“Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged”

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico
Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

One of Lord Jesus’ most-famous sayings. But to understand its meaning, we clearly need a little context.

Because if we human beings stopped judging altogether, we would smash up the car and make enemies real quick. Plus none of us would ever learn anything.

Whenever you pull into a parking place, you have to judge the stopping distance and apply the brake proportionately. Whenever you encounter another human being, you have to judge what tone and manner of conversation fit the situation, to try to avoid giving offense, and to foster communication. And some of us have the responsibility of training others in doing good and avoiding evil—parents, teachers, supervisors, etc. So we have to judge the actions of others, and apply discipline sometimes–when our charges break the rules.

Constant judgments, therefore, in this life of ours.

What does our Creator and Lord mean, then, when He commands that we not judge? The answer is actually quite easy, quite precise, and readily available in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude to our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the Last Day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (para. 678)

Our attitude toward our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.

To understand ‘judge not, lest you be judged,’ we have to start with: Almighty God brought me into being, and has offered me eternal life in Christ, without my deserving it. God has loved me without me deserving it.

Therefore: let me love my neighbor without stopping to wonder about whether or not he or she deserves it. Let me love my neighbor with divine love. This is someone with whom I want to share heaven. And we both need mercy to get there.

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Bright Birthday

Chapel of St John Baptist in Ars
St. John Vianney built this chapel in honor of St. John the Baptist

St. Elizabeth gave birth during the brightest week of the year, when the long days almost swallow up the night, and the sun is as close as it gets (to the northern hemisphere.) [Spanish]

The prophet Isaiah declared: I will make you a light to the nations. The Lord Jesus Himself said of his cousin John: He was a lamp, set aflame and burning bright.

The Church makes a big deal of this summer birthday of the Baptist because… (three reasons, all of which have to do with light)

One. Christ had cleansed his cousin John of original sin before birth. When the Blessed Virgin, newly pregnant, came to visit her cousin in the Judean hill country, St. John the Baptist leapt in St. Elizabeth’s womb. The coming of the unborn Christ consecrated the unborn St. John. So the Baptist started life already holy, already brightened by God’s grace.

Two. St. John the Baptist had a totally unique relationship with Christ. The cousin became famous for his preaching of the coming Kingdom of God while Jesus still lived quietly in Nazareth. John baptized repentant sinners, like Christ’s Church would later do. Then John baptized his cousin, so that Christ could give to water His holiness, the sacramental power to cleanse the soul.

In other words, St. John prepared the way for Jesus, like a torch bearer. Before Jesus did any public preaching and teaching, St. John declared the truth about Him. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior and King, in the new and heavenly covenant between God and man.

baptist-greco2Three. Like no one else, St. John can teach us about what Christ’s Church is. A couple of points on this.

First: the Church is the family of all people baptized into the mystery of Jesus Christ. Baptism involves purification, consecration, and enlightenment. Through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, Almighty God redeems us from the futile servitude of the fallen human race. He rescues us from a pointless life that only slouches toward death. He gives us a new birthright and makes us His own sons and daughters. He welcomes us into the everlasting, divine household.

For us to know this—to know the love of the Father who rescues His beloved children and gives us a life of hope and love: that is enlightenment. That is interior, spiritual sunlight. Holy Baptism delivers the faith of Holy Mother Church to us, the faith that St. John declared to the world: Christ conquers evil and gives eternal life. Holding that faith fills us with interior light. And that interior light of the Christian soul brightens the world even more than the sun.

Second way that St. John the Baptist teaches us who we are as Christ’s Church: The Church must live on earth in a kind of desert.

St. John left the populated areas of Israel and lived in the wasteland near where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. St. John had only one foot in this world. The other had already stepped into the as-yet-invisible world to come.

That’s why people flocked to him. They came seeking something more than what this fallen world offers. This austere man drew them, because he had no traffic with the half-truths, the mixed motives, and the mediocre compromises with vice that fill the lives of most human beings.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Church isn’t just one big monastery. We Christians live in cities and in towns. The Church lives in communities of imperfect sinners. Because that’s what we are.

But, like St. John, the Church must keep only one foot here in the world of cookouts and soccer games and gas stations. The other foot is in the process of stepping into heaven. St. John the Baptist reminds us of that. Here on earth, we have no lasting city.

Anyone know the patron saint of parish priests? St. John Vianney. St. John Vianney loved the Blessed Mother, of course. But among all the rest of the saints, he loved St. John the Baptist the most. He took the name John Baptist at Confirmation. Then, when he became a parish priest, he built a chapel in his church and dedicated it to St. John the Baptist.

So: Happy Birthday. To the cousin, the holy man, the forerunner, the Baptist of the Son of God.

The Place Where Abortion is Illegal

Ireland voted to nullify its constitutional amendment protecting the unborn. Most people see this as: Huge victory for modern liberal ways. Huge defeat for traditional Catholicism.

cathleen-kavenyProfessor Cathleen Kaveny wants to see it differently. She has written a brief essay in Commonweal magazine that 1. lays out some moral realities about as clearly as you can and then 2. neglects to face them with real love.

Kaveny thinks that Roe v. Wade framed the moral issue in the wrong way. The court based its decision on the idea that the unborn child is not a person, at least not in the eyes of the law. To summarize Part IX of Justice Blackmun’s opinion for the Court: The unborn are not “persons,” as the word is used in the US Constitution. If they were, then the case arguing a right to abortion would “collapse.”

Kaveny thinks focusing on the personhood of the unborn child warps the argument, like this:

Pro-life = Yes, the unborn child is a person with the right to life. Therefore, abortion is homicide.

Pro-choice = No, the unborn child is not a person. Therefore, the mother’s right to make decisions about her own body can include a decision to abort a pregnancy.

Kaveny wants to frame the issue differently. In my book, she makes an enormously helpful set of points. First, let’s all, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” concede the following:

1. Abortion involves taking the life of an individual human being.

2. That individual depends completely on the mother. Providing for a totally dependent unborn child imposes great burdens on the mother.

Amen.

All the pro-lifers I know would agree: We don’t want any pro-life ‘allies’ who do not sympathize with the difficulties faced by pregnant women. Yes, the child has a right to life; no doubt. But that “right” has no meaning without the sacrifice of the mother. The real pro-life movement has no interest whatsoever in getting ‘in between’ the baby and the mother. As the old slogan has it: Love them both.

unbornCareful Catholic bio-ethical thinking long ago fully grasped this at its depths. Turning the “right to life” of the unborn child into some kind of absolute value leads you to an unpleasant place: Mother Nature Herself does not respect this right.

Many pregnancies end in miscarriage, a.k.a. spontaneous abortion. Many fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus. That means countless human beings in the first stage of life who disappear into a dark oblivion, with only God and His angels ever having known that they existed.

Kaveny gets it wonderfully right here. The problem of procured abortion is not, ultimately, a metaphysical matter. We have to focus solely on the simple moral question. Can it be right to choose to have an abortion?

At this point in her essay, Kaveny leaves us with only a handful of dust. She suggests that the Church, without having a ready answer to the question above, should rather “accompany” our contemporaries who think the answer is Yes. We should take the risk of “having conversations.”

Now, I am confident in saying that most of us priests with some years of experience under our belts have had quite a few conversations. ‘Father, the child will be born with a handicap.’ ‘Father, I’m pregnant with my boyfriend’s baby, but I want to go to college.’ ‘Father, he ran away with the hygienist. But I’m pregnant with our fourth.’

Now, if we (priests and all Christian believers) don’t patiently listen, sympathize, and offer support and helpful proposals, we s**k. But, by the same token, no honest moral calculus exists which could include a proposal that aborting the baby might be the right thing to do.

Because the baby is, manifestly, a baby, and not a Volkswagen. And it is this mother’s baby. The mother’s life, and the baby’s, are already entwined in such a way that violence against the one is ipso facto violence against the other.

To countenance the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–that would involve a failure of charity towards both baby and mother. Just like refusing to sympathize with the burdens faced by the mother would involve a failure of charity towards both of them.

Kaveny rightly points out that the law fears to tread into the territory where blameworthy homicide and justifiable withdrawal of life-support come so close that they almost touch each other.

But she misses the one absolutely certain thing, the principle that can and does lead in the direction of a resolution of all the problems involved in any pregnancy: Intentionally killing the baby is not the right thing to do.

We human beings cannot see into the future. We can only make decisions based on our best lights right now.

I have argued for most of my life that we do not need faith in order to know that abortion is wrong, since sonograms clearly show us that is is.

But, on the other hand, it is faith that protects us from the hubris that justifies abortion, based on uncertain predictions about the future. Every line of thinking that leads to the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–all of them start with fear of the future. From that fear of the future comes the compulsive attempt to control it, through violence.

If you read my review of Ross Douthat’s book about Pope Francis, you know that I deeply reject the distinction between “modern liberal” and “traditional Catholic.” But Kaveny’s essay actually leads us to a place where that distinction touches something real and stark.

Holding the faith of the Church means believing that God will provide. Abortion offers a false promise about controlling the future. In the Church of Christ, we must have the courage to say, in every case: God has a real future for you and your baby.

 

Dying out of Loyalty to a Not-So-Great Pope

Yeames_the_meeting_of_sir_thomas_more_with_his_daughter_after_his_sentence_of_death
“The Meeting of Sir Thomas More with His Daughter, after his Sentence of Death,” by William Yeames

St. Thomas More died willingly and peacefully as a martyr in 1535.

Everyone present at his execution, and everyone who knew him, would readily have granted that England had no more intelligent, knowledgeable, and cosmopolitan a statesman than Thomas More.

And everyone knew that he died for one reason: Because he would not betray his Roman-Catholic loyalty to the pope.

Beautiful. Especially when we think of the pope as personally representing everything virtuous and true.

But which popes occupied the Chair of Peter during Thomas More’s lifetime?

When Leo X was elected pope in 1513, he was not even a priest. He famously said, “Now that God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it!” Leo X enjoyed the papacy while St. Thomas More was in his late thirties and early forties.

Pope Paul III Titian
Pope Paul III, painted by Titian

St. Thomas suffered martyrdom at age 57, when Pope Paul III reigned in Rome.

Certainly Paul III was a holier man that Leo X. But Pope Paul did have a number of children by mistresses he kept while he was a young priest. And he did create his 14- and 16-year-old grandsons Cardinals.

So, we have to rethink this a little. St. Thomas More died willingly and peacefully as a martyr, rather than betray his loyalty to the pope. And the pope in question was not an altogether awesome superman of a white-robed pope. Rather, the pope at the time was what we would have to consider a mediocre Christian at best. A mediocre Christian like me, or you.

Does that make St. Thomas some kind of patsy? Should he have betrayed his loyalty instead of dying as a martyr out of loyalty for a mediocre pope?

Don’t think so. Christ never promised a succession of saintly super-popes. He promised that the unity and integrity of the Church would endure because the papacy would endure.

In other words, the pope is the pope. The famous martyr for loyalty to the papacy, St. Thomas More, did not distract himself by judging the pope. Thomas simply kept faith with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, governed by the one and only pope there is, at any given time.

Consolation in the Spider Web

The gospel passage from Ash Wednesday makes an annual return appearance, at a weekday Mass, once every hot summer.

Live to please your heavenly Father. Pray to please your heavenly Father. Do kindnesses, and make sacrifices, to please your heavenly Father.

He will reward us. He knows the truth. He knows our motives, our intentions, and our struggles. He gives us a marvelous gift: Enough self-knowledge to see clearly that, without His sacrifice for us on the cross, we would have no hope.

This summer suddenly seems hotter and harder than others. Inspector-General reports, disputed interpretations of law at the southern border, special-counsel probes laboring on, and all the World Cup games are too early in the day for anyone in this hemisphere to watch them. Sometimes the world seems like a huge spider web of unsympathetic misunderstandings.*

God knows the truth. Let’s live to please Him.

When He comes to judge, and the struggle of this life is over, He will reward the humble sinner who begs for mercy.

_______________

mccarrickNota Bene. I learned this morning that the Holy See has suspended from the priestly ministry the Cardinal who ordained me. Because of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1960’s. Cardinal McCarrick is 87 years old now.

The allegation against the Cardinal apparently received the same kind of preliminary investigation as any accusation against a parish priest or religious-ed teacher. (May God be praised for that fact.) The allegation was found to be “credible.” That means immediate suspension of priestly ministry, pending future investigation. Cardinal McCarrick denies the allegation. Perhaps the Congregation for Bishops (part of the Pope’s governing operation) will judge the case.

Back in the spring of 2002, I was a transitional deacon. Public outrage over cover-ups of sexual abuse had reached a fever pitch. On a Washington street, I had to elude a small group of angry teenagers who, seeing my Roman collar, threatened me. “Priests molest children!” And I wasn’t alone, among the priests and seminarians I knew, in facing such spontaneous displays of public anger.

At that time, Cardinal McCarrick served as the sitting Archbishop of Washington. I just went back and read the archive of his columns in the Catholic newspaper during that spring. All the columns were about the sexual abuse crisis. At one point during that frantic spring, the Cardinal made a solemn public declaration that he had never had sexual interactions with anyone. Ever.

Today I pray for my father in God, before whom I knelt to receive the gift of the sacred priesthood.

When Pope John Paul II created him a Cardinal in 2001 (at the same Consistory that gave us Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis) the Archbishop took us seminarians with him. I got to serve Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Cardinal ate pizza and drank Killian’s Red with us in the seminary basement once every school year. He laughed at my jokes.

May God have mercy on us all.

 

“Doesn’t Speak Too Well of the United States”

(Archbishop of San Antonio, Texas)

Click HERE for a way to contact public officials about this.

Higher Loyalty

Comey Trump

The rule of law. Former FBI Director James Comey has dedicated his life to it. He became a lawyer and a prosecutor. He followed a calling to pursue justice.

We Americans love tv shows about law-enforcement and criminal prosecution. We rightly respect the vocation of people like James Comey. Public servants dedicated to the rule of law: they keep our country from descending into a chaos in which bullies rule.

My dear mom lent me her copy of Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty. I tore through it. I feel a kind of brotherhood with the man, since we have two things in common: A tendency to bang our heads on door lintels, and an unexpected job transition at the same time last year.

As a US Attorney, Comey worked to convict gangsters and stock-market cheats, like Martha Stewart. Then he ascended to the highest echelons of the Justice Department. When the practice of torturing terror suspects became public in 2004, Comey took a stand against the George W. Bush White House. Because the law is the law, and it prohibits torture.

Comey A Higher Loyalty bookIn 2013, President Obama made Comey the head of the FBI. Comey writes about how he undertook to make the organization more open and communicative, a place where everyone could believe in the cause.

Meanwhile, some other things happened.

Former President Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary traded on her political connections and became a Senator from a state to which she had no real ties. Then she became Secretary of State. Finally, she ran for president and secured the nomination of the Democratic party.

A sober body politic would have recognized this nomination for what it was: A triumph of cronyism, insider-ism. Not a feminist breakthrough.

But the body politic proved itself far from sober. The other major party nominated a notorious liar–a shameless publicity hound, a wounded ego without any real accomplishments to his name.

It is no wonder, then, that a such a devotee of American ideals like James Comey would find himself at a loss during the summer and fall of 2016. In his book, he recounts how his mind jibbed and gybed, trying to figure out how to handle FBI public relations.

The agency had to investigate Hillary Clinton’s “careless” e-mailing as Secretary of State. Also: the Bureau had suspicions of Russian attempts to influence the American presidential election by stealing private e-mail exchanges and hijacking facebook feeds.

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the ‘rude mechanicals’ (a group of Athenian working men) aspire to please the Duke with a stage play. They intend to present the tragic love story of ancient myth, Pyramus and Thisbe.

The Mechanicals meet by night, in the woods outside the city, to determine their roles and begin rehearsing. But Nick Bottom, the weaver, wants to play all the parts. He wants to play both Pyramus and Thisbe. When he learns that a lion comes on stage, he wants to play the lion, too.

During 2016, James Comey became a kind of Nick Bottom. He had the part of FBI Director, a low-profile part, with very few lines. His role involved speaking only to his superiors in the Department of Justice and the Oval Office. And only about hard evidence, not political exigencies.

But Comey decided that Attorney General Loretta Lynch did not have enough credibility to tell the public about “Hillary’s damn e-mails” (as Bernie Sanders put it). Comey concluded that the troubled nation would not believe that the e-mailing didn’t involve any crimes, unless he delivered the message.

So Comey took the stage to speak the lines of someone else’s part. Then, three months later, he had to take it back. Then, ten days after that, he had to take back the taking back.

Comey also wanted personally to go to the press about the suspected Russian election hacking. But President Obama managed to talk him out of doing that, just like Peter Quince managed to talk Bottom the weaver out of playing the lion, and Pyramus, and Thisbe, all at the same time.

shakespeareTestifying before Congress in early 2017, Comey said that he felt “nauseated” at the thought that his public statements of 2016 somehow affected the outcome of the presidential election.

Problem is: He nauseated himself. He could have just kept his mouth shut, speaking only in the private fora where he had a duty to speak. But that option appears not to have occurred to him.

The fundamental idea of Comey’s book is: We Americans owe our loyalty to something higher than any political leader. Not to “partisan interests” but “to the pillars of democracy.” Comey enumerates those pillars as: “restraint and integrity and balance and transparency and truth.”

Speaking of the virtue of restraint: This past Thursday, the Inspector General released a report. They agreed with me. It’s official: Comey put himself in front of a microphone too often in 2016. (In the book, Comey mocks Rudy Guiliani for the same offense, ironically enough.)

Comey, as is his wont, immediately took to Thursday’s The New York Times to welcome the criticism, even though he disagrees with it. The work of an Inspector General involves the pursuit of the rule of law, the very thing he wrote his book to vindicate, etc.

Amen to all that. We all have egos that should be smaller, not just James Comey. And all our egos will indeed get a lot smaller when the Inspector General, Who sees and knows all, and Who weighs everything with perfect justice, makes His findings public, on the great and final Day.

Comey deserves a lot of credit for writing a fundamentally honest book. And he wrote a page-turner. The passages about his dealings with President Trump during the winter and spring of 2017 read like a movie. If the Trump administration were a movie, Comey would name it: “The Forest Fire Presidency.”

Trump secretly asked for Comey’s “loyalty” (hence the book title.) Comey didn’t know what to say. So the president soon fired him. Now, Trump calls Comey “the worst FBI Director ever.” Which means worse than J. Edgar Hoover, who suspected Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of being a secret communist, and had his phones bugged.

Comey characterizes the president as a kind of Mafia don. But Mafia dons have good organizational skills. To me, Trump looks a lot more like: a clueless, desperately unhappy fourteen-year-old boy maniacally masquerading as a grown man.

Comey almost certainly wrote his book to try and fulfill the teachings of his intellectual hero, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Neibuhr spoke and wrote repeatedly on 20th-century political questions. Neibuhr insisted that a Christian must seek to further the cause of justice in the world by talking part in public life.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Niebuhr would undoubtedly find Comey’s book blindly self-serving. The deeper problem is this: Neibuhr and Comey both share a false presupposition. Namely that “loyalty to truth” occurs in some pure realm where you can leave practical questions about religion unanswered. Basic questions of Christian practice, like: Did God write the Scriptures? Or: Is Jesus Christ alive right now? But that’s a topic for another day.

Comey and I agree on this: In November 2016, we, as a nation, found ourselves choosing between two candidates for president, neither of whom could claim with any real honesty to be worthy of the office.

How did we get there? We have had plenty of unworthy presidents before, to be sure. But we also had a Civil War before.

The post-World-War II “consensus” about the American presidency had serious flaws. Including the kind of megalomania that led us into unnecessary bloodbaths in Vietnam and Iraq. Or a self-righteous “solution” to our domestic race problems that didn’t really solve them at all.

But now we have totally wrecked that 20th-century consensus about who we are as a nation. We elected an unqualified, immature, dishonest president. We find ourselves barrelling down a blind alley.

Reinhold Neibuhr would be the first to point out that: In this fallen world, blind alleys usually harbor very dangerous, unhappy things in their unexplored shadows. I for one think that James Comey is absolutely right to speak out.

Growing in God

farm

The Parable of the Seed’s Growth. The farmer sleeps and rises, night and day, and his plants grow. He knows not how. [Spanish]

Even if this particular farmer had a doctorate in cellular biology, or botany, or meteorology—he still could not claim really to know how his plants manage to grow. To produce blade, then ear, then the full grain in the ear. The sun has power, and the rain, and Mother Earth, and the genius of the little seed: all have power which the farmer does not fully understand.

If he’s a contemplative sort of person, the farmer sleeps and rises, night and day. He watches this power unfold itself before his eyes. He gives God the glory.

Which brings us to the fact that the Lord Jesus presented this image as a parable of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we could synthesize the parable’s meaning with one sentence. Life means growing in divine love.

Now, do we care what life means? Or do we just want pleasure, or wealth, or power, whenever and wherever we can find it? Without bothering to try to understand why we exist?

Well, I think we care. We want to understand why we exist. And try to do it right. We know that no matter what doctorates or other forms of education or expertise we might have, we need God to teach us the meaning of life. No one else can.

Bill ClintonDivine love. God loves. The infinite and all-powerful God loves infinitely and all-powerfully. We exist because He loves.

He was fine. He was happy. He longed for absolutely nothing, because He had everything. But: Because He loves so generously, He made the heavens and the earth, the angels, and us.

He loves us. The meaning of life involves loving Him back. The human race failed to love our Creator, and made a huge mess of sin, but He didn’t give up on us. To the contrary, He came to the earth, and spread out His arms on the cross, to show us an open Heart, and to open our hearts by the power of His love. That’s Jesus Christ. That’s the Holy Spirit and the work of the Church, the life of the sacraments.

Therefore, life means: living in Christ’s Church, loving God back for the love with which He has loved us. And it grows. By the grace of the sacraments, divine love grows in a Christian heart. We know not how.

Time passes. Some of us could say that the Bill-Clinton presidency seems like just yesterday. Or even the Reagan presidency, or the Carter presidency.

The world turns. We meet people. We try to treat them right. We try to live in the truth. We pray. We try to obey God. We try to do well the work God has given us to do. Meanwhile, through all this, decades pass, and we grow in divine love.

Setbacks come, to be sure. We amaze ourselves with our own moral weaknesses. But we don’t give up. Life means loving the God Who loves me, Who loves us. Let me learn. Let me understand better. Let me master myself. Let me forget myself. Let me grow.

earthsunAnd it happens, we know not how. Now, not knowing how—that goes against the grain for us little human geniuses, who pride ourselves on our knowhow.

But: God is God. What do we really know about Him? Loving God is like loving a country which we have never even visited. The pictures we have seen—they’re accurate, yes. Jesus Christ and His saints, they are the pictures of eternal heaven. And they are absolutely accurate pictures. We can’t doubt the glory and beauty of the God we love. But we have never been to that country, not yet. We don’t know. We do not know God.

The contemplative farmer stares at the sky, and the rain clouds forming in the west, and his fields with the little cornstalks in their rows—doing their thing, getting bigger in tiny, daily increments. He gazes at all this, and he thinks to himself:

‘This is something. This is life living. I’m the farmer, and I cultivated this ground and sowed these rows of seed—so I have to credit myself with making some contribution here. But I can only consider myself a docile, uninformed custodian. It requires an intelligence a million times bigger than my own, and a power a million times bigger than mine, to make one single ear of corn. To God Almighty be the glory!’

I think that may be what the Lord intends to teach us with this parable. We grow in God’s love, night and day, sleeping and waking, precisely by: humbling ourselves before Him. Like that farmer humbling himself before the power of earth and sky and Mother Nature.

Growing in divine love involves not knowing everything and controlling everything. Like I said, that goes against the grain for us sons and daughters of this technocratic age of unbridled human cleverness. But: trying to know and control everything stifles our growth in divine love. Growth in divine love requires one thing: Faith.

When we believe in Christ, the love that dwells in His Heart can and does dwell in our hearts, too, by the power of the Church’s sacraments. Then, we just patiently do our duty. And our hearts grow in God.

Faith in the Marriage Bond

The prophet Elijah suffered. Because the nation of Israel had broken faith with her Lord. Israel was governed by cynical world-lings who knew no law other than their rapacious short-term appetites.

wedding umbrellasBut God is faithful, faithful to His promises and His covenant. He did not vanish from the life of His chosen spouse. He stayed close. He continued to guide His people into a better future. The nation had abandoned God, but the story of love and friendship between God and man was not over.

Spouses need to live and breathe this history of Israel. Because anyone who has been married for more than ten minutes knows that: Marriage is no picnic.

I mean, hopefully it does involve picnics. Frequent picnics. But:

Human beings have grave difficulties getting along. Human Nature 101: Getting along takes work, requires compromises, and inevitably means humbling yourself sometimes.

So the mystery of the ancient Scriptures, the mystery of God’s faithfulness in His union with an unreliable, capricious spouse: that mystery of God’s unswerving dedication must be the spiritual air that married couples breathe. Marriage requires one thing, above all: Believing in this God.

He loves to the end. He did not abandon His chosen Bride, even when she abandoned Him. To the contrary, He took His bride’s nature to Himself and became a man. Then He let His recalcitrant spouse take out all her destructiveness on Him. Even then, as His bride killed Him, He did not give up on His marriage bond. “They know not what they do. Forgive them, Father.”

So: If your cellphone removes you from the mystery of the ancient Scriptures, cut it off and throw it away. If you’re gossipy friends make suggestions that involve divorce, shut them up and tell them to get lost. Better to live in the life-giving truth of the ancient Scriptures, without knowing whether or not your high-school classmates have gotten fat, than to enter Gehenna with 1,000 facebook friends.

World Cup and World Peace

If you come to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, go first and be reconciled with your brother. (Matthew 5:23-24)

“Come to the altar.” When we pray and seek a friendship with the Almighty, the altogether True and Good, we examine our consciences. We measure ourselves against the fidelity, kindness, and love of Christ. Then we realize: Yikes, I have offended my neighbors. I have wronged them in such-and-such way, at such-and-such times. I have not fulfilled God’s command to love my neighbor as much as I love myself. So I must “go and be reconciled.”

in attendance for WE Day California, The Forum, Los Angeles, CA April 7, 2016. Photo By: Elizabeth Goodenough/Everett CollectionEasy. When I’m honest, humble, and full of trust in God.

Not so easy, when I’m the normal kind of obtuse, anxious, self-centered mortal that most of us are. A fearful soul who sees things only as they affect me, and who would rather eat dirt than sincerely apologize for anything.

The Lord Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by declaring peacemakers blessed, along with the poor in spirit, the meek and merciful, the clean of heart, the zealous for justice, those mourn the sins of the world and do penance.

Like I said: Making peace is easy, when your heart harmonizes perfectly with the Heart of Jesus Christ. But reaching that kind of harmony with divine love requires the spiritual battle of a lifetime. The constant renunciation of self; daily meditation on the true meaning of life; constant practice in honest communication.

The World Cup tournament can help build international peace. And the highly televised Singapore summit earlier this week. Let’s hope for the best. The greatest force for international peace is, of course: intermarriage and child-bearing.

When Serbs marry Croats and have Serbo-Croat babies, and Bosnians marry Hungarians and have Bosno-Hungarian babies, and Tutsis marry Hutus and have Hutu-Tutsi babies, and Germans marry Slavs and have Germano-Slavic babies, and whites marry blacks and have tan babies, and Latinos marry Italian-Americans and have babies who look like Selena Gomez… we wind up in a good situation.

The grandparents simply cannot order the grandchildren into war against each other when those grandchildren are literally brothers and sisters.

Maybe we need to encourage our American children to marry Canadians at this point. To avoid a re-eruption of the French and Indian War…

But the most important world-peace-making work of all involves: getting my self reconciled with God and His truth. Getting myself reconciled with myself. If, by God’s grace, I can make a true, enduring peace with myself, then I can make peace with anyone.