Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Holy, holy, holy

1 Peter 3:13-22
3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?

3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,

3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil.

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.


Holiness has always been a vexing problem for Christianity. "Stand away from me, for I am holier than thou," Isaiah commands, and ever since some have taken that as the necessary statement of holiness: that one can be holier than another, and so contaminated by the presence of the unholy. Ironically, the gospels all tell us this was precisely the problem Jesus presented. As Simon the Pharisee says when Jesus allows the prostitute to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair (an explicitly sexual act in 1st century Palestine, something that would earn at least an "R" rating and a condemnation from the FCC if it were to be broadcast on television and understood as it was intended): "If this were truly a holy man, he would know what kind of woman this is who is touching him." And he wouldn't let himself be touched, because to be touched by the unholy is to become defiled and unholy yourself. Jesus even tells a parable about it, one that starts out as a joke about the priest and the Levite and the man left for dead by the robbers. To touch him would make the priest and the Levite "unclean," and yet the Samaritan is, to the poor Jew dying in the ditch, unclean, too. Holiness has always been a vexing problem for Christianity.

And so, this morning, via Athenae, we have this about the Pope and those who are fit, or unfit, to be admitted to the holy sacrament of communion:
The bishop [St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke] and new pope share the same views on many moral and theological issues. For instance, in June, when U.S. bishops released a statement saying lawmakers who consistently supported abortion rights or euthanasia were "cooperating in evil," and could be denied holy Communion - very much Burke's take on the topic - Ratzinger said the statement was "very much in harmony" with his view.
Archbishop Burke, the article notes, is likely to become "the premiere cardinal in America," which prompts Athenae to respond with her inimitable directness and insight:

Just what that town needs, another person navel-gazing and bloviating about easy bubble-gum issues, doling out Pop Church every Sunday, and ignoring as hard as he can the wars being waged by those on the right side of whatever the church's pet issue will be that day.
Holiness is supposed to be a matter of purity, and of honoring the source of purity. The "holy of Holies" in the Temple at Jerusalem was the place where God was wholly present, and to enter that place while unclean was to risk certain annihilation: not from God's wrath, but because, rather like matter and anti-matter in science fiction stories. holiness and uncleanness simply cannot exist together in the same place. The former annihilates the latter. Indeed, the priest who went into the inner sanctum of the Temple did so on only one day a year, and then with a rope tied to his ankle. Should God actually turn God's countenance upon the unfortunate priest, he would be struck dead just from God's holiness (and his necessarily mortal unholiness), and they would have to drag the corpse out.

Jesus supposedly did away with all of that, and showed that God was concerned most with the least and the humblest and even the most unfaithful (the story of the anoininting in Luke puts the lie to any sense of boundaries placed upon God's love and acceptance of those we like to call "God's children.")

The words from 1 Peter don't refute intolerance, and don't even seem to argue expressly for tolerance. But they make an argument based fundmentally on trust, and on the ultimate responsibility of God. It is easy to read those words and justify barring someone from the sacraments, or from the holy presence of God. It is easy to justify what we do in the name of "suffering for good." But even the evangelicals can do that much. The difference is, Peter is telling us to let God take the responsibility, and we need only be responsible to God for our confession.

"Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated." All exercises of power, are ultimately exercised from fear. To not act is to risk pollution, defilement, error. But what error do we fear? Not keeping the Sabbath? "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Letting the wrong people come to the table? Ironically, Jesus ends the visit of the prostitute with the words of dismissal that give the Mass its name. First he tells her: "Your faith has saved you." (but what faith? A pornographic act is a sign of faith in God?). And then he tells her: "Go in peace." But the blessing Jesus will not withhold, we have to withhold? And we do it, claiming we are doing what is good?

"...but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord." The same Christ who said: "Let the children come to me." The beggars, the orphans, the urchins, the useless mouths that had to be fed until they were old enough to work for the family, the ones who had no real woth in society until they became adults. The same Jesus who said: "Come to me, all of you." The same one who hung out with whores and sinners and tax collectors and beggars and women and anyone who wasn't holy, or special, or even particularly faithful. The same one who didn't seem much interested in our notions of boundaries; and who certainly wasn't ever afraid of doing good by including someone in that the religious authorities said should be left out.

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