An Early Christmas Carol

The Unjust Steward


This past Sunday, the Gospel reading was Luke 16:1-13. In this reading, a steward, (a trusted servant responsible for the household of his master), has wasted his master’s goods. He is told to prepare an accounting, as he will be removed from his position. In something of a panic, he calls in his master’s debtors and reduces their debts to curry favor with them that he might have some recourse after losing his position. On its face, he appears to continue to mismanage his master’s affairs, again for his own benefit. And then we have this odd reaction from his master:

“The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence…” Luke 16:8a

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This is followed by Jesus saying to the Pharisees: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” Luke 16: 9

So, am I the only one that was ever confused by this? Looks to me like Jesus is telling us to lie, cheat and steal to gain heaven. I’ve never been particularly enlightened by any of the homilies I’ve heard on this either. Most times the focus is on the earlier reading from Amos, which talks about how the people “observe the Sabbath” by not selling and cheating in the marketplace, yet, their hearts and minds are focused on when they can resume their dishonest lives instead of on the worship of God. Let’s face it, there is a lot of material to work with there, in our time as much as 2000 years ago.

And then some kind of attempt is made to tie in the other reading and the Gospel into a social justice theme.

But, I just get stuck on Jesus telling the Pharisees to buy their way into heaven.

There is a practice called lectio divina, a way of praying with Scripture. It involves slowly reading, more than once, more than twice, a passage. It involves letting some word or phrase soak in, something that calls your attention. It involves meditation and contemplation. By meditation, practically speaking, is meant to attempt to immerse yourself, see the people, imagine the smells, the weather, feel the heat or cold, the sandals on your feet, the rough bench or whatever, as you sink into the scene. By contemplation, practically speaking, is meant to listen with that certain inner self to whatever might come to you.

For me, this also entails reading a couple of different study bible translations and reading the commentary. I had gone back to do that this morning and it hit me. Charles Dickens has written the best commentary on this Gospel reading, A Christmas Carol.

Think of the master in this parable as God. Think of all of us as stewards of God’s creation, responsible for the proper use of our master’s belongings. Think of how we waste God’s manifold gifts.

If the master is understood to be God, and if we understand that everything is gifted to us, and we see how we use and abuse and misuse our gifts, then we are all unjust stewards at some level, and Scrooge is the quintessential example. He has used his gifts to amass wealth to the detriment of others. Scrooge is shown his own grave by the Ghost of Christmas Future. And if dying is seen as “losing our position” as stewards of God’s household, then is not Scrooge’s actions Christmas morning (and everyday after) the same as the unjust steward when he reduces the debts owed to his master? And do we not commend Scrooge for his prudence? As Dickens noted: “…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

Scrooge tells the ghost of Jacob Marley that he was always a good man of business. The response:

Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

I think I understand the parable now.

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A Sound of Thin Silence

No Silence Even in Silence

By: FRATER BOVIOUS


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I remember two occasions when I became aware of silence On Thursday, September 13, 2001 I became aware of the fact that no planes were flying anywhere near my work. My place of employment was within a couple of miles of DFW Airport, and the sight and sound of airplanes taking off and landing was ubiquitous. I had come to work a little early, stepped out of my car, and the stillness hit me. It was accented by the sound of some bird chirping – a sound I probably would not have noticed on the previous Thursday.

The only other time I can remember that sensation was from one day as a young teenager there was a power failure, and everything in our house lost power. The silence had a quality I had never experienced before. Not just that the refrigerator was not running, or the air-conditioning. There were times in the house when none of those were on. Something else was missing – I couldn’t place it. Years later I learned that any house with electricity has a 60 cycle hum. What was missing was that hum of the wires in the walls as the electricity changed directions 60 times a second. We generally don’t hear that sound because it is non-threatening. Our ears hear lots of things we disregard.

But, the sound is there regardless.

You can become aware of this sound – at least I could when I was in my 20s. Just sit in a quiet room with nothing running and cultivate a relaxed alertness. It is there.

I have this theory regarding things metaphysical that if you can’t come up with a real world analogy that points the way to understanding of something immaterial but real, then you may not know what you are talking about. But all of the above seems to harmonize nicely with this experience of Elijah:

“And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”  – 1 Kings 19:9-13

There is a relaxation technique to help one release tension. You deliberately tense muscles, hold, then release. You become aware of the tension that you are letting go of, and realize the tension you had been holding. You can experience the relaxation, the reduction of tension. You become more aware of  your body. Similarly, when sound is increased, when there there is a lot going on, and then it stops, you hear things you would not hear.

One translation of “a still small voice” had it as “the sound of thin silence.” It is the voice of God, underlying everything, singing all things into existence. We don’t generally hear the voice of God – there are a lot of other things we pay attention to. But, you can attune your ear if you choose.

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A Public Service Announcement

Catholics for Choosing Stuff

Public funding for torture, dismemberment, and murder is a Catholic social justice value.

Equal access to comprehensive services, including torture, dismemberment, and murder services, is a moral imperative.

The harsh restrictions on public funding for torture, dismemberment, and murder mean that lower-income women don’t have access to torture, dismemberment, and murder when they need it. Women who are dependent on Medicaid, employees of the federal and state governments, military members, and millions of others who are dependent on public funding simply don’t get the same kind of access to torture, dismemberment, and murder as women with money. That is not Catholic.

Our campaign tells the stories of Catholics across the country who want meaningful, accessible torture, dismemberment, and murder choices for everyone, no matter how much money they have, where they live or what they believe.

We believe that everyone deserves access to torture, dismemberment, and murder services.

And remember, what you choose is irrelevant – only that you can choose. Choose stuff! Any stuff! It’s all good.

Catholics for Choosing Stuff

A PAC of the Church of Moloch, NE Convention

“Be a chooser, not a loser”

 

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Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Social Doctrine | 2 Comments

A flash of silver amidst the Gold | Relax–

If you like the occasional zing! of swords in church, you’d like the Roman Catholic rite.  I’ve never looked into any meaning of anything to do with the Knights of Columbus, other than …

Source: A flash of silver amidst the Gold | Relax–

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Christian Kung Fu

A Daily Slog

By: FRATER BOVIOUS


Kung Fu is a word that conjures up images of deadly acrobatics. But the word simply means extended effort. Not part of the definition, but critical to it, is the idea of humility. To subject yourself to authority, to subject yourself to long and intense effort toward a goal requires humility in its fullest sense. And that does not merely mean being self-effacing.

Humility is simply knowing who you are.

In today’s Gospel, Paul is writing to the Corinthians about his preaching to them. After talking about how he handed to them what had been handed to him (A master, student, student becomes master, gets his own students, kind of relationship – a staple of virtually every “kung fu” movie) he talks about how the resurrected Christ appeared to the apostles and then:

Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.

Now that seems to be the type of humility most people think about – especially the aberrant understanding of Christian humility, a breast pounding mea culpa. But, read what he says next:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.

Paul understands who he is. He owns where he came from, he owns his present status as Apostle, and he owns the efficacy of God’s work in and through him. And he understands that achieving anything of worth involves a daily slog:

Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.

For anyone that has studied a martial art, anyone that has spent hours mastering the piano or other instrument, anyone that has applied themselves diligently over time to achieve a level of skill, the idea of kung fu or slogging through is understood. As it was put by Leonardo da Vinci:

“Oh God, Thou sellest all good things to men at the price of effort.”

Quick aside – This line grabbed my attention:

Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.

It would seem that our current cultural measurement of human value is not quite in sync with that of Jesus.

 

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Tick Tock Universe

Routine Spontaneity

By: FRATER BOVIOUS


I had an instructor in a martial art give me a book titled “The Power of Limits”. Among other things the book talked about the Golden Mean, aka the Golden Ratio, which you can find in every building or artifact of nature that people unanimously find to be beautiful. One of the underlying arguments of the book was that limits are foundational to creativity and beauty. As Chesterton noted, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.”

The cover of the book had this on it.6980c4de59088d97ba14db777fdbf530

Whether the constraint is a sheet of paper, a canvas, a building, clay, marble – there is a decision, conscious or not, to limit oneself, and then create within that limit. Some creativity specifically employs a temporal constraint – music for example. If you google it, you will find articles on the Golden Mean and music.

In the back story to the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien describes the creation of the universe in terms of music, a composition, a chorus. The first time I read his creation story I thought it somewhat banal. Now I think it’s genius. Mostly because if the Creator stops making music – the music stops.

The rhythms of our life are limits. Sunrise, sunset. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Sleep, wake, work, rest, sleep. Birth, growth, decline, death. Mundane repetition. I suppose it is not surprising that the universe is sometimes viewed in terms of clockwork. The old clocks, with their gears and springs, weights and chains, are ornate and beautiful. Marvelous.

But the universe is not a clockwork. It is not based on the idea of a clock. The idea of a clock is only useful because it accepts that part of the universe that repeats with a certain majestic sameness, and echoes as through a mirror darkly, the source of everything.

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The Torn Curtain

Breaking Out or Breaking In?

By FRATER BOVIOUS

There is an Ignatian practice called the Daily Examen in which one looks back over their day and more or less takes stock of how they did. I’ve read several different guides for this practice, and many begin with, “Come into God’s presence.” One version struck me, it said “Recall that you are in the presence of God.”

So, last night, I didn’t get past that step. I started thinking about the difference between coming into God’s presence, sort of like walking into a church or something, vs remembering that you are always in God’s presence. Sort of like realizing I am always in church, but distracted. Then I hear bells and remember where I am.

I started thinking about the veil being torn in two in the Temple at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross – the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of us rabble. I remember being told the barrier between us and God had been removed. I had this image of God escaping from his little tabernacle out into the world. The Kingdom of God is at hand indeed. Of course this is not theologically accurate… or is it? Not that God was trapped of course, but the sense of separation is certainly thematic. If the High Priest had to go into the Holy of Holies, there is certainly the idea that God was in there, and not out here.

When the veil was torn, did it simply mean we could all enter the Holy of Holies? Or did it mean that the Holy of Holies exploded out to fill the world? That we are all in God’s temple right now, wherever we are? “Recall that you are in God’s presence.”

I then thought about how frail my response is to the money lenders in the courtyard of the temple. Then I fell asleep.

Response to Daily Prompt Frail

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