Which Garden to Weed

In everyone, the weeds of sin will be mixed with the good wheat of the gospel until the end of time. The Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s salvation, but still on the way to holiness. (Catechism 827)

The parable of the wheat and the tares ends with shimmering drama: The bundled weeds burn; the sifted wheat fills the barn with the restful smell of harvest-time. In the end, Christ, the truly just Judge, will forever separate good from evil.

The parable also injects drama into our virtual, interweb gathering. Some of us, dear reader, are good guys, but some of us are bad.

We do not, however, wear jerseys to identify which team each of us is on. We can’t. Because all of us are on both teams.

Beautiful baptized Christians, raise your hands. Sinners, raise your hands.

This would seem an opportune moment to try and expostulate the doctrines of original sin, Christ’s satisfaction for sin, the effects of baptism, and the quest for holiness. Got a couple hours? Just kidding.

Continue reading “Which Garden to Weed”

A Message to the Untexased

Drove past Sam Houston’s birthplace. It reminded me of the time when an errand took me on the interstate through the Texas panhandle…

Heat pounded down from the wide summer sky. I entered Amarillo, and the moment ripened. Time to stop for a cold one.

When I got out of my car at a watering hole, I took my first step on Texas soil.

I sat beside a friendly fellow, a bona fide Texan, born and bred. A proud Texan. He extolled the superlative qualities of Texas life, the state that excels all others in business and pleasure.

The man called me pardner. I did not have it in me to respond in kind; I called him ‘man,’ which is what we say where I come from.

My pardner did not hesitate to invite me to make the great expanse of Texas my new home.

As I sat there cooling off, listening to this earnest gentleman, this foreign land stretched in enormous dimensions before me, full of unfamiliar things like cacti and armadilli.

But my pardner’s kindness made me think: If someday the good Lord wills for me to pitch my tent here in this foreign country, well, a great adventure no doubt awaits.

The One Who summoned Abram from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land has yet to make any indications to me that I belong in Texas. Quite the contrary, I intend to stay somewhere near US 220 in Virginny until at AD 2023.

But remembering my pardner, and thinking about all the good people of the world who don’t really know what a ‘parable’ is, or a ‘second collection,’ or a ‘missalette,’ has moved me to offer this message:

Dear Unchurched Reader,

It is a pleasure to be with you. Our Church probably seems like a foreign land where people talk funny. We toss words around which do not come naturally to your lips.

But look: There is no place on earth where the living is better than in the Catholic Church. Come on in. Before long, you will get used to all the things that seem strange now. The Church is a great deal bigger even than Texas. It is plenty big enough for you.

Farming?

Ah, the parable of instant oatmeal. Jesus made it quick, because He knew that everyone has a short attention span.

So he told the parable about how God makes us holy like we make instant oatmeal: Packet, bowl, hot water. Badda bing, badda boom.

Wait. What? The Lord never told a parable of instant oatmeal? The parable concerns seeds and soil and farming?

What does He think? That this is some kind of agrarian society?

Does He honestly believe that we are going to wait patiently through the glacial pace of farming? Wait for seeds to germinate, grow, sprout, and grow some more? Does He think that we will sit still through hundreds of news cycles?

Continue reading “Farming?”

Dated Gettysburg Movie

The coming of the sesquicentennial has transformed me from an assiduous student of the Civil War into a budding fanatic.

The 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg is still two years away. But you might be tempted to lay your hands on the Martin Sheen-Tom Berenger-Jeff Daniels “Gettysburg” movie of 1993.

I would strongly caution you.

Not because the movie is too violent. (It is violent, but what do you expect?) Not because it is biased, because it isn’t. Not because spending four hours learning about the battle of Gettysburg isn’t a good idea; it is a good idea.

The battle of Gettysburg endlessly fascinates. But “Gettysburg” endlessly runs on.

Watching Martin Sheen attempt to impersonate General Robert E. Lee is a fate worse than death by bayonet. I would prefer to see Britney Spears clad in butternut debating tactical matters with Old Pete Longstreet ad nauseum.

And the movie possesses no narrative unity. It just plods through events.

It plods through them with stunning verisimilitude. I guess that illuminates an important truth: There is a big difference between the pace of an exciting weekend battle re-enactment and the pace of a watchable movie.

Making “Gettysburg” may have been the thrill of a lifetime for all the re-enactors involved. I do not begrudge them one minute of the fun they had. It’s just that the movie version of a Civil War re-enactment is really boring.

The battle itself is immortal, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently captured it. Realistic as “Gettysburg” is, such immortality has eluded its grasp altogether.

Here is the only truly captivating scene:

“Gettysburg” aside, let’s give Ted Turner credit for “Gods and Generals.” When “Gods and Generals” ended after almost four hours, I wanted it to go on for another four hours. “Gods and Generals” rocks.

Stating the Obvious

Lake Philpott and the Blue Ridge

Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. (Matthew 10:19)

The Lord instructed His Apostles, “Proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

The kingdom of God is at hand. Admittedly, this is a challenging and mysterious thing to proclaim. Mysterious because God altogether transcends our understanding. Challenging because, if the altogether transcendent One is asserting His authority, then we all certainly need to take a long, hard look at what we are doing and clean things up a bit.

Granted, then: The apostolic proclamation of the coming of God’s Kingdom is mysterious and challenging. But can it be called offensive, or even surprising?

Can it surprise any reasonable person to hear that Almighty God reigns? Quite the contrary, it is an obvious fact. Almighty God certainly reigns. If there is any question whatsoever about whether or not Almighty God reigns, all you need to do is drive up to the Philpott Dam overlook at closing time and watch the sun set. Almighty God reigns.

Is it offensive to declare that Almighty God reigns? Apparently it is, because the Lord warns us that we will be handed over to courts and even put to death for stating forthrightly such a simple and obvious fact. Then He tells us not to worry about what to say when the crisis comes.

The Lord Jesus promises that the Spirit of the Father will speak in us.

We can be confident of this because the Holy Spirit can and will inspire whomever He wills to inspire.

And we can be confident, and not worry about our speeches in defense of the Gospel, because, after all, it really is not complicated.

God is God. He is not a little pet or a pile of dirty laundry you can shove in the closet. He makes all that exists exist. His Kingdom is at hand; He reigns. No duh.

It did not take a rocket scientist to explain the meaning of life to the human race.

It just took the meek and humble carpenter Who did not clamor in the streets but went quietly, like a lamb, to His destiny.

Heroic Wisdom

The concluding chapters of the book of Genesis provide as moving and as edifying a tale as anything a person could ever read.

Joseph possessed divine wisdom. When he was seventeen years old, he had dreamed that he would reign supreme. But he did not bear arms for his accoutrements. Rather, he wore a coat of many colors.

Joseph’s brothers despised him in their jealousy and conspired to sell the ‘dreamer’ into slavery in Egypt. Joseph, unarmed, but wiser than his brothers, offered no resistance.

Joseph became an attentive, prudent, and provident servant in Egypt. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams for him, the king of Egypt declared, “Can we find such a man as this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Joseph came to enjoy Pharaoh’s highest favor and ruled Egypt in Pharaoh’s place.

Joseph anticipated a coming famine of seven years. He lad aside stores during the years of prosperity so that Egypt could feed the world from its granaries when the hard times came.

God had a plan to re-unite the sons of Jacob, the progenitors of the chosen people. Joseph proved to be the hero of this plan. Not because Joseph foresaw it all, or because he accomplished astounding feats of strength or guile or will. Joseph emerged as the hero because he knew how to co-operate with the strongest person in the story, namely Almighty God.

After Joseph revealed himself and was re-united with his father, his brothers begged his forgiveness for the evil they had done him years before. Joseph did not hesitate to forgive. In fact, he had long since forgotten all about it, because he was too busy co-operating with the plan of God. He told his brothers not to blame themselves: “God sent me here ahead of you for the sake of saving lives.”

Moral of the story: The strongest, wisest hero—the one who truly reigns supreme—accepts that God is in charge, and co-operates.

Friend, Come Up Higher

Pretty soon we will be knee-deep in parables.

Here’s a homily from the 2007 archive to enhance our summer-wedding-season experience:

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,” and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher;” then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:7-14)

According to St. Luke, this is a parable. Of course we know that a parable is an image or set of images from everyday life which Christ used to help us to grasp the invisible reality of the Kingdom of God. The Lord’s parables may not be easy to understand, but we can usually recognize one when we hear it.

Why, then, do these words of Christ sound a lot more like good advice than a parable?

Continue reading “Friend, Come Up Higher”

Wholeness, Augustine, Lucrece, and Maria

Click here for a paean to St. Maria Goretti from ’09…

The virtue which makes life good has its throne in the soul, and thence rules the members of the body, which becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will. –St. Augustine

These days everyone strives for the great goal of “wholeness.” Shop green, eat clean, yoga, the right teas…wholeness awaits.

Now, I am not trying to make fun of anyone. The ancient Romans had a saying, Mens sana in corpore sano. A sound mind in a healthy body. Bodily temperance certainly aids us in the spiritual life.

But the ancient Romans also sang songs venerating one of their fabled heroines, named Lucrece. Lucrece had commited suicide when she concluded that her body had been ruined by the violation of a hostile invader.

St. Augustine answered by making his very important point: Personal integrity is found in the soul. We pray for bodily health and well-being. But no disease or violence of any kind can make a pure heart impure. And a pure heart is the center of genuine wholeness.

By the same token, of course, no bodily exploit can make an impure heart pure.

If a soul falls into unwholesomeness, the greenest grocery store cannot provide a remedy. Going to GNC or Trader Joe’s would just be a waste of time. Only contrition and penitence can purify the soul and make it whole again, by the blood of Christ.

So the real name of soul-body wholeness is ‘chastity.’ An honest soul governs an honest body. And the true heroine of chastity is not Lucrece of ancient Rome, but St. Maria Goretti of rural Italy.

The young farm girl willed only the good. When a young man tried to rape her, she prayed for him to repent and relent. She sought only to do God’s will. She did not choose death; rather, she was martyred because she refused to consent to a sin.

St. Maria’s body lies lifeless now in her shrine, wounded by repeated stabbings. She was killed 109 years ago. The man who killed her came to visit and pray–after he repented of what he had done, served his prison sentence, and then became a Franciscan.

He came to kneel at the feet of real wholeness. No body could be more ‘whole’ than one which is wounded like that of Christ.

You-Can’t-Do-It-ville

More deluded state legislatures have enacted laws permitting “same-sex marriage.”

Faithful souls may long to hear from their shepherds a resounding condemnation.

If I might, I would like to take a few moments to explain my personal point-of-view on this matter.

Marriage between two men or two women falls into the category of impossible. For two people to marry, they must act (in the distinctive way) as husband and wife, following their verbal commitment to each other. Two men cannot do this; two women cannot do this. This is bird-and-bees stuff of the most basic kind.

No one enjoys a civil right to do the impossible. Legislatures which try to make the impossible possible only succeed in rendering themselves laughingstocks. But that hardly seems unusual or even particularly remarkable.

That said, it is our bounden duty to oppose such legislative nonsense. A vademecum about opposing ‘same-sex marriage’ can be found by clicking here.

A summary of Vatican teaching on this matter can be found by clicking here.

Click here for a homily I gave shortly before the District of Columbia legalized ‘gay marriage.’ Click here for a homily explaining the Church’s authority to govern marriage.

Here are my ruminations after I sat through hours of testimony at the District building.

‘Gay marriage’ lives in fantasy-world. In the realm of the possible, we find such things as…friendship, sincerity, kindness, creativity…The Lord never laid down a law against any of these things. All are encouraged.

Also in the realm of the possible, we find…sodomy. Even though sodomy so obviously offends everything that is good and dignified about mankind, some people nonetheless experience an inclination to it. The existence of such an inclination shows us that our human nature has been handed down to us in a confused and broken state. Same-sex attraction is a particularly vivid sign of original sin. The inclination is not, however, in and of itself, a personal sin.

My sense is that actually performing acts of sodomy falls deep within the city limits of You-Really-Cannot-Do-It (Ever!)-ville in the minds of everyone who hears any homily I ever give. Therefore, it would serve no purpose for me to give a severe “Gay Marriage is an Abomination” Sermon.

People who might avail themselves of “Gay Marriage” in New York, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else, are our misguided brothers and sisters. We should do everything we lovingly can to help them come to their senses, do the good (kindness, love, friendship) and avoid the bad (sodomy, lesbianism).

That said, I find the whole ‘same-sex marriage’ business to be less an abomination and more a regrettably silly sideshow, best ignored. Give me an earful if you disagree!

Happy with Christ on Dependence Day

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth!” (Matthew 11:25)

Independence Day weekend. Fireworks in honor of our successful revolution from the British. We no longer depend on the Crown. We wave our own flag instead. We stand tall, an independent people, with burgers on the grill and ice cream for dessert. We rejoice in American independence.

And we go to church, and we hear about the Lord Jesus rejoicing, too.

St. Luke also narrated the same scene. Luke uses the word agalliáō to describe what Jesus did at that moment. Agalliáō means, ‘to exult, to rejoice exceedingly.’ It is Independence Day weekend, and the Lord Jesus is agalliáō-ing right along with us Americans.

But wait.

Continue reading “Happy with Christ on Dependence Day”