Jesus and Risky Business

Seeing the news story below made me think of this book that I used a number of years ago in my “theology of the laity” class. Worth the read for those interested in the intersection of faith and business. Also made me think of Michael Novak’s comment in Business as a Calling:

What was the vocation that from all eternity the Lord God Creator chose for his only Son? The Lord God Creator called the Messiah, the Redeemer, to shoulder the vocation of small business: a creative vocation, a vocation of humble service to nearly every human household. As a carpenter, Jesus found freedom to be creative and to serve others. Creativity, exactitude, quality, beauty, service to others, independence – this was the substance of his daily life. In preparation for all that was to come.

“…and my mum still be here…”

The Church, sharing the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or affected in any way, feels it has a serious obligation to join with those who are working, without self-interest and with dedication, to find concrete and urgent solutions to the housing problem and to see that the homeless receive the necessary attention and concern on the part of public authorities. — Pope St. John Paul II

As I watched this video, I thought of a priest I knew back in the early 1990’s. Every Christmas Eve, he would open his parish center to the local homeless population, offer a Christmas feast for them and then sleep with them on the floor in a sleeping bag. Then get up in the morning to celebrate all the Christmas Masses. In fact, he eventually started doing this once every few months, taking turns with other churches, synagogues and mosques welcoming the homeless in this way. And inviting parishioners to join him. Which they did.

The rest of the year, he dedicated himself to advocating with other religious communities and NGOs for homeless in his urban parish territory.

“The tender compassion of our God” awaits our flesh to become fully incarnate.

The Whole Truth

[This is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend in response to a question. It led to a long exchange over a few months. Thought I’d post it today, mostly so you can feel sorry for my friends]

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Don’t try to convince anyone of anything. — Fr. Tom Hopko

Convince: prefix com-, + vincere “to conquer.”

Over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced of the wisdom of Fr. Tom. When he has spoken of this, he sometimes adds: “Just put out there your view of things as persuasively as you can, and then see what the other person makes of it. You need to always assume you may be wrong in some way. Maybe you have a good point, but you need to let go of your idea and see if it survives scrutiny.” Truth always proposes, never imposes itself.

Far from being a denial of ‘truth,’ this approach is a recognition that seeing things aright is first of all a common quest. Truth is meant to be shared burden. And, important to add, only when love motivates us is freedom reverenced; and only when humility is present can we make ‘truth’ more than a personal or tribal victory.

What is truth? Nearly limitless ways to get at that question! When Pilate asked Jesus this question, note that Jesus didn’t answer. He didn’t need to, He is Truth in the flesh. Not an abstract idea, not an argument, but a Way of Life; a Way of being-in-the-world that is congruent with, might we say, the grain of Divine Wood. Which is etched in the Cross.

And think of Jesus the moment Pilate poses this question: the Logos, tortured, blood-dripping, thorn-crowned, engaging in a dialogue this ruthless power-hungry pagan Procurator about why He came into the world. Be astonished! Jesus demonstrated in that moment the cost of seeking Truth with others. Especially others in your face.

…One philosophical way of defining truth is called the ‘correspondence theory,’ which essentially means when the mind corresponds to given reality. Corresponds to what is. Such a massive claim! Reality is certainly a VAST field of inquiry, admitting of an irreducible variety of vantage points. Just choose any topic, any discipline of inquiry, the history of its exploration. Realize how immense truth claims are, how diverse the perspectives and methodologies are. And how open-ended is the search.

We say theology is “faith questing after understanding” — note the verb is progressive, in motion. And we seek not just for the truth, but for the whole truth. Whoa. BIG. And sought by a mind possessed by what Plato sees as an intellectual eros, a longing and pining that innately hungers to know more and more of the whole truth, is never satisfied with where they are at. This is wonder.

For the person who succumbs to wonder, life is never ever boring! New perspectives, even contraran ones, are oh so welcome! Ask, seek, knock and life endlessly reveals new riches! Seek anyone open to a common quest!

And if this is the case with inquiry into our finite cosmos, again imagine how that it is the case with an infinite God! Absolute mystery! Ever-revealing, totally unfathomable. St. Augustine rightly said: si enim comprehendis, non est Deus “if you comprehend, it isn’t God.” Let that sink in. Sit down, be humble. Only a crucified God, riddled with paradox, shocks us into the realization.

There’s another feature of Hopko’s point that is crucial to get. Truth is communal. By design, it is always a shared project. Love for truth demands love of neighbor, whether that neighbor be in the form of a book, an article, a song, a conversation, a debate, a teacher, a friend, a strange. And above all for Jesus, an enemy. As Vatican II put it (GS 44):

Indeed, the Church admits that she has greatly profited and still profits from the antagonism of those who oppose or who persecute her.

Yup. Truth is never to be discovered alone, but only “through” others. Devious Providence.

That’s the meaning of the word dialogue: dia-logos to “think through” another’s mind, another’s vantage point. You need to go through someone else to know anything — all knowing is relational. Too often we think “at” each other, or ping-pong back and forth without succumbing to another’s vantage. That’s REALLY risky, vulnerable, humbling, requiring agape love. It’s easy to stay in our bubble of like-minded, but the definition of both ‘human’ and ‘Christian’ preclude such a thing by God’s design and our well-being. But we are impoverished by keeping ourselves at a distance, and need to pray always for the grace to set aside fear and risk encounter in love.

Risk the Cross and Resurrection.

But…friendship is the highest expression of this “thinking through.” A person with whom you are really fully vulnerable enough to risk allowing their perspective enter deeply “into” you, and then putting yourself out there for them to receive you and then respond in freedom. Super risky, when you are seeking truths that touch your core. But it’s what it means to be in the image of a threefold Dialogical God.

In God, there are Three Persons eternally thinking-through each other. Truth in God is always a relational treasure. Never a solitary possession. The Trinity is even willing to open up to us vulnerably to this exchange, as Jesus makes clear with poetic beauty at the Last Supper:

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us

God risks letting us in, and risks entering us. Again, the Cross shows us how this exchange looks in action when God lets us in. Terrifying, majestic.

…To get into another in dialogue, you must be permitted to pass-over into the other. Which is very Eucharistic: Eat, drink — consume. God the Father created and repaired all things “through” his Logos, through his eternal Son and Word, Jesus Christ. In Mary, God took on a human mind. Think this: God dialogues with us through a divine-human mind — Jesus — so we can be equals with Him in this Truth-quest. Madness. Because of the Incarnation, the Father now eternally thinks all things through a human mind, through the humanity of His Son. And the divine Son thinks all things humanly forever through the Father. And then they. let. each. of. us. in.

That’s prayer.

To draw ever-nearer, not just to the truth, but to the whole truth, requires patiently seeking it with others. God is tricky, ordering things so we can never get what we want without each other. Which is terribly arduous, even sometimes heroic. Conversations, debates, prayer, reading or writing — there is no other way God has opened than this team sport of sweaty truth-seeking. Hardest of all: he has made it so we need ALL others, not just our self-selected group. We need friends and enemies to come to the liberating truth, which is why He also commanded us to love both as if they were the same. Frenemies.

Love ensures that truth is never wielded as a weapon, but is utilized as a ploughshare to cultivate the earth so the seeds of Christ will find receptive soil. Loveless truth can be used to destroy another, to manipulate, coerce or shame. Hence, St. Paul commands us, always “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Then there’s humility. It allows us to see our grasp of anything is always incomplete, in constant need of being expanded, refined, corrected, nuanced, perfected. Truth can be known — and any greater vision truth must be in continuity with lesser truths — but truth has limitless horizons. God alone knows all truth, God alone is Truth. As Pope Benedict once said:

To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge. Being inwardly held by the hand of Christ makes us free and keeps us safe: free – because if we are held by him, we can enter openly and fearlessly into any dialogue; safe – because he does not let go of us, unless we cut ourselves off from him. At one with him, we stand in the light of truth.

“We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

This all makes life so much more interesting! It allows the word ‘truth’ to never kill a good conversation. Always more. Every day, I learn more. Hopefully every day I will grow, never stagnate. Please God.

That’s a start. There are plenty of books on this out there if you want to dive deeper…


θέωσις

For the Son of God became man so that we might become God — St. Athanasius of Alexandria

Today is Athanasius’ feast day. He is the great defender of the divinity of Jesus, and he spins out the implications of the incarnation of God as radical beyond human conception.

What Athanasius is saying in the quote above is essentially this: God became all that we are so that we might become all that he is. It’s simply a reworking of John 1:13-14:

But to all who received him,
who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born,
not of blood
or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man,
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and tented among us

i.e. we are born of God (think on that a bit!) because he was first born of us.

We “become God” by grace and participation, not by being ‘fused together’ into a confused hybrid, but by being two-in-one united in a love so profound and total that, as the Song of Songs 2:16 says: “My beloved is mine and I am his.” Or as Jesus says in John 6:57 (which is more stunning than we generally realize): “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me will live because of me.” United in Trinitarian communion by “gnawing on” the torn Flesh and drinking the spilled Blood of the Son.

All this idea of theosis — “becoming God” — is beautiful, mysterious, mind-blowing. But what it looks like as a lived reality? Well, see Christ. So much to say here, but let me let you learn from my theological mentor, the late Fr. Tom Hopko, in what I consider one of his finest meditations. I cannot surpass his greatness of expression. It comes from a transcript of public lecture:

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…I can tell you that being loved by God, and loving Him in return, is the greatest joy given to creatures, and that without it there is no real and lasting happiness for humanity.

And I can also tell you, alas, that such loving is always a violent, brutal and bloody affair.

The God who is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, who gives us his divine life and peace and joy forever, is first of all the Divine Lover who wounds His beloved, and then hides from her, hoping to be sought and found. He is the Father who chastens and disciplines His children. He is the Vinekeeper who cuts and prunes His vines so that they bear much fruit. He is the Jeweler who burns His gold in His divine fire so that it would be purged of all impurities. And He is the Potter who continually smashes and refashions and re-bakes His muddy clay so that it can be the earthen vessel that He wants it to be, capable of bearing His own transcendent grace and power and glory and peace.

…I learned that all of these terrible teachings of the Holy Scriptures and the saints are real and true. And so I became convinced that God’s Gospel in His Son Jesus is really and truly God’s final act on earth. It is the act in which God’s Word is now not simply inscribed in letters on pages of parchment, but is personally incarnate as a human being in his own human body and blood. And so I became convinced of the truth of all truths: that the ultimate revelation of God as Love and the ultimate revelation of humanity’s love for God, are to be found in the bloody corpse of a dead Jew, hanging on a cross between two criminals, outside the walls of Jerusalem, executed at the hands of Gentiles, by the instigation of his own people’s leaders, in the most painful, cursed, shameful and wretched death that a human being — and especially a Jew – can possibly die.

So to the measure that we are honest and faithful, and try to keep God’s commandments, and repent for our failures and sins, we come to know, and to know ever more clearly and deeply as time goes by, what we have learned here at St. Vladimir’s. We come to know by experience that the Word of God (ho logos tou theou) is always and necessarily the word of the Cross (ho logos tou stavrou). And — in language befitting a commencement ceremony at an Orthodox graduate school of theology — we come to see that true theologia is always stavrologia [cruciform]. And real orthodoxia is always paradoxia. And that there is no theosis without kenosis [emptying].

Theology is stavrology and Orthodoxy is paradoxy: the almighty God reveals Himself as an infinitely humble, totally self-emptying and absolutely ruthless and relentless lover of sinners. And men and women made in His image and likeness must be the same. Thus we come to see that as there is no resurrection without crucifixion, there is also no sanctification without suffering, no glorification without humiliation; no deification without degradation; and no life without death.

Priests of Jesus

This week that just passed, I had the privilege of giving the Spring retreat to the bishop and priests of the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese. It was surreal.

Tallahassee is where I had a life-changing encounter with Christ in 1987, and, after dabbling with Evangelical Protestantism for a time, the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More become my ‘home’ where I rediscovered my Catholic faith in a whole new way.

Tallahassee is where I met my wife in 1988, where I fell in love with her in 1994, proposed to her, married her, and where all our children were born. It’s also where I forged some of the most important friendships of my life. And some of the priests at that retreat were an intimate part of all of those stories, from the very beginning. Patti and I have such love for many of these men, and they have shown the same love toward me and my family over these years.

Tallahassee is forever our true spiritual home.

Hence, with all that in mind, you can imagine what an experience those retreat days were for me! I could never do justice in words to the overflowing amazement and gratitude deep within me each day as these men sat and listened to me speak. To ME! Ridiculous.

And then there was this — 35 years after seeking guidance in my freshly Jesus-bewildered state back in 1987, the very priest who helped me sort out my cognitive dissonance sat right there, in front of me, listening to me deliver the retreat conferences.

The absolute and utterly absurd wonder of Providence.

Often when I teach, give retreats or public lectures on the faith, I have very distinctive and sometimes forceful internal experiences of God’s grace at work through me both as I prepare and as I deliver my material. And most times, that awareness is very specific to the event.

Whenever I finish up a gig, I always open my journal and try to give that unique “through me” grace a descriptive name to better grasp what it is I think God is using me for. Who knows if I’m ever on target? And as years pass on, I become more aware that the greater part of divine action and its meaning is forever infinitely beyond my reach.

But this time, my sense of grace was starkly vivid and forceful. From start to finish. I didn’t need time to reflect on its name, I just knew. It was Mark 10:21: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Oh how the Lord loves his brother-priests! Loves his friends (Jn. 15:15) whom he calls to share intimately in his work of washing the feet of his People.

As I spoke to these priests, I knew, he loved them. Some nights I couldn’t even sleep because of it, in a good way.

At the very end of the retreat, the Bishop asked all of his brother priests to join in blessing me. I knelt down in the midst of them and Bishop led them in the prayer of blessing. It was indescribable. I was overflowing, and my long drive home seemed effortless.

Thank you, our priests! What gifts you give us when you allow the Master to love you well, and then let him love us through you.

On the third day of the retreat, I decided to show them a video clip from The Chosen. Though I did not mention to them the intuition I have described here, this scene ably captured for me the texture and color of the love I felt in me at work toward them.
So I share it here.

Pray for your priests, bearers of heaven’s Treasures in earthen vessels. And be grateful.

Click here to view the clip.

¡Triumph!

When the stone had been sealed by the Jews;
while the soldiers were guarding Thy most pure Body;
Thou didst rise on the third day, O Savior, granting life to the world.
The powers of heaven therefore cried to Thee, O Giver of Life:
Glory to Thy Resurrection, O Christ!
Glory to Thy Kingdom! Glory to Thy dispensation,
O Thou who lovest mankind. – Troparion of the Resurrection

Blessed Easter! Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

I pray that your 50 day feast may be full of great good, joy, peace, song and the restorative power of Christ’s tender mercy.

I will post when I can this Easter season, but as end of semester is nearing, and other deadlines looming, my work load is piling.

May we all allow Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, to lead us to seek Christ these days of triumphant joy!

Arabic: Al-Masih qam minbain’il-amwat,
wa wati al mowt bil mowt,
wa wahab’l hayah lil ladhina fi’l qubur

Greek: Christos anesti ek nekron,
thanato thanaton patisas,
ke tis en tis mnimasin,
zoin charisamenos!

English: Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Descensus Christi ad Inferos

A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday:

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

Hound of Heaven

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
‘And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’ — Francis Thompson