Tolerance and Us

universal call to holiness

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Holy Lent. How long ago was that?

We may find ourselves thinking: I still haven’t really done squat for a Lenten sacrifice, and it’s almost over. [Spanish]

Okay. Holy Mother Church has an answer for you. She has carefully laid out the season of Lent in two phases. Phase One started on Ash Wednesday, and the people we admire got serious about it then. Phase Two starts right now. The final two weeks. Sunday a week is Palm Sunday, then Holy Week. Then Easter. Being serious about Lent for six weeks is great. Being serious for two weeks is better than not being serious at all.

The main thing to get serious about is, of course: Jesus. Jesus Himself.

He knew what awaited Him. Pilgrims came from afar to worship in Jerusalem at the Passover. They sought the Messiah of the Jews. Some of them wanted to see Jesus. He said: Okay, Yes, here I am. And you will see Me glorified. In death.

If we intend to get serious during these crucial final two weeks of Lent, let’s confront something–a kind of paradoxical problem we have with the “religion” of the contemporary world, “Tolerance of Diversity.”

coexist tolerance diversityWe Catholics want to get along with everybody. Christians seek peaceful co-existence with the fellow man. We know we have a duty to deal justly, fairly, compassionately with everyone we encounter, regardless of their outward appearance and our shallow first impressions. We despise racism and bigotry of any kind. I mean, let’s look at the fact: the Catholic Church is the single largest, most genuinely diverse institution on the face of the earth.

And we Catholics love non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians, too. We know that religion involves the operation of the human conscience, not external force or compulsion. You can’t make someone love God. We propose the Gospel to all; we impose it on no one. To evangelize, we don’t need coercive power. We need humility, gentleness, joy, divine wisdom, and profound interior peace.

In all these ways we Catholics shine as splendid poster children for the great “Tolerance of Diversity Movement”—the hue and cry from the famous and the well-positioned of today: that we should embrace all the minorities, without discrimination or exploitation. Good Christians wrote the book on this, really. Except…

We Catholics embrace our humble mission of universal love for one reason: Jesus. Believing in Jesus and living in communion with Him makes you compassionate towards others, especially the “others” who look different, don’t fit in, have weaknesses, need advocates. Believing in Jesus, and living in communion with Him, lifts a Christian soul above racial antagonisms and small-minded prejudices, not to mention greed and selfishness at others’ expense. Christians don’t scapegoat people, or treat others as non-persons or second-class citizens—because Jesus didn’t do that and doesn’t do that. Arrogance, rudeness, cruelty—all of these things are obviously foreign to the Sacred Heart of Christ. Christians don’t say that there’s a master race, or a ruling class, or an exceptional nation, or a perfect language. We say we have one Master, the Christ.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedBut here is where things get tricky between us and the “Tolerance of Diversity Movement.” The idea of “diversity” is not our master. The idea of tolerance is not our master. Because if our own human ideas are our master, we will never have the genuine humility of Christ, Who came to the earth solely to do the will of the Father. If I serve anyone or anything other than the one, true God, then I will never have the genuine love for my neighbor that only Christ can put in my heart.

I become a true friend to the brother in need only by adhering totally to Jesus; only by living and breathing His Gospel; only by thoroughly educating my entire inner-self in the Christian mysteries. Catechesis, Mass, Confession, reading the Scriptures, praying daily the Church’s ancient prayers. You can’t become a real poster-child for Tolerance of Diversity by dabbling in religion, as if God were just another smartphone app. The true advocate of the vulnerable is precisely the Christian who stands ready to die as a martyr. Zeal for God’s Word makes you ten times more truly tolerant of minorities than anyone who has ever appeared on the Oscars.

Which is why the great celebrities of the Tolerance of Diversity Movement don’t love the most truly diverse institution on earth, the Roman Catholic Church. They hate Her with a passion. They regard zeal for God’s Word as a kind of mortal sin. They know that the Holy Scriptures make profound demands, that they outline the criteria for genuine moral judgments, that they demonstrate how we owe it to God to seek His truth.

To summarize. The Christian heart embraces all races. The Christian always strives to communicate across language barriers. The Christian soul rejoices in everything wholesomely delightful in every culture.

But when it comes to what we believe, what we base our lives on, what we know about right and wrong—we don’t celebrate diversity there. The realm of faith and morals involves the truth revealed by God. And the greatest act of love anyone could ever make–the act that most truly serves the interests of the weak and defenseless–is to propose the complete and challenging Gospel of the and one and only Christ of God, Jesus of Nazareth.


Catechism Section for Passiontide

Allow me to recommend a few paragraphs of the Catechism. Part One, Section Two, Chapter Two. Paragraph 1 on Article 4 of the Creed. (#’s 574-594)

These paragraphs shed light on the final conflict between Lord Jesus and the Jewish authority that condemned Him. The Catechism offers reflections on what the Lord Jesus had to say about the Law, the Temple, and the one, true God.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchThe Christ came to fulfill the Law—because the human race, the whole race and every individual, had not done so. The Christ revered the Jerusalem Temple and participated faithfully in the Temple feasts. But He knew it would be destroyed, because the true Temple is His Body. Above all, as the Catechism puts it: “Jesus gave scandal to the Pharisees when he identified his merciful conduct towards sinners with God’s own attitude toward them.”

Jesus identified Himself as God, the God Who can forgive sins. Thus, the Christ confronted the Jewish leaders with a very stark either/or. Again, quoting the Catechism: “By forgiving sins, Jesus either is blaspheming as a man, or is the person who truly does make present and reveal God’s name.”

The Sanhedrin had to confront that choice in all its utter starkness. Either condemn Him to death, or undergo a total conversion, which would require death to self and a new birth from above.

Confronted with such a choice, they convicted Him of blasphemy and condemned Him to death, as the Law required. The starkness of the choice they faced—again quoting the Catechism—“allows one to understand the Sanhedrin’s tragic misunderstanding of Jesus: they judged that He deserved the death sentence as a blasphemer.” They acted out of both ignorance and hard-hearted unbelief.

Let’s search our own consciences for the same emptinesses—and let’s let Christ fill them with His grace.

Praise, Blame, and the Passion

God became man. The holy prophet St. John the Baptist testified to this fact. Then the Christ worked miracles, including: healing the sick, deaf, blind, and paralyzed; liberating the possessed; raising the dead, and—perhaps most exquisitely of all—providing excellent wine for the guests at a wedding.

A charming, hopeful, wonderfully ‘positive’ three-year ministry. Tons of good feelings about it, all over Galilee and Judea. If facebook had been around, lots of Likes. Everyone’s ready for more good stuff.

Then the God-man proceeds to say:

I know that you do not have the love of God in you… How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?

Wow. A spiritual punch in the face, by the charming miracle-worker who had so many Likes.

Is this fair? After all, don’t we human beings naturally seek each other’s praise? It takes a very rare individual, indeed, to live with absolute indifference to the opinions of others. Yes, hopefully we grow up enough to get past the popularity anxieties of high-school. But even mature adults desperately desire the praise of their co-workers and family members; we want above all the praise of the people we most respect. No one can endure the disapproval of your fellow man without some anxiety and unhappiness.

But: God is not unfair. I think the operative word in the sentence in John 5:44—“How can you believe when you accept praise from one another, and do not seek the praise that comes from God?”—the operative word is believe.

God did not become man in order to be admired. He did not become man in order to get honor and respect. He became man in order to win our faith.

What’s the difference? My respect and admiration for others proceeds according to standards that I have, and that I apply. I praise because someone or something measures up to my bar. By praising or blaming, I claim to understand enough to judge.

But can we fruitfully meditate on Christ’s Passion from this point-of-view? Can I consider myself competent to praise or blame anyone’s actions in the unfolding of the death of the Christ? I have no standards that I can apply here. All I can do is to believe that this is God, revealing His judgment.

The world, the human race, I myself—all evil enough to crucify God. Worthy of blame and condemnation for killing the sinless Lamb—Who stayed in the bosom of the Father’s will, even when all the human praise that came His way turned into contempt.

The crucifixion of Christ judges me. But it also reveals: God does not condemn me according to this just judgment. Rather, He’s prepared to let me start over–with my faith in him, in Jesus Christ, as the most-basic criterion of judgment that my mind will use.

Remembering the Holy Past

Scripture commands us: Take care not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory, as long as you live. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

A ‘for instance’ might be: At one point in time, we had sunny mornings in this part of the world. Some of us can remember the sun rising into a beautiful blue sky. We need to teach our young children about this–that such things can happen–even though the little ones will have a hard time believing it, never having seen it themselves.

el_greco-sinaiOf course we could think of many other examples of historical events to cherish in our memories. The Scriptures got written in order to keep alive the memory of certain events that we never saw, but which our spiritual ancestors saw.

The ancient ones saw the pillar of fire leading them from slavery under a cruel taskmaster into the freedom of God’s children. They saw Mount Sinai enveloped in lightning and clouds as God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Most importantly of all, our spiritual ancestors saw the Christ crucified, buried, and then: risen from the dead, never to die again.

Now, when it comes to keeping alive the memory of the tablets from Mount Sinai, we might get depressed. At one point the Ark of Covenant got lost forever, and they’re not making Indiana Jones movies anymore.

But we need not despair: God actually wrote the Ten Commandments into our very nature as human beings. All of us are born rational, social, religious animals. The Ten Commandments cannot pass into the oblivion of the forgotten past, since we inherit them simply by getting born as human beings.

When Jesus conquered death and gave Himself to us as the medicine of immortality, He made following the Ten Commandments both possible and worthwhile. Without Christ’s heavenly grace, we could never overcome our moral weaknesses. And without the horizon of eternal life, we wouldn’t bother to try to overcome them.

But, as it is, we have a great historical fact upon which to base everything. We base our lives on Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. The Holy Mass expresses this fact and connects us with it. Christ lives with us in the Mass. And the fact of the Holy Mass means that endless sunny mornings await those who live in Christ.

Unremarkable Fountains of Grace

At the Jordan River, just south of the Sea of Galilee, ten years ago, with Father Tim Meares of Raleigh

There were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:27)

Lord Jesus’ point: familiarity breeds contempt. Prophets tend to exercise their powers when people revere them from afar. Up close prophets look too much like regular human beings.

What about Naaman’s cleansing? Elisha ordered him to bathe in the River Jordan. Is the River Jordan some kind of unique, amazing river? A splendid spectacle, like Niagara Falls, the Blue Danube, the mighty Hudson, and the holy Ganges all rolled into one? Hardly. The Jordan looks like other, familiar rivers, like the Shenandoah, the Roanoke, the Smith, or the Dan.

So Namaan the Syrian got mad. ‘Why did I bother with this Israelite prophet, who I thought was awesome? He just prescribes the same remedies I might have found back in Syria.’

But the servants reasoned with their valiant general. ‘Sir, if the prophet had ordered you to scale Mount Everest with your hands bound in oily gauze; if he had demanded that you do hot yoga, or a juice fast, or a coffee purge and a Japanese tea ceremony—you would have done these things. So why not go down to this little Jordan River, unimpressive as it is, and just see what happens?’

And Naaman’s leprous flesh was cleansed; it became like the skin of a little child. And the Syrian learned that the world has no god other than the God of Israel.

Tried and true remedies actually have a way of bringing about wonderful results. To find God, you don’t necessarily have to go to an ashram, or a Chumash sweat lodge, or on a pilgrimage to a remote Mongolian yurt. Confession and Mass at the friendly neighborhood parish church might do the trick.

Fifth-Commandment Way of Life

To give God His glory, flowers bloom, birds chirp, dolphins frolic in the surf, and elephants spray water from their trunks. We give God His glory by… obeying the Ten Commandments. [Spanish]

We could spend all day and all night meditating on which of the Ten Commandments requires the most careful attention. The First sums them all up: ‘I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods but Me.’ We owe Almighty God everything. Without Him we are nothing, quite literally nothing. The only “lifestyle” that makes any real sense: giving everything back to the good Lord, Who gave it all to us in the first place.

paniniThe First Commandment, therefore, takes priority. But can’t we say that the Fifth Commandment shares in the profundity and absolute seriousness of the First?

Why shall we not kill? After all, people have killed each other since the beginning. Of the first two brothers ever born, the one killed the other. We find ourselves enormously disturbed by one school shooting after another, and rightly so. But meanwhile in Syria, death and destruction have rained from the sky for seven years.

Back in the twentieth century, we human beings fancied ourselves “advanced” and “evolved.” But we have killed each other more during the last 104 years than we ever did in all the countless centuries of human history before that. Every day the abortionists of the world bring an end to at least 125,000 human lives. We could easily conclude that killing each other is a normal human thing.

Except: God.

“O God of our fathers, Lord of mercy, in wisdom You formed man” (Wisdom 9:1). He made us “male and female, in His own image and likeness.” He declared through the prophet: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and I consecrated you.” Lord Jesus said: “I came that they may have life.”

The question of the Internet Age is: Is nothing sacred? And the answer is: Yes, human life is sacred. All human life partakes in the holiness of the Incarnate Christ. In Christ, God has united Himself with the human race.

pancakes syrupAfter all, who makes a person? You and I can make pancakes. Or a panini. But who has what it takes to make a person? A unique, unrepeatable, unpredictable, creative, smiling, moody, open-ended person. Google, Inc.? No.

This is what we are saying, we pro-life Catholics. The cynics who rule the planet endlessly babble about how the Catholic Church has a medieval hang-up about abortion and sexual morality. And that we’re overly soft on refugees and death-row inmates. And that we have a fetish for keeping sick and handicapped people alive, who really would be better off dead.

But actually we’re a hundred times more reasonable and clear-headed about all this than Carl Sagan was about galaxies, on his most-lucid days. We have no hang-ups or fetishes or silly soft-spots. We just make it our business to try and recognize the fact: You and me and every other human being—all of us who have these mysterious depths in us: a heart and mind that can know the truth and love our neighbor—we are sacred. Our existence pertains to the holiness of God. We are fruits of His magnificent handiwork.

Therefore: It’s not okay to snuff this out. It’s not okay to crush and destroy this. To kill another human being, by choice—that’s a sacrilege. Even in those cases when a good and just person kills in self-defense—we nonetheless mourn and grieve. Because human life is, of itself, a wonderfully open-ended thing. Human life has only one true “end.” Not death. God.

thou shalt not killThat is why thou shalt not kill—the sacredness of human life. Therefore, the light of faith in the triune God is also the light of peace and tranquility among men. The sacredness of God, and the sacredness of human life, and the sacredness of love for my fellow man—we perceive all this sacredness by the light of Christian faith. Whenever this light of faith does not shine in a human mind, horrible crimes can happen–meaningless violence against the sacred life of a human being. Ultimately, the problem is ignorance. Ignorance of the glory of God, shining forth in a unique human being.

In other words: How could someone do it? How could someone walk into a school, or a church, or a mall, or a concert, and just start shooting? How could someone drop bombs on civilians? Or abort a baby? Or cheer at an execution? Or gun down a rival? How could anyone act with such malice? How? Because darkness fills the mind, where the light of faith should shine.

We mourn and lament that darkness. We don’t answer malice with malice; we don’t pray for revenge. We pray for light, for redemption.

What do things like school shootings mean for us? They mean that we must bear witness. We ourselves must shine the light of faith. That light allows human eyes to see the beautiful divine horizon which shines on a human face. The interior light that makes the Fifth Commandment not just a rule to follow, but a whole way of life.

Lazarus, Dives, and the goddess Fortuna

Fortuna and wheel

Remember, my rich child, you received what was good during your lifetime, while Lazarus received what was bad. But now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. (Luke 16:25)

The goddess Fortuna. She plies her wheel. She has no true justice and therefore no eternal power. But, during our pilgrim lives, she exercises a foresight far greater than ours, and she wields her immense power over us with arbitrary cruelty.

She doles out the privileges of birth. She teaches the smooth language of ingratiation, and all the other people-pleasing skills. She schools her attentive pupils in the acts of cynical worldliness. She maintains a shallow but vast system that rewards cowardice and mediocrity with affluence and prestige.

Meanwhile, she buffets the humble. She slaps and punches the sincere. She crucifies the honest. She drowns the truly great in an ocean of obscurity.

Fortuna seduces the souls that serve her. They gradually start to believe the she does, in fact, dole out justice. They begin to measure themselves by their material wealth and media fame. They think: Oh, isn’t this nice! I have succeeded, thanks to my talent, my charm, my extraordinary skill! And the losers at the gate? Let them rot.

But Fortuna has no real love for anyone. She will always take away everything she gives. Then her followers, whom she has seduced into slavery—they have nothing in their hands but dust.

Why has the Lord God Almighty conceded to Fortuna so much clout, so much worldly power? Is it because His justice gets served when people fall for Fortuna’s specious ‘prosperity gospel,’ and then, in the end, wind up in hell, right alongside their mistress?

Maybe. But one thing we know for sure: God lets Fortuna exercise her shallow but extensive authority in order to purify us for higher things. When we suffer her blows, but then look to heaven instead of whimpering, she loses, and we win.

The good God who sent His eternal Son to suffer and die, as the world’s greatest “loser”—that true God offers us something that Fortuna can only look at from a distance and wish she could have.

Supernatural Insights

Do you reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises? Do you believe in Almighty God, in His Son Jesus Christ Who died and rose from the dead, in His Holy Spirit, and in His Church? [Spanish]


Baptismal promises. They involve a decision, a choice. The fundamental choice of life: to reject the seduction of short-term satisfaction through sin and to embrace the call of God. To offer our lives in sacrifice to the Father, as Jesus did on the cross. To pass over to eternal life, by living for God.

We choose in response to God’s choice. As St. Paul puts it in our second reading at Holy Mass on Sunday, we are God’s “chosen ones.” He chose us for eternal life even before the foundation of the world. He inscribed our names in His Son’s Sacred Heart, numbering us among His adopted children.

Hopefully everyone knows the main reason we have the season of Lent: For the final preparation of adults preparing for baptism. During these six weeks, they dedicate themselves to an especially intense spiritual life, as the day when they will become Christians approaches. Let’s make sure we pray hard for them.

Many of us became Christians while we were still infants, carried to the baptismal font by our parents. They, with our godparents, made the baptismal promises that day. They chose on our behalf to reject sin and live for God.

Holy Mother Church gives us already-baptized people the forty days of Lent to renew the baptismal choice and make it more and more our own. After all, it takes a lifetime for anyone truly to choose God. The day of baptism comes and goes quickly, but we only really finish making our baptismal promises at the moment of death. In the meantime, we work on deepening our rejection of Satan and our faith in God.

Perhaps this is one reason why the Church always reads the account of the Transfiguration near the beginning of Lent. The main reason, of course, is: Christ let Peter, James, and John see His divine glory in order to prepare them for His Passion and death. Lent prepares us for the same thing.

Clovis Baptism St RemiBut there’s more. Lord Jesus allowed Peter, James, and John, to see what we normally cannot see here on earth. In heaven, the saints see what Peter, James, and John saw on Mount Tabor. But as we Christians make our pilgrim way through life, we must have faith that Jesus of Nazareth is God; we believe that He is.

For a moment, though, these three chosen Apostles saw. They saw the divinity of the Eternal Word made man. That was an extraordinary gift of insight, to be sure. But we, too, share in Peter, James, and John’s special vision of Christ in our own way. Christian faith gives us supernatural insight into the workings of divine Providence. We can learn to recognize temptations when they come our way, and to recognize the moments when God embraces us with His true love. Even though these two realities often wear disguises.

Anyone familiar with William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth? It involves a perfect example of what I mean. Early in the play, Macbeth thinks that Fate is “blessing” him with the opportunity to sit on the throne of Scotland. He thinks that the doors of ambition open before him because some higher power is working for his benefit. But Macbeth learns, in the the end, that an evil power has actually seduced him. Macbeth becomes king, but to his utter ruin. It costs him his happiness, his life, his soul.

May keeping Lent help us to put that in reverse. May we learn to see a temptation when it comes our way, no matter how shiny and attractive it may be. And may we learn to embrace with joy whatever little share in His Cross the good Lord gives us. Because to share in Christ’s cross is the greatest blessing we can receive in this pilgrim life.

Sign of Jonah, Greatest Generation

This evil generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:29)

The ‘sign of Jonah.’ A mysterious phrase, especially since the Lord Jesus Himself interpreted it in two different ways. As we read at Holy Mass today, He said at one point: Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites. On another occasion, he explained: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Mysterious. Speaking of ‘generations,’ Pope St. John Paul II, Thomas Merton, and Billy Graham were of the same generation, sometimes called “The Greatest Generation,” the generation that matured during World War II.

Billy GrahamThomas Merton entitled one of his books The Sign of Jonas. Merton reflected on the paradox of monkish solitude and universal love, on loving the world by leaving its business behind, on attaining true life by embracing the Cross.

The ‘evil generation’ wants something showy, something impressive to the eyes—a magic trick to distract us from the challenge of reality: the reality of how daggone mysterious God is, and how hard real love is. The evil generation needs the true Jonah—Christ crucified.

May Jesus’ crusader Billy Graham rest in peace. Here’s an irony that he and his friend Pope St. John Paul II might have smiled over together: Protestant Evangelical Billy Graham will benefit from a lot of Catholics praying for the repose of his soul. Mr. Graham did go so far as to say: “Purgatory may be real.”

It is, and may you get through it as quickly as possible, Mr. Graham.

Christ crucified saves. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He can resolve every spiritual conundrum, every disagreement, every apparent paradox. May He give us the grace to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, staying focused on the endless light of His Holy Face, so that we can grow in communion with the one, true God of love.

Pope St. John Paul II (1920-2005), pray for us.

May Thomas Merton (1915-1968), rest in peace.

May Billy Graham (1918-2018), rest in peace.

Matthew 25

Caravaggio Seven Works of Mercy
Caravaggio, “The Seven Works of Mercy”

“Be kind to people who need help, for My sake.” A brief summary of the law by which God will judge us, according to the Holy Bible.

Not complicated. So what could get in the way? What could keep us from obeying this straightforward law?

Nothing at all—except Me, Myself, and I.

Nothing, except my defensiveness, pettiness, and mood-swings; my tired, hangry, impatient, self-centeredness. Me. my way. Because, if things aren’t done my way, the world collapses!

Nothing could get in the way of me doing simple, easy acts of kindness, except: My self-righteousness. My certainty that it pertains to my competence and vigilance as an Excellent Paragon to correct and improve all the bad people.

Nothing could get in the way, except: I resent the people in need because they remind me of the truth about myself, the truth that I don’t want to acknowledge. That I am a desperate basket-case of dependencies.

How dare you remind me, o person in need, that without the help of Almighty God, and the commonweal, and the people who raised me, and my patient friends and generous allies, and all my advantages in life that I never earned—how dare you remind me that without all this unmerited assistance, I would still be in the fetal position, whimpering?

The thing about God’s Law of Kind and Helpful Love is: He did it first.

We were nothing. Actually, worse than nothing. W were scrawny little trophies in Satan’s purse. Before that, we were non-beings. Literally, non-beings.

But God visited us in the prison of nothingness. He came to us while we were sick in the hospital of a meaningless life. He clothed us in our nakedness, fed us in our desperate hunger, and gave us cool, refreshing water to drink. We were disoriented strangers in this universe, but He said, “No, no, little ones. You are my children.”

Loving others and helping them is our chance to do like our heavenly Father has done with us. It’s easy, if we can just get our cumbersome, little selves out of the way.