Thursday, September 21, 2017

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist


We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Matthew was an Apostle and Evangelist, as was John, and tradition states that he was also a martyr. Matthew's name appears in all four lists of the Twelve, so we can safely assume that he really was in that group, although he is also known as Levi. He was a Galilean, although Eusebius claims that Matthew was Syrian. Tradition states that Matthew preached to the Hebrews, and the Church Father Papias wrote that Matthew had written a collection of the sayings of Jesus in Aramaic. This collection of sayings in Aramaic may have been the basis for the gospel which bears his name.

Now, usually we don't really know much about the Apostles, they left no autobiographies for historians to use. What we know about Matthew comes from the gospels. He was a publican, a tax collector, an occupation despised by most Jews. Tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the Roman government, as extortionists who took money from their own people to help further the cause of the Roman oppressors and to line their own pockets. Most people hated tax collectors and saw them as traitors, and many of the most devout refused to marry into a family which had a tax collector in it. One can see the disgust for tax collectors in some of the passages we hear from the New Testament. Even Jesus used the name as a disparaging term; he said that when Christians have a dispute they are to try to work it out alone, and if that didn't work they were to bring a witness and try to work it out, and if that didn't settle things the offending person was to be treated like a Pagan or a Tax Collector. Since he was a tax collector Matthew was obviously not the kind of person anyone wanted to be seen with, yet when Jesus passed by his office, which was probably a stand like a kiosko, Jesus looked at Matthew sitting there and said, "Follow me." And Matthew dropped everything and followed Jesus. Jesus and the disciples came to Matthew's house for dinner, and many of Matthew's fellow tax collectors and friends came and joined Jesus and the disciples at table. Since Matthew was a social outcast, we can assume that his friends were, too, and the gospel calls them "sinners." When the Pharisees saw this group of outcasts sitting together, eating and talking and drinking wine and having a good time, they asked one of the disciples "What kind of example is this from your teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?" And when Jesus heard their question, he said, "Who needs a doctor, the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, the sinners, not to coddle insiders!" I think that we all forget this at times, that we are all sinners and that Jesus came for sinners, not for those who are already perfect. The truth is, none of us are perfect, we are all sinners, we have all missed the mark, and Jesus came for all of us .So Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector and outcast, to follow him, and Matthew dropped everything and said "yes" to Jesus' call. In a way it's good that Matthew was already an outcast because becoming one of the Twelve, one of Jesus' followers, was going to keep him in that category.

As I said earlier, tradition states that Matthew was the apostle to the Hebrews, and that he wrote a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Scholars are not really sure whether the Apostle Matthew actually wrote the gospel attributed to him; it may bear his name because it contains his collection of sayings. One of the main characteristics of Matthew's gospel is the fullness with which it records the Lord's teaching; it has a special interest in the relation of the Gospel to Jewish Law, the Torah, with its stress upon Christianity being the New Torah. It also emphasizes the special commission given to Peter, and it contains the stories of the Resurrection appearances in Galilee. The Greek of Matthew's gospel is much more elegant than the Greek of Mark, and it also translates well into other languages. Because of this, it is the gospel most suitable for public reading, and for this reason it is probably the best known of the four gospels.

As is often the case with stories about the Apostles, there is some disagreement as to the rest of Matthew's life. There is a tradition that Matthew left Palestine to travel and preach, and that he wrote his gospel so that a witness would continue in his stead. The Roman Martyrology states that St. Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, while the Hieronymianum, the martyrology of Asia Minor and Greece says that he was martyred in Persia in the town of Tarrium out on the Persian Gulf. Another tradition states that he suffered martyrdom in Pontus, and the town of Salerno in Italy claimed to have his relics.

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew

There is an apocryphal Acts and Martyrdom of St. Matthew, most probably of Gnostic origin, and it claims that Matthew was martyred in “Myrna,” wherever that is. I will tell you the story of St. Matthew’s martyrdom according to this text.

St. Matthew was on a mountain, resting, when he had a vision of the Christ Child and had a discussion with him about the fate of King Herod (“He dwells, indeed, in Hades; and there has been prepared for him fire unquenchable, Gehenna without end, bubbling mire, worm that sleeps not, because he cut off three thousand infants, wishing to slay the child Jesus, the ancient of the ages; but of all these ages I am father”). The child then instructs Matthew to go down the mountain to Myrna, the city of the man-eaters, and plant a rod next to the church Matthew and Andrew had founded. So, Matthew agrees to do so, and while entering the town he meets Fulvana, the wife of the king, and her son Fulvanus and his wife, Erva. All three of them were possessed by unclean spirits and cried out, “Who has brought you here again, Matthew? or who has given you the rod for our destruction? for we see also the child Jesus, the Son of God, who is with you. Do not go then, O Matthew, to plant the rod for the food, and for the transformation of the man-eaters: for I have found what I shall do to you. For since you drove me out of this city, and prevent me from fulfilling my wishes among the man-eaters, behold, I will raise up against you the king of this city, and he will burn you alive.” Matthew laid his hands on their heads and the demons were evicted and the people were made whole, and they followed him. Matthew went on into town and planted the rod as instructed and all manner of miracles took place, which we won’t get into here.

Now the king, Fulvanus, was happy when he learned that his wife and son and daughter-in-law had been delivered of their demons, but then he became jealous when he noticed that they were devoted to Matthew. His family had spent the night in the church with Matthew and the local bishop, Plato, and were baptized by Matthew. This increased Fulvanus’ jealousy and he decided to execute Matthew. It didn’t help that the demon Matthew had cast out of Queen Fulvana had taken on the form of a soldier and told Fulvanus that Matthew was a stranger and a sorcerer and a former tax collector, and was made an apostle by a person who was crucified, so why would you want your wife and son and daughter-in-law listening to the likes of him? The king agreed; he had no choice but to kill Matthew. Meanwhile, the Christ Child warned Matthew that the king’s men would be coming to get him. The king sent four soldiers after Matthew and Plato, but when they arrived at the church they heard voices but couldn’t see anyone, so they went back to the king to report that no one was there. This really made the king angry, so he sent ten more soldiers, who were man-eaters, and told them, “Sneak into the church and tear Matthew and Plato into pieces and eat them.” When the soldiers got to the church, they saw Matthew and Plato and the Lord Jesus, who was in the form of a beautiful boy holding a torch, which he used to burn their eyes! The soldiers ran back to the palace speechless. The king was really angry now, and he tried to get some advice on how to take Matthew from the demon/soldier, but the demon/soldier admitted that he, the demon, couldn’t do anything as God was protecting Matthew.

Now the story gets really strange: the king finds Matthew at the church and is struck blind. He cries out to Matthew to heal him, because God has decided that he wants Matthew in heaven now, and the king is to bury his body in their city as a testimony of salvation! So Fulvanus is healed and his sight is returned and he grabs Matthew by the hand and drags him to the seashore where executions take place. The king told the executioners that he heard that the God of Matthew saves those who believe in him from death by fire, but they’ll get around it by following his orders. He had them nail Matthew to the ground and cover him with paper smeared with dolphin’s oil and then cover him with brimstone and asphalt and pitch AND brushwood, and then light it all on fire. And if any of the Christians get in the way, they were to suffer the same fate. The executioners followed the king’s orders but when they put the fire to the highly flammable pile it turned to dew, and all the people watching cried out with one voice: “The only God is the Christians', who assists Matthew, in whom also we have believed: the only God is the Christians', who preserves His own apostle in the fire.” So the king had coals of fire taken from the furnace to be piled on Matthew. He also had idols of gold and silver brought to surround Matthew, to keep him from bewitching the fire. The entire pile was re-ignited, and Matthew looked up into heaven and prayed: “O God the Father, O Lord Jesus Christ, deliver me, and burn down their gods which they worship; and let the fire also pursue the king even to his palace, but not to his destruction, for perhaps he will repent and be converted.” When the king saw the flames rise higher and higher, he said, “Has your magic been of any help to you, Matthew? Can your Jesus help you now?” All of the sudden all the fire left Matthew and surrounded the idols instead. The fire melted the idols of gold and silver and also burned several soldiers to death. The king shouted “Woe is me! I should have used idols of stone, which don’t melt down!” The fire then took on the shape of a dragon and chased the king all over the place but wouldn’t let him find safety in the palace. Fulvanus ran back to Matthew and said, “I beseech you, whoever you are, O man, whether magician or sorcerer or god, or angel of God, whom so great a pyre has not touched, remove from me this dreadful and fiery dragon; forget the evil I have done, as also when you made me receive my sight.” Matthew forgave Fulvanus and actually called off the dragon, which disappeared, as did the flames. Matthew then looked up to heaven and prayed in Hebrew, commending his soul to the Lord and said, “Peace to you!” And, having glorified the Lord, he completed his martyrdom. Fulvanus took the body of Matthew and placed it on a golden bed. While they were bringing the bed back to the palace, all saw Matthew rise up to heaven, led by the beautiful boy, and twelve men in shining garments and wearing gold crowns met him. Everyone saw the beautiful boy crown Matthew, and in a flash of lightening all disappeared into heaven. And just when you thought the story couldn’t get any stranger, the king decided to put Matthew’s body in an iron coffin and throw it into the deepest part of the sea. Bishop Plato and others went to the church where they kept a vigil throughout the night. The next morning they came out of the church and saw Matthew standing on the water some seven furlongs from shore, accompanied by two men in shining garments and the beautiful boy. The king saw all this and ran out of the palace to the bishop and confessed in front of the bishop and priests and deacons that he believed in the True God, and in Jesus Christ, and asked to be baptized and given communion. After communion, Matthew appeared before them all. He told Fulvanus and his son that their names would be changed to Matthew, and that Fulvana’s named would be changed to Sophia, and Erva, the daughter-in-law’s name would be changed to Synesis. Then Matthew appointed the king a presbyter, and his son a deacon, and the queen a presbytress, and the daughter-in-law a deaconess. Then he blessed them and vanished. And they all went and destroyed all the idols and everyone in the kingdom became Christians. And King Matthew was given the gift of healing. And I’m exhausted after telling this story, as you probably are after reading it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Feast of St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople


O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence
in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John was born in Antioch in the year 347 to an illustrious Greek family. His father was a pagan and was the General in charge of the Eastern army. He died shortly after John's birth. His mother, Anthusa, was a Christian whose "piety was unexcelled among the women of Antioch." An older sister completed the family. John was educated on the family's estate and had the finest teachers. He was fortunate to be raised a Christian in a town where half the population was Christian. John did attend university in Athens for a short while, but most of his education was in Antioch. He studied rhetoric under the great Neoplatonist philosopher Libanius, a man who was violently opposed to Christianity. John was one of Libanius' best students, and Libanius wanted John to succeed him as head of the philosophical school "had not the Christians stolen him." John had met a monk, Diodorus, who lived in a monastery in the mountains, and John was very much interested in the monastic life. At the age of eighteen John suddenly turned against the teachings of Libanius. He decided to put aside all "this debauchery of learning" and become a monk. He was baptized by Meletius the Confessor, Patriarch of Antioch, but Bishop Meletius refused to allow John to live as a monk. He spent three years as an acolyte for the Patriarch's palace, and he later served as a Lector. Finally, after several years, the Bishop relented and John headed for the hills. He went to live with Hesychius, a Syrian monk whose name means quietness, and they spent their time in quiet meditation. They followed the Pachomian Rule, a very austere way of life. John retired to a cave, denied himself sleep, constantly read the Bible and spent two years without lying down because he believed that "a Christian must be watchful." He didn't have the physical constitution for such a life; his stomach shriveled up, his kidneys were damaged by the cold, and his digestion was permanently impaired. He realized that he could not doctor himself, so he came down from the mountain, went into Antioch and presented himself to the bishop, who sent him to the doctor and then assigned him to the office of "attendant upon the altar." Six years later Meletius died and Flavian became Patriarch of Antioch. John was ordained a priest and he began to develop this style of preaching. The people of Antioch, including the Christians, enjoyed the Theatre and horse racing, and they also had a great love of luxury. They were just a bit hedonistic. John preached against the past vices of the Antiocheans, he preached against their addiction to wealth, their love of the theatre, and their sensual enjoyments. When the people of Antioch, in reaction to a tax, rioted and destroyed statues of the Emperor (which resulted in the Imperial Army taking over the city and executing those involved), John preached for seven days in order to keep the peace. These sermons were written down and published as On The Statues and they are a great example of his preaching style. Due to his preaching and the pleading of Bishop Flavian, Antioch was spared destruction by the Emperor. John's preaching was loved by the Christians of Antioch, and he was called Chrysostom which means Golden Mouth. It is said that he would become angry because people would begin to cheer in the middle of his sermons! John was very happy to serve God and the people of God as a priest in Antioch.

This was a strange period in the Roman Empire. Constantine had moved the capitol from Rome to his new city of Constantinople earlier in the century, and the Patriarchate of Constantinople became an important See. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bishop Nectarius, was a very loose-living, corrupt person, and he spent his sixteen years as Patriarch gaining wealth and indulging in gluttony, drunkenness, and the accumulation of power. Emperor Theodosius had a certain advisor named Eutropius, a eunuch, whom he had sent to visit the monks in Egypt, where Eutropius heard of John. Bishop Nectarius and Eutropius decided that the next Patriarch of Constantinople would be the priest John of Antioch and not Theophilus of Alexandria (these were the days when there was no love lost between Antioch and Alexandria). For some reason, these two corrupt persons chose the very person who would work hard to clean-up Constantinople and put everyone back on the correct path; I guess the Holy Spirit influences whomsoever the Spirit wants to influence and this is another example of how God uses people, even corrupt people, to bring about God's plan. Eutropius figured that John would probably refuse the offer, and that, even if he did accept, the people of Antioch would not let him go, so he used his political power to get John to Constantinople. Eutropius sent a letter to Asterius, the Governor of Syria, ordering him to put John out of the city secretly and take him under a strong escort to Constantinople. He suggested that he have John meet him at one of the martyr chapels just outside of the city's walls, and that is exactly what Asterius did. John thought he was going to a pastoral evening with the Governor; he rode out of the Roman gate at Antioch, never to return. As soon as he got outside of the gate, soldiers pounced on him, and he was tossed into an imperial carriage and spirited off to Constantinople. There a lots of stories about men being grabbed by crowds and dragged to the bishop for ordination, but John is one of the few of which I've heard who was grabbed by the army and dragged to the capitol to be ordained a bishop!

A Patriarch may only be consecrated by another Patriarch, and Theophilus of Alexandria was in Constantinople at the time, but he refused to consecrate John, since he'd had his eye on this particular Episcopal Throne. Eutropius brought out a sheet of paper containing charges so damaging against Theophilus that the Patriarch's face turned white! Eutropius said, "You will consecrate him, or face trial on the charges listed here." So, on February 26, 398, John of Antioch was enthroned as Patriarch of Constantinople. The man who fought against luxury and despised kings now lived in a luxurious palace close to the Emperor's palace. Now the priest of Antioch who preached against love of wealth was standing before ornate golden altars and wearing silk vestments. Of course, as soon as he became Patriarch, he began to a campaign to sweep the Church in Constantinople clean of corruption. He took all the fancy furniture and silver-plated items of the bishop's place, along with the marble columns purchased for the Church of Anastasia, and sold them, using the money to build a hospital. He reformed the lives of the clergy; he learned that they were in the habit of living with widows and consecrated virgins, women who had dedicated themselves to lives of celibacy in the Church. John called the "spiritual sisters" in, harangued them for the evil they had caused and then called in the priests and told them that they were a blight on the Church. Within three months the "spiritual sisters" and clergy were up in arms against their bishop. He told the wealthy to stop making donations to the priests and to give their alms to those who were worthy and in need. The priests, who feared a loss of income, began a campaign of rumours against their new bishop. Since he lived quietly and alone, in austerity, they whispered that he spent his days in orgies, stuffing himself with fine food, and the rumours spread all over the city, until one day when John showed himself half-naked, with his rib bones showing through his half-starved and ravaged flesh, but his austerities simply angered the luxury-loving priests of Constantinople. He examined the church accounting books and ordered the bishops to list their expenditures. He preached against horse racing and theatre and he ridiculed the wealth of the city. He refused invitations to parties and he never hosted any official dinners. He spoke out against the sensuality of the city, against its dancing girls and their indecent songs. He spoke out against ostentatious wealth, asking why must people have houses with doors of ivory and ceilings inlaid with gold? Why must a nobleman have ten or twenty mansions while others lived in hovels? He was pretty much preaching the same line which made him popular back home in Antioch. He ridiculed the clergy for their frailties and the rich for their hedonism, and he must have known that one day they would all turn against him!

At first, the Empress, Eudoxia, supported John's campaign and she sent magnificent gifts to the churches and the poor. But later, for some reason, she felt that all of John's talk of reform was talk against her. She eventually became one of John's many enemies in the city. John's greatest and most vindictive enemy was Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, the man who, under threat, had ordained him bishop. He hated John because John was from Antioch; he hated John because he was made Patriarch of Constantinople when Theophilus was sure that he had that position in the bag. He hated John because of his austerities, of his monastic-style of life. Theophilus had spent part of his youth in the desert, and he had been dedicated to Origenistic mysticism, named after the great Church Father Origen of Alexandria, one of the first theologians to understand the use of analogy in scripture. But he suddenly turned against Origen and the communities of monks living in the Egyptian desert. He attacked the four Tall Brothers, monks of the desert whose ascetic life-style had brought the Romans to a love of monasticism. Theophilus excommunicated the Tall Brothers and banished them from his See. He sent armed ruffians and Ethiopian slaves to attack their mountain refuges. The four monks escaped to Constantinople where they put themselves at the mercy of John, Patriarch of Constantinople. John gave them a place to sleep but no other aid. He was an Antiochian and had no love for Alexandrian mysticism. He wrote a letter to Theophilus, begging him to receive back his flock, especially before they could file indictments against him. Theophilus answered that the fate of the monks was not his affair; he could not be put on trail in Constantinople, he could only be tried by his peers, the bishops of Alexandria. The monks asked the Empress Eudoxia for help, and she issued an imperial edict ordering Theophilus to come to Constantinople. He arrived in Constantinople in August of the year 403, laden with gifts for the Empress. John invited him to stay at the episcopal palace, but Thoephilus accepted a suite at the Imperial palace at Pera instead. He spent three weeks in Pera, giving banquets for the clergy and nobility, and holding conferences with the defrocked priests. Two deacons, whom John had expelled for murder and fornication, spent long hours with the Patriarch of Alexandria. One of them presented him with a long list of crimes committed by John: He accused Chrysostom of selling church property, leaving the church without saying his prayers, illegally deposing bishops in Asia, striking a man in the face, holding private audiences with women, dining on gargantuan feasts, and robing and disrobing at the bishop's throne. The were a total of 29 charges and none of them were true. The fate of the four Tall Brothers was now forgotten; now Theophilus and his group simply wanted to destroy John Chrysostom.

Theophilus called a Synod at the Palace of the Oak Tree, and there he sat, along with thirty-six bishops in judgment of John. Twenty-nine of these bishops were from Alexandria and had no authority in Constantinople, but they did have the protection of the Emperor, through Eudoxia. Another eight charges were added to the original twenty-nine, including a charge that John had called the Empress a Jezebel. This wasn't true, although he had once said that the clergy of Constantinople were like the priests who ate at Jezebel's table. The Synod passed a resolution depriving Chrysostom of all his offices. The Emperor ratified the decree, banishing John on the false charges of immorality and high treason. With just a word, John could have brought a mob into the streets to defend him, but that was not his way, and he gave a farewell sermon and slipped out of town. The next day an earthquake struck Constantinople, shaking the Imperial Palace and the Empress' bedchamber. She was terrified and wrote a letter begging John to return and that he would be restored to the Episcopal Throne. He refused to enter the Cathedral of Hagia Sofia, saying that he could only be restored to power by the Synod which had dethroned him. Theophilus and his Synod, however, were no where to be found; they had run out of the city right after deposing Chrysostom. A new Synod of sixty bishops met, and all the proceedings of the Synod of the Oak Tree were annulled. However, only two months later, Chrysostom managed to upset the Royal Family once again. Eudoxia had a silver statue of herself erected just across from the entrance of Hagia Sofia, and Chrysostom was enraged, comparing her to Herodias demanding the head of John the Baptist. This time Eudoxia was not frightened by earthquakes, and she acted immediately. That Christmas neither the Empress nor the Emperor took communion in the Cathedral, and the Emperor issued an edict stripping Chrysostom of his position and powers. This time John refused to obey, saying I have received the Church from God our Saviour for the care of the salvation of the people. I cannot desert it unless you thrust me out by force; only then can I plead your authority in defending myself against the charge that I have deserted my post.

On Easter Sunday, April 16, 404, the Emperor ordered 400 archers to scatter the Christians who accepted Chrysostom as their Patriarch. They polluted the churches, plundered the church treasures, and drove the catechumens half-naked into the streets. They tried to kill Chrysostom twice, and he stayed in the Episcopal Palace for two months. Finally, realizing that the lives of the faithful were in danger, he obeyed the Emperor's order and left Constantinople. He told the Christians of Constantinople to obey their new bishop, and he was escorted by army troops into a live in exile. He spent three years being moved to the farthest borders of the Empire, treated horribly by the troops who escorted him. Finally, on September 7, 407, in Comana, John of Antioch, Patriarch of Constantinople, the Golden Mouth, who defied emperors and loved God, died. The news spread like wildfire, and his burial was attended by monks, consecrated virgins, and ascetics from Armenia, Pontus, Cilicia, and Syria. His body remained at the shrine in Comana for thirty years, until, at the beginning of the year 438, the relics were solemnly removed to Constantinople, where the people gathered in close-packed boats lit with torches at the mouth of the river to see his relics arrive. His remains were deposited in the Church of the Apostles, with those of emperors and patriarch, and a new Emperor laid his head on the box which carried John's remain, imploring forgiveness before God for the wrongs committed by his mother and father. And so, John Chrysostom returned to the city from which he had been expelled.

Like all the saints, John Chrysostom was human and had his failings; he was very anti-Semitic and some of his writings can be disturbing for that reason. But we are very fortunate that his sermons were transcribed by his deacons as he was delivering them and they survive to this day. His farewell sermon to the people of Constantinople is an amazing document.

I think one of the treasures of the Book of Common Prayer is this prayer attributed to St. John Chrysostom: Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Feast of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo


Yeah, yeah, I know he's not that popular nowadays, but I likes him, so here's my regular St. Augustin sermon.

There was a time when I didn’t like Augustine; I just knew him as the “inventor of the concept of original sin” so I figured he was really just a harsh man, but the more I studied his writings the more I was convinced that he was a compassionate man and one of the greatest of the early theologians. I was able to make connections between events in his own life and in mine, and this helped change my original impression of the man.

Augustine was born in the year 354 in the city of Thagaste in North Africa. His father was a pagan but his mother, Monnica, was a devout Christian. Her tenacity regarding her faith resulted in the eventual baptism of her husband, although most folks doubted it would ever happen. Monnica made sure that Augustine had a Christian education although it didn’t seem to take during his youth and young adulthood. He attended the University at Carthage, where he studied rhetoric and considered becoming a lawyer, but he soon became more interested in literary pursuits. While in Carthage, he pretty much abandoned any Christian faith he may have had and he took a mistress, to whom he was faithful for fifteen years; they had a son together. He was a bit of a truth seeker, investigating various philosophies and the different religious disciplines popular in that era; he even cast horoscopes for a while. His experience with astrology led to his later denouncement of the so-called science. At the age of nineteen he joined the Manichees, a religion formed around the teachings of Mani, a third-century Persian who called himself “The Apostle of Jesus Christ.” Mani taught a dualistic form of Christianity which he claimed to have received in direct revelation from God. Peter Brown, in his biography of Augustine, writes of this group: The Manichees were a small sect with a sinister reputation. They were illegal; later, they would be savagely persecuted. They had the aura of a secret society: in foreign cities, Manichees would lodge only with members of their own sect; their leaders would travel around a network of ‘cells’ scattered all over the Roman world. Pagans regarded them with horror, orthodox Christians with fear and hatred. They were the Bolsheviks of the fourth century... Augustine was a hearer of the Manichees, a member of the outer circle. The Manichees required a celibate and vegetarian lifestyle, and Augustine wasn’t quite ready to give up his mistress (I don’t know how he felt about meat), but as a hearer he could subscribe to their teachings without giving up everything just yet. The Manichees lived harsh lives, and this is often attractive to young, spiritually inclined persons. I spent some three years in a cult which I joined at the age of nineteen, and I was attracted to the group’s fierce spirituality, which seemed so much more authentic than the faith of my parents, and I think that Augustine was very much influenced in the same way. But there was a point when the teachings of Mani no longer appealed to him; he became disillusioned when he met one of the great Manichean teachers, Faustus. Faustus was unable to answer Augustine’s questions about the faith. When Augustine finally finished his courses at University, he left the Manichees and Carthage, and moved to Rome to teach. But he was so disgusted with the actions and attitudes of his students, whom he considered dishonest, that he left Rome and moved to Milan to be the Teacher of Rhetoric for the city. Now during his time in Carthage his mother Monnica never stopped praying that he would become a Christian. While in Milan he fell under the influence of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. Ambrose was a great preacher and orator, and Augustine enjoyed listening to him. Over time, the teachings of Ambrose began to take hold in Augustine, and one day, in a garden in Milan, Augustine, wrestling with the idea of giving up his present life and having that change of mind and heart which is repentance, sat under a fig tree, crying and wondering what to do. He heard the voice of a child from a nearby house chanting: “Pick up and read; pick up and read.” He picked up his friend’s Bible, opened it at random and read Romans 13:13-14: Let us live honorably in the day, not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts. Augustine wrote about this event: I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled. And at that moment Augustine’s life changed. He was later baptized, and brought much joy to his mother’s heart. But he had many difficult decisions to make regarding the mother of his son, his teaching position, and his life in general. He left his position as Teacher of Rhetoric in Milan, and began to write essays on Christianity and philosophy and became a bit of a star in Christian circles.

Upon the death of his mother, he returned to Thagaste to take over the family estate. He and some friends decided to live lives of monastic discipline and start a monastery. Augustine went to the city of Hippo to see a friend and invite him to become part of their monastic community. The friend and Augustine attended services at the bishop's church; the bishop was preparing to retire and was speaking of the needs of the Church. The people in the church saw Augustine and grabbed him and wanted to make him Bishop, very much like what happened to Ambrose in Milan so many years before. The bishop, Valerius, managed to get Augustine to agree to become a priest in Hippo, and many witnesses thought that when Augustine burst into tears, he was sad because he wanted to be a bishop rather than a priest, but the truth was that Augustine didn’t want ordained ministry of any kind. He agreed to be a priest because he believed that this was God’s will, but it was not part of his desire.

There were two churches in North Africa in those days: the Catholic Church (not Roman Catholic) and the Party of Donatus, or the Donatists. During the Diocletian persecution the clergy were given a decision of whether to turn over the scriptures to the police and recant their faith or be executed. Some clergy gave up the scriptures and denounced their faith, but repented at the end of the persecution and returned to their churches. The Donatists believed that the sacraments administered by such clergy were not valid, since they had turned their backs on Christ and his Church. The Catholic church had reaccepted such clergy upon their repentance, but the Donatists refused them and fought with the Catholics. In many cities (much like today but unheard of in those days) there were two bishops: a Catholic bishop and a Donatist bishop, and the churches would fight and take over each other’s buildings, turning over the altars and trashing the place. Augustine preached against the Donatists, and when he became Bishop of Hippo he fought against them fiercely. Augustine taught that the bread and wine were a sacrament, not because of the worthiness of the priest, but because of an act of grace by God. The Donatists were harsh and unforgiving, but Augustine taught that God forgives all who repent, so the clergy who repented were still valid priests. Augustine became known as a great fighter of heresy. He waged war against the Donatists, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, because he desired that “no one be led astray.” Augustine wrote many volumes against the Donatist, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, and he also wrote many volumes on the scriptures and the Christian life. We could go on and on talking about his writings and many have, but we’ll move on to his final days. Augustine was a man who loved his books and his library. He spent the last three years of his life living in his library, editing and rewriting and organizing his papers. This library contained two-hundred thirty-two little books which made up ninety-three of his own works, not to mention many letters and copies of his sermons, which had been taken down by the stenographers of his admirers. He set about rezeroing his many works and produced Retractiones, a catalogue of titles, arranged in chronological order, with a brief note of the content of the work, along with Augustine’s comments. May of the remarks are self-criticisms, but quite often they were also attempts to explain himself. At the same time that he was organizing this library, he was also involved in a debate by correspondence with Bishop Julian of Eclanum, a defender of Pelagius. Augustine would spend his nights reorganizing his works and writing comments, and his days dictating letters and fighting with Julian. He was depressed to see the decline of Rome and its civilization and the military attacks of the Vandals which threatened Roman Africa. The Vandals were Christians, but Arian Christians, another group of heretics destroying the world in which Augustine lived.

In August of the year 430, Augustine came down with a fever. He knew he would die, and he wanted to die alone. His first biographer, Possidius, described Augustine’s attitude: He had told his followers that even praiseworthy Christians and bishops, though baptized, should still not leave this life without having performed due and exacting penance. This is what he did with his own last illness: for he had ordered the four psalms of David that deal with penance to be copied out. From his sickbed he could see these sheets of paper every day, hanging on his walls, and would read them, crying constantly and deeply. And, lest his attention be distracted from this in any way, almost ten days before his death, he asked us that none should come in to see him, except at those hours when the doctors would come to examine him or his meals were brought. This was duly observed: and so he had all that stretch of time to pray...

Augustine died and was buried on August 28, 430. A year later Hippo was evacuated and partially burnt, but his library escaped the destruction, and that is why we know so much about him today. His experience in rhetoric and logic, and his studies as a Neo-Platonist, along with his powerful intellect, made him a most worthy adversary of Greek philosophy, and his many written works are still studied by theologians today. His two books The Confessions and The City of God are considered classics. Yet I think it his understanding of God’s love and grace, and his desire that no one be led astray that made Augustine the mighty warrior for Christ that he was. The faith which Augustine received and defended was strengthened by his gifts, and we, the Body of Christ, are very much blessed because of his great faith. The Manichees, the Donatists, and the Pelagians all believed that humans had the power to live perfect lives or that humans could stop the work of the Holy Spirit, but Augustine taught us that “man is but a little piece of God’s creation” and that God so loved this piece of creation that God would forgive us all our sins. Augustine believed strongly in God’s grace and love. May we, too, experience God’s love and grace.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle ). Of course, we don't know much about Bartholomew; actually, we really don't know anything. He is listed in the synoptics, but not the gospel attributed to John, while Nathaniel is mentioned in John's list but not in the lists in the synoptics, so some scholars think they may be the same person. Bartholomew name or person does not appear in The Acts of the Apostles. According to Eusebius' History of the Church, when Pantaenus was doing missionary work in India he was shown a copy of Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew which tradition stated was a gift from the Apostle Bartholomew. There are traditions which teach that Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycoania, and Phrygia.

Jerome and Bede both mention a Gospel of St. Bartholomew, but no copies exist in our day.


There is a tradition that Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia, flayed alive and crucified upside down for having converted Polymius, King of Armenia. However, according to the text The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, he was beaten with rods and then beheaded.

The Martrydom of St. Bartholomew really doesn't concentrate on the martyrdom, but tells a fantastic story of Bartholomew's battle with the demons behind the idols in "India." The definition of "India" in those days was a bit more broad than that of our day: it bordered on Ethiopia, Media, and the actual subcontinent of India. Bartholomew was in "India" (probably Armenia) where there was an idol to the god Astaruth. People would bring their sick to the Temple of Astaruth and sacrifice to the idol, and the sick person would appear to be healed physically, but would actually become "more diseased in soul." When our man Bart showed up in town, Astaruth stopped healing folks. People didn't know what to do, but they went to another town to a Temple to the god Becher, and the priests asked Becher what was going on. Becher said, and I quote: "From the day and hour that the true God, who dwells in the heavens, sent his apostle Bartholomew into the regions here, your god Astaruth is held fast by chains of fire, and can no longer either speak or breathe." The priests asked, "Who is Bartholomew?" and Becher responded, "He is the friend of the Almighty God, and has just come into these parts, that he may take away all the worship of the idols in the name of his God." The priests said, "Really? What's he look like? We need to find this guy!" Becher gave the following description: "He has black hair, a shaggy head, a fair skin, large eyes, beautiful nostrils, his ears hidden by the hair of his head, with a yellow beard, a few grey hairs, of middle height, and neither tall nor stunted, but middling, clothed with a white undercloak bordered with purple, and upon his shoulders a very white cloak; and his clothes have been worn twenty-six years, but neither are they dirty, nor have they waxed old. Seven times a day he bends the knee to the Lord, and seven times a night does he pray to God. His voice is like the sound of a strong trumpet; there go along with him angels of God, who allow him neither to be weary, nor to hunger, nor to thirst; his face, and his soul, and his heart are always glad and rejoicing; he foresees everything, he knows and speaks every tongue of every nation. And behold now, as soon as you ask me, and I answer you about him, behold, he knows; for the angels of the Lord tell him; and if you wish to seek him, if he is willing he will appear to you; but if he shall not be willing, you will not be able to find him. I entreat you, therefore, if you shall find him, entreat him not to come here, lest his angels do to me as they have done to my brother Astaruth." After that, Becher held his peace.

The priests headed into the streets to find Bartholomew, looking into the faces of each person going by to see if they matched Becher's description (how many guys with black, shaggy hair and a blonde beard could there be in that town?). They found him when a person possessed by a demon shouted out, "Apostle of the Lord, Bartholomew, your prayers are burning me up!" Our man Bart said, "Hold your peace and come out of him!" and the man, who had been possessed for many years, was freed. Polymius, the king of Armenia, just happened to be standing across the street when this all happened, and, having a daughter possessed by a demon, he wanted Bart's help. His daughter was chained in a dungeon, because she was tearing the skin off her limbs and biting everyone who came near. Bart came and cast out her demon, and she was whole. The king was so happy that he loaded camels with gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and clothing for Bartholomew (who left the palace immediately after the exorcism), but they couldn't find Bart and brought everything back to the palace. Early the next morning, as the sun was rising, Bartholomew appeared in the king's bedchamber and said, "Why did you look for me all day with all that gold and stuff? Those gifts are appropriate for those who seek earthly things, but the only thing that interests me is the gospel." He then preached the Good News to the king. He also explained to the king what was going on in Astaruth's temple, and that an angel of the Lord Jesus Christ was keeping the demon Astaruth in fiery chains. The king and Bart agreed to go to the temple that morning while the priests were sacrificing to see Bartholomew take care of Astaruth. When they arrived at the temple, the priests were sacrificing, when all of the sudden a voice came out of the idol, screaming: "Refrain, you wretched ones, from sacrificing to me, lest ye suffer worse for my sake; because I am bound in fiery chains, and kept in subjection by an angel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom the Jews crucified: for, being afraid of him, they condemned him to death. And he put to death Death himself, our king, and he bound our prince in chains of fire; and on the third day, having conquered death and the devil, rose in glory, and gave the sign of the cross to his apostles, and sent them out into the four quarters of the world; and one of them is here just now, who has bound me, and keeps me in subjection. I implore you, therefore, supplicate him on my account, that he may set me free to go into other habitations." Bartholomew then said to the demon, "Confess, unclean demon, who is it that has injured all those that are lying here from heavy diseases?" The demon said, "The devil, our ruler, he who is bound, he sends us against men, that, having first injured their bodies, we may thus also make an assault upon their souls when they sacrifice to us. For then we have complete power over them, when they believe in us and sacrifice to us. And when, on account of the mischief done to them, we retire, we appear curing them, and are worshipped by them as gods; but in truth we are demons, and the servants of him who was crucified, the Son of the virgin, have bound us. For from that day on which the Apostle Bartholomew came I am punished, kept bound in chains of fire. And for this reason I speak, because he has commanded me. At the same time, I dare not utter more when the apostle is present, neither I nor our rulers." Bart said to him, "Why don't you save all who come to you?" and the demon answered, "When we injure their bodies, unless we first injure their souls, we do not let their bodies go." Bart asked, "How do you injure their souls?" and the demon answered, "When they believe that we are gods, and sacrifice to us, God withdraws from those who sacrifice, and we do not take away the sufferings of their bodies, but retire into their souls." Bartholomew then turned to everyone in the temple and said, "Behold, the god whom you thought to cure you, does the more mischief to your souls and bodies. Hear even now your Maker who dwells in the heavens, and do not believe in lifeless stones and stocks. And if you wish that I should pray for you, and that all these may receive health, take down this idol, and break it to pieces; and when you have done this, I will sanctify this temple in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and having baptized all of you who are in it in the baptism of the Lord, and sanctified you, I will save all." The king gave orders to the people and they all returned to the temple with ropes and crowbars but were unable to pull the idol down. Then our man Bart had them take the ropes off the idol. Facing the idol, he said, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, come out of this idol, and go into a desert place, where neither winged creature utters a cry, nor voice of man has ever been heard." At that, the idol rose off of its foundations and crashed to the ground, breaking into little pieces. At the same hour all the idols in the temples bell to the ground and were broken into pieces. And all witnessing this miracle cried out: "He alone is God Almighty, whom Bartholomew the apostle proclaims!!" Then Bartholomew raised his hands to heaven and prayed a long prayer which I will not quote here, but rest assured that it was full of good gospel imagery. All responded "Amen!!" and suddenly there appeared an angel of the Lord, shining brighter that the sun, winged, and four other angels holding up the four corners of the temple. And with his finger the angel sealed the temple and the people and said, "Thus says the Lord who has sent me, As you have all been purified from all your infirmity, so also this temple shall be purified from all uncleanness, and from the demons dwelling in it, whom the apostle of God has ordered to go into a desert place; for so has God commanded me, that I may manifest Him to you. And when you behold Him, fear nothing; but when I make the sign of the cross, so also do ye with your finger seal your faces, and these evil things will flee from you." He then showed them the demon and cast him away. Then the angels disappeared. The king, the queen, their two sons and all the people were all baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and King Polymius even laid aside his diadem to follow Bartholomew and the way of Christ.

Polymius' elder brother was Astreges, king of the Greeks, and when he learned what had happened to the temples, and that all the people had converted AND that Polymius had put aside his diadem, well, he was less than pleased and sent an army to find Bartholomew and bring him in chains to his presence. When Bartholomew was brought to the court, the following conversation took place: The king says to him: "Are you he who has perverted my brother from the gods?" To whom the apostle answered: "I have not perverted him, but have converted him to God." The king says to him: "Are you he who caused our gods to be broken in pieces?" The apostle says to him: "I gave power to the demons who were in them, and they broke in pieces the dumb and senseless idols, that all men might believe in God Almighty, who dwells in the heavens." The king says to him: "As you have made my brother deny his gods, and believe in your God, so I also will make you reject your God and believe in my gods." The apostle says to him: "If I have bound and kept in subjection the god which your brother worshipped, and at my order the idols were broken in pieces, if you also are able to do the same to my God, you can persuade me also to sacrifice to your gods; but if you can do nothing to my God, I will break all your gods in pieces; but believe in my God." The king was then informed that his god, Baldad, and all the other idols, had fallen down and broken into pieces. Hearing this news, the king rent his garment, and then ordered Bartholomew to be scourged and beheaded. Twelve thousand people who had been converted by Bartholomew's witness came and took his body and laid it in the royal tomb of the king of Armenia. When Astreges heard of this, he ordered that the remains be thrown into the sea, but the faithful moved his remains to the island of Liparis.

Here is how the account ends: And it came to pass on the thirtieth day after the apostle was carried away, that the king Astreges was overpowered by a demon and miserably strangled; and all the priests were strangled by demons, and perished on account of their rising against the apostle, and thus died by an evil fate.

And there was great fear and trembling, and all came to the Lord, and were baptized by the presbyters who had been ordained by the holy apostle Bartholomew. And according to the commandment of the apostle, all the clergy of the people made King Polymius bishop; and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ he received the grace of healing, and began to do signs. And he remained in the bishopric twenty years; and having prospered in all things, and governed the church well, and guided it in right opinions, he fell asleep in peace, and went to the Lord: to whom be glory and strength for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos


¡Feliz Día de Madres a todos mis amigas en Costa Rica!
I don't believe in a three-tiered universe, and I don't believe in the literal interpretations of the Ascension. I don't believe in the Assumption; I prefer the term "the dormition." However, I have no problem at all with honoring the Theotokos (my Nestorian tendencies aside). Instead of writing a hagiography today, I'll share some poems and paintings I've found in the intertubes.

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The Dormition of the Theotokus

Mary's Assumption
There was silence in heaven, as if for half an hour-

Isaiah's coals of wonder sealed the lips

Of Seraph, Principality and Power,

Of all the nine angelic fellowships.

The archangels, those sheer intelligences,

Were silent, with their eyes on heaven's door.

So must our fancy dower them with senses, 

Make them incarnate in a metaphor.

There was silence in heaven as Mary entered in, 

For even Gabriel had not foreseen

The glory of a soul immune from sin

Throned in the body of the angels' Queen.

Blessed be God and Mary in whose womb

Was woven God's incredible disguise. 

She gave Our Lord His Body.
In the tomb 
He gave her hers again and bade her rise.

Bright from death's slumber she arose, the flush 

Of a chaste joy illumining her cheeks;

Among the motherless in heaven there was a hush

To hear the way a mother laughs and speaks.

Eye had not seen, nor ear of angel heard, 

Nor heart conceived - until Our Lady's death - 

What God for those that love Him had prepared

When heaven's synonym was Nazareth!

Her beauty opened slowly like a flower, 

Beauty to them eternally bequeathed.

There was silence in heaven; as if for half an hour

No angel breathed.
Alfred Barrett (1906-1985) 
Lentfoehr, Therese, editor. I Sing of a Maiden. New York: Macmillan Company, 1947.


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) The Assumption of the Virgin

Memories of the Assumption
They bore her in a reverent group

To a holy place,

Left her body in the earth -

Her body, "full of grace".

But Thomas, tardy, slow of foot,

Absent when she died, 

Spent with sorrow, craved to see 

Her of the Crucified.

There was a swift intake of breath,

A hurried silent prayer:

Startled they opened the new-made tomb

To find but lilies there.
Sr. M. Angeline 
Robert, Cyril. Our Lady's Praise in Poetry. Poughkeepsie, NY: Marist Press, 1944.


Bartolome Murillo (1618-1682). Assumption of the Virgin.

The Assumption  

No painter ever caught the magic other going--

This was a matter of an inward growing,

Simple and imperceptible as thought.

It was no pageant wrought

Of sounding splendor, welter of gold bars

Of molten day, mad stars,

Flurry of quick angels' winging,

Bursts of their laughter ringing
In wild bliss.

The simple fact is this:

Love conquered at long last.

Her eager soul fled fast

With a great gladness like a song

Unto to her Spouse above,

And her pure flesh would not be parted long

For sheer love.
by Joachim Smet O.Carm


Raffaello. The Coronation of the Virgin

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Feast of St. Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Today is the Feast of Mary of Magdala, the Apostle to the Apostles, a saint whose memory has been much maligned over the millennia by misogynist clergy like Pope Gregory the Great.

Mary of Magdala has become a popular Biblical figure once again, due to the popularity of the piece of junk I should've written and made a million on novel The DaVinci Code. She was a popular figure in the early days of Christianity, too, for different reasons, and some Gnostic groups claimed that she was the leader of the Church rather than James or Peter. We do know that she was one of the women who followed Jesus. According to Luke’s Gospel: And it so happened soon afterward that he traveled through towns and villages, preaching and announcing the good news of God’s imperial rule. The twelve were with him, and also some women whom he had cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary the one from Magdala, from whom seven demons had taken their leave...

For some reason, possibly misogynist or because he felt threatened by the ministry of women, Pope Gregory the Great identified Mary Magdala as the "reformed sinner" or former prostitute in a sermon, and this image has remained in popular imagination. Some mistake her for Mary of Bethany and she has been identified with the woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, but that is not what the scriptures say. According to the scriptures she was healed by Jesus and followed him; she was at the foot of the cross (according to the gospel attributed to John), and she was one of the first to see the empty tomb and the Resurrected Jesus. The story of her weeping at the tomb, her accusations to the one she thinks is the gardener, and then her sheer joy at the realization that she is talking to Jesus is one of the most touching and inspiring of the Resurrection stories.

A heretical-Gnostic understanding of Mary’s place among the Twelve is an important aspect of The DaVinci Code, and it is based on the non-canonical Gospel of Philip, as well as the terrible Life of Mary Magdalen in the Legenda Aurea, a thirteenth-century document by Jacopo di Voragine. According to the Legenda Aurea, Mary was named after a fortress, Magdalum. She and her siblings, Lazarus and Martha, were or noble birth, the children of Syrus and Eucharia. The family was very wealthy, and their riches were distributed amongst their three children: Mary owned the Castle Magdalum, Lazarus received a part of Jerusalem, and Martha received the village of Bethany. Mary became a woman of the streets (?!), Lazarus a knight (!?), and Martha took care of the the possessions of both Mary and Lazarus "with great prudence." So, Mary, whose love of wealth and pleasure had led her to lead a most dissolute life and be known as "a sinner," wandered into Simon the Leper's house while Jesus was visiting and preaching. She walked up to Jesus, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them. Simon protested, Jesus defended her action and forgave her sins. After the Lord was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, Mary traveled with St. Maximus, under the orders of St. Peter. She and Lazarus and Martha and Maximus traveled as missionaries for a while. Eventually Mary decided to retire to the Forest: Mary Magdalene desired meditation and went into the forest wilderness where she lived incognito for thirty years in a place prepared for her by the hands of angels. In this place there were neither fountains nor trees nor grass. This indicates that our Lord did not want to sustain her with earthly food but with heavenly nourishment. Every day she was led to the heavens by the angels—seven times for the seven hours of prayer—and with her own ears she heard the chants of the heavenly hosts. And every day she was taken back to earth with this sweet nourishment so that she never needed earthly food. After thirty years of living on "spiritual nourishment", she died and was buried in Aix, in Southern France, by Bishop Maximus.

There are several verses in the Gospel of Philip which claim that Mary Magdala was the mate of Jesus, that they were man and wife, and that they were also united spirits and had to marry for some cosmic reason. That Jesus and Mary were married is also the basis of a book titled Holy Blood, Holy Grail which was on the New York Time’s Best Seller list a few years ago, along with The DaVinci Code. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, ("historians" who chucked the historic method out the window for this book) claim that after the crucifixion, Mary Magdala, pregnant with Jesus’ child, left Palestine for Gaul, and that the royal family of France are the descendants of Jesus. Now, I don’t have any problem with the idea that Jesus may have been married, and I have no problem with the idea that he could have been married to Mary of Magdala; I have no theological opposition to the idea, but the idea that the Royal Family of France, or the Royal Family of any country is descended from Jesus is something with which I have a lot of trouble! I don't believe that the Emperor of Japan is descended from the Sun Goddess, either.

There is a non-canonical book called the Gospel of Mary, and it claims that Mary Magdala was a leader of the early church, and I’m sure that she was a leader, but I don’t think that Jesus loved her more than the others, as is claimed in that gospel. Mary of Magdala is regarded as the equal of an Apostle in the Eastern Church, and I think that this makes sense as she was the first person to witness the Resurrected Jesus. As far as the DaVinci Code’s claim that she was the “personification of the Divine Feminine” in the earliest days of Christianity, I must disagree, as the Divine Feminine is manifested in Sofia, or Wisdom, also a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Here is a poem about Our Mary of Magdala written by Christine Schenk, CSJ.

Mary of Magdala
What say you, Magdalen?
Fellow traveler, Jesus' friend,
Courageous companion
Who accompanies
Death's bitter-shroud end.
No prostitute you,
A Woman Jew
And Apostle.
Denigrated, despised
by jealousy, fear, and more.
Betrayed by your brothers,
whose spin control
requires you go from
WomanWitness to Whore.
And besides, it would still be alright.
(Unlike many a man-creature,
you well understand the
odd God ways of the Teacher).
Did you blame yourself, my sister,
for their failure to comprehend
All of Love's bold claims
for
Newborn Jesus-Way ?
Mary, WomanWitness, WomanFriend,
What have you to say?
Only

"Rabbo'ni!"

Christ comes again.
Amen, Alleluia, Amen.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Feast of St. Independence Day

Hey kids! It's that time of year again!
St. Independence Day was born on July 4, 1776, in the city of Philadelphia in the British colony of Pennsylvania, or "Penn's Woods," and then again on January 14, 1784, in the city of Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania in the newly-formed United States of America.

Also known as "Uncle Sam," St. Independence Day had the amazing power of causing men to enlist in the U.S. military merely by pointing at them. His charism of salesmanship enabled him to sell hot dogs, baseball, beer, and Grateful Dead records.

At the age of 18, young Mr. Day, who had an almost unnatural hankering for apples, wandered about the countryside of the new nation, carrying apple seeds from his home state of Pennsylvania. He created nurseries in the wilderness so that his land-stealing countrymen would have sustenance as they cheated the indigenous people of their ancestral homelands. He negotiated disputes between pioneer settlers and shared his religious beliefs with anyone unlucky enough to get him started on the subject. He wore ragged clothing and a pot on his head, an image which became very popular with young people in the late 1960's and early 1970's, who, in homage to St. Independence Day, called themselves "pot heads." He also cut down many trees as possible in the areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, with the help of his Big Blue Ox, Babe. After his flirtation with the exciting and ruggedly manly world of the Lumberjack, he rode a tornado down to Pecos, Texas, spending a few years as a cowboy, using a cougar for a horse and harnessing the Rio Grande to water his ranch. He gave up the cowboy life to become a steel-drivin' man. During the early years of the Twenty-first century, he was waterboarded and tortured by members of the Bush administration and chased by remote controlled drones by the Obama administration, but has managed, barely, to survive.

St. Independence Day's contributions to theology are, firstly, the concept that God created the United States of America as a Christian nation to spread the gospel, first throughout the central continent of North America by the means of Manifest Destiny, and then throughout the world as a side-effect of imperial wars, and secondly, the Prosperity Gospel in which God rains cash, cars, and big houses upon those who roll on the floor and swing from the drapes in a spittle-flecked ecstatic state while proof-texting Bible verses. Amazingly, this theology is quite popular amongst those living in dire poverty in parts of the Developing World.

The Feast of St. Independence Day is celebrated by watching parades, blowing things up, and eating as many hot dogs as possible within a two-minute period.

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