I like to go out at night and look up at the sky. I also sometimes am doing it while I smoke but I did it even in the years when I rarely or never smoked. I like to find Orion’s Belt and try to identify Miranda, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix and Arcturus or start with the Big Dipper of Ursa Major and then find the North Star Polaris and also Arcturus. If I can connect both of those pieces of the sky and maybe see Venus and another planet then that is a good night for me — I don’t use a telescope, rarely use binoculars and my knowledge and skill are limited. The sky is never the same but much of it is fixed in patterns much older than human civilization and certainly than my own life. the stars move in ways easily remembered once you get started and the planets wander a different set of courses. Stargazing is not that much like observing human life. I am considering following the North Star to a new life in Alaska. not quite literally, but I am thinking of starting again there and I do think of it sometimes as gaze at Polaris. We’ll see how that goes. But Lent is also a time for a journey more like driving to Alaska than the journey that I will undertake in all probability — it is a bit like hiking to Alaska for some but not for most of us. But it is across and internal landscape of recollections and reflections, it is across a landscape of rituals too.
Lent, life and learning are all processes. Each has an inner logic and meaning proper to it. none can be perfected in an instant. I recently assembled a swing set. That was not nearly as much of a project as living a good Lent, much less undertaking the rest of life’s challenges. This Lent I have spent some time in the company of the people who participate with Sick Pilgrim spirituality. they have tolerated me fairly well and I find much to empathize with in their group and activities despite having a very different perspective than the typical members on a number of things. This evening I hope to attend a penance service. It gets harder and harder to untangle the knots and i find it hard to be generous because I am very aware of so many wrongs against me for which I have no redress, aware of human areas of indebtedness which are mutual but painful to both parties and which can never be resolved, aware of the limits of my capacities to really transform my life in Christ. It is a process — but not an easy one for me. One of the priests scheduled to be at tonight’s penance service was once my spiritual director when we were much younger. It is hard for me to imagine that I could ever have a spiritual director again, but I have not given up the idea entirely. I have made little project in my plan to go to Alaska unless things improved for me a lot but a complete stranger has offered to help me with some of the logistics and for some reason I am inclined to let her help — so maybe it will happen. Getting from Abbeville to Anchorage or Ash Wednesday to Easter are both processes. Neither are instantaneous.
My Facebook work status remains “none” it was “Nothing at None” when I selected it from a set of options but now it is just “none”. But that is not simply and strictly entirely accurate. I stay pretty busy and although some of that busy time is spent in Catholic religious activity — most of the busy days are not spent largely that way. Some of the time is spent trying to get to Alaska, a lot is spent trying to make life work where I am and some is spent caring for people and projects in places that I have left behind indefinitely. Some less busy time is spent staring at the night sky — while smoking or not. It seems like time is really flying this Lent and in my life as a whole. I hope to get to a penance service this evening. But am aware of competing interests and concerns. The season of Lent is fast approaching its culmination from Palm Sunday, through Holy Week and into the Holy Paschal Triduum and then into the Easter season. Palm Sunday also known as Passion Sunday commemorates Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion. It was to be a very busy week for him with lots of teaching and some
A very special part of the holidays is Holy Thursday. on some years for many others not celebrating Holy Thursday (and as well as in memory and Memeorial of Jesus’s Passover for many who DO joyously and sorrowfully celebrate Holy Thursday) this is one of the days of Passover. Lent’s culmination is a time to remember dates like the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread and Catholic Christian celebrations related to the Lord’s Supper and the Last Supper. This Lent that will come on to my calendar for the first time as a minister of communion. I will be tuned into the Bible readings around that part of the Lenten Season in a slightly different way.
” On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the paschal lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where do you wish us to go to prepare the Passover Supper for you? ” He sent two of his disciples with these instructions : “Go into the city and you will come upon a man carrying a water jar, Follow him. Whatever house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” Then he will show you an upstairs room, spacious , furnished and all in order. That is the place you are to get ready for us.” The disciples went off. When they reached the city they found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover supper.” Mark 14: 12-16 New American Bible.
Later on Jesus would speak of having longed for this holiday feast. He would rejoice in sharing it with those he did before his terrible Passion — in which he would be the Lamb of God. This holiday feast is essential to understanding the Eucharist, Breaking of Bread and Lord’s Supper which would take place soon and which we commemorate tonight. In the time since Jesus celebrated that Last Supper, the Christian Church has passed through many trials and been near the Gates of Hell if not quite to them. Hammered by Roman persecutions, Barbarian invasions, Vikings, Islam, Communism, Nazism and a thousand other threats it has produced a countless number of good effects across many centuries in numerous lands and places. It has gained knowledge, richness and tradition and been adorned with beauty in its history. However, there have been many bad things that have happened to it and within it as well. I want to discuss some of that badness in this note today. The Sick Pilgrims I have been associating with include the stranger who has tried to help me make it to Alaska. We are a group ( to whatever degree I can represent the group) in some way connected to the Paschal mystery of Lent’s culmination and the Eucharist. So is Family Missions Company which has a team with my sister Susanna and her three older sons in Haiti right now. So also are the Catholics gathering at the Penance service tonight. It is a set of mutual obligations culminating in a ritual feast that is not also a regular meal. It is rooted in the Passover meal of the Jews but it is a Christian ritual. I want to write a little about the connections of the Christian and Jewish practices of the season. It is not a simple subject and I will just graze over it really.
Some like to find a total harmony between Jewish and modern Christian Paschal practice that does not exist and that false finding is a fault. It is now usually a truly modern fault but it has roots in the past. But it is a much lesser fault than modern antisemitism which is rooted in faults of antisemitism that have haunted Christianity but is found in new and horrible forms more recently. Antisemitism, which in itself is a very imperfect term is really one of the great blemishes on Christianity. That does not mean there are not intrinsic conflicts between the Jewish faith position which is not explicitly also Christian (and it has always been rare since the second century for a community to be truly Jewish and truly Christian) and the Christian Church. However, the idea that somehow the Holocaust was a long time ago or that it was within a great tradition in Christianity are both absurd ideas. people slaughter each other and are slaughtered and those without long status in a state homeland are most likely to be slaughtered and Jews fall into this category and often haven many places and this is a long-standing situation. But the Nazi extermination of Jews is the worst and most outlying expression of some very distinct and new horrors. While supported by many baptized Christians Nazism was clear enough about the difference to be officially Anti-Christian in it policy and Philosophy. First get rid of the Jews and then get rid of Christianity was there clear plan. They knew Jesus was a Jew after all.
1. When Jews converted to Chrisitianity in medieval Europe the King was their godfather and a grerat feast was thrown.
2. Medieval Churches and early renaissance churches in Inquisitorial Spain and elsewhere were built with the sign of the Star of David often included. These churches had abeilief that the extant remains of the House of David were still royalty on Earth and had no trouble sseing how Jesus related to the House of David and struggled in his lifelong postion as regards the House of Herod.
3.For centuries all Christians knew that Jewish rabbis in a hundred cities instructed gentiles in the Septuagint or Greek Old Testament throughout the Hellenic world and Jews were respected intellectuals in much of the pagan Greek world. Those who studied but did not convert were called God-Fearers and it was in the God-fearer network that early Chrisitianity mostly spread. But modern Jews, Protestants and Anglicans reject the Greek version of the Old Testamant and the Greek Orthodox church has been much disabled by Islam and decimated by it and so there is no historic basis of understanding that is true to the origins of the Christian Church except in the tenuous and disturbed fabric of the Roman Catholic Church.
4. Rome has had recent centuries of the Church influence by the very poor heritage of Western Europe and Britain who now often find themselves ot good for Rome and lost much of its other constituency to Islam. It is able to conventiently forget that when the Holy Family fled into egypt they went to a city that was in a cultural and religious state of sophisitication which may be among the greatest ever achieved by mankind. They create a poor ,dirty persecuted Jew more and more as Western Europe loses its sense of all that formed the Christian experience.
I love St. Francis, but he was not a scripture scholar and Jesus was not much of a mendicant although he accepted some gifts. Jesus was an Earthly Prince — Son of David, from a long dethroned royal house. He was a Rabbi accepted at Synagogues . He was a Craftsman who could earn his keep. He was more than all those things but not less than any of them. The scene quoted from Scripture above is often misinterpreted here :
” He sent two of his disciples with these instructions : “Go into the city and you will come upon a man carrying a water jar, Follow him. Whatever house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my huest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” Then he will show you an upstairs room, spacious , furnished and all in order. That is the place you are to get ready for us.”
The passage clearly shows his sophisticated secret network and not a miracle. His Apostles carried some weapons even in heavily guarded Jerusalem and he had many followers. The later Medieval and early modern imitation of Christ as mostly poor and obscure is just antisemitic and antichristian nonsense. He did suffer poverty, homelessness and persecution for good causes.He did accept crucifixion. I will not get to all of that now.
I see a few things also of interest in this time of year as I remember it . Our family like many (but not the majority of) Christians has sometimes celebrated a Pseder meal with lamb, bitter herbs and a translation of the ancient Hebrew words into the vernacular of our community (English). I like to try to do this and attend Holy Thursday Mass but sometimes I catch the earlier broadcasts of the Mass where there is a conflict with this custom. I let the occasion interrupt my work and I think especially of other Christians even those like the one helping me to get to Alska — even if it may not happen. For we are all on a journey together.
Spiritually, the Christian Church may be the spotless Bride of Christ but in many ways it is a train wreck. I say that with conviction, I simply think that it is still better than much else in the world even in its flawed human aspects. We all need to clean up our acts to some degree or other -especially me.Happy sober Lent and Happy Upcoming Holidays to all of you. Happy Spring if nothing else. But if you have time while being happy to think about developing our culture in more healthy and authentic ways — then I am all in favor of it.
I am not sure how to describe my overall state of mind at the moment. But I am full of memories good and bad and hoping that things are looking up.