find out that they are persecuting Christ, a slightly more generalized discussion regarding dramatic conversions (a la Norbert, Luther etc.), another examination of epiphanies and personal paradigm shifts or something apologetic about Paul.

Instead...I come back to the well.  Judgment and Mercy and how Saul->Paul reflects the shift from Judaic 'angry-old-man' God to Christian 'loving father' God.

Saul is all about judging.  Judge, jury and executioner.  All about 'Justice'.  You must obey the Law, you must conform and you must be worthy of the Kingdom.  In a metaphorical sense, a strong argument can be made that he represents the authoritarian Church (note caps).

Paul, on the other hand, is not about 'Justice' and drones on for chapters about the futility of the Law as a measure of righteousness.  We're all under the executioner's axe, because we've ALL screwed up somewhere along the lines.  The executioner of the first Christian martyr should know that more than anyone.  So, for Paul, it's about Mercy.

This brings me to a number of places regarding judging...both others and ourselves. Most strongly, though, I keep coming back to my old buddy Mike (aka General of the Armies of Heaven, prince of light, Defender of Chonae, Angel of The Presence, Guardian of the Dead, guy who whooped Satan's butt, etc. etc.).  Micha'el....Who is like God?  Only God may judge.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy... 
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors...

Judge not, lest ye be judged...

There are days I feel as if my fundamentally different from others.  As if, somehow, I'm the only person who sees that snow is white when everyone else says it's black.  Whether it's matters religious or mundane, in the news or even in casual conversation, it seems that there is a constant low-level misinformation campaign. 

Now, I realise that this gets to the Jesuits..."I will believe the black I see before me is white if the hierarchical Church so defines it".... but I'm not a Jesuit at heart, but a Dominican.

"Follow the Truth, no matter where it may lead." 

I guess that means I'm a heretic, for to follow Truth often requires one to choose and 'the act of choice' is the literal translation for αίρεση and the heart of the matter.

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  I choose that.  Some days, it feels that choice is a lonely one and a hard one.

Tuesday, January 11

Sex and love...You are made how you are made

Study after study as shown what just about anyone who has been paying attention could tell you about sex.   There are some folks who are sexually aroused by the opposite sex and some who are sexually aroused by the same sex (with a statistically insignificant number being aroused by both or neither) and it is hard-wired, literally.  Much of arousal revolves around differences in brain structure, function and chemistry.  Either you are turned on by boys or girls (and rarely both/neither) and you don't 'choose' one or the other.  It's how you are made.

A recent study from University College London looks at love, not lust, and finds that love is very different.  When men and women are shown images of sexy boys/girls, different parts of their brain light up depending on their orientation.  When people are shown images of people they love, the very same parts of their brain light up.  Men and women, straight and gay. 

Love is love. God is love...and the Divine is within everyone and affects us all in the same way (if we let Her).

It's nice to see that science is finally catching up with philosophy.

Monday, January 10

The more things change.....

"The churches are without people, the people without priests, the priests without respect, the Christians without Christ...the sacraments are no longer sacred, the holy days without their solemnities."

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the Mellifluous Doctor
mid-12th century

Friday, January 7

Epifaneez, I haz themz

Today, of course, is the feast of the Epiphany, known as the Theophany to our eastern catholic bretheren.  This day celebrates the coming of the wise men to adore Christ and also his baptism by his cousin John.  In both instances, it is a moment of revelation wherein the God-made-flesh is recognised as such by others.

James Joyce is said to have taken the word and turned it to the more common usage describing that flash of sudden comprehension and grasp of the 'big picture'.  When you briefly glimpse the Grand Scheme or see the face of the Divine in something most would consider totally mundane.

In the end, however, it is that instant when you suddenly 'get it' and (for you) the world is transformed. There have been many of these over the past year or so...moments where all of a sudden, the universe seems to change.  The key here is seems.  The world hasn't changed, your perception/understanding of it has....You have.

We are all made in the image and likeness of the Divine.  The Divine is made flesh and is amoung us.  Just look for yourself and your world can change.

Thursday, January 6

At loose ends? I'm a-frayed knot.

I'm thinking about what I can discuss today and things are woven back and forth.

The low-hanging fruit is to rail against certain authorities who publicly insist and maintain positions which their religion's founder explicitly spoke against, though between Bill and Colleen, it's hard not to feel like you're bringing coals to Newcastle.

Today is the feast of saint Simeon Stylites (the elder).  I could talk about his self-mortification, of the nature of sacrifice and the ilk, but that's trodden ground for sure.

My friend was talking about how he (with a certain amount of joy) is noticing the return of some of the 'old' trappings of the pre-V2 church...some latin and candles and gilt.  There's certainly a good sermon about returning to old vs. re-discovering the past or even a bit about form vs. function.

The first reading for today is from 1 John 4, which goes on at some length about how are are loved by God, how we are to love each other, and the ramifications thereof.  There's fertile ground there, for sure.

Instead....I'm going to take a step back and talk about the big picture here.

God loves us and we are to love everyone else.  Whoever remains in love remains in God.  That's what 1 John 4 goes on about.

If that is the case, then, we should love ourselves as well...not with the selfish 'memememe' love which then turns others away, but rather the sort of love which recognizes the Divinity within everyone, including ourselves.

If that occurs, then the self-mortification like that of St. Simeon is both irrelevant and counterproductive.

If that occurs, the exclusionary, smaller church which Benedict (and quite possibly Rowan) envisions is contrary to this.

If that occurs, then we recognise our own worth and value, but also our place in the world.  We see that we are all half-blind creatures who stumble about in the dark and are prone to making mistakes.  That everyone is both worthy of and in need of salvation.

If that happens, how we set the table for supper or which liturgical fork we use is put into a different, smaller perspective. 

p.s.: This was supposed to post yesterday, but didn't for some reason.  *shrugs*

Tuesday, January 4

As breviary is the soul of wit...I shall be liturgical.

I'm reading over on Haeligwoerc's blog about his "Thing".  I'm always fascinated to hear about people's "Thing".  You know...that subject which lights the fire in their eyes, the topic that animates even the most monotone of voices and draws out the most introverted of geeks.  Yah, their "Thing".

Without talking about his thing overmuch (and making a hackjob of it), he is discussing the concept of allegory in early/medieval christian writings and a principal part to understanding this sort of thing is context.  Now, as a medievalist, historian and unabashed geek, this is so obvious to me as to be not worth mentioning. Without understanding what the author and the intended audience would make of the text, the text loses much of the meaning.  Shakespeare is horridly crude and rip-roariously funny...if you understand the life and times in which it was written.

My stock biblical example of this is Galatians 3, where Paul says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  This sounds nice and innocuous until you realise that, in that time, a pious jewish man would rise every morning and thank God that he was not a goyim, a slave, or a woman.  Christianity was still considered a sect of Judaism at this point, and a former jewish zealot who killed heretics like the Nazarenes is saying this.  Context makes a huge difference.

That leads me to the next point that Haeligwoerc brings up, which is that our liturgy, our 'church life' has very little in common with that of the medieval church, let alone the Apostolic era.  The regimen of prayers was set down in the Apostolic era as a carryover from the Jewish faith. This regimen continues, modified but unabated, throughout the medieval church, with 7(later 8) times per day.  This 'Divine Office' included readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, psalms, lives of saints and martyrs, excerpts from theological tracts by one of the great scholars of the church as well as an appropriately themed homily/sermon. 

7 times a day.  Every day.  For every good Christian, lay and ordered.  Meeting together.

This is key.

That's not how we 'do' things now-a-days.  We don't attend communal prayer daily (let alone 7 times per day).  The only people who say the Divine Office are ordained (and that is by obligation, not choice).  Many of the laity don't go to mass weekly.  The lives of saints and martyrs are mostly vague names and half-recalled stories and few of the laity could name the Doctors of the Church, let alone say they've read/heard them.  Rather than swimming in the scriptures, we take a quick shower every so often. It isn't a part of our comings and goings which our mundane lives are planned around, but a special occasion that you get dressed up for.

It should come as no great shock, then, that people are largely ignorant of the Deposit of Faith.  Rather than being rooted in a strong grasp of scripture and tradition, most folks know the forms of things though most don't even know the reasonings for the forms.  Having listened to some of the 'leading lights' of the moderate RC community, I'm not entirely sure that the current generation of clergy have a grasp on the Deposit of Faith either, leaving an understanding of that to the Magesterium.

Where does that leave us?  Well, there are a few different options.  The first is the 'short and simple' route, which sits all this to the side and concentrates on the 'work' part of Orare et laborare.  The second is a variant on the first, leaving the heavy lifting to some prelate, pontiff or other 'expert' to tell you what things are and mean.  The final option is to recreate this environment for ourselves.  Putting forth the effort ourselves, doing daily devotionals/readings/prayers, researching the Traditions, mayhap creating online groups to share, discuss and further discourse.

Monday, January 3

In their own words.....

"From today's crisis, a church will emerge tomorrow that will have lost a great deal... She will be small and, to a large extent, will have to start from the beginning. She will no longer be able to fill many of the buildings created in her period of great splendor. Because of the smaller number of her followers, she will lose many of her privileges in society.  It will make her poor and a church of the little people ... All this will require time. The process will be slow and painful."
                   - Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, 1969

"It is not by the display of power and pomp, cavalcades of retainers, and richly-houseled palfreys, or by gorgeous apparel, that the heretics win proselytes; it is by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by seeming, it is true, but by seeming holiness. Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth."
                        - Fr. Dominic de Guzeman

There and back again

So, through a bit of serendipity and a tremendous amount of goodwill, I did not spend the holidays alone as I expected but with my beloved parents.  I would point out that they live in balmy Florida, where it was 21 degrees (70F) for most of the week.  There were many changes in itinerary and alterations of plans at the last moment, but everything came out in the wash.

Reflecting on this trip, especially in comparison with the previous two I have taken recently, highlights where things have changed in me, in those around me and in my perception of the world.

Life is about choices and consequences.  Whether it's snatching a jeweled chalice from a dragon, holding on to threads of the past or looking to promises of the future, we shape our own destinies with the tools given us and our (mis)perceptions about what was, is and will be.
Obviously, this is not done in a vacuum and we use and are shaped by external factors as well. That can be good (Divine, inspirational literature, etc.) or bad (too many to list), but recognizing it's presence is important. 

Further, we need to balance the understanding that there ARE things outside our control to be sure...but there is much within our own grasp which we, all too frequently, are willing to relinquish under different demurring guises.  "One does as is expected....There's nothing to be done about <X>....That's just the way things are these days, like it or's a post-9/11 world."

The other side of that coin is attempting to divert the possible negative consequences of our actions.  "Paedophilia was only 'grave' after V2?...We had no idea that <X> would have happened...I'm too big/righteous/smart to fail..."etc etc etc.  There is a fundamental ethos which underlies nearly every theology and philosophy, being that you reap what you sow.  Culture after culture is filled with tales admonishing generations to neglect this at their peril. 

It seems so many today believe that they are too cunning or quick to be trapped by their own deeds.  Whether individually or collectively, we cannot outrun our own shadows.  Conversely, we should never forget that we control our own lives and honour.  When others have control of those things, it is because we have given them that control.

What we think becomes what we say and do which becomes what we are.  Consider this...and then consider that all of Smaug's treasure hoard will not bring back a single day you spent chasing it rather than helping your neighbour.

Choose which you want, but recall the consequences.

P.S. - As I wrote this, I realised how much more than it would seem that I have in common with Mr. Baggins of Bag-end.  For most of my life I have been that very man is known as respectable and dependable - reliable and even predictable without great drama or adventures.  Things change, however, and though there is still that enjoyment of security that derives from surety, I understand now that I may derive better surety through things invisible than those which I can touch.