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Words from Pope St. Leo the Great

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Ash Wednesday--Beginning Lent


at Momentary Taste

It is my sincere hope that I will be able to return to Flos Carmeli and post more on matters spiritual during this season.

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From Morning Prayer


The rolling phrases of Pope St. Clement I

from The Letter to the Corinthians
Pope St. Clement I

Helper of those in peril, Savior of those in despair, you created and still kepp watch over all that draws breath. You cause the peoples on Earth to multiply, and from them all choose those who love you through Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through Him you have instructed us, sanctified us, honored us.

I think in reading this of the threefold mission--priest, prophet, and king that was announced as of His Baptism. I don't know why, perhaps it is simply the way things are phrased and particularly the trifold "instructed us, sanctified us, honored us."

The rhythm of this thought and its delicacy are pursued until the end of the passage and we culminate with being honored by God. I have to wonder how many have thought of it in that way--being honored by Him. Too often we are busy being cowed or bowed or cozzened or otherwise perturbed in our path. but no--instructed, sanctified, and honored. Honored as children, honored as sons and daughters.

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From a Sermon by St. Bernard, Abbot

Because this coming [the second of three] lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming he is our rest and consolation.

. . . Where is God's word to be kept? Obviously in the heart as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God's word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

What calls to me here is the image of the last line of paragraph 1--"he is our rest and consolation"--a wayside respite--a momentary taste of being fromt he Well amid the waste. How complex and full THAT poetic, echoic image. Our rest and our consolation--our Well amid the waste.

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The Shepherd and the Sheep


According to St. Asterius of Amasea

from The Office of Hours

Let us look more closely at the hidden meaning of this parable. The sheep is more than a sheep, the shepherd more than a shepherd. They are examples enshrining holy truths. They teach us that we should not look on men as lost or beyond hope; we should not abandon them when they are in danger or be slow to come to their help. When they turn away from the right path and wander, we must lead them back, and rejoice at their return, welcoming them back into the company of those who lead good and holy lives.

It is all too easy to dismiss someone. It is all too easy to do so without even being aware that you are doing so. It is so easy to overlook a voice giving advice or asking for help; it is so easy to be annoyed with those who want something from us. How easy it is to give up on everyone and every thing, to give up the transformation of our own lives and the lives of those around us. How easy it is to bulldoze ahead with our own ideas and our own ways of doing things. How easy it can be to curse someone--particularly someone we do not know well; how simple to wish them ill.

And what an effort of will it takes to invite someone back--especially someone who has done a wrong to us. And yet that it what Lent is about--inviting back all who are children of God. And sometimes that means inviting back someone who has personally offended me.

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Jubliee of St. Paul Romans 1:27- 2:1


from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

27 And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error. 28 And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers, 30 Detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. 32 Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.

Romans 2

1 Wherefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest. For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself. For thou dost the same things which thou judgest.

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Romans 2

1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

In Greek

I have lingered over commenting on this passage not because I am particularly afraid of it, nor because it is difficult to understand. It is certainly controversial, but I think that is more because people from varying agendas attempt to wrench it out of its perfectly clear form into an argument for their agenda.

There is a single sentence here regarding homosexuality in which Paul says simply, men abandoned their natural ways (not all men, but some) in such a way that the penalty therefore was made evident. Some have interpreted this as the folly of self-castration that was one of the hallmarks of the priesthood of Cybele--and certainly such an act would be readily evident in its occurrence and in the subsequent consequences as the eunuchs would tend to softness of muscle and robustness of corporation.

Here Paul's condemnation of homosexuality is very clearly and cleverly stated. In Greek the first half of the sentence roles out in thunderous masculine terms, nearly every word of masculine gender, strong and forthright, whereas the second half of the sentence completely succumbs to feminine terminology and words. Men abandon natural use and become women and it becomes apparent to all. There is about this condemnation less of hell-fire than of logical, present consequence--a present consequence that leads straight to hell-fire, but one which now is more than a little ludicrous and more than a little obvious. To go against nature is, in this life in some things, a punishment in itself.

But it is less this aspect of things--the sexual--than the concomitant aspect--not only have men surrendered themselves and become women, but by ignoring God's grace and goodness, they become worse than animals. Because they choose not to think about God, God does not force them and the result is that they are given their own way--a way that is both reprobate and eventually evil.

As we stop thinking about God, God does not abandon us (as this passage, read out of context, might suggest) but rather, we build around ourselves an impenetrable shell--a thickness and a hardness that completely encases us and succeeds in cutting us off from God. God "allows" this ("gives them over to the reprobate mind") only in the sense that it is the inevitable consequence of refusing to look at Him and worship Him. He does not desire it, nor does he brush off his hands and say, "So much for that lot." Indeed, the Holy Spirit and the natural world and the people all around the reprobate conspire to bring him back into the fold. This is not a knowing conspiracy, but a cooperation with God's love that woos the sinner--and so, it is so much worse not to turn our attention to God. because we lose not only ourselves and sense of self, but all those God would have used us to help set free.

Instead with the reprobate mind, the sinner gives himself over to death and the dealings of death. Not only does he delight in doing them himself, he delights when he sees his action proliferate. As a sinner he revels in the spreading of sin and in the works of chaos--and if he goes far enough along, the only end he has in sight is chaos. This is not merely dementia--this is the final work of evil--to cast everything into chaos and to undo the order that has bound creation together. Of course, we know that evil will not win, but in our confined and earthbound view, we see the intimations of victory. Even the psalmist asks, "Why do the wicked rejoice?" They do so because they have no view nor sense of eternity.

But notice here, it is not God who causes the sin or is author of sin nor who supports and causes sin to expand. Rather sin is an entirely human work caused when the greatest of God's creation, the very light of reason, chooses to dim itself and follow in the ways of his animal neighbors--abandoning love for darkness and peace for pleasure.

Also notice how Paul dramatically pulls us to a stop. We read along, the righteous pharisees that we are and say, "Oh, that doesn't describe me. No, rather it describes those who are bound for Hell and who richly deserve it--may they reap the rewards of their harvest." This is how too many view the whole debate about homosexuality (for one instance). If we look at the ugliness of some "Christian" groups that march with signs that say, "God hates F***" and other such patent nonsense, we are seeing precisely what Paul here condemns. And in condemning such, he is following his Master who told us in several ways that our own judgment becomes our condemnation. Think about it--surely the judgment of those who carry such signs shows up in the concept of a God who is capable of hating any person. Certainly God hates sin--the terrible introduction of flaw into the human state. He hates it unto eternal condemnation--but He hates it because of its potential to deprive Him of His children. It offends His dignity because it threatens to rob Him of His rightful heirs and offspring.

So we get through this thoroughgoing condemnation of all evil, cheering Paul on and saying, "You get 'em Paul. Give those sinners what-for. Give 'em Hell!" And find ourselves, cheering on the sidelines, as Paul whips around and points his finger at us. "You, " he says, "you who delight in your righteousness and condemn your brother--you are in even more trouble than they are because you know the rules." I can see the flashing eyes and hear in this even more the heart of love which despises sin, but loves each person unto eternity. His anger is not at the reprobate sinner--God already has them in hand, but in those who would judge them, dismiss them, and leave them to a life worthy of hell. For in our judgment, we do not tend to be like God--we can't seem to contain judgment and love in the same breath--rather, in our judgment we desire temporal justice--the extermination of what has been judged and found unworthy.

One of the great problems with judgment is that we too often abandon those we have judged. We excuse ourselves from love and move on to justice. Again, not always, not everyone--but it is certainly a human trait--judgment is rendered, justice is dispensed, the condemned is cast away from society as a whole. What a judgment we bring upon ourselves when our justice is of this sort. And so Paul tells us, wheeling around from the foreigners he was pointing out to us and bringing the point home. "You know better and so you are judged twice in your judgment--both your own conscience convicts you and God knows your sin."

Wow. Is it any wonder that this remarkable Saint has drawn out for us the foundations of the faith? Jesus started his teaching, but on the road to Damascus, he chose this man, this brilliant theologian and true lover-of-God to continue working out the implications of His words. We hear almost the continuation of the voice of Jesus as Paul speaks, so close is Paul to Jesus.

We have the special grace and privilege this years of a Jubilee in honor of this great Saint. Pope Benedict has given us a great example to ponder and a year of grace in which to do it. I am going far too slow in doing this--I'll never get through all the letters--but that doesn't get you all off the hook, because you could read them two, three, four, six, ten, fifteen times in so long a span. Think of the wonders that could occur were we each to read them once attentively--really listening and really trying to hear what Paul has to say to us.

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Jubliee of St. Paul Romans 1:21-26


Fore note: This has been a particularly difficult segment to write and so any comments, clarifications, or helps would be much appreciated. Before I felt like I was wading into warm tropical waters, but in this passage, it feels like I've taken that next step and wound up plunged into the tongue of the ocean.

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

21 Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. 23 And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things. 24 Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature.

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

In Greek

I have broken the passage here to avoid too long a reading; however, it might be good to read to the end of the chapter and come back to take these verses in context, this is the beginning of one form of argument that St. Paul uses throughout the letter.

Okay, so today we begin to encounter the St. Paul in the presence of whom I always felt terribly uncomfortable as a protestant. This is a raving, railing, ranting St. Paul, who fulminates and casts into Hell all that he does not care for. This is the St. Paul of those who would judge others and condemn them to Hell despite the strong injunction not to do so. In short, this St. Paul exists only in the perfervid imaginations of those who have fallen under the spell of a certain way of reading the Bible.

But this picture of St. Paul is a caricature, a distortion, a slander of a great man with a great heart. And, in all likelihood, I may have been the only person to have ever encountered this fictitious (and factitious) St.Paul.

These verses, and those that are to follow shortly, are commonly amongst those used in the argument against homosexuality. For a gay-friendly analysis of these verses and those following is available here, I am dubious about some aspects of this argument; however, I did like the notion introduced of St. Paul as ironist. I'm not sure that he is exhibiting that tendency here, but it helps to make St. Paul more human and humane.

We recall from yesterday that the previous passage ended with "So they are without excuse." Who? Those, who knowing God and His glory choose to bow before created things rather than worshiping the Creator. I don't know that St. Paul condemns all paganism with this assault, although he may well be doing so; however, he is certainly condemning the Dionysian cults that seem to worship and revel in darkness and in vain animalistic pursuits. I have this small doubt about the complete condemnation of all previous practice because of the power and skill of an argument presented elsewhere that depends upon the Altar to and Unknown god.

So, let's leave aside for the moment whether this passage is meant to be a blanket condemnation of the entire pagan world and its thinkers and look instead as to what the real sin is, because it is this consequences of this sin that Paul will delineate in the passage subsequent to this.

The specific problem is delineated in verse 21--when they knew God, when they saw His Glory, rather than praising that Glory and extolling that greatness, they extolled themselves and darkened their own imaginations. They had seen the power of God and they ended up seeing nothing at all but their own reflections. They could not praise Him or give Him glory and so they became puffed up. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools--they were filled with their own ideas and their own desires--their glimpse of God pushed them solidly back into themselves. And this is a natural tendency. If we think of the Apostles at the Transfiguration, the first thing they want to do after witnessing such a marvelous event is build some tabernacles. They, at least, had a worthy thing in mind to build. Not so with many of the pagan cults. They instead choose to make graven images of Dionysius, Mithras, and other even darker entities. They see the sun and choose to transform it to suit their own purposes. (Sounds rather uncomfortably familiar, doesn't it?)

When they did this they incurred the penalty of their sin in their own bodies. For example, the celebration of Cybele left too many men incapable of contributing to the future of the race. Other cults had even darker rites.

When we see God and ignore Him, consequences naturally follow. Paul attributes them to God's wrath and perhaps that is simply a metaphorical way of saying that sins carry with them their own retribution. Take our modern era with the "sexual revolution" of the 60s. The consequences of that horrendous social experiment are with us today as we contemplate the election of a man who will do his uttermost to assure that the slaughter of the innocents can continue unabated in the name of rights that simply do not exist.

While Paul was writing of the depraved pagans of his time, his message holds true for us today. When we choose to ignore God and recreate Him in our own image, we will be serving a horrible god at a terrible price. I won't go so far as to say that it happens daily, but I think it is fair to say that daily we see the consequences of such service in the world around us.

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It probably comes as no surprise to you that the composition of these reflections is both a pleasure and a challenge. When I put a great deal of thought and effort into them, I am half amused and half uneasy with the resounding silence about them. Amused because I know that my reaction would likely be the same; uneasy because I fear I may have gotten something wrong and I am conceivably misleading. So perhaps each of these should come with a caveat--read with pleasure, but be certain to think through on your own. I am now up to my fourth reflection on this cluster of verses, and I am loving the slow read of Romans that it forces me to do. Additionally, I am enjoying the reading I need to do in addition to come to some understanding about what these words mean. Struggling with the writing of St. Paul is a way of becoming more familiar with him--the sullen, self-centered, raging, towering, block of anger that I understood St. Paul to be from my days as a Baptist is vanishing to be replaced by a careful, thoughtful, ironic, and sometimes amusing teacher, a man deeply in love with Jesus Christ and deeply desiring that everyone around him should come to know Jesus in the same way. I hope that in some small way, working through this letter helps you to know St. Paul better and to appreciate this Jubilee year dedicated to him. If not, I hope then that at a minimum the tears of boredom clear up rapidly enough to read the next blog. God bless you either way.

At long last, I have come to the three verses that I really wanted to jump in and start talking about. This is the first intimation of a stream that will flow throughout the letter to the Romans. Indeed, it may be well considered the Christian headwaters of much Catholic theological and philosophical thought. (I say Christian headwaters because, obviously, this is a tradition that must stretch back in the Judaism, but I am unfamiliar with the line of reasoning prior to this writing by St. Paul. St. Paul, we must keep in mind, like Jesus, was a consummate Jew--a man who observed the law and witnessed and approved the martyrdom of St. Stephen.)

from Romans 1:18-20 (RSV)

[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

[19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
[20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;


18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

There are times in the Epistles that one needs to leave the lovely but sometimes thorny garden of DRC and KJV and enter into more readily comprehensible translations of the same ideas. While the RSV is approved for liturgical use and study, the NIV occasionally offers insights, however, I am not certain that the bias of the translators does not sometimes infiltrate the text and I use it cautiously. But I use it here because, while I am not a Greek expert, from consultation with the Greek Bible, the NIV seems to be a "more accurate" interpretation of the verses. In verse eighteen the chief verb appears at the beginning of the sentence and in the parsing of the Greek Bible it is designated as a "third person singular prest passive indicative" Thus "is being" seems slightly more in line with the thought--"is being" is more passive than "is revealed." Why all of this concern over a verb? In this case the passive voice strengthens the thought that the revelation of God in this way did not stop with the Incarnation or the revelation of Jesus Christ, but it is an ongoing act of revelation that comes as a grace from God to every generation. He is revealed through His works for all to see or not. We can will to be blilnd, but the revelation will be there nevertheless, and the revelation acts as prosecuting attorney. Because God chooses to reveal Himself in this way there is no excuse for one going to Heaven to say that he could not know God. It is entirely likely that a person might have good excuse for not knowing Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible--there may have been no one to preach, no one nearby who knew the good news. However, Jesus Christ is the culminating and fulfilling revelation of God the Father who graciously continues to reveal Himself in His creation. Now, unfortunately, what is being revealed to all is the wrath of God against those who will not know him. I don't know the particular circumstances that Paul might be thinking about with regard to this, but we might say the same thing today. The wrath of God (which cannot be separated from either the love of God or the Mercy of God, as they are all attributes of a simple and undivided whole) is being revealed today in ways that if we were only to open our eyes we could see. For example, the weakness of our Christian faith is revealed in the choice of leadership we are being given in the next election. It is revealed daily in the crime, vandalism, and exploitation of the poor that goes on each day. These are not God's signs of displeasure with those who are affected, but the natural "wrath" that develops from making choices that do not concur with God's will. As we instruct our children--there are consequences to our choices and we must be willing to live with those consequences if we are willing to take advantage of the choices.

Paul will go on in verses to follow to describe some of the ways in which God's wrath is being revealed, but the main point of the three verses presented here is that the wrath is being revealed against a people who do not only not accept Christ, but who refuse to understand God despite the fact that from the beginning of Creation God has made himself manifest to everyone.

What is startling here is the line of thought that says that a person ignorant of religion, ignorant of Christ, ignorant of all the trappings of civilization, may still know God. God is revealed in the book of creation just as he is revealed in the Word. The specificity of that revelation is less than the fullness of Christ, but it is nevertheless clear and those who refuse to see it have no excuse. In short, all people can know God through his Creation., and this creation reveals God's will. This is Paul's answer, and the Catholic answer to the question, "Can an Atheist have a reasonable ethics?" Yes, if he is attentive to God's revelation in natural law, even while ignoring the fact that it is revelation. Natural Law is a sure sign of God--a clear message that anyone can and must see and obey. There is no getting around it--God and His will are made manifest in the smallest events that occur in the world.

This is one of the primary building blocks in the construction of a Catholic, Christian theology--God may be known through the use of the gift of reason applied to the revelation implicit in the natural world. Faith can be built upon and supported by judicious use of reason under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Catholics have long held this belief, which is why it is so confounding and obnoxious to hear the Catholic Church (although not individual Catholics) being accused of anti-intellectualism. The Church is indeed the mother of the prudential use of reason in coming to know and understand God. Her saints (from St. Paul on) have consistently taught this, and it is this line of thought that supports and reifies the authority of the Magisterium to interpret scripture and indeed the events of the everyday.

If St. Paul had given us no other gift, this was one of the very finest he could have blessed us with--the gift of reason used in defense of and support of faith. Faith and reason do not require compartmentalization of the human person, rather together with the Holy Spirit, they allow for the complete integration of the human person. Is there any wonder that Pope Benedict wanted us to spend some time reflecting on this great Saint and his gift to us in the Epistles?

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