Fallen Man’s List


From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within, and they defile. (Mark 7:21-23)

Thus says the Lord. I think we can find a lot of answers by reflecting on these two sentences. First, let’s make sure we understand the words.

From within people, from their hearts, come… 1. Evil Thoughts. Okay, yes. As in, Yes, I know what that means. And, yes, I am guilty of it.

2. Unchastity All of us grown-ups know what that means? Unchaste acts or unchaste thoughts. Unchaste websites or unchaste smartphone apps–unchaste anything. Anything other than: love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

Theft. Murder. Adultery. Greed.
We know the definitions of these words, I think. On Wednesday, cold-blooded murder punched us square in the face. But let’s finish the list and come back to that.

7. Malice. Not an easy word to grasp the meaning of. The more prevalent malice is, the harder it is to see. It’s like the opposite of sunlight. The sunnier the day, the more sunlight we see. Malice is the opposite. The more malice there is around us, the more and more blind to it we become.

On the cross, Christ revealed how God thinks of us. No malice. God made Himself the victim of all the Devil’s immeasurable malice, because our Creator holds no malice in His heart towards us. He wills only that we would share the Father’s love. On Wednesday morning , we saw malice, in all its grotesque ugliness. But, like I said, let’s finish the words in the sentence, then we’ll come back to the $10,000 question.

Next word: Deceit. I think we know the meaning: wrongly keeping someone in the dark about the truth.

9. Licentiousness. Anyone know what that means? …Driver’s license, pilot’s license, license to practice medicine… License-tiousness. Artistic license can be a good thing, like when Michelangelo used artistic license in depicting the Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel. But taking moral license means saying to myself something like: “Keep holy the Sabbath is a great commandment, but I have a soccer game!” Or “I know I already ate ten cookies, and that’s gluttony. But I’m going to have another one anyway, because I want to. I give myself a license to have an eleventh cookie.”

10. Envy. We understand the word, I think. 11. Blasphemy. Speaking of God, or anything associated with God, without reverence. 12. Arrogance. Again, I know what it means. And I know that I am guilty of it.

Mr T13. Folly. Anybody remember Mr. T? I pity the fool. I pity the fool who acts or speaks without thinking. The fool who makes decisions without first asking, What would the Lord have me do?

Ok. That’s the whole list. Guilty we are. All of us, somewhere along the line. We are children of Adam and Eve, members of the fallen race, for whom Christ had to die, so that we could receive mercy instead of punishment.

The Jews had their customs (as we read at Holy Mass). All of their practices had some reasonable origin in the piety of their forefathers. Washing up before a meal? That’s a good habit to have. Like keeping the kitchen clean, and all the plates and pots and pans. Keeping the Sabbath, as a genuine day of rest and spiritual refreshment. All good.

When the Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees, He hardly intended to declare that eating with your hands dirty is the Law of the New Covenant. But: Carrying on as if washing my hands and letting the goyim do my work for me on the holy day… carrying on as if such things make a person righteous—that’s called hypocrisy. “A sinner? Oh, no. Not me! Look at my clean pots and plates!” That’s Pharisaism.

Because within us, within the innermost secret heart of any member of the human race, we can find the desperate smallness, the obtuse pride, the propensity to malice which somehow convinced Adam and Eve to trust the Devil, instead of God. The Devil managed to convince the First Parents of the human race that he is more honest than God.

He’s not, of course. Satan is a liar. The Liar. Maybe one reason why God let this terrible thing happen Wednesday is to remind us, each of us, in the secret center of our hearts:

“Look: You know neither the day nor the hour. This pilgrim life is fragile and short. Pray for the dead, pray for the suffering. And seek God. Seek God’s kingdom.” To find God, we just have to humbly admit that we need Him. Admit that we are gaping vortices of emptiness, without Jesus Christ.

After falling away from God by his pride, the devil despaired. Satan never hoped to find mercy. But that doesn’t make Satan a charmingly self-indulgent, fat, and rummy devil. His despair makes him, above all, perversely self-righteous.

The farthest thing away from Christ is not any particular item on the list of bad moves which children of Adam and Eve tend to make–the list which Christ spelled out for us in the gospel passage. The farthest thing away from Christ is the self-righteousness that would deny our need for Him. When we turn to our God on the cross, and open our inner floodgates, and cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”–He does.

Why, Lord?

Bridgewater Pllaza

Yesterday, the good Lord gave us a lovely day in these parts. Quiet, late-summer sunrise. A perfect day for a drive… maybe up I-81 through the beautiful “Valley of Virginia…”

Punctuate all this loveliness with killing three people, including yourself, and gravely injuring another? We could ask and ask and ask, and we won’t understand why someone would do that. I wish he hadn’t.

On a lazy summer afternoon at Bridgewater Plaza, you can watch the parents buying bags of popcorn to feed the schools of carp that congregate by one of the piers. Then their children stick their fingers into the fishes’ toothless gullets. They scream and laugh. It’s the kind of hillbilly fun that people in Franklin County, Virginia, really love.

Why let it all be disturbed with the report of bullets at sunrise, Lord? The last thing any of us ever wanted–that our home would become international news like this. Why do You allow this?

Shortly before she died, St. Monica said to her son Augustine, “Remember me at the altar of God.”

The best thing to do today: pray for the dead at Mass. The best thing to do tomorrow: same thing.

At Holy Mass, we encounter the Power Whose hands hold the living and the dead. When we pray with love, that He would help them–the dead and the living; when we pray at the altar that He would help them, He will.

At Holy Mass today, St. Paul tells us: “Stand firm in the Lord.” Because we stand firm, we can ask Why? He will unfold an answer, we trust Him enough to believe that. We ask because we believe He will answer.

Christ crucified is going through all this, right here with us, on these lovely late-summer Virginia days full of grief.


Leonardo da Vince Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child, Leonardo da Vinci

“We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.” (I Thessalonians 2:7) Here St. Paul expresses the kind of love that the Church has for us, Her children.

We look, of course, to our Holy Father, and to the supreme magisterium of the Church, for guidance–when it comes to how the Church best loves as a mother. The Magisterium teaches us what the Church’s love involves by way of succor, and by way of discipline. We don’t love well if we love more indulgently than Holy Mother Church, or more severely. Those above us, the Pope and the bishops, teach us exactly how indulgent, and how severe, to be.

As for ourselves, let’s focus for a moment not on the mother, but on the baby.

The infant at the breast has no subtlety when it comes to communication, and no pride—no delusions whatsoever of independence. When the child is hungry, he or she simply… cries. Caterwauls, desperately.

That’s us. The crying babies. We can’t be too proud to cry. We can’t be too proud to acknowledge that we need the Lord to help us, that we need the grace which the sacraments give us. We need the sacred ministry of the Church Christ established more desperately than babies need milk.

Our gospel readings at Holy Mass today and tomorrow offer us a perfect warm-up for the passage we will read this Sunday. I’ll have more to say about the business of our Lord condemning the Pharisees then.

But we find the key to understanding Christ’s blistering condemnation of the Pharisees, I think, by putting ourselves in the place of the baby at the breast.

The evil of pharisaism lay not in any of their ceremonies and customs themselves, many of which were perfectly laudable. What the Pharisees lacked was: unpretentious dependence on the merciful love of God. They forgot that they were babies at the breast. Let’s remember that we are.

Fleshy Sunday Readings

I think we can find a particularly interesting paradox in the words of Christ which we hear at Holy Mass on Sunday. Hopefully we can receive the paradox as an invitation.

“This saying is hard,” they murmured. “Who can accept it?”

Which saying? The one we heard last Sunday. “My flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. The one who feeds on Me will have life because of me.”

Christ, the man, flesh and blood, born of the womb of Mary. He possesses divine life, eternally flowing into Him from the Father. Infinite life. The Holy Spirit, Who has breathed life into everything that lives. This particular Galilean fellow, made of bones and cells and stuff, just like us. He gives His body and blood as the gift of divine life for us. The Holy Spirit gives life–through the flesh and blood of Christ.

Earth Wind and FireOk: A hard saying, which demands faith in the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, the Holy Eucharist. He anticipated that His words would shock some of us into disbelief.

A few weeks ago, an aspiring Catholic came to see me to discuss the possibility of coming into full communion with the Church. He has attended Mass with his dear Catholic wife every Sunday for 35 years. But this man’s Presbyterian sensibilities couldn’t quite feature the idea that God would have us eat somebody’s body and drink his blood.

The saying about the Body of the Galilean rabbi isn’t the only hard one involving flesh and blood in this Sunday’s readings. Anybody catch St. Paul quoting Christ quoting Genesis? “A man shall join with his wife and become one flesh.”

The fact that sex, marriage, procreation, and permanence go together, inseparably–like root beer and foam go together, or chips and salsa, or music and dancing–these are flesh-and-blood facts of life, brought to us by God Himself. Maybe the idea that we all come into the world in this somewhat messy way–maybe it strikes us as a little odd, if we think about it too meticulously. But God has His beautiful reasons.

In a similar way, “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood,” come as simple Christian facts of life. Christ Himself said these words. It’s not as if Catholic priests made the whole thing up. We didn’t make up that marriage is the permanent bond of man and woman, any more than we made up that the Holy Mass gives us Christ’s true flesh. We Catholics just take the Lord at His word. We don’t see it as our job to “engineer” the meaning of those words. We simply believe them, holding back no part of our minds from our unequivocal belief. We know that, if we believe, then maybe we can begin to understand. But if we don’t totally believe, we know we will never understand at all.

priest_jesus_massAnyway: taken all together, the facts of life, given by God in today’s readings: fleshy. Altogether fleshy. Husband and wife: one, inseparable flesh. Holy Communion: Christ’s flesh and blood to eat and drink. Almighty God does not despise human flesh. To the contrary, He has embraced it more intimately than we can conceive.

Hence, the paradox: In the same breath with which the Lord lays down these stunning affirmations of intense fleshiness, He also says, “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I speak to you are spirit and life.”

The flesh has life. The flesh even has life to give. But the flesh itself is not ‘life.’ God wills to give us life in these muscles and bones of ours. He wills that we receive our lives through our parents’ flesh and bones. He wills that we receive eternal life through His incarnate Son’s living flesh.

But our life is not just breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, tv, and bed. Our life is not even just earth, wind, and fire.

Our life is God. God is immeasurably greater than all flesh and blood. Immeasurably greater even than Earth, Wind, and Fire were, when they jammed “September,” in their prime.

God is so pure and spiritual that we cannot begin to imagine, cannot begin to conceive. He is the Beauty of everything beautiful, the Truth of everything true. He is our goal. God, purely God, awesomely, mysteriously God.

Everything Christ ever said has one fundamental meaning for us: that we would never shoot for anything less than God Himself.

So: we have flesh and blood, which came from our parents’ flesh and blood, nourished with divine life by Christ’s flesh and blood. And, in this flesh and blood, we strive for God.

Mr. Donald Trump, “de quien la humanidad debe sentirse avergonzada.”

— Armando Fuentes Aguirre, Reforma, Mexico City

US Mexico border wall

Dear reader, hope you have enjoyed your vacation! (From me.) You certainly deserved it.

But when anyone publicly refers to the border wall in Israel as a good idea, I start to get riled. I can’t just loll on the beach anymore. Anger overwhelms my capacity to relax. I have seen the wall in Bethlehem with my own eyes. I have seen its effects on the city where our Lord was born. And I have wept.

Donald Trump broke the sabbath this past Sunday to give us an immigration-policy proposal. If actually put into effect, his plan would produce a humanitarian catastrophe rivaling the Syrian refugee crisis.

In addition to writing that “humanity should be ashamed” of such a proposal, Mr. Fuentes writes in Reforma words that I hope we will all take to heart:

Creo en la esencial vocación de bien de la criatura humana… Confío en que los norteamericanos se quitarán de encima ese feo forúnculo que brotó repentinamente en su vida nacional.

“I believe in the fundamental goodness of man. I believe that the Americans will lance this ugly boil that has erupted suddenly in their national life.”

Dearly beloved, let’s greet this moment like we should. Our nation needs our pro-life/pro-immigrant message.

–The courageous undercover Planned-Parenthood videos have exposed the incontrovertible truth of what abortion involves.

–Meanwhile, the smallness of American-nativist suspicion of immigrants has also been thrown into focus. It is a cancer from which the USA has suffered for centuries.

We Catholics have a unique point-of-view: our Church family includes the documented and the un-documented, and we love all our brothers and sisters (without pausing for one moment to consider INS status). And of course we love all the babies, and all the mothers. We have the audacity to believe that our sexual power to conceive the next generation does not amount to a medical problem, but rather a beautiful blessing.

We have the message that our country most needs at this very point in her history: our pro-life/pro-immigrant message. Let’s be consistent about it, and let’s share it, with love!