C. S. Lewis – The Weight of Glory

The book “The Weight of Glory,” was published in 1941, containing nine sermons and addresses delivered by Lewis during World War II, including “Transposition,” “On Forgiveness,” “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” “Learning in War-Time,” and his most famous, “The Weight of Glory.” This text is widely available online. But so that I am not dependent on any of those sites maintaining their pages, I have added another page here. The blue text is what I highlighted when I originally read it. The red text is the substance of what is usually being spoken of when anyone makes reference to “the weight of glory.” 

The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses : C. S. Lewis : 9780684823843

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of rewards. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation. There is also a third case, which is more complicated. An enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a proper, and not a mercenary, reward for learning Greek; but only those who have reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry can tell from their own experience that this is so. The schoolboy beginning Greek grammar cannot look forward to his adult enjoyment of Sophocles as a lover looks forward to marriage or a general to victory. He has to begin by working for marks, or to escape punishment, or to please his parents, or, at best, in the hope of a future good which he cannot at present imagine or desire. His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.

The Christian, in relation to heaven, is in much the same position as this schoolboy. Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward. Just in proportion as the desire grows, our fear lest it should be a mercenary desire will die away and finally be recognized as an absurdity. But probably this will not, for most of us, happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.

But there is one other important similarity between the schoolboy and ourselves. If he is an imaginative boy, he will, quite probably, be reveling in the English poets and romancers suitable to his age some time before he begins to suspect that Greek grammar is going to lead him to more and more enjoyments of this same sort. He may even be neglecting his Greek to read Shelley and Swinburne in secret. In other words, the desire which Greek is really going to gratify already exists in him and is attached to objects which seem to him quite unconnected with Xenophon and the verbs in μι. Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. And this, I think, is just what we find. No doubt there is one point in which my analogy of the schoolboy breaks down. The English poetry which he reads when he ought to be doing Greek exercises may be just as good as the Greek poetry to which the exercises are leading him, so that in fixing on Milton instead of journeying on to Aeschylus his desire is not embracing a false object. But our case is very different. If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now. Finally, lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever. Hence all the nonsense that Mr. Shaw puts into the final speech of Lilith, and Bergson’s remark that the élan vital is capable of surmounting all obstacles, perhaps even death—as if we could believe that any social or biological development on this planet will delay the senility of the sun or reverse the second law of thermodynamics.

Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.

Here, then, is the desire, still wandering and uncertain of its object and still largely unable to see that object in the direction where it really lies. Our sacred books give us some account of the object. It is, of course, a symbolical account. Heaven is, by definition, outside our experience, but all intelligible descriptions must be of things within our experience. The scriptural picture of heaven is therefore just as symbolical as the picture which our desire, unaided, invents for itself; heaven is not really full of jewelry any more than it is really the beauty of Nature, or a fine piece of music. The difference is that the scriptural imagery has authority. It comes to us from writers who were closer to God than we, and it has stood the test of Christian experience down the centuries. The natural appeal of this authoritative imagery is to me, at first, very small. At first sight it chills, rather than awakes, my desire. And that is just what I ought to expect. If Christianity could tell me no more of the far-off land than my own temperament led me to surmise already, then Christianity would be no higher than myself. If it has more to give me, I expect it to be less immediately attractive than “my own stuff.” Sophocles at first seems dull and cold to the boy who has only reached Shelley. If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.

The promises of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads. It is promised (1) that we shall be with Christ; (2) that we shall be like Him; (3) with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”; (4) that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and (5) that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe—ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple. The first question I ask about these promises is “Why any one of them except the first?” Can anything be added to the conception of being with Christ? For it must be true, as an old writer says, that he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only. I think the answer turns again on the nature of symbols. For though it may escape our notice at first glance, yet it is true that any conception of being with Christ which most of us can now form will be not very much less symbolical than the other promises; for it will smuggle in ideas of proximity in space and loving conversation as we now understand conversation, and it will probably concentrate on the humanity of Christ to the exclusion of His deity. And, in fact, we find that those Christians who attend solely to this first promise always do fill it up with very earthly imagery indeed—in fact, with hymeneal or erotic imagery. I am not for a moment condemning such imagery. I heartily wish I could enter into it more deeply than I do, and pray that I yet shall. But my point is that this also is only a symbol, like the reality in some respects, but unlike it in others, and therefore needs correction from the different symbols in the other promises. The variation of the promises does not mean that anything other than God will be our ultimate bliss; but because God is more than a Person, and lest we should imagine the joy of His presence too exclusively in terms of our present poor experience of personal love, with all its narrowness and strain and monotony, a dozen changing images, correcting and relieving each other, are supplied.

I turn next to the idea of glory. There is no getting away from the fact that this idea is very prominent in the New Testament and in early Christian writings. Salvation is constantly associated with palms, crowns, white robes, thrones, and splendor like the sun and stars. All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all, and in that respect I fancy I am a typical modern. Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?

When I began to look into this matter I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson, and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation” by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards. I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. I am not forgetting how horribly this most innocent desire is parodied in our human ambitions, or how very quickly, in my own experience, the lawful pleasure of praise from those whom it was my duty to please turns into the deadly poison of self-admiration. But I thought I could detect a moment—a very, very short moment—before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure. And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride deeper than Prospero’s book. Perfect humility dispenses with modesty. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself; “it is not for her to bandy compliments with her Sovereign.” I can imagine someone saying that he dislikes my idea of heaven as a place where we are patted on the back. But proud misunderstanding is behind that dislike. In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us. It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

And now notice what is happening. If I had rejected the authoritative and scriptural image of glory and stuck obstinately to the vague desire which was, at the outset, my only pointer to heaven, I could have seen no connection at all between that desire and the Christian promise. But now, having followed up what seemed puzzling and repellent in the sacred books, I find, to my great surprise, looking back, that the connection is perfectly clear. Glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed. By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants I have begun to learn better what I really wanted. When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as “the journey homeward to habitual self.” You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: “Nobody marks us.” A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being “noticed” by God. But this is almost the language of the New Testament. St. Paul promises to those who love God not, as we should expect, that they will know Him, but that they will be known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3). It is a strange promise. Does not God know all things at all times? But it is dreadfully reechoed in another passage of the New Testament. There we are warned that it may happen to anyone of us to appear at last before the face of God and hear only the appalling words, “I never knew you. Depart from Me.” In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside—repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored. On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities. Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.

And this brings me to the other sense of glory— glory as brightness, splendor, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more—something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, yet these projections can enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.

And in there, in beyond Nature, we shall eat of the tree of life. At present, if we are reborn in Christ, the spirit in us lives directly on God; but the mind and, still more, the body receives life from Him at a thousand removes—through our ancestors, through our food, through the elements. The faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures; and even thus filtered, they are too much for our present management. What would it be to taste at the fountainhead that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies before us. The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy. As St. Augustine said, the rapture of the saved soul will “flow over” into the glorified body. In the light of our present specialized and depraved appetites, we cannot imagine this torrens voluptatis, and I warn everyone most seriously not to try. But it must be mentioned, to drive out thoughts even more misleading—thoughts that what is saved is a mere ghost, or that the risen body lives in numb insensibility. The body was made for the Lord, and these dismal fancies are wide of the mark.

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in the speculations which I have been indulging. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden. 

Homily: Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)

Image result for gaudete sunday

3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)
Isaiah 35:1–6A, 10
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-1

Every Mass has an Entrance Antiphon, like the refrain to the responsorial psalm, which we would say or sing it at the beginning of the Mass, which sets the theme for the Mass. For Sundays, the Entrance Antiphon is replaced by singing the Entrance chant or hymn, which often reflects the same theme. The Sunday half-way through Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, because the Entrance Antiphon begins “Gaudete in Domino semper” (which means, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”). It is one of only two days when the liturgical color of the Mass is rose, with rose vestments; also, the rose candle of the Advent wreath.

The other rose day is Laetare Sunday, which falls half-way through Lent. Laetare is from the beginning of the entrance antiphon of that day, “Lætare, Jerusalem” (which means, “Rejoice, Jerusalem”). Both of these rose-colored days of rejoicing fall in the middle violet-colored seasons of preparation and penitence… not necessarily as a break from the penitence, but to remind ourselves that our penitence itself ought to be joyful: we’re suffering our penitence to more fully experience the mercy and glory of God.

I could never remember which one was in Advent and which one was in Lent. But I finally figured out which antiphon is chanted in which season, because “Laetare” and “Lent” both begin with “L” … and in Advent we chant no “L”. 😊

I noticed that both words mean rejoice, so I looked up the difference. The Laetare joy of Lent is an outward joy, which fits the outward direction of Lent, toward external expressions of penitence (prayer, fasting, almsgiving), which prepare us for the joy bursting forth at the Resurrection of the Lord, and the message to go out to all the world and share the good news. The rejoicing of the Advent Gaudete Sunday is a more internal joy, which fits the inward progression of Advent from the universal day of judgment at the end of time, toward focusing into the intimate, silent night of Christ’s birth, and the message that we need to prepare the path for Christ to be born in our hearts, especially with so many holiday distractions.

The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song… they will see the glory of the LORD.” As the prophet Isaiah paints this image of green, flowery vegetative life, you might imagine that it was even more beautiful to a people living in a dry desert. In the eschatological (the end-time consummation of the world) sense, Isaiah is alluding to a new exodus to the new Promised Land, a restoration to Eden, with its lush growth and abundance of life. But in Isaiah’s direct sense, he’s not talking about vegetative growth. The “desert” and “parched land” weren’t the wilderness around Israel; it was the corrupted hearts of the people of Israel, that had turned away from God, the source of life and goodness. But to those who would be faithful, God himself would come to refresh his people with streams of living water, making their hearts fruitful and flowing with life.

Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God… he comes to save you.” We see through Isaiah a promise from God of healing, of restoration, of reassurance: hands that are feeble will be strengthened to do good works, knees that are weak will stand with confidence and assurance, and hearts that are frightened will be filled with the Holy Spirit, which casts out fear with the blessing of divine love.

God would come to save his people! “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” That’s the key to the reading: God himself is coming to save and heal and restore his people.

Look at our responsorial psalm. First, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help.” Which is to say, nothing of this earth will save us; nothing will do all of what God has promised us He will do. To put our faith in things of this world is disordered and weak, and ultimately will fail. The whole psalm is about the coming of, not just God in a general way, but when you see the words LORD in all capital letters, that’s a textual substitution for the most holy personal name of the most holy God of Israel, the God who has revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, the God who is going to come in person to save his people. So if you look at that Psalm it begins by saying: Praise the LORD, O my soul! Not an abstract divine entity, but the personal God who cares for us, His people. It is the LORD, it says, who secures justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the captives free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down… The LORD upholds the widow and the fatherless. He defends and lifts up those who are vulnerable.

Last week, in our gospel reading, we had John active in his ministry, and near the beginning of Jesus’. Now we have Jesus active in his ministry, and near the end of John’s. And John “sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” This seems rather odd, if we remember that John baptized Jesus, and immediately acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. Perhaps John is no longer sure that Jesus is the Messiah. Perhaps it was easier for John to believe before he was suffering in prison. Jesus hasn’t gone to Jerusalem to reign over Israel as king. He hasn’t set the captives (including John!) free, and he hasn’t baptized the repentant with the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t seem to be the Messiah that John was expecting.

But the better interpretation is that John not only knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but also knows that he himself is about to die in prison. The 16th century Jesuit priest and commentator Cornelius à Lapide says:

John then, a little before his martyrdom, sent these disciples to Christ that they might learn from Himself that He was the very Messiah, or Christ, that when John was dead they might go to Him. John sends his disciples, and asks Jesus whether He be the Coming One, i.e., the Messiah, not as doubting about Him, but because, being near death, he wished his hesitating disciples to be instructed concerning Him, that they might be led to Christ. He in his own name asks Jesus if He be the Christ, because his disciples would not, of themselves, have dared to propose such a question. John, when he had fulfilled his office and ministry, resign it to Christ. And, as the dayspring dies away into the rising sun, so did John pale before Christ. He was ambitious not of his own glory, but of God’s and Christ’s glory. Wherefore he said, “It behoveth Him to increase, but me to decrease.”

You’ll notice that the question isn’t, “Are you the Messiah?” but, Are you the one who is to come?That is an allusion to Old Testament prophecies of the coming one, the coming of God, prophesied by Isaiah, such as in our first reading. Also, from that heavenly vision of the prophet Daniel: “As I watched, Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took his throne. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head like pure wool; His throne was flames of fire… I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed.”

And in response to the question from John’s disciples, Jesus doesn’t say “I am the Messiah.” He asks the disciples, in a sense, “Do you have the eyes to see, and the heart to understand?” Then go tell John what you see. And he gives a list of criteria that should tell the disciples who he really is. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, the poor have good news preached to them.

We’ll come back to this in a moment, but Jesus then asks the crowds, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” In other words, John is not a reed, that blows this way and that with the wind. He had declared Jesus to be the Messiah, and continues in his conviction. “Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.” John was clearly not about compromises with this world, He was eating locusts and honey, wearing a hair shirt and leather belt. Much like the great prophet Elijah. John is not soft and delicate. “Then why did you go out?  To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.”  This is a reference to the book of the prophet Malachi. Malachi doesn’t say anything about the Messiah, but rather about Elijah returning to herald the coming of the God of Israel himself.

And to stress the point even more, Jesus adds that the lepers are going to be cleansed and that the dead will be raised. You might remember when we talked about the healing of the leper Naaman the Syrian. His king sent a letter about Naaman to the King of Israel, and I pointed out his response, which was, “Am I God that I could heal a man with leprosy?” So the assumption was that there are some miracles that only God himself could do. The same thing is true when he says “that the dead are raised up.” There he is alluding to Isaiah 26, one of the two places in the Old Testament that refers to the resurrection of the dead. And when is that? When God comes, the dead are going to be raised.

And then last, but not least, Jesus says “and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them”. That is a prophecy of the Messiah that alludes to Isaiah 61, which is the scroll that Jesus reads in the synagogue in Nazareth: the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed (messiah) me to preach good news to the captives and to the poor.” So Jesus is combining these two prophecies of the coming of God and the coming Messiah, to tell John, and everyone, that he is more than the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of David. He is the God of Israel, the Good Shepherd himself, who has come to heal and save his people. This is whose birth, whose advent (“coming toward”), we are preparing ourselves to receive in his royal birth, the Newborn King, about whom the angel choirs sing.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will

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At the end of our gospel reading, Jesus, having affirmed who he is, then affirms who John is.Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Now especially as Catholics, we can struggle with this saying. Jesus is born of woman. Is John greater than he? The Blessed Mother is born of woman. Is John greater than she? I think the way to understand this is to point out that at the time Jesus was speaking, John would die in prison before Jesus manifested himself in his death and resurrection. He was the last of the Old Covenant prophets announcing the coming of the Messiah, and John was the greatest of them, because he announced not just the Messiah, but the divine Messiah. He was the precursor of the coming of God himself. Yet John was of the Old Covenant. The “least in the kingdom of God”, we who are of the New Covenant, are more than just born of women… we are born of water and the Holy Spirit…of the Holy Spirit and fire. We are reborn in grace. 

Perhaps this is also a reminder to us, reading this gospel, that the evangelists (gospel writers) wrote decades after Christ, even after Paul’s letters. So the evangelists are writing to their own Christian communities, enduring persecution, suffering, and martyrdom, and recording for their encouragement the origin story of their faith: the life, words, and actions of Christ. And so St. Matthew is writing to a community who has already lost members to martyrdom, that as great and holy as everyone acknowledges John the Baptist to have been, they, too, will be great and holy (even more so than John!) if they persevere in the faith in the face of their suffering and martyrdom. 

Jesus also tells the disciples, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Now why would he add that? Because there are going to be a lot of people who take offense. He’s revealing that he is both the Messiah and God himself. But he’s going to challenge long-held interpretations about the Law and the Temple; he’s going to lift up the lowly and cast down the mighty; he’s going to be simple, poor, suffering, and crucified. The phrase “take no offense” in the Greek is skandalon: the root of our word, “scandal.” It means a “stumbling block.” Someone who causes scandal introduces a stumbling block for others. The cross is going to be, and has been, a scandal, a stumbling block, for many.

There’s a certain importance to the reality that Jesus, or at least Jesus in the gospels, doesn’t explicitly answer “Yes” to the questions of “Are you the Messiah? Are you the one who is to come?” Instead, the reader is presented all the evidence, given the truth, and then the reader is asked, “Do you have the eyes to see, and the heart to understand?” The reader is required to be the one to make the declaration for themselves. The gospel isn’t about Matthew confessing his faith: it’s about him leading his reader to confessing that same true faith. We know Jesus healed the blind, and the deaf, and the lame, and healed lepers and raised the dead. We know these were given by the prophets as signs of the One who is to come, the Messiah, God himself. So can we do it? Will we do it? Will we make the profession that YES—I believe and confess JESUS CHRIST IS GOD, He IS the One who is to come. Matthew, and Jesus, don’t spoon feed it to us. They make us say it for ourselves.

Next Sunday evening (December 22) at 7:00 p.m. we have our parish Advent Penance Service. If you haven’t been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a few months, or a few years, or a lot of years, we’re going to have a bunch of priests here, you can go anonymously, you can go face to face, but go. Going to the sacrament of Reconciliation is the best way to prepare yourself, your family, your children, for Christmas. It is the removal of the obstacles in your heart to experience Christ’s coming. It’s preparing the way for him in the wilderness of a heart disordered by sin, fear, guilt, and shame, that our God who comes to us to connect our humanity to his divinity may heal you, and renew you, and restore you to communion with himself.

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Be back soon…

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Sorry that it’s been a while, and thank you for your patience. We’ve had a succession of great things happening at the parish, with the Easter octave, then 2nd week of Easter with First Communion, a beautiful wedding, and our Divine Mercy Holy Hour, and a really big and sad funeral, school arts and music celebrations, and our annual parish budget preparation (late, of course), and this and that. And the homilies have had to deal not just with the readings, but with some in-house things that we needed to talk out as a parish family, and I didn’t think that it needed to be posted for all the world to see.

So I’ll start posting homilies again shortly. Pray for me and my little flock, and we will pray for you. God bless you!


Transcript: Peter Kreeft’s Lecture “The Culture War”

Image result for peter kreeftI absolutely love this talk. I found a recording of the lecture available for free on Dr. Kreeft’s webpage when I first learned about him. I listened to this recording so much that excerpts of it unceasingly came to mind. I wanted to have easier access to the parts that I wanted to quote, so I took the time to transcribe the recording. I put it here, partly for my own convenience, and partly to share it for others.

And the key to this, of course, is not that the Culture War is “left vs. right,” or “liberal vs. conservative,” but the spiritual war of good vs. evil. The left and right must stop seeing each other as the enemy, and rather see each other as partly their ally, and partly the victim of the enemy. Because we will need to fight together against the greater enemy that can destroy us all: evil. 

imagesDr. Kreeft has a few newer talks on YouTube with the title “Culture War” (including one modeled on “The Screwtape Letters”). But this first one is still my favorite. For those who want to hear the actual recorded lecture, I’ve included a link to it here. You can download it and have it in your own media library. God bless you! Enjoy!


To win any war, and any kind of war, the three most necessary things we must know are

  • First, that we are at war.
  • Second, who are enemy is, and
  • Third, what weapons or strategies can defeat him.

We cannot win a war

  • First, if we are blissfully sowing peace banners on a battle field, or
  • Second, if we are too busy fighting civil wars against our allies, or
  • Third, if we are using the wrong weapons. For instance, we must fight fire with water, not fire.

So this talk is a very basic elementary three-point check list to be sure we all know this minimum, at least.

  • First, that we are at war.

I assume you would not even be coming to a talk titled, “How to Win the Culture War” if you thought all was well. If you are surprised to be told that our entire civilization is in crisis, I welcome you back from your nice vacation on the moon.

Many minds do seem moonstruck, puttering happily around the Titanic, blandly arranging the deck chairs. Especially the intellectuals, who are supposed to have their eyes more open, not less. But in fact, they are often the bland leading the bland. I have verified over and over again that the principle that there is only one thing needed for you to believe any of the one hundred most absurd ideas possible for any human being to conceive— you must have a PhD.

For instance, take Time magazine—please do. Henry David Thoreau said, “Read not the Times, read the Eternities.” Two Aprils ago, their lead article was devoted to the question, “Why is everything getting better? Why is life so good in America today? Why does everyone feel so satisfied and optimistic about the quality of life and the future?” I read the article very carefully, and found that not once did they even question their assumption. They just wondered “Why?” And you thought enlightenment optimism and the dogma of progress was dead? It turned out, upon reading the article, that every single aspect of life they mentioned, every reason why everything was getting better and better, was economic. People have more money. Period. End of discussion. Except the poor, of course, who are poorer. But they don’t count, because they don’t write Time. They don’t even read it.

I suspect that Time is merely Playboy with clothes on. For one kind of playboy, the world is one great big whorehouse. For another, it’s one great big piggybank. For both kinds of playboy, things are getting better and better. Just ask the 75% of Americans who love Bill Clinton, the perfect synthesis of the two.

They love him for the same reason that the Germans loved Hitler at first, when they elected him. Economic efficiency. Autobahns and Volkswagens. Jobs and housing. Hitler wrought the greatest economic miracle of the century in the 30’s. What else matters, as long as the emperor gives you bread and circuses? People are pigs, not saints, after all. They love slops more than honor. I think sexual pigginess and economic pigginess are natural twins. For lust and greed are almost interchangeable. In fact, our society sometimes doesn’t seem to know the difference between sex and money. It treats sex like money, and treats money like sex. It treats sex like money because it treats it like a medium of exchange, and it treats money like sex because it expects its money to get pregnant and reproduce all the time. So we need some very elementary sex education.

There is however, an irrefutable refutation of the pig philosophy: the simple, statistical fact that suicide—the most in-your-face index of unhappiness—is directly—not indirectly—proportionate to wealth. The richer you are, and the richer your country is, the more likely it is that you will find life so good that you will choose to blow your brains out. Perhaps that is a culmination of open-mindedness.

Suicide among pre-adults has increased 5000% since the “happy days” of the ’50’s. If suicide, especially of the coming generation, is not an indication of crisis, I don’t know what is. Just about everybody, except the deep thinkers, know that we are in deep doo-doo. The students know it, but not the teachers—the mind-molders, especially in the media. Everybody in the hospitals except the doctors know that we are dying. Night is falling. Mother Theresa said, simply—

“When a mother can kill her baby, what is left of civilization to save?”

What Chuck Olsen has called “a new dark age” is looming. A darkness that christened itself “the Enlightenment” at its birth three centuries ago. And this “Brave New World” has proved to be only a cowardly old dream. We are able to see this now, as the century of genocides closes—the century that had been called “the Christian century” at its birth by the founders of a magazine devoutly devoted to false prophesy.

We’ve also have some true prophets who have warned us—

  • Kierkegaard, 150 years ago, in The Present Age.
  • Spengler, almost a hundred years ago, in The Decline of the West
  • G. K. Chesterton, who wrote 75 years ago, “the next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality. And especially on sexual morality. And the madness of tomorrow will come not from Moscow but from Manhattan.”
  • Aldous Huxley, 65 years ago, in Brave New World
  • C. S. Lewis, 55 years ago, in The Abolition of Man
  • David Riesman, 45 years ago, in The Lonely Crowd
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 25 years ago, in his Harvard Commencement Address.
  • And John Paul the Great—the greatest man in the worst century in history—who had even more chutzpah than Ronald Reagan, who called them the “evil empire,” by calling us, “the culture of death.” That’s our culture, and his—including Italy, which now has the lowest  birthrate in the entire world, and Poland, which now wants to share in the West’s great abortion holocaust.

If the God of Life does not respond to this culture of death with judgment, then God is not God. If God does not honor the blood of hundreds of millions of innocent victims of this Culture of Death, then the God of the bible, the God of Abraham, the God of Israel, the God of the Prophets, the God of orphans and widows, the defender of the defenseless, is a man-made myth. A fairytale. A comfortable idea as substantial as a dream.

But—you may object—is not the God of the bible forgiving? He is. But the unrepentant refuse forgiveness. Forgiveness, being a gift of grace, must be freely given and freely received. How can it be received by a moral relativist who denies that there is anything to forgive, except unforgivingness? Nothing to judge but judgmentalism? Nothing lacking but self-esteem? How can a Pharisee or a pop-psychologist be saved?

But—you may object—is not the God of the bible compassionate? He is. But he is not compassionate to Moloch, and Baal, and Asheroth. And to the Canaanites who do their work, who cause their children to pass through the fire. Perhaps your god is compassionate to the work of human sacrifice, the god of your demands, the god of your religious preference, but not the God of the bible. Read the book. Look at the data.

But—is not the God of the Bible revealed most fully and finally in the New Testament, rather than the Old? In sweet and gentle Jesus, rather than wrathful and warlike Jehovah? The opposition is heretical. It is the old Gnostic, Manichaean, Marcionist heresy, as immoral as the demons that inspired it. Our data refute it—our live data—which is divine data, and talking data, thus His name is the Word of God. This data refuted the heretical hypothesis in the question when he said, “I and the Father are one.”

The opposition between “nice Jesus” and “nasty Jehovah” denies the very essence of Christianity: Christ’s identity as the son of God. For, let us remember our biology as well as our theology: Like Father, like Son. That Christ is no more the son of that God than Barney is the son of Hitler.

Will the real Jesus please stand up?

He does so gladly. The gospels are pop-up books. Open their pages, and he leaps out. Let’s dare to open our data. Let’s see what sweet and gentle Jesus actually said about the sins of the Canaanites, about the Culture of Death.

Many centuries ago, those Canaanites used to perform their liturgies of human sacrifice, their infanticidal devotions to the devil in the valley of Gehenna, or Gehinnom, just outside Jerusalem. It was a vast abortuary, like our culture. When the people of God entered the promised land, the Prince of Peace [the Word of God] commanded them to kill the supernatural cancer of the Canaanites. Even after that was done, the Jews dared not to live in that valley, or even set foot there. They used it to burn their garbage. So the devil’s promised land became God’s garbage dump. And the fires never went out, day or night. No matches, remember.

Now, sweet and gentle Jesus chose this place, Gehenna, as his image for hell. And he told many of the leaders of his Chosen People that they were headed there, and that they were leading many others there with them. He said, to them, “Truly, truly I say to you: The IRS agents and White House interns will enter the kingdom of God before you.” That’s the modern dynamic equivalence translation.

He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone was hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” That is our data. That is the real Jesus. And that is the Jesus who is the same yesterday, day, and forever. I do not think he has started manufacturing Styrofoam millstones.

But—is not God a lover, rather than a warrior? No, God is a lover who is a warrior. The question fails to understand what love is. What the love that God is, is. Love is at war with hate, and betrayal, and selfishness, and all love’s enemies. Love fights. Ask any parent. Yuppie-love, like puppy-love, may be merely compassion, the fashionable love today. But father-love and mother-love is war. God is love, indeed. But what kind of love? Back to our data! Does scripture call him “God the puppy” or God the yuppie”—or is it “God the Father”?

In fact, every page of this book bristles with spear-points, from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20. The road from Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained is soaked in blood. At the very center of the story is a cross—a symbol of conflict if there ever was one. The theme of spiritual warfare is never absent in scripture. And never absent in the life and writings of a single saint. But it is almost never present in the religious education of my students at BC ([Boston College]; BC, by the way, stands for “Barely Catholic”).

Whenever I speak of this they are stunned and silent as if they had suddenly entered another world. They have. They have gone through the wardrobe to meet the Lion and the Witch—past the warm-fuzzies, the fur coats of psychology disguised as religion, into the cold snows of Narnia, where the White Witch is the Lord of this world, and Aslan is not a tame lion, but a warrior. A world where they meet Christ the King, not Christ the kitten.

Welcome back from the moon, kids.

Who doesn’t know we’re at war? Who doesn’t know that the barbarians are at the gates? No—inside the gates, writing the scripts of the TV shows and movies and public-school textbooks and juridical decisions? Only the ones in the lunar-bubble of academia. Or the lunar bubble of establishment religion education programs, with their unprofitable prophets who cry, “Peace, Peace” when there is no peace, the ones who compose those dreary, drippy, little liberal lullabies we endure in contemporary hymns.

The drug dealers know we’re at war. The prostitutes know we’re at war. The beggars in Calcutta know we’re at war. The Polish grandmothers know we’re at war. The Cubans know we’re at war. The Native-Americans knew we were at war, until we gave them firewater and then gambling casinos to dull their dangerously awake minds.

Where is this Culture of Death coming from?

Here. America is the center of the Culture of Death. America is the world’s one and only cultural superpower. If I haven’t shocked you yet, I will now. Do you know what pious Muslims call us? “The Great Satan.” Impious Muslims call us that too, but that makes no difference, we are what we are. And do you know what I call them? I call them right.

But—America has the most just and most moral and most wise and most biblical historical constitution and foundation in the world. Yes, just like ancient Israel.

And America is one of the most religious countries in the world. Yes, just like ancient Israel.

And the Church is big and rich and free in America. Yes, just like ancient Israel.

And if God still loves his Church in America, he will soon make it small, and poor, and persecuted, just has he did to ancient Israel.

So that he can keep it alive, by pruning it. If he loves us, he will cut the dead wood away, and we will bleed, and blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the Church again, and a second spring will come, and new buds. But not without blood. It never happens without blood. Without sacrifice. Without suffering. Christ’s work—if it is really Christ’s work, and not a comfortable counterfeit—never happens without the cross. Whatever happens without the cross may be good work, but it is not Christ’s work. For Christ’s work is bloody. Christ’s work is a blood transfusion. That is how salvation happens.

And if we put gloves on our hands to avoid the splinters from this cross, if we practice safe spiritual sex, spiritual contraception, then his kingdom will not come, and his work will not be done, and our world will die.  I don’t mean merely that Western Civilization will die, that’s a piece of trivia. I mean eternal souls will die. Billions of Ramon’s and Vladimir’s and Tiffany’s and Bridget’s will go to hell. That’s what’s at stake in this war. Not just whether America will become a banana republic, or whether we’ll forget Shakespeare, or even whether some nuclear terrorist will incinerate half of humanity. But rather, whether our children and our children’s children will see God forever.  That’s what’s at stake in Hollywood vs. America. That’s why we must wake up and smell the corpses, the rotting souls, the dying children.

Knowing we are at war, at all times, but especially as such times as these, is the first prerequisite for winning it. The second prerequisite is knowing who is our enemy.

  • Second, who is our enemy?

For almost half a millennium, Protestants and Catholics have thought of the other as the enemy, the problem, and have addressed the problem by consigning their bodies to graves on battlefields and their souls to hell. Gradually, the light dawned. Protestants and Catholics are not enemies, they are separated brethren who are fighting together against the same enemy.

Who is that enemy?

For almost two millennia, many Christians thought it was the Jews, and did such Christ-less things to our fathers-in-the-faith that we made it almost impossible for the Jews to see their God—the true God—in us.

Today, many Christians think it is the Muslims. But they are often more loyal to their half-Christ than we are to our whole-Christ. And they live more godly lives following their fallible scriptures and their fallible prophet than we do in following our infallible scriptures and our infallible prophet. If you compare the stability of the family and the safety of children among Muslims and among Christians in today’s world, or if you compare the rate of abortion, divorce, adultery, and sodomy among Muslims and Christians in today’s world, and if you dare to apply to this data the principles announced by the prophets in our own scriptures, when they say repeatedly that God blesses those who obey his law, and punish those who do  not, then I think you will know why Islam is growing faster than Christianity today. Faithful Muslims serve under the same general God, though through a different and more primitive communications network. And the same I think is true of the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Quakers.

So who are our enemies?

Many of us think our enemies are the “liberals.” But for one thing that word is almost meaninglessly flexible, and for another thing, it’s a political term, not a religious one. Whatever is good or bad about any of the forms of political liberalism, it is neither the cause nor the cure of the spiritual cancer that makes this cultural war a spiritual one, a matter of life or death—eternal life or death, not political or economic life or death. Whether Jack and Jill go up the hill to heaven, or down the hill to hell will not be decided by whether government welfare checks increase or decrease.

Our enemies are not even the anti-Christian bigots who want to kill us, whether they are communist Chinese totalitarians who imprison and persecute Christians, or Sudanese Muslim terrorists who enslave and murder Christians. They are not our enemies, they are our patients. They are the ones we are trying to save. We are Christ’s nurses. Some of the patients think the nurses are their enemies, but the nurses must know better. Our word for them is, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Our enemies are not even the cankerworm within our own culture—the media of the Culture of Death—the Larry Flints and Ted Turners and Howard Sterns and Time-Warners and Disneys. They, too, are victims, and they, too, are our patients, though they hate the hospital, and go running around poisoning other patients. But the poisoners are our patients, too, for whoever poisons, was first poisoned himself.

This is true also of gay and lesbian activists, and feminist witches and abortionists. If we are the cells in Christ’s body, we do what he did to these people: we go into their gutters, and pick up the spiritually dying, and kiss those who spit at us, and even shed our blood for them if necessary. If we do not all physically go into the gutters, as Mother Teresa did, we go into the spiritual gutters. For we go where the need is. If we do not physically give our blood, yet we give our life in giving our time, for life is time—life-time. Our time is our life blood. Please don’t have children unless you understand that.

Our enemies are not the heretics within the Church—the cafeteria Christians, the à la carte Christians, the “I did it my way” Christians. They are also our patients, though they are quislings. They are the deceived. They are the victims of our enemy, not our enemy.

Our enemies are not the theologians in some so-called Christian Theology Departments that have sold their souls for thirty pieces of scholarship, and prefer the applause of their peers to the praise of their God. Not even the Christo-phobes who wear spiritual condoms for fear that Christ will make their souls and the souls of their students pregnant with his alarmingly active life. Not even the liars who deny their students elementary truth in labeling. The robber-teachers who rob their students of the living Christ. They, too, are our patients, and we, too, do what they do, though unwillingly, in each of our sins.

Our enemy is not even the few really wicked ministers and pastors and priests and bishops and rabbis, the abusive babysitters who corrupt Christ’s little ones whom they swore to protect, and merit Christ’s “millstone of the month” award. They, too, are victims in need of healing.

Who, then, is our enemy?

Surely, you must know the two answers.

All the saints throughout the Church’s history have given the same two answers. For these answers come from the same two sources—from the Word of God on paper and the Word of God on wood; from every page of the New Testament, and from Christ. They are the reasons he went to the cross. Yet they are not well known. In fact the first answer is almost never mentioned today, outside so-called fundamentalist circles. Not once in my life can I recall ever hearing a sermon on it from a Protestant or a Catholic pulpit.

Our enemies are demons—fallen angels, evil spirits. Our secular culture believes that anyone who believes this is at least an uneducated, narrow-minded bigot, and probably mentally deranged. It follows logically, therefore, that Jesus Christ is an uneducated, narrow-minded bigot, and mentally deranged. Most of our religious culture is simply embarrassed at this idea. Therefore, it is embarrassed at Christ. For he is the one who gave us this answer: “Do not fear those who can kill the body and then have no power over you. I will tell you whom to fear: Fear him who has power to destroy both body and soul in hell.” That is Satan, of course, not God, whose work is to save souls, not to destroy them.

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat.” And Peter learned the lesson, and has passed it onto us, in his first epistle: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking him whom he might devour. Resist, steadfast in the faith.”

Paul, too, knew that we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness against the heavenly places.

Pope Leo XIII saw this truth. He received a vision of a coming 20th century, a vision that history has proved terrifyingly true. He saw Satan at the beginning of time, allowed one century to do his worst work in. And Satan chose the 20th. This pope, Leo—with the name and the heart of a lion—was so overcome by the terror of this vision that he fell into a swoon like a Victorian lady. When he revived, he composed a prayer for the whole Church to use for this whole century of spiritual warfare:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
by the Divine Power of God –
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

This prayer was known by every Catholic and prayed after every Mass until the 60’s—exactly when Leo’s Church was struck by the incomparably swift disaster which we have not yet named, but which future historians must—the disaster which has taken away half of our priests, three quarters of our nuns, and nine tenths of our children’s theological knowledge, by turning the faith of our fathers into the doubts of our dissenters, in a miraculous reversal of Christ’s first miracle at Cana—turning the wine of the gospel into the water of psychobabble. An anti-miracle by the anti-Christ.

The restoration of the Church and thus the world might well begin with the restoration of the Lion’s prayer and the Lion’s vision. Because this is the vision of all the saints, all the apostles, and the Lord himself. The vision of a real Satan, a real hell, and a real spiritual warfare.

I said there were two enemies. The second is even more horrible than the first.

There is one nightmare more terrifying than being chased by the devil, even caught by the devil, even tortured by the devil. That is, the nightmare of becoming the devil. The horror outside your soul is terrible enough, but not as terrible as the horror inside your soul.

The horror inside the soul, of course, is sin. Another word, which—if any were to dare to speak it today—elicits embarrassment from the Christian and condemnation from the secularist, who condemns only condemnation, judges only judgmentalism, and believes the only sin is believing in sin. All sin is the devil’s work, though he usually uses the flesh and the world as his instruments. Sin means doing the devil’s work. Tearing and damaging God’s work. And we do this. That’s the only reason that the devil can do his awful work in our world. God won’t allow him to do it without our free consent. And that’s the deepest reason why the Church is weak, and why the world is dying. Because we are not saints.

And that gives us our third necessary thing to know.

  • The weapon that will win the war and defeat our enemy.

All it takes is saints. Can you imagine what twelve more Mother Teresa’s, or twelve more John Wesley’s would do for this poor old world? Can you imagine what would happen if just twelve people in this room did it? Gave Christ 100% of their hearts, with 100% of their hearts, 100% of the time, and held back nothing—absolutely nothing? No, you can’t imagine it, anymore than anyone could have imagined how twelve nice Jewish boys could conquer the Roman empire. You can’t imagine it.

But you can do it. You can become a saint. Absolutely no one and nothing can stop you. It’s your free choice. Here is one of the most wonderful and terrifying sentences I have ever read. From William Law’s Serious Call.

“If you will look into your own heart, in utter honesty, you must admit, that there is one and only one reason why you are not even now a saint. You do not wholly want to be.”

That insight is terrifying because it is an indictment. But it is wonderful, and hopeful, because it is also an offer. An open door. Each of us can become a saint. We really can. We really can. I say it three times because I think we do not really believe that, deep down. For if we did, how could we endure being anything less?

What holds us back? Fear of paying the price. What is the price? The answer is simple. T. S. Eliot gave it when he defined Christianity as, “the condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.” The price is everything. 100%. Martyrdom, if required, and probably a worse martyrdom than the quick noose or stake—the martyrdom of dying daily. Dying every minute for the rest of your life. Dying to all your desires, and all your plans, including your plans on how to become a saint.

Or rather, not desiring to your desires, but dying to the you in your desires. I think this this sounds much more mystical than it is. It is simply giving God a blank check. It is simply Islam—complete submission. Fiat—Mary’s thing. Look at what it did two thousand years ago when she did it: it brought God down from heaven, and thus saved the world. It was meant to continue. If we do that Mary thing, that Islam, and only if we do that, then all our apostolates will work. Our preaching and teaching and writing and catechizing and missioning and fathering and mothering and studying and nursing and businessing and pastoring and priesting, everything.

Last year, an American Catholic bishop had asked one of the priests of the diocese for recommendations for ways to increase vocations to the priesthood. The priest replied in his report, “the best way to attract men in this diocese to the priesthood, your Excellency, would be your canonization.”

Why not yours? But how? We always want to know “how.” Give me a method, a technology, a means to this end. What does that question mean? How can I become a saint? Or give me a means to the end of sanctity. It means, “Give me something that is easier than sanctity, which will cause sanctity, so that if I do this something, or attain this something, than this something will be the middle term, the link, between me and sanctity.”

No. There is none. No prayers, no meditations, no 12-step programs, no yogas, no psychological techniques, no techniques at all. There can be no button to push for sanctity, any more than for love. For sanctity simply is love. Loving God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. How do you love? You just do it. A cause cannot produce an effect greater than itself. And nothing in the world is greater than sanctity. Nothing greater than love. Therefore no cause, no human cause, can produce sanctity. There can never be any technology for sanctity.

Of course, God is its cause, grace is its cause. The Holy Spirit is its cause. Oh, well, why doesn’t God cause it then? If sanctity isn’t a do-it-yourself thing, but an only-God-can-do-it thing, then why doesn’t God make me a saint? If only grace can do it, why doesn’t he give me that grace? Because you don’t want it. If you wanted it, he’d give it. He promised that—all that seek find. It’s back to “Just say ‘yes’.”

It’s infinitely simpler than we think, and that’s why it’s hard. The hard word in the formula, “Just say ‘yes'” is the word “just.” We are comfortable with Christ-and-theology, or Christ-and-psychology, or Christ-and-America, or Christ-and-the-Republican/Democratic-party, or Christ-and-phonics, or Christ-and-dieting— But just plain Christ, all Christ, Christ drunk straight, not mixed, we find far too dangerous for our tastes. Aslan is not a tame lion. Just say yes to him? You never know what he’d do with you.

I conclude with a claim to infallibility. I give you two infallible prognoses.

  1. If we do not use this weapon, we will not win this war.
  2. If we do use this weapon, we will win this war.

Or more subtly—

  1. Insofar as we use this weapon, we will this war, and
  2. Insofar as we do not, we will not.


We can win, because we wield here the world’s most unconquerable weapon, the strongest force in the universe. To translate it from the abstract to the concrete, the weapon is Christ’s blood. Not Christ without blood—not merely a beautiful ideal, and not blood without Christ—not a merely human sacrifice and martyrdom. But Christ’s blood.

Back when there were more communists in Russia than in American universities, Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that the difference between Russia and America was that Russia was the cross without Christ, and America was Christ without the cross. Neither will win. Neither will work. Neither sacrifice without love, nor love without sacrifice. But the blood of Christ will work. For that blood flows from his sacred heart. And the heart of that heart is agape—divine love. That is why it will work. Because love never gives up. And that is why we will never give up, and why we will win. Why we, whose food is this blood, are invincible.

The hard-nosed, successful secularist lawyer Jerry Spence writes, “a small boy and a bully meet. When the small boy is knocked down, he gets up and attacks again. Over and over. Until at last, he will win. For nothing in the world is as fearsome as a bloody battered opponent who will never surrender.” Never.

Winston Churchill delivered the shortest and most memorable commencement speech of all time at his Alma Mater during World War II:

“Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up.”

That’s all. We will win the war because no matter how many times we fall down, no matter how many times we fail at being saints, no matter how many times we fail at love, we will never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up.




My Exit from the Gun Arguments

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I recently read the book, Amish Grace, the response of the Amish Community in Lancaster County to the 2006 school shooting in the West Nickel Mines Amish school. As soon as the event became known, in which several of the children of the community were shot by a mentally ill gunman who was not Amish, who then killed himself, the community went to the family of the gunman and offered support and forgiveness for the shame and difficulty they must feel, and for losing their husband, and father, and main source of family income.

The Amish struggled with living out that forgiveness perfectly in their feelings, but their will, their chosen response, was to offer forgiveness, and did so automatically, as part of their cultural identity. They were amazed, they said, that we were amazed, at their immediate response to show forgiveness. To them, that was what it meant to be  Christian. Many who lost children, or whose children were permanently scarred or disabled from the event, continue to will forgiveness against their occasional feelings of anger, but they also have the support of their families and community in their struggles. There continues to be a healthy, joy-filled, and love-filled relationship between the Amish community and the family of the gunman.

Many critics in the media (because that’s what they do) said that forgiveness came easier because the gunman was killed, and they didn’t have to deal with his fate. But in other crimes against the Amish community, they took great pains to go to court to plead for mercy for the perpetrators, especially when the death penalty was a consideration.

Forgiveness does not mean that the wrong-doer escapes any and all consequences for their actions; that itself would be injustice, and would not help to reform the wrong-doer. But it does mean that those who have been wounded refuse to nurture their anger and right to vengeance, in favor of seeking the reform of the wrong-doer, and a restoration, or even increase, of peace in the community.

We could learn something from the Amish in their response to wrong-doing, even egregious wrong-doing like a school shooting. We can offer forgiveness to Nikolas Cruze. We can seek his healing and salvation. We can choose not to nurture and expand our emotional response of wrath and vengeance, but ask God to heal our unforgiveness, and heal Cruze of the mental illness and wounds of his childhood that brought him to this situation. Yes, he chose to do this act, and he is accountable to the just and fair consequences of the act. But it is not just and fair to bring down on him our anger for being part of a larger rash of school shootings, and the failure of our society to serve and protect our children, and our mentally ill among us. (There is also the question about whether true justice, which includes mercy, ought to rightfully include killing the guilty, but that’s a separate discussion.) This forgiveness is not to suppress and sublimate our negative feelings, but to let them die of starvation, to let go of them, and turn our hearts back to the response we have chosen, instead of the feelings. I disagree with the Amish on many issues, but I think they have a lot to teach us about grace and forgiveness.

This is my last post and comment on the guns and school shooting topic. I don’t have the solution, except for the long-term solution of righting the host of deprivations and depravities which our society has tolerated and even celebrated. The ultimate solution is the conversion of hearts and minds to love and truth. But that will not stop those whose hearts and minds are deformed. And that—the concrete, short-term, urgent (before our next school shooting attempt) aspect of the solution—is where I bow out of the conversation. My expertise is neither guns nor law. My expertise is forgiveness, and the call to holiness, to divine truth and love, and that’s the long hard, narrow, uphill way, to ultimately solving this (and everything else). But to come up with the urgently needed solution that will protect our kids from the *next* shooter? I humbly defer to those with more wisdom in this matter. God bless you and protect you, and your families.

On Thoughts and Prayers

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I’m writing this (ok, starting this) on February 15, the day after Ash Wednesday, as marked by the poignant picture of this woman, waiting in the parents’ and students’ area outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, still with her ashen cross emblazoned on her forehead. Social Media is, not unexpectedly, aflame with frustration over expressions of “thoughts and prayers for the victims” while, cynically and probably not incorrectly, another mass shooting fails to inspire any legislative response. This post isn’t about what political or legislative response we should hope for. It’s about the thoughts and prayers. And why people are frustrated with the expression.

We believe in the God who is Love, the God of Compassion, and of infinite Might and Power. But also a God who did not prevent His Son from being executed for political and religious motives, by those who should have rushed to worship Him rather than kill Him. He loved His Son perfectly, divinely, and with all the fullness of his own infinite nature. Sure, His Son was going to be resurrected after three days. But God isn’t three days ahead, He’s fully present to the reality of the present moment. And we cannot fathom or understand His experience at the agony and suffering and death of His Son incarnate.

We humans, whose love is hampered by our sinfulness and limitedness, still love others, most especially our children, with incredibly profound depths of love, self-sacrificing love. Which tells you something about God’s love, the perfect source of our imperfect love. As members of the Body of Christ, we share one another’s grief and pain, their joy and hope. When one member suffers, the other members of the Body share in that suffering. Even beyond the Body of Christ, our shared human identity connects us together in a natural bond. Our imagination tries to simulate what it must feel like to experience what they are experiencing. It allows us to empathize. And we can imagine what it might be like for those people whose children were killed or injured yesterday in Florida. Those who have children can empathize better than those who do not. Those who have lost children can perhaps empathize even better, but not perfectly.

Most of us “ordinary people,” meaning those without any significant and immediate capacity to directly respond to the events and people personally affected by this tragedy, we have this sense of sorrow for them, our empathy for them, our compassion for (suffering+with) them, and seemingly nothing productive to do with it. So we post on social media, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy.” And it is right and good to do so. We do believe in the power of prayer, and of the unity of all of us as beloved creatures (or Sons and Daughters) of the Most High God, made in His image (of Love) and likeness (of Holiness).

Fr. Mike Schmitz over at Ascension Press has an awesome video on the Power of Prayer and why we are called to pray, even though God’s already going to do what is best. We are called by our faith (and nature) to participate in the will of God the Father, and thus learn better the heart of the Father, and conform our hearts to His. God is with the brokenhearted, with the suffering and those who mourn, and so in prayer, we are, too. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims. Jesus did not come to end suffering, but to be with us through every suffering of ours, to let us know we are never abandoned or alone, especially when we most feel like we are. To post to social media our identifying with the pain and suffering of the victims is (at least remotely) to have the chance that we are among the many who are surrounding them as a cloud of support and encouragement in their dealing with their suffering. For the most of us, the “ordinary people” without any significant and immediate capacity to directly respond to the events and people personally affected by this tragedy, that is noble and compassionate.

Prayer is a gesture of solidarity by those who can do little more than such a gesture. It’s an expression of mercy. But mercy is more than compassion. It’s also a desire to end the suffering of the other, if that is within the person’s power. Ah, there’s the rub. “Thoughts and prayers” are good and holy, if that’s all the person can offer to the victim of a man-made tragedy, like a school shooting. But they are perhaps not quite so good and holy if they are an empty offering by those in a position to address the situation, both for the victim of this tragedy, and to prevent future similar tragedies with future victims. Political and social leaders of faith are certainly entitled to extend gestures of thoughts and prayers. But they are not entitled to hide behind that gesture when they do have the power, and therefore the duty, to do more.

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“Thoughts and prayers” have been offered to the victims of tragedies for many, many years. And again, rightly so. But as it became clear that these were code words by politicians for “but although we’re responsible for fixing this problem, we’re going to use these words to avoid fixing this problem,” then the phrase “thoughts and prayers” took on a very negative connotation. As cynicism, distrust, and frustration with politicians has grown, and especially as the political divide in our culture has widened, “thoughts and prayers” has come to embody the willful ineffectiveness of government to pass legislation our country needs (besides immigration reform, healthcare reform….). Of course, rushing to pass policy riding on the wave of national outrage is not likely to be the right path, either, even though it satisfies the sentiment that at least something was done, even if it was the wrong thing.

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Thoughts and prayers are not a substitute for doing one’s duty in pursuing the right and true solution to the gun-violence problem we have, particularly as it manifests in school shootings. Yes, politicians of faith should offer their thoughts and prayers, but the point is that (if they mean it, and want to avoid an accusation of religious hypocrisy) they cannot stop there. Again, this post isn’t about what politicians should do. It’s about why politicians offering their “thoughts and prayers” elicits such bitter response.

However, for you and me, we offer our thoughts and prayers. We’re not politicians, we’re not local Floridians. Sure, we might send a card or online message. But while we send our thoughts and prayers to the victims of yesterday’s school shooting, and the victims of all the past mass shootings, it would perhaps be more noble to actually offer prayers rather than just a vague promise to do so.

“May God heal the broken-hearted and comfort the sorrowing as we once again face as a nation another act of senseless violence and horrifying evil.” – Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them.

And perhaps it would be more noble to actually think of what we might do. Certainly many parents hugged their children tighter last night. Hopefully they also told them to play with the lonely kid at school, and to be kind to the classmate that everyone picks on. Hopefully teachers and classmates and even other parents know what kids are having difficulties at home, and venture to offer support and love, and reminding them of their dignity and gifts. And hopefully school staff are also vigilant of students displaying signs of emotional and psychological illness, signs of destructive, violent, and angry impulses, and aggressively seeking for them the help and attention that they need. Perhaps they can be rescued in all the ways in which past shooters have been failed in getting them the care and concern that their dignity deserved, before the unthinkable happened.

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Perhaps also this will be the catalyst to begin concrete initiatives to do what can be done, not just to get the mentally ill the help they need, but to prevent them from having the opportunity to repeat what happened yesterday in Florida. What can we do before the next potential school shooting? We don’t need more children victims, or mourning and grieving parents. My thoughts and prayers are with them. May the Lord Jesus, who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, and the Mother of Jesus, who stood at the foot of the cross of her son, bring consolation to the parents, families, and friends of those who died, and ease the suffering as they prepare to lay their children to rest. May God guide us in truth, wisdom, and grace to prevent future tragedies like this one.

On Communion and Happiness

engagement-1718244_1920Last week I was going to share an article on ecumenism and the resentment some (many?) people have toward the Catholic Church’s traditional practice of “closed communion” (meaning the Church restricts licit reception of communion to only Catholics, and only those Catholics that are not conscious of any mortal sin on their soul). The comment I was typing to share the article was approaching the length of the article itself, and I deleted the whole thing and moved on, without sharing either comment or article (which is how I spend a lot of time on Facebook, to be honest).

It was the Plan, apparently, because this morning I was about to type a new post about happiness, and in my mind it immediately connected with that prior post I didn’t post.

What’s the connection? It’s about what we seek, and that much of what we seek is not what we should seek, but should be the fruit of what we should seek.

First, I’ll go back to that prior post about the Catholic Church’s teaching on closed communion. To begin with, we have to remember the early beginnings of the Church. There were the Apostles and close, faithful followers of Christ, who stayed with Him despite His difficult messages and despite the persecution and fear. They “were of one mind and one heart,” truly in communion with one another–and most importantly–with God through the grace of the sacrament of communion and the witness of how they lived their lives. There was truly an integrity and communion between their lives, their faith, their community, and their Lord. When there was a rupture in this communion, it was obviously a point of distress. It created a scandal (“stumbling block”), both within the community, and in the witness of the community to outsiders, to have such a rupture. St. Paul is very direct in addressing such a scandal:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

And then came others who wanted to be part of this little community of “the Way.” Well, to do that, they needed a sponsor in good standing in the community to vouch for them, and to help them learn about how to live, what to believe, what communion is between the believer and the community and the believer and God (hence, sacramental sponsors have to be more than just “Catholic,” they have to live the faith with integrity). This became even more important when persecutions meant that infiltrators might betray the members of the group to the public authorities. And then splinter groups started forming who had theological opinions different than the sense of the faithful of the apostolically-formed communities (who, though they were geographically separate, were united in a single faith, as attested to, for example, by the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons). Of course, one of the key beliefs of the Church was the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Although the formulation of just *how* Christ was present in the Eucharist wasn’t pursued as a question at the time, the belief that he *is* present was essential. Even St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, made it clear:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

The Church through her holy Tradition maintains this early disposition about receiving communion: that only those in full communion of FAITH and WITNESS–of believing all that the Church teaches as true (especially about the Eucharist), and having nothing scandalous on their conscience that would separate them from the community–are admitted to the celebration of communion.

That’s the background for my point. As I often lament, “God has blessed me with many gifts, but being succinct is not one of them.”

I would propose (I think without much disagreement) that there is much more “unworthy” (or in technical terms, “illicit”) reception of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church than any previous time; “unworthy reception” meaning that communion is sought and received by those who are not in full communion with the Church, either by a break in faith, or a break in witness (mortal sin). And my point of all this is that this is why: the general pulling apart of the internal and external of everything.

The most commonly encountered example of this is our relativist modern society:
it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re a basically good person. (see: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). Of course, what a “basically good person” is, we don’t completely agree on, but for the most part, it’s that you leave everyone else to believe and live however they wish, and keep what you believe to yourself. If what you believe infringes on anyone else believing and living however they wish, then there is a problem with what you believe. You can go to what church (or synagogue, or mosque, or temple, or whatever) you want, and have in your heart whatever you want, and whatever you believe ends with you. Outside you, it’s not your church or beliefs that matter, it’s social and government policy that matters. That’s how we all get along (unless your beliefs try to get out into society). On this topic I HIGHLY recommend Matthew Leonard’s podcast with Andrew West on “Church and State.” (You can ignore his over-hyped title, just listen to the interview).

So you would reasonably think that at least within the Church–within the Church building itself, within the liturgy itself–that this would be a “safe space” where the Catholic Church has the authority to say to her own children (and guests): this is the truth of what we believe, and this is what we should do with it. That at least here in church, among our own people, we would honor the Church’s own teaching, that if you are not in full communion with the Church (community) in what the Church believes and teaches, and/or if you are not in full communion with the Church (community) because of mortal sin, do not approach to receive and celebrate the sacrament of communion (because you are not *in* communion).

Instead of people taking the integrity of inward reality and outward sign (that is at the heart of what a sacrament is) and bringing an increase of integrity to their life, they bring the dis-integrity of the separation of inward and outward, from life in our society, and apply it to receiving communion. What do I mean? I mean that we bring into our liturgical celebration the worldly mentality that our interior life is irrelevant to our exterior life. As long as we are a “basically good person,” we’re good enough (to be allowed to do what we want, including receiving communion); and that whatever interferes with that (especially if it makes us feel bad) is bad.

But here’s where it ties into the beginning, on the potential post on happiness. Why do people *want* to receive communion? Because it feels awkward and vulnerable (and judged) to *not* receive communion. What will people think of me? (“me” should be a rare thought during the liturgy anyway.) It just makes everything more difficult with people having to pass by me in these narrow pews, and my reason for not receiving communion is not that bad anyway. I’ll just go. (Noooo!)

My Spanish teacher told me it was quite a culture shock when he went to church in the US, compared to Mexico. In Mexico, most people do not receive communion, because they know they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, there is no burning desire for communion that drives them to repent of their sins and come into communion with the Church. In the US most people receive communion, worthy or not. This teacher said when his mother first went to church in the US, she was amazed at how holy everyone must be to all be receiving communion. He had to give her the bad news. Maybe it’s because in Mexico, there’s a strong cultural aspect of Catholic guilt, and in the US, there’s an even stronger cultural aspect of self-esteem (if you want it, go get it).

So we want the outward appearance, the fruit, of communion (approaching and receiving the sacrament of communion), without the inward reality of in fact being in communion. The outward appearance of the Church is as a hierarchical social organization of people who come together to hear bible readings and share in the distribution of bread and wine. But the inward reality of the Church is the Body (and Bride) of Christ; an organic whole, of which all the baptized are sacramental body parts, each with a divinely-appointed and provided-for role in the life of the Body. And the appearance of bread and wine are in (sacramental) reality the nourishing and healing of the spiritual life we received at baptism–He whose life we have received and live nourishes us repeatedly with his Body and Blood to become ever more (because we live in material and passing time, we need continually renewed and returned to the source) in communion with Him and with the other members of His mystical body, as an organic communion of a whole, of which He is the Head. (In the Catholic faith, it’s SO MUCH MORE than just a symbol! But if you’ve detached yourself from the communion of the Body, by a break of faith or a break of witness, it’s a fatal break, as you’ve detached yourself from HIM who is the source of life!)

We go after the shiny wrapper and throw away the valuable contents. We want the wrong thing. Our want is too superficial, and God calls us to the deep reality of which we only want the outward sign. We shouldn’t want just the sacrament of communion (although it is itself no small thing: it is the source and summit of the Christian life); we should want *communion itself*, profound unity in self-giving (kenotic) love with our community (the Church in this world, and in purgatory, and in heaven, all members of one Body!) and with our Lord, and even within ourselves: intra-personal and interpersonal divine peace, which we can only truly have through the divine gift of the sacramental grace and living according to (and outward from) that grace.

And therein lies the rub.

We want to receive communion, and we want it on our terms, defiant that it has its own nature which does not submit to our terms. We want to receive communion and ignore the invitation to the deeper reality that the outward fruit of communion truly means and relies on.

We want happiness, and we want it on our terms, defiant that it (and the human person) has its own nature which does not submit to our terms. Happiness is actually the fruit of holiness, which is a participation in the divine life. When we experience friendship, love, joy, pleasure, peace, comfort, in any measure, we seek these as happiness; and they are: they are “passing participations” in what God is. But happiness is not the goal: holiness is the goal, an *abiding* and profound (and ultimately, eternal) participation in the divine, the “happiness of the saints.” These things make us happy because they are what we are made for. But when we seek happiness itself, we miss, or worse: we seek happiness in anti-divine ways that ultimately bring us (and often others with us, since we are all connected) profound unhappiness. At worst, our grasping at some improper way of pursuing happiness costs us (and perhaps others) the eternal happiness for which we were made. But if we seek holiness, we get happiness thrown in, because happiness is the fruit of holiness.

Ultimately, we as human beings are called to participate in God’s divine life. He didn’t make us because he needed worshipers for his frail ego. He didn’t make us to spend eternity in this passing world. He didn’t make us to lose ourselves by merging into Him. He made us to be in enduring, intimate (“nuptial”) relationship with Him, as He is in Himself: to be drawn in, through His Son, into the very exchange of divine love that is the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Unity, the Spirit of Divine Love. The Holy Spirit is a Person of the Trinitarian God, and we are called into the fullness of that Spirit. That fullness is the fullness of happiness, the fullness of love, the fullness of communion, the fullness of friendship, joy, pleasure, peace, comfort (and all the rest) which truly satisfies the longing of the human heart, because it was for this that we were made: perfect communion, perfect happiness–the image and likeness of God.

Let us not prefer the wrappers to the reality. Let us not prefer the illusion (or lie, or redefinition) of communion for the authentic reality of divine communion. Let us not prefer the appearance of goodness for the authentic reality of divine goodness. Let us not prefer the consequence of happiness for the cause, which is the authentic reality of divine holiness. We want the wrong thing, and we were made for more. “Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy.” And you will be happy.


Like a Good Neighbor


Catholic speaker Jeff Cavins tells the story of a friend of his, a Dominican priest, who was on a trip to Calcutta to teach a short seminar. He returned to his room after teaching, and his window was open to the everyday street noise of the big, bustling city of Calcutta. Then suddenly, the Dominican priest smelled this terrible stench coming from outside. He looked out on the street, and laying below his window was a poor man who had a huge gaping wound in his side, and maggots had infested the infected wound. He was groaning in pain. The priest pushed the window closed, and sat down on his bed. He thought about the fact that he didn’t want to go out and do anything about it because, being honest with himself, he didn’t want his habit to smell. As he sat on his bed, he then heard two women outside his window, an elderly one and a younger one. He could hear the younger woman say, “Mother, I will do it myself. You are tired. Go inside.” And the older one, Mother Theresa, he heard say, “No, I must take care of this man.” The Dominican priest went to the window, and saw Mother Theresa bend down and pick this man up, with his wounds, and roll him into her habit. And that point, the Dominican priest broke. He went down his knees at his bed and cried. He asked God, “What is wrong with me? How come I’m not willing to touch those who are sick, those who are diseased, and yet you stooped down to touch me? And at that moment his life changed. Because he saw one person, Mother Theresa, acting as the Good Samaritan, the neighbor. Mother Theresa won the Nobel Prize for doing what Moses instructed us to do. It is not far away in the sky, or across the sea; it is very near to you, already in your hearts. You only have to carry it out.

It means going outside of your comfort zone. It means taking your religion into your life, into your heart, and into your actions. Not comfortably, but sacrificially. It’s your brother who is homeless and hungry, smelly, dirty, drug-addicted, alcoholic, hungry, sinful, and selfish. It is your sister. Your father. Your mother. Your son. Your daughter. No matter their race, their culture, their sexual orientation, their beliefs. Go to them, tend to them, love them. “For whatever you did for these, the least of My brothers and sisters, you did for Me.” As Jesus first loved you, go and do likewise.

But let’s look at something else about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the Israelites who treated their fellow Israelite with compassion, those who knew the Law, (both of charity toward the wounded, or burial for the dead) and for whatever reason, failed in their obligation of the Law. It was only the Samaritan who did what was righteous. The Samaritans were those descended from the Northern tribes who were left behind when the Assyrians dispersed them, and brought in pagans to take over the land. They considered themselves the faithful remnant, both after the Assyrian dispersion, and the Babylonian Exile. They had set up their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, and their sacred writings were the Torah, but not with the later writings. The Israelites considered them genetic and spiritual mongrels, part Israelite and part pagan, and so they were both impure and heretical. They didn’t live the right way, they didn’t worship the right way, and they worshiped in a false temple. And yet the Samaritan is the hero in the parable Jesus is telling to the scholar of the law. The Samaritan might not know the law, but he lives it, at least in this act of kindness.

This does not mean to say that right worship is unimportant. Worshiping God is the most important thing we do, and the second is like it: taking that worship of God out into serving God in love by our serving our neighbor in love. And God has given us, through the scriptures, through Tradition, through the magisterium, the way he desires to be worshiped: through weekly active participation in the Mass, and through the other sacraments of the Church.

But it is to say that, as the Second Vatican Council did, that we are to cooperate with others outside the Church who are responding to the call to relieve suffering, to promote justice and virtue, to serve the poor, and build up others in love. We can’t throw liturgy or the true faith under the bus for the sake of playing well with others, but we can seek to fulfill common goals and projects together that serve God and our neighbors.

On Friday, a parishioner and I accepted the invitation from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to join them in a breakfast to welcome their new bishop. Do they believe things that we don’t believe? Yes, of course. And we can have conversations that help us to really clarify what we believe, and help us to understand each other better, and work together better.


(Click on image for link to article)  Bishop Gainer, with the Rev. James S. Dunlop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod (ELCA) and the Rev. Robert L Driesen of the Upper Susquehanna Synod (ELCA), are together as they sign a pastoral letter calling on Roman Catholic and Lutheran Clergy and laity to explore the joint statement, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist “in their preaching, teaching, and parish planning.” (Photo credit – Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness)

Last month, Bishop Gainer met with and signed joint statements with the local bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran communities to encourage a deeper mutual understanding and cooperation.

Can we work together? Yes, we can.

Can we worship together? In a limited way, yes. Catholics have the requirement to participate in Mass weekly, and the divine liturgy of the Catholic Mass is a very different thing in its essence than other Christian Sunday services (even though there are many common elements). So going to another church’s Sunday Service does not suffice as attending the Mass. Catholics can attend another church’s service, but they must also go to Mass, perhaps on Saturday evening.

And since in the Catholic faith, sharing in the celebration of communion (the real presence of Jesus, sacramentally and really present, body, blood, soul, and divinity) is reserved to those who are in full communion with the Catholic faith, and living that life faithfully, communion cannot be shared between our faith and others. Catholics should not take communion in non-Catholic churches, and non-Catholics (and Catholics in mortal sin, and those in a living arrangement inconsistent with Catholic teaching) cannot take communion in a Catholic Church. Again, those with whom we do not share full communion, we can still cooperate with them, we can still serve with them, we must certainly love them, and we can certainly show hospitality to them, but we must also acknowledge the tragic divisions within Christianity, and cannot sweep them under the rug in a false gesture of peace and tolerance. Because it is only in acknowledging our differences that we can truly make progress in reconciling them. But those differences do not need to dominate our relationship with them to the point that we cannot appreciate, love, and serve with them in some common ministries, activities and celebrations.

Finally, as one of my friends said on Friday, “The world needs Jesus. We need peace – Jesus is peace. We need love – Jesus is love. We need unity – Jesus is unity. We need strength – Jesus is strength. We need forgiveness – Jesus is forgiveness. We need justice – Jesus is justice. We need Jesus.”  (Thank you, Annie Celotto)

The fullness of all that God is—power, perfection, forgiveness, healing, hope—united himself with all that humanity is—need, sinfulness, woundedness, distrust, fear—and the two meet in Jesus. In him, all of our need meets all of his gift. All of our woundedness meets all of his healing. All of our division meets all of his forgiveness. Jesus is where, or in whom, it all comes together. “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

He came to us, he ministered to us, he laid down his life for us, though we were sick and infected in our wounds. Because he loves us each intimately, as members of his own body. We have an example. It is not far away in the sky, or across the sea; it is very near to you, already in your hearts. You only have to carry it out.



Be Radically Christian



What are we as Christians to do in the face of the problems of our society? That’s a burning question most of us have, or should have. How does God want us to respond to the rising frequency of difficulties for us to live as faithful Christians?

We already have the answer, we’ve known it in the past, and we’ve applied it in the past, and it’s always time to apply it again.

babylonian exileWhen the Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians and deported in the Exile, they spent a lot of time reflecting on why God allowed that to happen—how God, who promised always to be faithful, and always be with his people, could allow his people to be led away captive to a foreign land, far from God’s presence in his Holy Temple, in his Holy city of Jerusalem, which was left abandoned and burned.

The conclusion they came to was that they, not God, had been unfaithful. They may have been God’s chosen people, but they were not living by the precepts that set them apart, they who had enjoyed the unique favor of being given, by God himself, the law of how to live. They had become corrupt, they had gotten too involved in international affairs, and had neglected the precepts of purity and worship that God required of them. So while they were in Exile, they added to their sacred writings to make clear that God’s blessings were contingent on their faithful response, and that righteousness and purity needed to be kept at the center of their cultural identity. It so happened that as they did this, the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, and the Israelites were permitted to return to their land—an event that the Israelites had no doubt was by the hand of God, particularly in response to their having learned their lesson.

Our first reading, from near the end of the book of Isaiah, looks lovingly toward the restoration of Jerusalem, the mother of the people of God, the daughter of Zion. The reading recounts the blessings that God will shower upon Jerusalem, and the people, and inspires them to prepare themselves for the journey home, and once again to feel the comfort of their mother’s embrace.

The Church is the new Jerusalem, the place where God came to be with his people. The titles applied to Jerusalem–“Mother of the people of God”, “Daughter of Zion”–are also titles for Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, and so by adoption, mother of all who are brothers and sisters of Jesus, his body, the Church. On feast days honoring the Blessed Mother, we often have readings that praise the holy city Jerusalem.

They probably also should have noticed that central in God’s instructions were not just requirements for purity, but also for protection for the widows, the orphans, and the poor, who are close to God’s heart. Perhaps then they wouldn’t have had the terrible friction between the two at the time of Jesus: the pharisaic legalism focused on purity, but neglecting their duty of charity and generosity toward the vulnerable and suffering.

The Islamic world figured it out, too. Discontent with the mediocrity of cultural Islam, fundamentalists looked back at their history to see what was different about the golden ages when Islam was a powerful force in the world. And they, too, saw that it was radical fidelity to the principles of Islam. A fundamentalist and literal application of the ancient texts of Islam takes as given the notions of war and fighting as a political and cultural clash between those who are faithfully living Islam by this strict, fundamentalist interpretation, and everyone else. That is the difference between Islam and Muslims, and Islamism and Islamists, who corrupt the teachings of Islam to spout anti-Western condemnation and strap bombs to themselves in the name of Islam and God.

For more information, read this.Muslim vs Islamist

It’s tempting to buy into some of the sweeping-generalizations that Muslims, in general, are a threat, but we must also keep in mind that it is a misrepresentative group of Muslims who espouse this aggressive interpretation. The majority of Muslims do not. And just as there are Christians who are wrong people who do wrong things, we must treat Muslims as we want to be treated: to be judged on our own merit, our kindness, our charity, and our faithfulness, and not those who misrepresent our faith with violence and hatred.

That isn’t to say that even moderate Islam is not without some genuine concerns in terms of its relationship with Christianity and Western culture; and also how “anti-Western” non-Islamist Muslims might be. But we can respond to this with fear, or with dialogue and interaction. Those who are here legally have as much right to be here and celebrate their faith, and enjoy their legal protections and rights (and obligations) as any of us. We would be charitable to give the benefit of the doubt to particular Muslims and their communities, and show them gracious hospitality. In the words of Lincoln, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

And so how do we respond to the challenges of the world? By being radically Christian. I don’t mean Christian radicals or Christian fundamentalists–those who take some aspect of Christian teaching, and then violently and hatefully spreading that bit of the message apart from the whole (such as the KKK, Westboro Baptist Church, or those who violently attack mosques, synagogues, abortion clinics, or do any violence in the name of any Christian belief). Not radical Christian, but radically Christian. Blessed Mother Theresa, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Dorothy Day, Pope Saint John Paul II, were radically Christian. How so? By living by the message and life of Christ: to live by the cross, as a living sacrifice; taking up our cross daily, denying ourselves, and following him; by a simple life of prayer and service in love of God and all his children.

Our second reading is the end of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. St. Paul proclaims his abandonment of himself and all things for the way of the cross. He says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Is that difficult? It’s darn near impossible, but for the grace of God. He gives us this grace through our relationship with him—the most important relationship in your whole life. We strengthen that relationship by our worthy reception of the sacraments, by time spent in learning the Word of God, and by practicing the virtues and the works of mercy.

Jesus said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” We often use these words of Jesus to promote vocations to the priesthood. It is right and just, for we do need to encourage that, especially in a culture which so pervasively promotes the opposite (namely, self-centeredness and sexual indulgence). But in itself, the reading is not a call for more priests, it is a call for radically engaged Christians. Those who love Christ—such that their love overflows into sharing the treasure they have found with all they meet, with generosity and love. And that doesn’t just mean evangelizing to non-Christians or even non-Catholics. We are also engaged in what the Church calls “The New Evangelization,” which is to replant the seed of the love of Christ and his Church in areas and people who already received the Gospel, but where it has not (or has stopped) bearing fruit.

So what are we as Christians to do in the face of the problems of our society?

  1. We are to live the gospel—which is to live and love the cross, which is to embrace the persecution we encounter, and return a blessing; to pray for our enemies. It is to live the teachings of the Church, and oppose secular errors such as abortion, artificial contraception, artificial conception, non-marital sex, pornography, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.
  2. We are to share the gospel, to spread far and wide—starting with those closest to us—the closeness and mercy of God as he has drawn near to us, and the divine truth of human nature, that supports why so much of what is being promoted by society is contrary to healthy human fulfillment.
  3. We are to love the gospel. We are to put God first in our lives, and all other priorities in terms of our worship of him, and our love of him. Which includes our active participation in the Mass and the sacraments, arriving early and staying until the end of Mass, every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, being dressed modestly and nicely, and refraining from receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. It means taking unpopular stances, saying unpopular things, in love, because they are right. It means prudently choosing what battles to fight and how; to avoid formal cooperation in sinful behavior; and providing faithful Catholic formation for our children.

Immaculate ConceptionIf we want to make America great, then we do so by being great American citizens, and we do that by being faithful Catholic citizens: hard-working patriotic servants, by being God’s good servants first. We remain faithful to the law of God, and then to the extent possible, to the law of the land. We stand up for the poor and vulnerable, and for truth and virtue. We pray for our families, our neighbors and our leaders.

Through the intercession and protection of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of our country, may we be, and always remain, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all.


Being Christian and Staying the Course


Our readings for this weekend have the clear and common theme of being firmly committed to God, and prioritizing the other aspects of our life in proper respect to this first priority.

Our readings for this weekend:

In our first reading, we see Elijah following God’s instructions to anoint Elisha as his successor as the chosen and anointed prophet of God. We can glean some important things about Elisha’s life from this reading: He was handling a team of twelve yoke of oxen. So this was no small guy. He was big and strong. And we see that he fed “his people”, those depending on him, and so he was a man who was a provider to others in and near his home. But in his action, we see what’s most important: he slaughters the twelve yoke of oxen, and uses the yoke to fuel the fire of a great meal for his people. He essentially burned the bridge behind him to his previous life as he went to follow Elijah.

Throughout the Old Testament books of First and Second Kings, we see the story of these two prophets, Elijah, and Elisha, the embodiment of God’s promise through Moses that God will continue to be with and guide his people. And it is through these two great prophets that we see a kind of parallel to St. John the Baptist and Jesus, whose narratives are interwoven in the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke. Elijah was a prophet of warning, of vengeance, of calling down thunder and lightning. Elisha was a prophet of mercy, of healing, of resurrection and restoration, and forgiveness. Although the contrast is not exact, for we heard a few weeks ago of Elijah restoring the son of the widow of Zarephath, and we know that Jesus at times played the part of giving stern warnings and displaying divine anger.

Indeed, in today’s Gospel, which can be divided into two parts, in the first part, we have Jesus showing a gentle response to being rejected by the Samaritans, while his disciples James and John earn their nickname, “the Sons of Thunder” for wanting to punish the Samaritans for their faithlessness.

Then in the second part of the Gospel, which shows three potential disciples, Jesus is stern with them, demonstrating that once a person makes a commitment to be Christian, nothing must get in the way, nothing must take a higher priority, and nothing must be chosen which is inconsistent with that primary priority. It’s not going to be easy, Jesus tells us. We’re not going to have some of the comforts that others enjoy. But what are those comforts worth, compared with eternity in the highest ranks of heaven? St. Francis de Sales teaches us that it is not enough to simply avoid sin, but we must let go even of our affection for sin. We can’t want what is sinful, even if it were permitted. We must purify our desires, our hearts, if we want to see God.

One of the stories I read recently is about a guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast who was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for some oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came because his son needed oil for a lamp so he could study. Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry. That night the beacon was dark and a ship crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost. The lighthouse guard explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, “You were given only one and very important task: to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. Deviation from your responsibility has caused loss of many lives and much property. You have no excuse.”

Temptation is not necessarily a choice between good and evil. Perhaps more confusing and tempting is the conflict when one must choose between something good and a greater good. The lighthouse keeper in our story found himself in such a conflict situation. And that is what happened to the would-be disciples in today’s Gospel story. In such cases the good becomes the enemy of the best. One must say NO to a good thing in order to say YES to the one thing necessary.

Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.

Pope Benedict is often quoted as saying, “The world promises you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” That’s the choice between saying “no” to the good of comfort, to be able to say “yes” to the greater good of greatness. Another great quote, by Augusta Kantra, isDiscipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” It’s the same principle: saying “no” to what you want now (like a big juicy steak and baked potato) so that you can say “yes” to what you want most (lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol so you can lose weight and live healthier).

If it’s true about your physical life, in this case, it’s more true for your spiritual life. We are called to make sacrifices (fasting, praying, almsgiving). We are called to do things (help the poor and vulnerable, go to Mass weekly and Confession regularly, follow the moral law). We are called to avoid things (practice chastity, refrain from gossip, don’t be judgmental). Sure, some of these are for everybody, but some of them are especially directed at Christians. Our lives should not be lived the same way as others, because we are pursuing different goals. And if the ends are different, so should the path be different. We are not seeking popularity, wealth, power, or pleasure. We are seeking holiness, humility, mercy, faith, hope, and charity. We’re seeking heaven, and the steep, narrow road to get there. And to make that journey, we have to let go of a lot of unnecessary baggage.

We have to ditch what we want now, for what we want most. We have to keep our hand to the plow, and not look back.