Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Grammarian, XV

Chaste and decent, if you please.

Just yesterday as I was teaching my young catechumens the meaning of "Thou shalt not commit adultery" it occurred to me (again) that I even had to be careful about how I explained this sin to them. The coarseness of our society has numbed our sense of decency even with regard to the way we talk about things we should not be doing.

The catechism's old explanation of this commandment indicated that we should "lead a chaste and decent life," but the newer (well, 1986) version altered it slightly thus: "lead a sexually pure and decent life," an unfortunate alteration. There's something untoward about parents and clergymen having to use the word "sexually" at all, particularly with younger children.

Whatever were they thinking? That "chaste" is too obscure? Or rather, too out of date. Precisely so: and we need to learn the meaning of chaste and decent lives, all over again, and it starts, boys and girls, at the level of word (i.e., what we say and do, in that order).

Over the years our culture has been increasingly sagging, by almost imperceptible increments. And in the church, we would do well to begin to retrace those steps and perhaps, bit by bit, begin to recover what we lost.

We could start, grammatically, by resisting the unnecessary use of provocative terms.

(which leads me to wonder, now just what am I supposed to do with the '86 catechism? 86 it, after all these years? There I go again, thinking too hard . . .)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For I Will Consider My Cat

Though I suspect that the eighteenth century poet Christopher Smart might quite possibly have been a little off his rocker, I find something compelling in his poem about his cat, which Benjamin Britten set to music. "For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry" is worth a read, and not only for amusement's sake. I detect some rich theology embedded in the fascinating images of God and godliness which the poet has linked to his cat:

"For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way . . .

"For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger. . . .

"For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things. . . .

"For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom. . . .

"For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements. . . ."

The poem in its entirety can be accessed here.

I was brought back to thinking about this poem because last Saturday we put our fourteen-year old cat in her grave, feeling a little odd about the whole enterprise, particularly because we euthanized her. Her kidneys were failing, she was losing weight, and we can't handle cat pee all over the house. So according to a long-standing and sensible rule, we determined that family pets must not be recipient of heroic measures. She was, after all, just a cat.

Nevertheless going through the motions of having her put to sleep is, well, a morbid enterprise, even if it was only for a cat. I'm not sure, was that a quirky and irrational kind of guilt I felt? Maybe. I'm actually not sure.

Her eyes wouldn't close. She just peacefully gazed at me, as if to say, Huh?

Are cats like God? Mr. Smart thought so, and he may have a point. They certainly are from God. On the other hand beasts of the earth die every day, some even for our nourishment. I have no qualms about eating hamburgers, and I am fully aware that any qualms I have about the Chinese practice of eating catburgers are really nothing more than a cultural thing.

Maybe it's just me. Once, years ago I shot a blackbird, just for the sport of it. I felt awful afterwards.

But I have no qualms about someone shooting the enemy on a battlefield.

Maybe it's an embedded respect for life that I'm sensing. Maybe that's why there are Hindus who won't even kill bugs. Such senses must be kept from becoming unfettered, of course, and there are Hindus with none of the fetters they need.

Ah, well. I know: she was just a cat, the garden variety. Big deal.

And yet I will consider my cat. Tina Babe. 1995-2009. R.I.P. (can we say that for a cat? Maybe not. Oh well . . .)

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Grammarian, XIV

Today's lesson:

"This Is the Feast" is not the victim of bad grammar or shoddy theology.

Boys and girls, Rev. Lincoln Winter is absolutely right on this one, and I am pleased to throw my hat into his ring with kudos. I've been wanting to say something about this for years, and just never got around to it. Since he did it, I'll just recommend to your reading his recent post (click here). It's spot on, and expresses pretty much my exact sentiments. You can't go griping about the theology of This Is the Feast on the basis of the preposition ("of victory for [as opposed to of] our God."

What you can gripe about is its use as a replacement for the Greater Gloria, which many of our churches have provincially taken to doing, of all times, during Eastertide. Good grief, we had to observe the entire Lenten fast by omitting the Greater Gloria. Finally at the Easter vigil we get to begin regularly singing it again, and we ring the bells and let the organ rip. But some of you want to snatch it out of our mouths with "This Is the Feast."

Class, that's a hymn, not a canticle, in spite of the expressed intentions of its composer. To be sure, it's based on a canticle, viz., the Dignus Est Agnus, but that's really the nature of all hymns: they're based on something like a canticle or Biblical reference.

But as hymns go, it's not all that bad (although, truth be told, the melody is a bit sing-songy for me, in spite of my own proclivity for the melodic sound of some Anglican hymns), and, as Fr. Winter has pointed out, is theologically perfectly acceptable.

And those of you who have tried to "correct" the theology by replacing "for" with "of," are instructed to close your books at once, and go sit in the corner. Changing a few words of someone else's material to make it acceptable to you is not permitted, and is contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of copyright laws. If you don't like something as it is, by all means don't use it, but you dasn't go twisting it to your whims. That is the very essence of "contemporary worship," and is right out.

Besides, as Fr. Winter has definitively pointed out, it turns out in this particular case that there's nothing at all wrong with the grammar or the theology.

Just don't go putting it or any other hymn where the song of the angels goes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Simon, Son of Jonas, Lovest Thou Me?

The threefold question Jesus asks Peter (St. John 21) is curious, since it contains two different terms for love (agapao and pheleo) which are evidently so closely related that they are not distinguished from each other in the English translation.

Many have suggested interpretations for this remarkable exchange, and here's the one I gave yesterday at midweek mass.

First, a very rough paraphrase of the three questions and their answers might be:

Jesus: Simon, do you love me?
Peter: You know that you are my dear friend.

Jesus: Simon, do you love me?
Peter: You know that you are my dear friend.

Jesus: Simon, am I your dear friend?
Peter: You know that you are my dear friend.

Peter was "grieved" the third time, not merely because he was exasperated, but no doubt because he remembered his three denials and was remorseful.

But we note his newfound sense of deference here. No longer is he the brazen and bold, who boasts that he will go into death for his Lord; now he is reticent about any sort of self aggrandizement at all, so answers the 'agapao' question only with 'phileo'.

And finally Jesus condescends to 'phileo' himself in his question. But here Peter still declares his brotherly love for his Lord, for he knows it is born of the Spirit.

Something's haywire with the upload function, so I can't get the audio file posted here. Still trying.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Admittedly I'm uncomfortable with fundies, a.k.a. "born again Christians," but I must say that Carrie Prejean deserves strong kudos for taking her stand in the Miss U.S.A. pageant. This young lady, Miss California, with her simple and clear answer on the same-sex marriage question, has done as much to expose the hypocrisy of the loony left than a year of the best writing from the likes of National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh, and a host of the best of conservative commentators put together.

They asked her what she thought about same-sex marriage, not what they thought. But Perez Hilton and others are now complaining that she's a dumb blonde? The clear and evident truth is that she was not being a dumb blonde, but fearlessly giving her opinion about it (that marriage should be between a man and a woman--an opinion shared, incidentally, by virtually all traditional religions of all the history of the world).

This lady is one class act, and smart, too. If she had given the "world peace" answer to that question, she would have won, and nobody would have noticed. Now, the world is all paying attention, and everyone can see for themselves how ludicrous the wild and wacky loons truly are.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


The Sunday after Easter finds Thomas with the disciples, inspecting the hands and side of Jesus (St. John 20:19-31). We have something in common with him, for neither he nor we were present in the upper room on the day of the resurrection. So Thomas would not believe until he received proof. And the fact that he believed is a clear indication that he received the proof he sought; and this in itself is proof for us, that we might also believe. Thomas not only believed the resurrection, but that this meant Jesus is the Almighty himself. His confession of faith is even clearer to us than Peter's was: my Lord and my God. Thus may we also believe. Moreover, we, like Thomas, are invited to touch Jesus, when we are invited to the Holy Sacrament.

There was also a vespers Sunday night, with a sermon on the Epistle from I John 5:4-12. Both sermons are included here:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Monday

The Emmaus road: the disciples are sad because of what they do not yet know. So also we become sad because of what we do not know, or understand: the Lord is risen indeed. Unspeakable joy then replaces all gloom. St. Luke 24:13-35. The sermon:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Day

The Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord. The sermon:

The Vigil of Easter

I'll try to get some excerpts from the Great Vigil up as soon as I can.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday

Behold the man! Pilate unwittingly said something we will do well to heed, for Christ is the man Adam was not; indeed there is no man on earth who is as much a man as he, who endured the cross willingly, only because he wanted to be our Redeemer. The sermon for Good Friday:

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday

As we enter the triduum sacram (the holy three days), we hear readings of the institution of the Passover, of the institution of the Supper, and of Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet (also called the maundy). These things are related, for he is himself our Passover Lamb, and his blood marks our door; so he serves and helps us. By this Supper we remember his great Exodus wherein he delivered us by his death on the cross. But more importantly, by this supper God remembers us, even as, when he saw the blood on the doors of the Israelite houses, he remembered his covenant and the angel of death passed over without harming them. Now Christ's blood marks the door of our lips, and so we may be confident that the plague of death, and all lesser plagues as well, shall not visit our homes. The sermon has been recorded, but for some reason the site at which it's parked isn't cooperating tonight. I'll try again tomorrow.

Holy Wednesday

The Gospel for Holy Wednesday is the Passion according to St. Luke. Our custom is a traditional one, to read it by parts. The subdeacon reads the narrator's parts, the celebrant reads Jesus' parts, and the congregation reads the other speakers' parts. The sermon was, as a consequence of the lengthy reading, a short one, highlighting the fact that Jesus is our Passover. The evangelist declares at the opening of the reading that it was the time for the passtover: "Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people." In typical Lucan fashion we are given here a subtle indication of who Jesus is. The antecedent of the pronoun (him) is the Passover. Hence we find throughout this Passion subtle indications of the Passover being fulfilled: they prepare in the upper room (and the Supper is the fulfillment of the Passover meal, as we feast on the Lamb of God); and as the Passover is to be roast with fire, so Jesus in Gethsemane was in agony, and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood; and as the people were to eat the Passover in haste, dressed for travel, so Jesus instructed his disciples to take a sword, their scrip, etc. And, of course, as the Passover was killed, so Jesus was crucified.

Something went wrong with the recording, so the sermon was not recorded this time, but it was short.

I thought of mentioning another factor but decided against it. The words of institution in St. Luke do not have "Take, eat / take, drink." Perhaps the reason for that is this emphasis on the Passover. It is roast first, and eaten afterwards, of course. So the emphasis in the words of institution as Luke records them is on the "doing" of this, and the perpetuation of it. The death of the Passover, Christ, results in the feasting in the Passover meal, the Sacrament.

All these are also considerations in preparation for Maundy Thursday, coming up next.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Holy Tuesday

The Gospel for Holy Tuesday is from St. John 12:24-43. Reason cannot comprehend the mystery of the Gospel, as Isaiah says, "Who hath known the mind of the Lord?" The revelation of God is required, namely, the word of Christ. He is the light that shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. So it was literally dark for three hours of His crucifixion, but here He shines, from the cross, drawing all men to Himself, while He is lifted up. But it is the Gospel which reveals Him, for without it, we would never see that He is the Son of God there. So also, the Gospel reveals that He is the meaning behind all things living. In Him alone, death produces life, for it is His death which produces life. This is embedded in all nature: the corn dies, and produces much fruit. The sermon:

Monday, April 06, 2009

Holy Monday

The Gospel for Holy Monday is St. John 12:1-23. "Sir, we would see Jesus," say the Greeks, but the "son of man is glorified" in His holy passion; therefore grace is required for us to learn of Him, as the disciples did, as it says here, they "remembered" the meaning of His triumphal entry afterwards. The sermon:

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday

Today's Palm Sunday sermon is based on the Passion Gospel from St. Matthew 26 and 27, and the triumphal entry Gospel (which was read before the opening procession) from St. Matthew 21:1-9. The recording included the hymn of the day with choral stanzas, and the sermon is followed by a solo and an anthem sung during the distribution (both spliced in, the solo from the collection of the offerings, and the anthem during the distribution).

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A New Commandment of Love

Today's (Saturday) Gospel, from St. John 13, records Jesus' "new" commandment to His disciples to love one another as He has loved them. In this Gospel this account replaces the institution of the Supper in the first three. It is the fourth evangelist's coloring of the Sacrament, providing of an imagery by which Jesus means to tell what the Sacrament provides, namely the "new" testament in the blood of Christ, which provides the unity of love to God and to each other. The sermon:

Friday, April 03, 2009

Some Said that It Thundered

Today's (Friday) Gospel is from St. John 12:27-36, in which the Father's voice sounds like thunder, reminiscent of the thunder and earthquake on Sinai, and foreshowing the earthquake at Jesus' death and resurrection, as it is written, The lightnings lightened the world, the earth trembled and shook. But where is the lightning at His death and resurrection? He Himself is the lightning and thunder of God, as He says, Walk while ye have the light. Now is the prince of this world cast out, that is, by the wondrous work of Christ. The sermon:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Jesus Dines with Lazarus whom He had Raised from the Dead

The difference between St. John's gospel and the other three is that the fourth Gospel is more sacramental in its imagery, in spite of its lack of record of the institution of the Supper. Evidently the Evangelist did not see need of repeating that which the first three Gospels had already done; rather, he provides imagery for meditation on sacramental realities. Thus he alone recounts the raising of Lazarus, and omits the raising of the little girl and of the son of the widow of Nain. The raising of Lazarus is of special significance because afterwards Jesus also dined with him as His body was anointed by Mary for His burial. So also do we dine with Him in the Supper, in connection with His death (we receive His body and blood), and as those whom He raises from the dead with Lazarus. The sermon for this (Thursday) morning, from St. John 12:1-11:

Gethsemene Teaches Us to Pray

Jesus repeated the same prayer three times in Gethsemane, which teaches us that repetition of the same prayer is not useless; we also learn that although God's will was that He suffer the cross, nevertheless it was good: it redeemed the world on Good Friday, and resulted in resurrection and life. So too, we learn that when we must suffer or bear trouble or take up our cross and follow Him, ultimately none of this will redound to evil for us, but to immeasurable good. Yesterday's (Wednesday evening) sermon, from St. Matthew 26:36-46:

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jesus' Cry of Dereliction

The cry of Jesus, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" is indicative of an incomprehensible breach in the Holy Trinity; there is a correspondingly incomprehensible repair of the breach between God and His fallen world, which is the result of this. Today's (Wednesday) sermon is on St. Mark 15:33-40: