|Father Michael's Seventh & Eighth Rules for the Interior Life: "One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison," & "Choose Your Battles Wisely."
In the United States:
The Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest & Religious.*
At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, first lesson from the secondary feria of yesterday & today combined:**
• I Corinthians 8: 1-7, 11-13; 9: 16-19, 22-27.
…second & third lessons as below, otherwise…
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-27.
• Psalm 84: 3-6, 12.
• Luke 6: 39-42.
…or any lessons from the common of Pastors for One Pastor, or from the common of Holy Men & Women for Those Who Practiced Works of Mercy.
Outside the United States:
The Twenty-Third Friday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons as above from the secondary feria.
The Sixteenth Friday after Pentecost; and, the Commemoration of Saint Grogonius, Martyr.***
Lessons from the dominica,† according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ephesians 3: 13-21.
• Psalm 101: 16-17.
• Luke 14: 1-11.
If a Mass for the commemoration is taken, lessons from the common "Lætábitur…" of a Martyr not a Bishop:
• II Timothy 2: 8-10; 3: 10-12.
• Psalm 36: 24, 26.
• Matthew 26-32.
The Sixteenth Friday after Pentecost; a Postfestive Day of the Birth of the Theotokos; the Feast of the Holy & Just Grandparents of God, Joachim & Anna; and, the Feast of the Holy Martyr Severian.††
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion for the saints, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Ephesians 4: 17-25.
• Galatians 4: 22-31.
• Mark 12: 1-12.
• Luke 8: 16-21.
8:41 AM 9/9/2016 —
If one of you sees something unedifying and so much as goes on to pass it on and put it into the heart of another brother, in doing so you not only harm yourself but you harm your brother by putting one more little bit of knavery into his heart. Even if that brother has his mind set on prayer or some other noble activity, and the first arrives and furnishes him with something to prate about, he not only impedes what he ought to be doing, but brings a temptation to him (Dorotheos of Gaza, On the Fear of God).
This little bit of homespun wisdom is from a very early saint of the Christian East I'm almost sure you've never heard of, Dorotheos of Gaza, who belongs to a group of saints known collectively as the Desert Fathers. In the West, we typically look to Saint Benedict as the founder of monasticism; but, the Desert Fathers were establishing monasteries all over the Middle East hundreds of years before Benedict was born, and a lot of them were prolific writers; and, even though this all happened long before the schism that separated the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, most Catholics today are woefully ignorant of the sayings of the Desert Fathers, or even aware that they existed. The more significant sayings of the Desert Fathers can be found in a four-volume work which has become the keystone of spirituality in the Eastern Churches called the Philokalia, compiled by two post-schism Orthodox saints, Saint Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain of Athos and Saint Makarios of Corinth, who both lived from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century.
And whenever I read the Desert Fathers—which is as often as I can—it amazes me how they not only knew so much about the ebbs and tides of the interior life, but seemed so adept at understanding human psychology, not because they studied it—because the science didn't exist at the time—but because living in the desert with their brother monks in the concentrated atmosphere of a monastic setting gave them these insights. Abba Dorotheos, which is how the Easterners refer to him, established two monasteries in the deserts of Gaza, both of them long since wiped off the face of the earth by the fighting that's been going on there between Palestinians and Jews for centuries. The passage I just read to you is from his treatise, On the Fear of God, and it relates directly to what Saint Paul is talking about in today's first lesson from First Corinthians, with which we've been wrestling—which is exactly the right word—to glean from it some principles for our own interior life; and, if today’s homily may seem a little extended, that’s because we were forced to interrupt our discussion of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians yesterday because of the Nativity or our Lady, and tomorrow is, of course, our annual Marian Festival celebrating the same. For that reason, I asked Denise, today, to exercise another of those almost forgotten rubrics of the Roman Missal: to combine lessons from two days into one when one of them is displaced by a feast day, as yesterday’s was for us, and so bring us to a consideration of Father Michael’s Seventh and Eighth Rules for the Interior Life.
Let’s begin with a review. The First Epistle to the Corinthians is divided into four main sections. Remember that all of Paul's Epistles are responses to letters he's received that we don't have, and the first section of First Corinthians is a general comment giving his initial reaction to whatever it is he's received; and this is where he talks about the divisions that have cropped up in Corinth among the Christians, giving them the benefit of his own miserable experience in Athens to make his point. I think it's clear, from the way it's written, that he wasn't asked anything about this issue; he's basically reading in between the lines and reacting to it right off the bat, so to speak, before he even addresses what it is the Corinthians have written to him about. Toward the end of this section, which would be chapters five and six, he does get specific and talks about two matters that they didn't write to him about, but that he's become aware of: one having to do with a case of incest, and the other being the problem of Christians getting embroiled in legal disputes in pagan courts.
The second section of his letter is where he actually begins to answer the questions the Corinthians wrote to him about, and this is where he answers questions about marriage and virginity—which we read the other day but did not preach about—and the problem from yesterday’s lesson, which Denise read to us, regarding the meat offered to idols, which forms the basis of what we can call Father Michael’s Seventh Rule for the Interior Life: One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison.
The problem, basically, was this: when you're poor, you tend to buy your meat from the cheapest source, and the cheapest source in Corinth was a place that sold what was—for lack of a better term—“used” meat, that is, meat that had been used in some ritual sacrifice in a pagan temple, but which was now for sale at a discount. Some of the Christians were taking advantage of this discount, while others were claiming that, because this meat had been used in a pagan ritual, it was not suitable for consumption by Christians. Paul's decision is a compromise: he says that, since the pagan religions are all false and their rituals empty, there is no moral implication to a Christian eating that meat; but, if by eating it, scandal is given to Christians who are not intelligent enough to understand this, it is better not to eat it than to give scandal. In other words, there's nothing wrong with eating the meat unless it offends someone; and, if it's going to offend someone and give scandal, then, even though there's nothing wrong with it, the charitable Christian will make the added sacrifice for the sake of his brother or sister. Refer back to the quote from Dorotheos of Gaza with which I opened today.
But what's important to keep in mind is that this peculiar sounding complaint may have been brought by some of the wealthy Jewish Christians converted by Apollo, who were uncomfortable at having to share the Eucharist with the lower-class, much poorer Gentile Christians converted previously by Paul, and who would have been most likely to have taken advantage of the less expensive meat discarded by the pagan temples following its use in a ritual. Another, perhaps more legitimate, interpretation may be that this "second hand" meat was being sold by the temples themselves as a kind of fund-raiser, so that buying it could be interpreted as a financial contribution to a pagan temple. In any case, there is no way Saint Paul, far away in Ephesus, could have known which of these two concerns—one based on prejudice and the other based on a real religious concern—was the motivation for the complaint; thus, he crafts a compromise solution which addresses the religious concern without giving any legitimacy to those who may have been motivated by a class-based bigotry. Paul's remark, therefore, that those who are strong should be patient with the scruples of those who are weak, could be interpreted as an underhanded put-down to those making the complaint.
It's a minor issue compared to some of the other topics he addresses, which is probably why he doesn't want to get too involved in it; nevertheless, it raises an interesting point, which follows naturally from our Number Six Rule which was: don't be a lone ranger. We are all at different places in our desire to follow our Lord. Some of us can pray for hours, while others can barely muster the attention span to say a single Hail Mary once a day; some can pray the Holy Mass in Church with attention and devotion, while some find it difficult to remain focused and find the time spent in church difficult to endure; some people struggle with moral issues and temptations every waking moment of the day, while others are not bothered at all. It's analogous to the people who can't seem to loose any weight no matter how severely they starve themselves compared to those who can eat all they want and never put on an inch. We're all individuals, and so the Christian life comes more easily to some than to others.
The principle behind the Apostle's point is that none of us can succeed in living a Christian life unless we help one another, and one of the ways we do this is by being patient and understanding with those who may not be at the same level we are. It doesn't mean we take a relativistic approach to Christian living; it does mean that we position ourselves to help rather than scold. Before becoming a priest I had experimented with the monastic life myself, and had spent some time with the Carthusian Monks, a group of hermits founded by Saint Bruno in France, one of the few monastic orders left in the Church which still observes an eremitical or hermit-like life, with the monastery being a collection of little houses because each monk lives alone, coming together only for Mass and once a day for prayers;—they don't even eat together, not unlike how most of the Desert Fathers lived centuries before in the East—and, in the rule he wrote for them in the year 1050 he has this wonderful counsel about judging others, where he says, “Whenever you see a brother doing anything that is ordinarily forbidden, always assume he has permission.”
The third section of this letter, which we haven't gotten to yet, deals with the Blessed Eucharist and the celebration of the Liturgy; and, the fourth section is where he addresses the question of heresy, principally about the nature of the Resurrection of Christ, since there were some in Corinth who were a little off on this subject.
He ends the whole thing with a conclusion in which, among other things, he orders them, like any good pastor, to take up a collection and send it to Jerusalem. Remember that he had gone to Jerusalem earlier to get Peter's approval for his activities in Greece, and probably feels that having this collection taken up and sent there is a good way to keep things from changing in that regard, mindful of the fact that he probably still has a good number of enemies in Jerusalem bending Peter's ear complaining about him; and, what better way to keep the Pope on your side then to give him a big, fat check?
Where we are now—in what is today’s first lesson proper, and the second half of what Denise read to us—is really the tail end of his answer to the question of the meat sold by the pagan temples after their sacrifices. And in the process he makes mention of the fact that, as an Apostle, he could have very easily decided the matter one way or another in an authoritarian way, but that he chose not to do this because, in questions like these, the Christian is not motivated solely by what's right or wrong, but also what's charitable.
I can only surmise that the Apostle, in his youth, must have been an athlete, because he uses a lot of sports metaphors in his letters. In this very lesson he uses two: one about track and field, reminding us to “Run so as to win” (9: 24 NABRE), because close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; but, right in the same sentence he switches to boxing, and that's the mental picture I really like, not because I like boxing—which I don't—but because it makes his point so clear. As we already observed, later on in this letter he's going to be addressing some very serious issues with the Corinthians: the Eucharist, the Liturgy, the nature of the Resurrection; and they're asking him to get involved in a dispute about cold cuts. And this is where his sports metaphors crash into each other:
Thus, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (9: 26-27 NABRE).
In other words, when I'm in a race, I want to win, but when I'm in a fight, it has to be a fight worth fighting. I didn't become an Apostle, and suffer everything I suffered, and endure all the hardships I've had to endure in training for the mission of traveling across the known world to bring you the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just so I could settle an argument about meat bought at some pagan temple's Tricky Tray. I've got better things to do, and so do you. And tomorrow's Apostolic lesson, which we will miss because of the Marian Festival, is where he begins, in his letter, to address those better things, making an almost seamless transition into his discourse on the Blessed Eucharist and the problems the Corinthians were having in the celebration of it.
And there you have Father Michael's Eighth Rule for the Interior Life, which is, in fact, a cliché that we all know by heart: choose your battles wisely. We don't have to fight every bully that comes down the pike, we don't have to answer every insult lobbed at us unjustly, and we don't have to engage in every argument about the Faith just because we know we're right and the other guy is wrong. Saint Paul confesses, in yesterday’s lesson, that there is an answer to the question about the meat; there is a side in this argument that's right. But he basically walks away from it, telling them, “This is stupid, and I've got bigger fish to fry with you.” The cooking metaphor is mine, not his. I guess each preacher uses metaphors based on what's on his mind, and it's close to my lunch time.
So, to paraphrase our Lord, we'll let tomorrow take care of itself.
* Born in Barcelona, Claver (1580-1654) was a Jesuit missionary who ministered to African slaves as they arrived at the South American seaport of Cartegna. Enduring the derision of the slave traders, he fed the hungry, cared for the sick and dying, preached the Gospel, and baptized converts for nearly forty years.
** Because the lessons from the secondary feria were displaced by yesterday's Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, for purposes of today's Mass yesterday's and today's first lessons have been combined according to the following rubric: “Should, however, the continuous reading during the week from time to time be interrupted, on account of some Solemnity or Feast, or some particular celebration, then the Priest shall be permitted, bearing in mind the scheme of readings for the entire week, either to combine parts omitted with other readings or to decide which readings are to be given preference over others” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, § 358).
In exercising the option of combining the lessons from yesterday and today, the lessons are combined and read as one, without any interruption between them; in other words, they are read as a single lesson without any announcememnt or response between them.
*** At Nicomedia, Grogonius, an officer of Diocletian's house-hold, converted many servants of the imperial court. His cruel master condemned him and his companions to the most atrocious death in the year 302.
† In the extraordinary form, on the ferial days outside of privileged seasons, the lessons are repeated from the previous Sunday.
†† It is believed that Severian was martyred at Sebastea in Armenia under Emperor Licinius sometime between 312 and 323.