Saturday, March 30, 2013

Motivated by Fear

It's been a hell of a Lent.

And here's one lesson I've learned.  Most of us are motivated by fear - and I'm not talking about that Holy Fear, which is Awe or Reverence.  I'm talking about the cowardly sniveling fear that we express day in and day out, being afraid to discipline our children, being afraid to speak up to our boss when he takes advantage of us, being afraid to stop enabling the addict we might be living with.

In fact, the worst kind of Christians are those who are motivated by fear - not fear of God, but worldly fear.  It's amazing how much energy we can put into protecting ourselves from God's will and shielding ourselves from Divine Providence.  We're just so damn afraid.  What would happen to our witness, for example, if we stopped worrying about offending people?  What would happen to our relationships if we stopped trying to control them for fear of what "getting real" would mean?  What would happen to our marriages if we loved our husbands or wives enough that we were willing to make them mad for their own good and if we stopped trying to live for the sake of a false peace in the household?

What would happen, now that Easter is upon us, if we simply gave up being motivated by fear?

What would happen if we started to trust the one person who loves us most - God?

The Sacred Heart Sits Atop the Sacred Backbone

Where did we get the idea that "love" means indulgence?  That, for instance, to love a child means to spoil that child?  That to love a neighbor means condoning everything he does - from sexual perversion to addictive behavior?

Love means setting boundaries and honoring them - this is why God's greatest gift of love before He sent Jesus was sending the Law.  We don't like boundaries, but without them there is no shape, no form, and one thing blends into another.  And the word for that is hell.

For those of you wondering what I mean by the word Modern - the great hallmark of the modern world is just this: no boundaries - fuzziness, blur, formlessness: no borders in life, no definition or backbone in the Church, no belief in the reality of form, and hence no ability to think.

And yet in our families and our friendships and our vocations, it comes down to this - love without boundaries and you'll soon find that you can't love at all.

The Sacred Heart sits atop the Sacred Backbone.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sex and Conversion

Reader Benjamin asks ...

How do we convert people having seemingly no comprehension of sexual morality? It is like getting through a 10 feet wide stone wall. They have been given a counter-morality. They have been told that it is evil to believe in sexual morality. Of course, surely on some level they know this is wrong. On some level, surely they know it has become an issue of popularity. Are they simply pretending not to understand? Are they just unwilling to go against the currents? Are they really this confused?

C. S. Lewis said somewhere that you can't begin with fornication.  For one thing, the sex drive is not contrary to nature or the natural law.  And for those acts which are - well, we may know in our hearts that promiscuous and sterile sex, pornography or perversion is wrong, but now that society hails such sins as positive things, as good things, as commendable things, there's little we can do.

It seems to me that the renunciations asked for by a love for Jesus Christ make no sense on their own.  Access to sexual adventures has perhaps never been so easy, at least since the decline of ancient Rome.  To turn from such things seems utterly foolish and self-defeating to most normal people, and to avoid easy sex only makes sense in the context of a relationship with Christ.

Thus I agree with Lewis.  You can't start with the evils of fornication and the benefits of chastity.  That would be like preaching to a homeless drug addict about the joys of working a 9 to 5 job in a cubicle.  Such a sacrifice has its rewards, and is a much better thing that abandonment to drugs and destitution, but it's certainly not the carrot on the stick.  Now, I'm not comparing chastity to a life of drudgery; on the contrary, it is a bold and glowing thing, intensifying love and bringing light and dignity to man and woman.  But to a horny teen, chastity seems no different than a life of unremitting wage slavery.  To them it seems like a 9 to 5 job in a cubicle.  And it won't seem otherwise until life seems otherwise; and life won't seem otherwise until they begin to catch a glimpse of the pearl of great price, for which all other riches lose their luster.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Approaching the Cross

So find someone worthy of love and love that person all the way.

And if that person is the greatest person who ever lived, if that person is the Son of Man and the Son of God, and if that person has loved you to the point of abandonment, torture and death - love that person all the way.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Boundaries

Love demands boundaries.

This is maybe the hardest lesson for moderns to appreciate.

Thought demands boundaries.  This is because thought recognizes the boundaries that do exist.  A married couple cannot be two men or two women - this is a boundary that exists independent of what we want.  Giving you life over to drugs or porn will make you miserable - this is a boundary that we try to cross all the time, and then we find to our surprise that it applies to us as well as to all those others, those addicts, who are not us.  There are distinctions in form and without acknowledging them, pure confusion results - but look at the money spent on "higher education" in this country, for an indoctrination that is blind to intangible reality.

At any rate, the most miserable person in the world is a spoiled child.  My wife corrects me: "The most miserable person in the world is a spoiled child who does not get his or her way."  A brat having a tantrum displays an unhappiness and lack of perspective that knows no bounds, for a spoiled child knows no boundaries.

Reconciliation

Last night I posted on Facebook

Has anyone out there ever had anyone who hurt you, other than a spouse or child, actually apologize to you - or apologize in anything but a very limited and conditional way? It has happened to me once in my entire life, and that was an actor who wanted me to hire him again. I did, and it was a huge mistake. Other than that, a genuine "I'm sorry" is never heard, among Christians, pagans, or atheists.

To my surprise, I got a number of comments.   Many people said that they and their spouses are always apologizing to one another, and sincerely - but that it's a very rare thing for those outside of our immediate families to do such things.

I think this is the mystery of Reconciliation.

The reason friends or strangers who hurt us hardly ever offer sincere apologies (or even the occasional "I'm sorry, but -") is the reason they hurt us in the first place - they don't care.  A sincere apology requires contrition, in the same way that the Sacrament of Reconciliation requires contrition, and contrition consists not only in a sincere sorrow for having done wrong, but also a desire not to do wrong again or even to put ourselves in a position to do wrong: the motivation behind genuine contrition is repair, the re-instatement of an old status.  Bad friends or strangers have no desire for such a thing, for they were not seeking that to begin with.

So the decline of the use of Confession in the Catholic Church is not just because priests don't recommend it enough or offer it enough, but because most Catholics don't have any desire to be Reconciled - to be in full communion with Jesus Christ.  To do so would mean giving up our secret pleasures - judgmentalism, promiscuous sex, pornography, false-tolerance, love of money, etc.  Why would we want to be Reconciled with a Body that requires such renunciations in order to be intimate with it, in order to be friends?


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wheelchair Gangsters and Contraception


This is a fascinating and disturbing video by a South African alternative music group.

It is well made, but filled with violence, odd humor and vulgar language.  WARNING: It's not for everybody.

My point in posting it is not only that it's artistic and reveals a great deal of pain - my point in posting it is this.

This video could not be made EXCEPT in a contraceptive culture.  These delayed-adolescents (he appears to be mid-30's, but the drug use may have aged him) would not be parading around their angst, their depression, their violence, their sense of powerlessness and impotence and their post-modernist ironic humor, if they simply had kids.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Faith and Parking Spaces

A good friend of mine once was bragging about a thing called "Est", which was sort of Scientology-lite, or a cult for those who wanted a cult they could take home with them at night.

One of the things "Est" promised was how, once you got the "power", you could free up parking spaces in front of places you were driving to.  The Power of Positive Thinking applied to your own personal convenience.

Yesterday, the priest in confession (a retired auxiliary bishop) gave me a CD to listen to as penance.  The guy on the CD was some Protestant speaking before a group in the 1960's.  He was preaching "Empathetic Reconciliation" or something like that - meaning that you could in his words "beam out" God's forgiveness even to people you knew who were not the least bit repentant for their sins.  He asserted that God gave the power to forgive or retain sins not to the apostles, but to all Christians.  And therefore, all you had to do was to pray in just the right way and the power would "beam out" forgiveness to that person - not for their own good, but for yours.  The three or four examples he gave were of people who were reluctant to cooperate, but suddenly became team players after this forgiveness was "beamed out" to them, unaware though they were of this fact.  One gal refused to sell a valuable piece of property until she was vicariously forgiven (or whatever the phrase is), at which point she was willing to sell and everyone was happy.  Kind of a nascent Prosperity Gospel for "Est" rejects.  The Power of Positive Thinking applied to your own personal convenience.

Of course, the Church teaches that - as in all things between God and man - two things are needed: God's grace and our cooperation with it.  The Angel Gabriel's offer and Mary's "yes".  The forgiveness the father offers the prodigal son, and the shame and repentance of the son that preceded this and that made him open to seeking forgiveness.  Without penance, reconciliation is cheap grace at best, a joke at worst, offering no real repair of the breach that sin has caused.

But lo and behold, what did that horrid publication The Word Among Us say about yesterday's Scrpture readings?  That God is always active in our lives.  How do we know this?  Well, when we are looking for a parking space near our destination and God provides it, we know God is working in our lives!

I threw the book across the room and cursed again.

It reminded me of a horrible homily I heard at an FSSP Latin Mass.  The 29-year-old priest said, "One day I wanted to have salsa with my chips, and I realized I had no clean containers to put the salsa in.  Then I realized the butter tub in the fridge was empty.  It made a great salsa container!  God does indeed provide."  And he was serious.



My friends, there's a word for all of this stuff, a word only lit majors know, a word that sums up Est and beaming out forgiveness so that your enemies start to cooperate with you and parking spaces and butter tubs being the sort of things we would set our hearts on.

And that word is Bathos.

And it's related adjective - Bathetic.


Modern Paradoxes

  • Traditionalists (those who love the Extraordinary Form of the Catholic Mass) have a great sense of beauty; Radical Traditionalists (rad trads) do not - they become overawed by details and lose all sense of proportion: for a rad trad, a mantilla is more important than the attitude it's supposed to convey.  And since beauty is all about correct proportion, Radical Traditionalists end up radically opposed to Traditionalists - for "rad trads" in losing all sense of proportion lose all sense of beauty.
  • Protestants make a lot of noise about Catholic doctrine being "un-Scriptural".  But most Protestants have a complete contempt for Scripture.  They ignore John 6, many ignore the dozens of passages that teach the necessity and effectiveness of Baptism, and one commenter (apparently Protestant) just now posted here that Scripture does not teach the necessity of faith in Jesus!  If Protestants who adore Scripture have this much contempt for it, I'd hate to see what Bible-bashers think.
  • Ignorance is a terrible thing, as I'm learning from the home school Freshman student I'm tutoring, who knows nothing about anything other than alternative rock bands and how to work the internet.  But if ignorance is not bliss, it is at least a blessing.  It allows her to approach almost any subject with an open mind.  But even that's not entirely true, for mixed in with the Ignorance her teachers have deliberately cultivated in her (before she was home schooled) is a very hefty dose of prejudice - and prejudice is simply congratulating yourself for knowing things you know nothing about.
  • Never before has so much knowledge been at our immediate disposal.  Never before has Ignorance been so wide-spread.  Never before have the Ignorant been so smug about how much they think they know.  Never before have the Ignorant felt such a lack of shame for what they don't know, or such a lack of interest or curiosity about it.
  • Here's how arguing on the internet goes.
A:  The sky is blue.
B:  How dare you!  Prove it.
A:  Look at the sky.  What color do you see?
B:  White.
A:  Those are clouds.
B:  Got ya!  
A:  No, you don't "got me".  You're looking at the wrong thing.  Let's try this.  What color is that shirt you're wearing?
B:  Blue.
A:  Look at the sky.  That open part next to the clouds.  Is not that the same color as your shirt?
B:  Are you saying the sky comes from Wal-Mart just like my shirt?  You are an idiot!


The Scandal of Baptism

My Protestant interlocutor asks, referring to Baptism ...

This view just seems SO similar to the old circumcision. I know it is an old view, but the old Church leaders thought so many different things, not all true. 
Why do you think those being circumcised were rebuked so passionately? Severed from Christ? What does it mean? Clearly he wasn't just upset about them obeying a law that didn't apply. There was something about they way they viewed it that was apparently anti-grace. Or is this different because of its nature? Are you saying that Christ himself is doing the baptism? It is not an act that comes from us, but an act of Christ? Surely it must be. How else could it be safe? Grace alone. Paul must have meant something in Galatians when he spoke of Faith. Something that was quite different from the way the Galatians viewed law.

And I reply ...

The value of Baptism is all over the New Testament ...
It is like circumcision only in as much as one is not circumcised outwardly, but inwardly (see Col. 2:11).  And where on earth did Christ criticize either circumcision or those who were circumcized?  That is utterly anti-scriptural.  Christ himself WAS circumcized.  (Luke 2:21)  Christ came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  (Mat. 5:17)
And yes, the value of the Baptism does not come from man, but from God. 
We do not think of it as a magic formula, but the fact is that God uses material things to convey spiritual power.  That's been the case since the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 
Now, of course, we can all become like the Galatians or the Pharisees and think that once we receive the grace, it's all over.  Protestants can make that mistake too and think, "Well, now that I've got faith, it's a done deal".  But it's not an automatic outward process; it comes from God, but it is completed by our cooperation with God. 

PAUL: Faith works through love (Gal. 5:6). 

JAMES: Faith without works is dead.  (James 2:26). 

In neither case are we saved by our own efforts or by some magic pill, but by the grace of God, which God allows us to bring to fruition and fullness after He's given it to us. 
Catholics can make the mistake of thinking that the sacraments work on their own, the way the Jews thought that circumcision made them children of Abraham and the process ended there - but God can raise children of Abraham from stones (Luke 3:8) - the point of the gift from God that makes us either children of Abraham (by means of circumcision) or brothers of Christ (by means of Baptism) is for us to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8 again, Christ's own words).  In that passage, Jesus says, in effect, "Don't boast about something God gave you without your deserving it or earning it; instead now that you've got the gift, show forth the glory of the gift by living in a way that shows the transformation of your heart - for that transformation is the point of the gift."

ADDENDUM:

Today the second reading at Mass was from Romans 4:13 and following ...

It was not through the lawthat the promise was made to Abraham and his descendantsthat he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith. 

Faith or Baptism are not ends in themselves, but are to be the groundwork for righteousness - a righteousness that leads to everlasting life (see Rom. 6:22).


Monday, March 18, 2013

Could the Jesuits Become Jesuits Again?

The Jesuit-educated John M. DeJak, in an unrepentant moment.
John M. DeJak writes, referring to himself, John B. Manos and Dr. Charles Rice, board members of the Bellarmine Forum ...

The three of us are all unrepentant Jesuit-educated types. Proof? We drink, smoke, swear, and rattle the beads.

This triumvirate are a force to be reckoned with.

So were the Jesuits at one time, and maybe the Society of Jesus, like their namesake, can find their way out the grave - in this case the grave of liberalism, heterodoxy and disobedience which they've enthusiastically dug for themselves over the past fifty years or so.

The corruption of the best is the worst, and the Jesuits were once the best - virile intelligent Christian men, the most remarkable of whom were martyred all over the world for the sake of Our Lord, including a number of martyrs here in North America who suffered under unimaginable conditions to spread the Faith.  Guys like DeJak, Manos and Rice, educated by Jesuits, would never compare themselves with such selfless and holy men, but drinking, smoking, swearing, a solid education and the Rosary are a great start.

I am told that their plan is to defend our new holy father, the first Jesuit pope, especially from the kind of attacks that John Manos describes here.  "Like" their Facebook page for updates or simply visit their site regularly for new articles.  The patrons of the Bellarmine Forum are three of the most remarkable Jesuits of all time.  Fr. Ciszek's story alone is inspiring and well worth the read.

Pope Francis
Meanwhile, on this Solemnity of St. Joseph, it is fitting to take a break from Lent.  So drink, smoke, call a vile thing by a vile name, and pray the Holy Rosary.

St. Joseph with baby Jesus

Of Slackers, Control Freaks and Love








(Above: Kevin the Slacker / Kevin the Control Freak)

***

I was a slacker.

I could not hold down a day job.  I was constitutionally unable to work in any field other than bringing words to life - drama, theater, show biz.  Try to make a living at that, as a 20-year-old in St. Louis - I dare you.  I was an atheist, but I had a vocation, and I knew it.  I had a call that I had to answer, even if no one was on the other line when I picked up the phone.

And I filled in the best I could.  I did quite well performing singing telegrams - over 2,000 of them in a five-year period.  I supported myself for short periods in various ways - as a stand up comic, a magician, a drama teacher.  At one point, I toured to military bases in Korea, Japan and Australia with a show I wrote and produced.  I worked for a year or two as the Fool at the Royal Dumpe in St. Louis.  I sold inflatable entertainment items to colleges across the U.S. - sumo wresting suits, inflatable obstacle courses, etc.  I delivered flyers door-to-door while listening to cassette recordings of stage plays on my Walmkman.

One year things were so bad that I had to count the pennies in the penny jar my grandma had given me.  Seventeen dollars in pennies, money that I used to buy food the week my cash ran out.  This was at a time when I was living in a house where the rain would literally pour through the roof, but since I couldn't afford to pay the rent, the landlord wouldn't fix it.  He eventually evicted me.  I found a dryer place.

***

Ten years later, I was a control freak.

I spent every waking hour working for my business, Upstage Productions.  When I wasn't touring with shows, I was in the office writing, selling, rehearsing, directing.  I would almost never see my family.  My wife, who married me when I was a slacker, couldn't believe the transformation.  And she didn't completely like it, for I had gone too far in the opposite direction.

What happened?

I had found a way to make a living at something I loved.  Murder Mystery Dinner Theater shows gave me the opportunity to write and perform in productions that were funny, that involved improvisation and acting, and that paid very well - and it was an opportunity that seemed hand-crafted for me and my unusual mixture of talent and temperament.  Frustrated as I had been all those years of having such dearth prospects, I threw myself into murder mysteries with gusto, to the detriment of the rest of my life.

But what was the rest of my life?

The rest of my life was then and has since been the great mystery of libido - by which I mean not merely sexual energy, but "liking", "desire", "interest" - indeed "love".  Jung used the word more in this sense, and it is in this sense I use it - a term that includes sexual desire, but that is more than just sexual desire.  It is the motivation that provokes our interest in something else, the urge to get out of bed in the morning for a particular thing or person we seek.  Eros is perhaps a better term for libido, but Eros has a more specific sexual connotation, as well as a more expansive spiritual connotation - and libido can be content with worldly things, while Eros is never quite so content. I suspect many people struggle with libido and their struggles mirror mine, though mine have been particularly dramatic, in a life devoted to drama.

***

What do I mean by all this psycho-sexual gobbledygook?

First, libido is scary.  God calls us to serve Him by serving our neighbor, by engaging in our states in life, by working through the imperfect place he's put us in.  But doing this requires an abandonment to His will - actually more of an affirmation of His will - which means a renunciation, a sacrifice, a loss of control over our own little patterns and schemes.  And so, out of fear, we either draw back and become slackers or go hyper and become control freaks.

Let me give you some examples of the problems of libido (the problems of love), all taken from real experiences, names changed to protect the innocent.


  • At one time I employed the Sclubb Brothers, as I call them, to act in our touring Theater of the Word shows.  The Sclubb Brothers were a pair of 20-something slackers who had no interest in evangelizing through drama, but who thought smoking pot and staring into space was a hell of a lot of fun.  Getting rid of the Schlubb Brothers and hiring actors who actually cared about Christ and His Church was the best thing I ever did.
  • Pornography and masturbation are the stop-gaps for men who have trouble channeling their libidos.  It seems like the perfect solution - handle your sexual urges while keeping a handle (literally) on your sexual urges - fulfilling them after a fashion while making sure they don't draw you out of yourself; for the essence of sex (as I've elsewhere written) "is to be drawn out of oneself, and into another; it's a kind of death to self for the sake of the other, and the new life that such sacrifice brings with it."  And that's pretty darn scary and challenging, a lot more scary and challenging than the "imaginary harem" of porn and onanism.  (For more on this, see the C. S. Lewis quote below).
  • The most passive-aggressive thing a student or a friend can do is to withdraw interest.  Students who sit there brain-dead and answer any question with "I dunno" are impossible to reach, no matter how many tricks you as a teacher have in your bag.  Tap dance on your head, if you can, you won't reach the deliberately disengaged student, the student who hoards his or her libido and won't invest it in anything.  And worse than this is when a friend withdraws all libido from an existing friendship, while denying that any such thing is going on, and all the time the air is slowly seeping from the tires.  In either case, your hands are tied. 
  • Similarly, adult life (maturity) is about finding the thing you love, seeing that loving it will be fruitful, investing your libido in it (or in him or her), and yet practicing proper Stewardship of Love so that you don't get taken advantage of or waste the libido you're investing.
  • Many other defenses against the challenge of libido (the challenge of love) present themselves in people - a cultivated cynicism which keeps us safe from the pain we cynically disdain; aiming low and settling for jobs or people that are well within our grasp and who offer no threat of real excitement; a shield of ignorance or belligerence when faced with art or literature or philosophy, which is simply a refusal to allow a spiritual insight or a reasoned argument to reach us and change us (see almost everywhere on the internet, and most recently the combox here).

At any rate, this all ties into one overarching theme - we are called to respond to God's love and His gift of life with our own love - via libido, Eros, interest, gratitude, etc.  

And this is the central challenge of life.

***

Footnote: C. S. Lewis has written the most insightful two paragraphs on masturbation that I've ever read.  

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete and correct his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. Do read Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell and study the character of Mr. Wentworth.
And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination. The true exercise of imagination in my view, is (a) to help us understand other people, (b) to respond to, and, some of us, to produce art. But it also has a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions, etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world – e.g., picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which is bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

I'm not too fond of Charles Williams, but Lewis' description makes me want to read that book.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kevin to Devin - Catholic to Protestant

Blog reader Devin has been asking some interesting questions in the combox of my post The Stumbling Block of Mary.  I thought it would be worthwhile to address them here.  Devin writes ...

Kevin,
If "Scripture does not constitute the entirety of divine revelation" then what else is considered to be divine revelation? How would you go about proving this assertion?

As for Mary being sinless because she was highly favored by God does not mean she was sinless. That term does not mean that.

Lots of people mentioned in the NT do not mention their sins and yet we would not say they did not sin. Actually a case could be made that Mary did sin when she rebuked Jesus for being insensitive when He was in the temple at 12. 

The woman of Rev 12 is also problematic. Even RC scholars admit that the details of chapter 12 don't fit Mary well but they do the church. 

The divinity of Christ is easily supported by Scripture. In fact that is the only way to make the case for it.

Let me begin by saying that Devin, like my other correspondent who inspired me to write the post on Mary, is clearly a sincere Christian, and that any disagreements between us are disagreements on the best way to follow Christ.  It's important to keep that in mind.  We're both on the same side here, and we're arguing about things that matter very much to us - about the most important thing in the world, in fact.

So while I doubt I'll convince him, I'm going to take a shot at it, both since he's asked, and also since my other readers might be interested.  Nevertheless, the context of our discussion should not be forgotten - for the overall (implied) question here is How best can one follow Jesus Christ, as a Protestant or a Catholic?

Let me take Devin's points one by one.


  • Devin quotes me saying, "Scripture does not constitute the entirety of divine revelation", and then quite sensibly asks "what else is considered to be divine revelation"?  And how would I prove this assertion?

The easiest way to answer this is to say, "If Scripture constitutes all of Divine Revelation, then by what authority did the Catholic Church set the canon of Scripture?"  The Catholic Church is the organization that decided what gospels were inspired by the Holy Spirit (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and what gospels were not (Thomas, Andrew, Marcion, etc.).  They also decided what Epistles fit this same category, and proclaimed that the books of Acts and Revelations were likewise divinely inspired and free from error.

The Church would have had no authority to make this decision unless Divine Revelation were greater than Scripture itself.  God gave us the Bible's "Table of Contents", but He did not give that to us in any book of the Bible.  

The fact is that the Deposit of Faith came to us BOTH by "word of mouth" and by "letter" as Paul tells us in 2 Thes. 2:15 (i.e, by Tradition and by Scripture).  St. John is quite explicit at the end of his gospel that Jesus said and did many more things than "are written in this book".  And Scripture itself - which Catholics and most Protestants consider to be divinely inspired - Scripture itself tells us (by means of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostle Paul) that the "pillar and bulwark" of the truth is not Scripture, but the Church (1 Tim. 3:15).  

But Devin's point focuses on the strange Catholic teaching of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  I had asserted that this dogma is part of Sacred Tradition, and not easily culled from Scripture, though I offered a few Scriptural supports, most notably God's messenger calling Mary "full of grace".

Devin counters, again quite sensibly ... 

  • As for Mary being sinless because she was highly favored by God does not mean she was sinless. That term does not mean that.

But she is not called "highly favored by God."  She is called something in Greek which is much closer to "full of grace".  Karl Keating notes ...

Catholic exegetes, in discussing the Immaculate Conception, first look at the Annunciation. Gabriel greeted Mary by saying, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek kecharitomene. This word actually represents the proper name of the person being addressed by the angel, and it must on that account express a characteristic quality of Mary. What's more, the traditional translation, "full of grace," is more accurate than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favored daughter." True, Mary was a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that.
The newer translations leave out something the Greek conveys, something the older English versions convey, which is that this grace (and the core of the word kecharitomene is charis, after all) is at once permanent and of a singular kind. The Greek indicates a perfection of grace. 

And a "perfection of grace" must mean "sinless", for God's grace is not productive of sin.

But even if Devin doesn't buy this, he stretches his point by saying ...


  • Actually a case could be made that Mary did sin when she rebuked Jesus for being insensitive when He was in the temple at 12. 

Yes, but not a good case.  The NIV text of this moment, Luke 2:48, "When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” - is hardly a rebuke, and if so can in no way be considered sinful.  For one thing, a sin must be deliberate and done with full knowledge that it's a sin.  But Mary here is merely expressing her anxiety, for neither she nor Joseph fully understood that their son must be about His Father's business.  If it's a rebuke, it's a rebuke that stems from confusion, not from sin.  (Also Mary is certainly within her rights as a mother to rebuke her son.)




Devin, when we lose God in our own lives - when we can't seem to find Him in prayer or in hope - when we search in our forlorn and lonely thirst, He eventually shows Himself.  And when we see Him after we've lost Him, it is not a sin to say, "Lord!  How I missed you!  How I searched for you!  How glad I am that I found you!  Why did you hide yourself from me?"  

Devin then goes on to point out that interpreting anything from the book of Revelations is problematic - and I'll agree with him there.  But he ends on a note that contradicts his main thrust, which has been that Scripture is open to interpretation.  He concludes ...

  • The divinity of Christ is easily supported by Scripture. In fact that is the only way to make the case for it.

Now, I have admitted from the beginning that the Immaculate Conception is not "easily supported by Scripture", which is why it's so crucial to understand that Scripture is a part of Divine Revelation, not the source of it.  God is the source of what He has revealed to us, and God is not bound to a book.  As my friend Fr. Marty says, "Christ left a Body, not a book."  And Scripture confirms that over and over again - just search for the expression "Body of Christ" in the Epistles, for example.

But the particular point here is not really as easily made as Devin seems to think.  Devin, read the New Testament from the point of view of a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness or a Unitarian.  Yes, there are a lot of indications that Jesus is divine, but they are indications merely.  "Son of God" does not mean "God", "Son of Man" even less so.  It is clear that Jesus is the Christ, but it is not fully clear that He is God - though the case is stronger in the Epistles than it is in the gospels themselves.  But even in the passages of Paul where Paul comes closest to affirming the divinity of Christ, the Father and the Christ are still separate - in a strange way that opens the door to almost every heresy of the first few centuries - all of which had to do with denying the divinity of Christ in one manner or another.  And see the modern heresies of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witness, Unitarianism, and I'm sorry to say, almost all liberal Protestant churches, which take a pretty glib attitude toward Jesus, because at bottom they think He's just a guy, and a "nice guy" at that.

If the case in Scripture alone were air tight, we would not have the myriad numbers of ancient and modern heresies that interpret Scripture otherwise regarding the divinity of Christ.

***

But let me finish by focusing on what Catholics actually believe.  

We believe that Christ gave the apostles His authority when speaking formally on matters of Faith and Morals; and that the apostles consecrated bishops as their successors, who share this authority.  We see them do so at the very beginning - see the passages in Acts I quote in the original post and in the follow up one here.  

Indeed, I sometimes wonder if readers like Devin, well-intentioned though they be, actually read the posts they comment on, for pretty much everything I've said here I touched on there - reiterating my points in the comboxes as well.

At any rate, these are my answers to Devin.  

And Devin, my friend and brother in Christ, if you choose to respond here, please address the Scriptural passages I quote or allude to above, such as 2 Thes., 1 Tim., and the passages in Acts where the apostles exercise their authority by saying "it has been decided by the Holy Spirit and us" (Acts 15:28 - about which, see Jimmy Akin here).   

The fact is that the living presence of Christ continues not merely in the Holy Spirit's working in us as individuals, but in the corporate Body of Christ that carries on His function on earth, interpreting the Deposit of Faith by means of the teaching authority of His apostles, and their successors, the bishops. This Body of Christ is the Catholic Church - not the "Roman" Catholic Church (RC as Devin calls it), but the universal (catholic) Church, established by Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The issue, as Devin realizes, is not the issue of the Immaculate Conception of Mary alone, but the underlying issue of the authority of the Church Jesus Christ established.



Friday, March 15, 2013

Sex in One Sentence

Christopher West, Matt McGuiness, and all of their supporters, listen up!  I have just written one sentence that reveals the meaning of sex - so much so that you'll never have to write another book, Chris, another three-part-second-look-keep-looking-at-porn series of articles, Matt - and best of all, none of your fans will ever have to read your garbage again!  I've done summed it up!

Now before I reveal the sentence below, you must understand the context.  The context is one man and one woman permanently joined in marriage, expressing their love in the marital act, which must of its nature be open to the possibility of procreation, and which thereby (and only thereby, only when "sex" lives up to its purpose by existing under those conditions) - which thereby serves as an echo of the love of the Holy Trinity and the nuptial of the Church, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  Got it?  So if you're a husband and wife giving yourselves fully to one another - including your fertility, which might lead to those delightful surprises called babies, aka new human beings - then, and only then, will the following sentence - THE MEANING OF SEX - apply.

The essence of sex is to be drawn out of oneself, and into another; it's a kind of death to self for the sake of the other, and the new life that such sacrifice brings with it.

Bingo.  Done.  Send me my check, boys, I'm going home for the night.

Happiness is a Warm Ringo



She told me a short anecdote.


"When John Lennon was in grade school, the assignment was to write down what you wanted to be when you grew up.  He wrote down one word - HAPPY.  The teacher scolded him for that."

And I thought, "Well, that's a great answer.  A better teacher would have said ...

'Do you want to be happy, John?  Well, all you need is love.  Not sentiment or good will, but love.  Serve God and serve others and you will be happy.  Love even through suffering and sacrifice and you will be happy.' "

I suspect, from what little I know of John Lennon, that while he loved his music (and served God and others through his music), the fame and "success" that came with it made him downright miserable - made him a heroin addict and a vulgar little man spewing venom when he didn't get his way.  There was certainly more to Lennon than that, but at his worst, he was about as mean and unhappy as a human being can get.

This is not to negate his rather remarkable soul and wit, which cry out to us from his music, and especially his singing.  He is easily the best vocalist of the Beatles - because of the rawness of emotion that he was able to convey in his performances.  Paul has a sweeter voice, but John had greater range and depth and pain in everything he sang.  And while "Imagine" - his solo career masterpiece - is a pretty insipid song philosophically, the melody is beautiful and the sentiment - while wrong-headed - is quite innocent and well-intentioned.  His religious urges - even when they took the form of a frustrated atheism yearning for a worldly utopia - were always honest and unvarnished.  Let us hope that he's in that very heaven that he could never Imagine.

And we all need a touch of Lennon to our McCartney.  We all need the pain and honesty and skepticism that brings some spice to our glib, easy and charming ways.  If you don't know what Jesus meant by "salt of the earth", just think of what John Lennon was to the Beatles - which would have been a pretty tame pop group without him, without that added spice.

And I'll go further than that - we all need a little Ringo.  Ringo is the Sancho Panza to our Don Quixote - the good natured and down-to-earth and sometimes foolish and inept brunt of our aspirations.  We all suspect that the George in us is really a bit pretentious when it comes to all that mystical nonsense - but the Ringo is the Sam to our Frodo, the Dogberry to our Benedict, the dog to our cat.  Well, you know what I mean.

Ringo is my favorite Beatle.

There, I've said it and I'm glad!  Though it astonishes me that (as I've said before) my Stanford Nutting videos get more YouTube views than Ringo's do.

***

But the deeper message here is not about the Beatles - it's about how do you be HAPPY?  How do you steward your love?

How often we give, only to get taken.  How often we offer, only to be ignored.  How often do we kick in, only to be kicked out?

And when we do sometimes catch the ear of the world, as the four lads from Liverpool did, how often do we all shine on, like the moon, the stars and the sun, and then, when the super-nova fades, come crashing down to a hell of our own making, nothing below us, above us only sky, and a gnawing pain in our gut and a desperate need for our next fix?

Love is not easy; success is not easy; being happy is not easy.

But it's what I want to be when I grow up.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Source of All Comfort

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

The comfort we receive comes from God; and that comfort is given to us so that we might comfort others.  The word in Greek translated here as comfort is a form of the same word Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit - the Comforter, the Advocate, the Counselor, the Paraclete - the one who stands by us and helps us, encouraging and strengthening us.   We are to be for others what the Spirit of God is for us.

But sometimes it is hard to comfort.  Sometimes the comforts we offer are not heeded, though they come from God through us.  We are a stiff necked people, and we prefer the old ways that have led us to darkness as opposed to the new ways that lead us to light, and so we often reject true comfort, true help from true friends.

I know a very bright person who has rebelled against the constraining pressure put on her by the lies she has been fed all her life - the destructive lies that to look good counts for much, that beauty and sex is a form of power, a way to control others, that worldly success vindicates a person and justifies his or her existence.  She pushes back against this, but secretly she is allured by it.  She thinks if she could just lose another twenty pounds, everything would change.  She could walk into a room and feel in control, in command; she would not feel so inadequate.  Of course, she had lost that twenty pounds once or twice before and it never really made her life any better.  She spends her time building internet personas, puppets of herself that she can control, perfectly crafted images that she can use to dominate any situation she's in - at least in the make-believe world of the world wide web.

Think this is ridiculous, readers?  Think you or I would never be this shallow?  Well, how many times do we ourselves think, "If I just had that edge.  If I just had that little zing, I would have it made."  Maybe it's a nicer car, a better wardrobe, a sexier body, more money.  Or something more personal.  "If I only had a man in my life I was dating or married to, I wouldn't feel like such a failure."  "If I could finally find that dream job, I wouldn't complain as much as I do day in and day out."  "If I could only pay off my credit card debt, I'd be happy."

Well, it's not as if these things don't matter.  Looking good, losing twenty pounds, getting married, getting a good job, having money - these things are in and of themselves good.    But they are not true comforts.

They are not a true friend at your side, helping you when you feel your worst, comforting you with the comfort your friend has received from God; for as St. Paul suffered and bore afflictions and was comforted, so he was able to share these divine gifts with the Corinthians to whom he writes the passage I quoted above.

We know what it's like to have bad friends, friends who take a hike the minute your fortunes change or as soon as you become less useful to them than you once were.  And the betrayal of friendship stings harder than any other thing in life - false love hurts more than being fat, being poor, being ugly.  Because it's not comforts we seek.  We seek comfort, the parakletos, the one at our side.

We seek the Spirit of God.

And we have it; we have Him.  And in sharing Him with others - sharing the "comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God," we find Him more completely.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Walking the Walk and Doubting the Doubt

I have one brief thing to say about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.  His fellow Jesuits in Argentina don't like him.  And that is the best sign we've had yet that this man is holy and devout!  The Jesuits have gone badly off the rails, and the corruption of the best is the worst.  Since the Jesuits were at one time the best of the best, their corruption has produced, in most cases, the worst of the worst.  But maybe that will change.  The young Jesuits in formation show much promise, and now a Jesuit pope might make a difference, the kind of difference most current Jesuits are very much opposed to.



Plus he takes public transportation, loves the poor, and defends marriage.  He walks the walk.  What a blessing he is! 

***

But I wanted to post about something that I've experienced many times, and that I suspect some of my readers go through as well.

And that is "coming down".

After every intense spiritual experience I've had - whether that experience came at a visit to EWTN, a Chesterton Conference, a Theater of the Word tour - I've always had a hard time "coming down".  There is a decompression that you have to go through when leaving the mountain top.  It usually takes several days, and it always seems to involve the following ...

  • Doubting the reality or validity of the experience.

  • Physical exhaustion.

  • Doubting your own integrity.

  • Mild depression or the desire to eat and sleep, or to do anything other than work.

  • Cyncism and foul temper

Remember that when the apostles came down the mountain after the Transfiguration of Our Lord, they came down to His suffering and death - a real "come down" to say the least!

But then there followed the most unexpected experience of all, the world's greatest mountain top vista- Easter Morning.

The Transfigutation prepared Peter, James and John for both - both the passion and the resurrection.  It revealed the truth about Christ, a truth that they were bound to have doubted when He lay dead and bloody in the tomb; a truth they only began to process, to understand, to assimilate - after He rose in a shining and glorified body from that same tomb.

***

If you're "coming down" from anything right now, my biggest advice would be, go ahead and doubt, but doubt the doubt.   Doubt the temptation to doubt - the temptation to judge the great grace you've been given as worthless or illusory.  Doubt the nasty belittling voice in your ear.  Doubt not your own sinfulness (which is always there), but doubt the suggestion that your sinfulness makes the grace you've received worthless. 

Those are all lies you're hearing. 

The mountain top is nearer to God.  His love is greater than we can ever imagine, and we see only reflections of it in our friends, our lovers, our soul mates - in even the most joyful moments here in the valley or there on top.

So don't doubt; or if you must, doubt the doubt. 

And pray for the man who has just been chosen to stay near the mountain and lead us.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bronte Viewed from the Heights

I once asked Joseph Pearce, the most well-read man I've ever met, how he managed to get such a good education without going to college.

"Kevin," he replied, "I am well educated BECAUSE I did not go to college."

***

I have the great honor of tutoring a very intelligent 15-year-old home-schooled student.  Together we just finished Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, which I read aloud to my student, over the course of several days, changing my voice for each character and dramatizing the action the best I could.

And, as Joseph Pearce will tell you, there's an advantage to a lack of much formal education.  Thus, although I did graduate from college (I am ashamed to admit), I've learned everything I know on my own - but that everything has never included any of the rich and complex novels of the Brontes.  So I was able to approach the Heights as my student did, unprejudiced by any agenda one might pick up at university, either feminist or post-modern or what-have-you.

Emily Bronte
And to my eyes, unfamiliar with the literary criticism that has assessed the novel for the past 170 years, it was clearly a story about forgiveness, about how clinging on to vengeance or jealousy is literally self-destructive, for the climax of the story is a simple moment where two young people forgive one another (Cathy and Hareton), end up in love, and thereby complete an imbalance and an injustice that has lasted for a generation.  There was, of course, much more to the tale - complex and three-dimensional characters, social commentary, Gothic romance, a touch of horror, intense passion expressed in a lyrical and spiritual manner - but the point of the story overall is something the critics have apparently been missing all this time.

Joyce Carol Oates gets it, and chides those who don't.

Who will inherit the earth's riches? Who will inherit a stable, rather than a self-consuming, love? What endures, for mankind's sake, is not the violent and narcissistic love of Catherine and Heathcliff (who identify with each other, as fatal twins, rather than individuals), but the easier, more friendly, and altogether more plausible love of the second Catherine and Hareton Earnshaw. How ironic, then, that Brontë's brilliantly imagined dialectic, arguing for the inevitable exorcism of the old demons of childhood, and professing an attitude toward time and change that might even be called optimistic, should have been, and continues to be, misread. 
She goes on to compare (in a brilliant essay that you can read in full) mis-reading critics to censors who judge a book not by its cover but by an offensive word here or there.  The mis-readers who see Bronte's imagination as "narrow", or who see the novel as extolling the self-indulgent Victorian narcissistic Gothic romance it clearly undercuts, or who see it as a novel that exalts the moral authority of individual longing and rugged independence (when this is not at all what the novel does) are similar to such small-minded censors.

But it's understandable that the novel would be misread.  The power of its "chick flick" elements, and the atmosphere that is reminiscent of Poe or the darker scenes from Dickens, the stunning love story that keeps the reader enthralled over the long recounted history, and the rebellious and morally ambivalent character of the very masculine Heathcliff, serve to obscure the structure of the story and the overall theme that is being conveyed.  Critics, Oates tells us, get caught up in the process of the novel and thereby lose sight of its design - failing to see the book (I would say) from the Heights, and wuthering thereby in confusion.

And need it be said that this is a typically modern mistake, this misreading of Wuthering Heights?  I think this is because of a dichotomy that Oates calls design vs. process.  She seems to mean this: PROCESS is the reader or viewer's involvement in the emotions of the story, the "Dionysian" immersion into the work, while DESIGN  is the "Apollonian" overview of the work, by which design the reader or audience sees the meaning that the characters, acts and emotions reveal.

In Dante's day, design was paramount; with Shakespeare design and process co-exist; the neo-classicists of the 18th Century tended more toward design; the romantics of the 19th Century tended more toward process.

And today nobody believes in design.  There is no design in nature, we are told - either human nature or the rest of nature.  How, then, can there be design in art?  Isn't reading a novel all about feeling things, just like the faith is supposed to be all about feelings and not about the structure of life, or about insight?  Given this modern disregard for appreciating design as an element of art, and given the power and beauty of the process of Bronte's novel, is it any wonder that the book is not seen as the great work of Christian fiction that it is?

The Diffidence of C. S. Lewis

An excerpt from my next article in the St. Austin Review ... 

***

C. S. Lewis - I love him so much, I can talk about his flaws.

“There’s no need to read C. S. Lewis,” Dale Ahlquist’s brother-in-law Larry Norman (famed Christian musician) told him.  “Everything in Lewis is also in Chesterton, and Chesterton says it better.”

There is much truth to that. 

Indeed, Lewis has a kind of diffidence about him.  There is a shy withdrawn quality about some of his work.  His fascination with fantasy worlds does not have about it what Tolkien’s did.  Tolkien’s fantasy world was more manly and solid, as it was based on a faith that was Catholic, that was there whether you liked it or not, and that served as a grounding for all of the intricate fiction that Tolkien built up. 

The unlikely source of the revival of G. K. Chesterton
Lewis’ fantasy worlds were based on a Protestant faith.  That may sound like nit-picking, but it makes all the difference in the world.  A Catholic may ignore the reality that underlies his faith; it’s there whether he acknowledges it or not, whether he sins against it or not, whether he creates a fictional elaboration of it or not, whether he “feels” it or not.  A Protestant must, to some extent, keep pumping up the reality behind his faith; he must gin it up and he ends up doubting how solid it is.  Lewis was occasionally scrupulous in prayer, wondering if he had prayed with enough emotion or focus.  Such is typically a Protestant fear, since “faith alone” cuts the believer off from the moorings.  “Faith alone” puts us afloat without the ropes that tie us to the dock.  It makes one suspect, even darkly and subconsciously, as one floats untied, that the shore is no longer there, and that the bark of faith and the anchor of hope are the most important things about the vessel.  The reality of the solid land – of the destination for which the boat was built – becomes in the mind more sandy and shifting than solid, more like a mirage and less like a Rock.

This is not to say that Lewis was a bad Christian – but it is to say that there was something a bit squeamish about him.   Fantasy for him, when he was a child, had about it the unhealthy aspect that it does for those among us we call “nerds”; it was a make-believe world compensating for loneliness, a small child’s unwillingness to play outside or scuffle in the sandbox.  I’m not saying that this element defines everything Lewis wrote, but that element was always present.  We see this played out in his adult “marriage” to Joy Davidman, a word I put in quotes because there was little about it – at least at first – that was the solid, sacramental union of two bodies and souls in Christ, and much more that was make-believe, playing house, pretending.  Yes, “Jack” and Joy loved one another, and their marriage and short life together ended up being blessed, but early on they were both simply working the system – and this willingness to manipulate spiritual things out of fear or diffidence is never wholly absent from the writings of C. S. Lewis, brilliant as those writings are.

On the other end of the spectrum is Hilaire Belloc.  Belloc was the kid in the sandbox “Jack” Lewis wouldn’t want to scuffle with.  


Belloc: "I dare you!  Hit me!"


... want to read more?  Subscribe to the StAR!  The full article will appear in the next issue.

***

And I'm serious in what I say in the caption to Lewis' picture above.  He is a great writer and I love the man.  I love him enough and have read him closely enough to know his flaws - which the Christian community hardly ever acknowledges, and which I'll probably take heat for acknowledging here.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

St. James Answers Gollum

Lately I've been answering questions posed to me by a Protestant reader of this blog, and this time I'm going to let the Apostle James answer a question that no reader of this blog has posed to me, but that many of you could; in fact I could post it myself.

My hypothetical reader writes ...
Why can't I follow Christ and do what I want?  I mean, I really really really am attached to my sins.  I'd like to believe they're not really sins, but I know better.  My sins scratch me right where I itch.  I pray to be delivered of them, but secretly I love them.  I mean, what the hell would I do without my sins??? They are my preciousssss - Signed, Gollum.
And St. James replies ...
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. - James 4:8
Our first prayer, then, should be to become "single minded" about following Christ; which is to say, not to be ambivalent about sin.  Hard to do, and maybe never totally achievable in this lifetime - and certainly not achievable at all without His grace.  But look more closely at the context in which St. James places this admonition.  (My gloss is in red.)  From James Chapter 4 ...

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.   3When you ask, you do not receive,because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  God is not our gumball machine - put a prayer in here, get a gumball out there, chew and enjoy.  God wants us to enter into a dialogue with Him (prayer), but not so that we may find in Him a better gimmick to fill our wants, a longer stick with which to scratch that itch.  For the shallow notion of God as itch scratcher, see here 
You adulterous people,[a] Adulterous?  Because we're not faithful to our marriage-bond with God.  don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?  A bit harsh there, St. James, wouldn't you say?  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is not as harsh as it sounds; it is not a denial of the goodness of God's created world; this is not Eastern mysticism.  This is simply saying that you cannot serve two masters - God and Mammon (Mammon being riches, pleasures, fame, possessions, your drug-of-choice - i.e. "the world") Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? 6  But he gives us more grace. If we need help to serve Him, and not just a new fix, he'll give us more grace.  That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”[c] 
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. What an amazing thing to say!!!  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  In other words, repent and have a "firm purpose of amendment" as the Catholic Church says, doing our best (by His grace) to avoid not only sin, but also near occasions of sin - thus being of one mind, with purity of heart (purity of intention).  9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Whoa!  What is this, Lent or something?  You mean we're not only to set our hearts and minds on God with a single-minded purity of love and intention, but also to bemoan our sinful state and feel sorry enough and guilty enough that we become really serious about not sinning again???  This grieving, moaning and wailing part - can we not bracket it out when this reading appears in the Liturgy?  It's just too disturbing! - Well, I'm joking, but it should hit us and hit us hard, double-minded sinners that we are, with hearts of grave impurity. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

And that last part - "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" - that is exactly what Jesus told us in yesterday's readings, "He who humbles himself will be exalted" - (Luke 14:11) - and it's not at all what The Word Among Us told us about yesterday's readings, which was, more or less, "Don't change and God will be fine with you."

No, dear Gollum, the steps go like this


  • Stop asking God for stuff that merely scratches your itch.
  • Ask for His grace, that you may approach Him with clean hands, a single mind and a pure heart.
  • Feel bad about the monster sin is making you into and do penance for it, so that, at the very least, you will be serious about amendment, about the change He will work in you, if you let Him.