Politics

A piece I wrote for October 2020 Connections, the newsletter of St. Matthew’s.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When I was nine or ten, I remember coming home from school and wanting to watch cartoons and Star Trek, but every day and every channel was the same boring show.  All these people talking.  And talking.  Sometimes they would become very animated in their talking, but it was always the same.  Even though I had no idea what was going on, I would sit and wait, hoping they would get tired of all that talking so that I could see what Captain Kirk was up to (I always hoped for the Klingons to arrive.  Very exciting.)  What were these folks talking about?  At the time, all I knew was that somebody had broken in and stolen a gate from a water building.  Who knew they had such valuable things at the waterworks.  Months later, we had a new president, the former resigning in shame.

I’ve shared with you in the past: I don’t preach politics.  Never have.  Never will.  Instead, I choose to preach the Gospel, because as I’ve also shared with you, I believe that the Gospel Message is the most radical and revolutionary message every spoken.  Politicians come and go and nations do the same, “‘but the word of the Lord remains forever.’  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:25)  

In such heated political times as this, you may be wondering if I’m going to change my “policy” on preaching politics.  The answer is: absolutely not, but I would be a poor priest if I did not provide some guidance through it, and the question that keeps running through my mind is: How should we as a Christian people respond?  Scream a little louder?  Sign another petition?  Join a protest?  Make nasty comments on social media (the equivalent of doing nothing)?  Vote (always a good idea)?  Not to be the pessimist in the group, but all of these have been tried and all they’ve really produced are people shouting even more loudly, paper wasted, more violence, a disintegration of tolerance and respect, and politicians who, once in office, end up being no better than their predecessors.  

Thank you for the commentary, Fr. John, but you still haven’t answered the question: what should the Christian response look like?

I’m glad you asked!

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)  What are we to do?  We are to be the royal priesthood, proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  Not as our earthly leaders do, but as our Lord and Savior has taught us.  We are to be a nation, a Christian race that is set apart, not indulging in the sins of the world, but demonstrating the path of righteousness.  We are to be the Lord’s possession, not giving our allegiance to things that are passing away, but to Him who was, who is, and who will come again.  We are to be all these things, witnessing not to a campaign slogan, but to the eternal Love of God.  Unlike everything else that makes the news these days, what we do for the Kingdom won’t make good TV, it won’t draw large crowds, and it will likely only change the lives of a very few, but… You’ve all heard the story before:

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”

That is the ending I’ve always heard, but recently I came across another:

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.* 

Perhaps that’s just a bit too naïve, too optimistic, but I’m really not a pessimist. 

Make a difference… be the light for one person.  This is our politics.  Be the leader, the royal priest to one person, pointing them to the path of eternal life, so that they may do the same for another.  It is through this great work of the Gospel that we will affect eternal change in the lives of many and that we may affect change in our society.

*“The Starfish Story” is adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley

Moon

I know I talk about the moon.

I keep waiting for it to bleed.

There is no satisfaction…

There is no pain…

There is only the bleeding moonand our hope for some solace. That is not likely to come either. To breathe and sigh and breathe and sigh…

The moon bled.

The stars cried.

And you were left with an empty glass in your hand.

Answers? There are none.

Home: Clear Creek Monastery

And then it was just time to come home…

A brief story of a priest looking for the Way

I’m not one to finish a book that I don’t like. I can be in it a couple hundred pages and think to myself, “This just isn’t any good,” and put it on the shelf, never to be considered again. (I’ve even done that with a Stephen King book, but I may try that one again.) Last night, as I sat in my room at the monastery, I didn’t think it wasn’t good, I just thought I had done all I could do and I was ready for home, so I packed up and headed west.

I love serving God, His people, and His Church. I actually don’t know what I would be doing with my life if I was not a priest, but in the midst of all this COVID-19 business, I didn’t feel like I was being much of a priest. IT guy, audio and video guy, social media guy, hold down the fort guy… yes. At first, all this was new and fun to learn. It was a huge diversion from the things that I have been doing for the last fifteen years as a priest, but was I being a priest? I thought, no. Those aren’t priest things. Not only that, but the priest things were also taken away: no visiting, no services, no last rites, no anointing, no…. It felt like I was no longer a priest, so I thought I would head off somewhere that I believed would at least allow me the opportunity to feel priestly. Instead, I felt humiliated, defeated, stupid, wicked, and so far from God-when I compared myself to the monks-that I was unworthy.

To try and work through these things, I attempted to pray with the brothers. Y’all remember how I told you about taking French in high school and failing it? Yeah, well let’s just say my Latin is even worse. I spent all my time just trying to figure out where we were and little to no time actually praying, which only made me feel all the more ignorant and frustrated. (If you see someone new in our church, struggling to find the right page in the right book, do not hesitate… you go to them and you help them, even if you have to sit with them the entire service!) In addition (and I will not criticize the monastery), but when you do not feel welcome in a place (this probably has more to do with the nature of the monastery and not the heart of the monks), it makes it all the more difficult.

When I was in high school, I think maybe my senior year, I attended Christmas Eve Mass. It’s too long of a story to get into here, but before that service ever began, I walked out of the church and did not return for over a decade. Sitting through the morning offices on Monday, I encountered those same emotions, but I did not and do not want to walk away-never have!-but instead of wallowing in it, I sat through those services, just listening, and then that afternoon I went and prayed in the only way I really know how and it was there that I got to truly speak with Mary and then to my King, Lord, and Savior. He heard my cry… and he answered me.

IT guy, audio and video guy, social media guy, hold down the fort guy… yes. Priest… no.

No? “…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)

Priest? Yes… for such a time as this.

Clear Creek Monastery was only a geographic location. For me, it was not very holy, welcoming, or special. However, along the Way, I encountered Jesus and we sat together in a green pasture during the cool of the day….

Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

When I knew these things, I closed the book before it was done, put it on the shelf, and drove home.

You are loved by God.

You are loved.

Amen.

John+ A Priest.

Day Six: Clear Creek Monastery

There are eight daily offices that the brothers pray here at the monastery: Mattins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. In 1549/1552, the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer were released and it was through the edits of Thomas Cranmer that these offices were combined and simplified, with Mattins, Lauds, and Prime becoming what we know as Morning Prayer. All that to say—“When in Rome…” I am a happy heretic!, but I knew exactly what I was doing this morning.

The combining and shortening of the services may seem like cheating or even laziness to some, but I can see a great deal of wisdom in it as well. To pray the eight services as the monks do takes between five and six hours a day. That may work for those who have dedicated their lives to the work of prayer, but for those that must plant the fields, build the houses, work in hospitals… those things that all the rest of the world does in order to keep the world going… five to six hours a day in church just wouldn’t work. I suppose the hope is that everyone would simply say, “Prayer is more important and to heck with work,” but that’s not the way we roll. (I am reminded of 2 Thessalonians 3:10b) Instead, we would skip the prayer all together and do the other, which points to the wisdom of the combining and shortening of the services. Even as a priest, I don’t know that I could pull off five to six hours of prayer a day (maybe I should be), but I can give one to two hours a day with Morning, Noonday, Evening, and Compline. And, as I mentioned the other day, I may not be able to pray a fifteen decade Rosary everyday, but I can pray one that is five decades. Are we saying that prayer is not important or even less important than it should be? I don’t think so. The Book of Common Prayer has been around for five centuries and our Anglican tradition has produced some remarkable saints. A retreat like this is VERY good for the soul. It allows freedom to simply be with God without the external pressures of the world, but I believe God wants most of us out in the mix, not only doing the work of prayer, but doing the works of mercy, charity, and fulfilling the other duties of state. The Apostle Paul tells us that we are one body and that there are many gifts: the brothers here exercise those gifts in one way and we—outside the walls and the cloisters—exercise the gifts God has blessed us with. It is together that we form the Body of Christ.

As best I can tell, I am the only person here from Oklahoma. Some of the brothers are from France, California, and other foreign countries and the other nine guests are from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Iowa, etc. The closest is one fella from Frisco, TX. I was not aware of this, but apparently it is a ‘thing’ to go to all the different monasteries. Many conversations along the lines of, “Have you been to ___ monastery in ___?” “The food in ___ monastery is really good, but they have a full time cook.” I don’t know that I would call them monk groupies, but they do know all the lingo, have the necessary books, and don’t appear to get lost in the services. Perhaps some are shopping around for one they would like to join, but I encountered one who goes from one to the next, working for awhile, then moving onto the next. He has actually travelled the world doing this. Also, the number of visitors at this monastery has increased considerably because of COVID-19. Many of the others have had to close, but Clear Creek has been fortunate so far. With guests coming from so far, I pray that they remain safe.

Apparently me going forward at communion has been a point of contention with some of the other guests (they’ve all figured out that I’m the odd one of the group.) What they did not realize until yesterday is that I have not been receiving (I know the rules), I just go forward for a blessing. Some folks get twisted up in their knickers knowing that they can’t receive in an RC church, but it has never bothered me. It is their house, but I am thankful that we offer the bread and the wine, the Body and and the Blood to any who are baptized (being baptized before receiving is a rule I stick with… we’ve all got our limits.)

In the image below, can anyone else hear Madonna singing Vogue? “Strike the pose…”

Next week she is not likely to speak to me. In addition to being left at the Cat Resort for ten days, on Friday she will be neutered, declawed, and chipped. If you see me with scratch marks all over my face, you’ll know that payback is an unhappy Queen. Perhaps I should get her that emerald tiara she’s been pestering me about (would make for a better peace offering than my arm.)

I pray you have joy. I pray you witness the miracles. Blessings.

Day Five: Clear Creek Monastery

We got to sleep in today. First service did not begin until 5:15 a.m. I was determined to follow along properly today, so I arrived ten minutes early and set my books for Vespers and Lauds. (The attentive student has just done a face palm.) We were ten minutes into the service, me desperately trying to figure out where the heck we were, when it hits me: Vespers is the night prayer. I needed to be set for Mattins and Lauds. It was then impossible for me to follow along with Mattins, because I didn’t even have the right book! Oy. (Again: note to self—remember what it must be like for those who come to the Episcopal Church for the first time.)

I have used the analogy to explain many different things, but it holds true here as well: learning to pray with the monks is like learning to pray the Rosary. At first you’re just trying to figure out the mechanics of it all (which bead is what and who’s on first) then learn the prayers, then put the two of those together, then—maybe—actually begin to worship. It is a complicated process. I keep kicking myself because I can’t seem to manage a full service, but honestly, I’m still on the first bead and trying to find my place on the page. Is Ok.

I know a fella who wanted to go for a walk with Mary. But on this day, when he found her along the way, she was not wanting to walk… she wanted to dance. She took both his hands in hers and like children, they danced in great skipping circles. They smiled, then they began to laugh. (The fella came close to laughing out loud and disturbing his neighbors!) Jesus joined them. Mary was on his right and the fella was on his left. All three holding hands in a circle. They danced, but after awhile, Mary left the two alone and the fella and Jesus sat in the long green grass. When he looked in Jesus’ eyes, the fella confessed his sins. Fully aware that the Lord knows all before he spoke, it was still difficult to say it all. The Lord heard his cry, he was forgiven, but the battle must continue. The fella does not like this battle, but…

I preached on the pearl of great worth a few Sundays back. Bishop Robert Barron believes that this pearl is the imago Dei within each of us and that when we discover God’s image that we were created in, then we will give up everything in order to attain it… to be restored to it. I keep thinking, in order to get to it, we must first find the oyster, crack through a hard outer shell, get through a good bit of messy stuff, and then… Occasionally, God will give us glimpses of the pearl. It is worth the search.

I’m hungry… prayers then lunch.

Hugh O’Donald (sp) was crowned King, so the Queen was not knocked about the head and neck too badly today during lunch. As they are still fighting (arguing at this point) I somehow doubt the peace will last.

Interesting that this battle should be raging as I have been reading about the parameters of “just war” as set forth by Thomas Aquinas. Jus ad bella (reasons behind a just war), jus in bella (morals while in war), and in the middle the “double effect” (the search for the intent, allowing that some evil / bad (accidents) may come through the seeking of a greater good (essence))…. I believe I have that right.

The “intent” is something that we have discussed a number of times and in discovering the intent we discover the sinfulness / righteousness of an action and to what degree. If you are speeding: were you speeding just for the heck of it, regardless of the law; or were you speeding while rushing to get someone to the hospital to save their life? The intent of the first is sinful, while the intent of the second—double effect—was to save a life even though a law was broken. Clear as mud? Good.

We studied these things in seminary, but seminary is like drinking from a fire hydrant… for three years. Some of it sticks, some of it makes an impression (the details all lost), and some… well I’m still finding things in the Bible that I would swear were not there the day before. The study and implications of GOD are without end.

May the Lord our God bless you all.

Day Four: Clear Creek Monastery

I should have kept my mouth shut, for my boasting yesterday (stating that I was catching on to the flow of the service) came back and bit me today. Two and a half hours of prayer this morning and I couldn’t tell you a word that was said! Got lost on the opening sentence and never found my way back into the service. And cheers to having the service in the vernacular!! I know the fellas don’t much care for our favorite Queen, but thank you Elizabeth and all the rest for insisting on the language of the service be the language of the people. Even though I did not understand, I felt the service did my soul good, but how much more so if I had been able to truly read / hear the very words of God. This is NOT a knock against what they do here, for Latin is their language for worshiping the One True God. For some, worshipping in Latin may be a source of pride, but not for the fellas here; it is simply who they are. You will not even be considered for admittance to this monastery until you are able to read, write, and speak Latin.

Off to Sext (early afternoon prayers). More later.

One thing that I’ve known about myself is that I am a Pharisee… to the core. I like my phylacteries long, the good seats, my Mazda, AC set at dang near freezing, 18 year old scotch, a comfortable chair, a kitten sleeping on my face… One thing that I’ve known about myself is that I am spoiled. There I’ve said it and confessed it. I’m not entirely sure what to do about it and I’m not entirely sure that I would follow through in doing it if I did. For these and all my other sins for which I do not now remember…

The brothers are very quiet. Very little talking, but yesterday, as I was walking the halls, I encountered just about all of them. They were filing outdoors, two-by-two, chattering and laughing like a bunch of school kids. I do not know their private schedule, but I’m guessing this was a Sunday afternoon treat where (if they had any… I’m one to talk) they were letting their hair down. It was a joy to see this side of them and to know that behind the discipline and obedience to the rule, they are ‘regular folks’ who want to connect with others and be… heard? Today, all of their free time has been consumed with Latin class (I guess you can never learn enough of that one!)

Now, about Queen Elizabeth: we continue the lunchtime reading of this dark woman and the atrocities she committed against the Irish. “Father forgive me…”, but I must say, I find myself sitting at lunch getting defensive! The Blessed Virgin Mary is my Mother and my Queen, but I want to set these boys straight on some of their history, particularly about our Elizabeth. I mean seriously, who was it that “took a bath”, the English or the Spanish Armada? Take that! (If any of them are reading this, I may not make it out of here alive. If I am simply taken hostage, do not pay the ransom. We shall not satisfy their thirst for blood or coin!…. now he’s just being silly.)

Reading: Interpreting Jesus by N.T. Wright, a brief overview of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, and Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. “One of these things is not like the other…”

I need to get started on the Sunday sermon… I have an idea.

Staying unplugged for even a day is trying, which means it is a good thing; however, I do check my text messages once a day for a message from the Cat Resort, because they send me a daily picture of the other Queen in my life. Yeah… she’s cute! In the process of looking for this message, I saw an email come through which I could not resist…

As some of you know, I have been accepted to begin my studies with the Anglican Order of Preachers (aka: The Dominicans) and the reading list for the first term arrived today. Not too heavy, not too lite. Definitely looking forward to it. This is a three year process. More on that at another time, but I’ll be posting about it all the way through.

I pray you are well. Pray for me a sinner.

Shadow selfie…

Day Three: Clear Creek Monastery

I made it through Mattins, Lauds, Low Masses, Prime, breakfast, and… two hour nap. My goodness these fellas can pray. Today it all started with a 4 a.m. alarm and we were in the pews by 4:50 a.m. Mattins on Sunday is especially long with at least fifteen to twenty Psalms recited (I’ll have to count them up).

I actually did much better at keeping up with the service. I pace myself reading the English version while listening to the monks chant. I did get a bit lost in the Third Nocturn of Mattins (we were about an hour and a half in at that point), so I finished reading the English and then sat back and let the chanting sweep over me. You would think that the chanting would put you to sleep, but there is a ‘hum’ to it that enters the body and soul. Not irritating… somehow narrows and focuses the mind.

Prior to Mattins, I read Book One, Chapter Eighteen of The Imitation of Christ: the Examples of the Holy Fathers. A part of which reads: Oh, how great was the fervor of all religious in the beginning of their holy institution! Oh, how great was their devotion in prayer! How great their zeal for virtue! What great discipline was in force among them! What great reverence and obedience in all, flourished under the rule of a superior!

I am not so naive as to think that these fellas are perfect or that they don’t struggle with the same daily issues as the rest of us. It is just that they are outward and visible signs of intentional obedience to God’s commands and it is fascinating to witness. For example, they sit in the choir so we see all the movements. Early in the morning, the younger members’ heads bob up and down trying to stay awake, and when any makes a mistake (whether in pronunciation of the Latin, chanting a wrong verse, moving at the wrong time) the individual monk will stop, step forward, and briefly kneel as an act of penance. Is pronouncing instificationibus a sin? Lord, I pray not!, but for them, they missed the mark—“He who aims for the stars shoots higher than he who aims for the trees.” I believe many aim for the stars… I know that many of you do, perhaps its just that we’ve got different constellations we’re shooting at.

Sunday… there was meat for lunch!

I went for that walk with her today. (I’ll work on my handwriting.)

The I become Him

The we become You

The circles are not rippling out, but in. We must pass through the excess, the noise, the ego…. so that we become Him. As I (we) individually become [in] Him (Jesus), then corporately (we) become You (plural / Holy Trinity). We have lost our focus. I’ll work on the sermon version (give you a heads up as to when I’m planning to preach it so that you can stay home.)

There wasn’t a place to add this above, but I wanted to mention the soup we had last night for supper. It was cold milk. Milk served in a soup pot and ladled into soup bowls. Yep. Milk. Trust me: I had a few Dots Pretzels when I got back to my room.

These are the icons in four of the side altars. The other four altars are windows:

Following None (the 3:00 p.m. time of prayer), there was Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Time with the Real Presence of Jesus.

I want you to know that I prayed deeply and passionately for St. Matthew’s today. I think that is where her message came from. I prayed for my soul and the soul of St. Matthew’s to become Jesus. Just as the Real Presence was on the altar during Benediction, I want for us to become a Living Sacrament, the Real Presence of Jesus in our community. We have work to do, but it is the Lord’s work and He will see it through. Someone say, Amen!

Day Two: Clear Creek Monastery

Up at 4:30 a.m. this morning. Showered, dressed (cassock), and in the chapel by 5 a.m. We prayed until 8:15 a.m. After the first two times of prayer—Mattins and Lauds—it was time for Low Masses. This one was completely new to me. There are a total of ten altars (let the Altar Guild beware!) and a Mass was said at each of them simultaneously, but… they were said silently (either that or my hearing is really shot.) If you think we bow and kneel a lot… wow. It is truly beautiful to watch and listen to, which is about all I can do, although I’m beginning to learn how to follow along in the various books. It also helps to sit behind someone who knows what they are doing. (Although we in the Episcopal Church do less of the bowing, etc. I am certain that for someone new to us it feels the same way as I feel here. It is an excellent reminder that we must be who we are, but we also be accessible to those who are unfamiliar with our practices.)

Breakfast: the food is actually pretty good, but it is easy to see why these fellas are all so skinny. Actually, they’re probably just really healthy. I don’t know that we’ve seen a piece of meat yet, which makes me glad I stopped for the Big Mac on the way here (there’s meat in a Big Mac… right?) And I do confess to having smuggled in a few snacks, along with some instant coffee. Speaking of which, the coffee here is brilliant! I plan on seeing if they have some for sale in the bookstore.

During each of the meals we have someone read to us. For breakfast we heard a few chapters from the Rule of St. Benedict. Lunchtime… now that was fun: I doubt it was for my benefit, but being the only Anglican / Episcopalian here I had to stifle a few chuckles. The reading was a bit of church history and we heard about that excommunicated apostate and heretic Queen Elizabeth I. Her daddy got raked over a few coals as well. I think it was just a timing thing—can’t see them hauling that one out just to smack the heretic priest around—but I could almost feel the eyes boring into me. When the Abbot shook his head at one particular Elizabethan atrocity, I made sure I had a clear path to the exit. If I see them stacking wood, I’ll be making an early exit.

I have a fifteen decade rosary that I prayed today, most of it standing before this statue. (She could easily be the statue in The Golden Fistula. Truly beautiful and cut from a single piece of white marble.) Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do as a priest serving at St. Matthew’s, but to spend an hour and a half praying the rosary is not something I would ever be able to do… and you know… that’s OK. I’m going to find some time today or tomorrow and take a walk with her. She always shows us the most remarkable things and always leads us to her Son. What a great comfort to know we have a Mother who loves and treasures us as she loves and treasures her own Son.

It is 4:15 p.m. right now and Vespers is not until 6:00 p.m., so I’m going to sign off for now and either sneak in that nap or take that walk… be back a bit later in the day…….

The nap won, but I made it up in time for Vespers. Supper, then Compline.

Found a delightful book: Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life by St. Padre Pio of Pietreclina. A bit like the collection of sayings from St. Josemaria Escriva in The Way, et al.

“I hope that Jesus will not only be pleased to enlighten me in the guidance of the souls He entrusts to my care and to sustain and comfort me in difficulties, but that He will Himself make up for my deficiencies.” (L1 1369)

Blessings to you all. I pray for you many times each day.