The Border Wall is Illegal

Walk the Border

No one asked me who TIME Magazine’s Man/Person/People of the Year should be. But if they had, I would have said: Isn’t it obvious? Tenny Ostrem and Claire Wernstedt-Lynch.

They started walking a year ago at Friendship Park in San Diego, California. They walked the entire US-Mexico border. They reached the Gulf of Mexico in August.

Two thousand miles, the same length as the Appalachian Trail. (That’s where they met, the two brave young ladies–hiking the Appalachian Trail a few years ago.)

…Some American Catholics cling to an “it’s all about respect for the law” position, when it comes to US-Mexico immigration.

This school of thought, as I understand it, runs like this:

“I am no racist. But I believe in respect for the rule of law. Would-be immigrants to the US must abide by our laws. If they enter the country ‘illegally,’ we have the right to deprive them of their liberty and deport them.”

Similar line of thought, when it comes to the military action ordered by the late, lamented George H.W. Bush in 1991:

“We Americans believe in the territorial integrity of sovereign states. Saddam Hussein violated international law by attempting to annex by force the neighboring sovereign nation of Kuwait. Therefore, the USA legally and rightly made war against Iraq, to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.”

Makes sense because: The territorial integrity of sovereign states is one of the fundamental principles of international law. Our own assertion of the right to deport “illegal aliens” is based on that very principle.

Problem is: The current US-Mexico border is the legacy of a gross violation of that legal principle.

Mexico City occupation by US

This has everything to do with Our Lady of Guadalupe, because the treaty establishing the current border was signed, under duress, in the shadow of the basilica housing St. Juan Diego’s tilma.

And it has everything to do with human rights and morality since we, the United States of America, re-imposed slavery in Texas by annexing it and taking it away from Mexico. We took Texas away from the country that had abolished slavery there in 1829–nearly four decades before we abolished it.

Yes, this is what I am saying: The USA does not have a legitimate claim to the current US-Mexico border. The current border is not legal, according the principles of morality and international law. It is simply the result of the disproportion of military strength between the USA and Mexico 170 years ago.

Christians believe in the rule of law. We do not believe that might makes right. Therefore, we have to recognize that the USA does not have the right to build walls or use military or paramilitary force along the Rio Grande/Sonora Desert/San Diego border.

If we want the rule of law to prevail, we should insist that the US-Mexico border be the subject of bi-lateral negotiations, facilitated by a disinterested mediator. Such negotiations could result in a confrontation with the wrongs of the past, and could lead ultimately to reconciliation and peace.

On the other hand, the position of the current presidential administration with respect to that border does not have a genuine legal or moral basis. We Catholics cannot legitimately appeal to a “rule of law” justification for supporting the border policies of the Trump administration.

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Shunning Romanità

Fr. Boniface Ramsey

Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God… So do not be associated with them… Live as children of light. (Ephesians 5:5-8)

Impurity and greed involve idolatry. The Catechism explains:

Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and serves a creature in place of God [2113]. In his original sin, man preferred himself to God. He chose himself over against God, against the requirements of being a creature of God… Man wanted to ‘be like God,’ but without God, before God, not in accordance with God. [358].

Do not be associated with such idolatry, insists St. Paul. In other words: shun sin; shun sinners; preserve the integrity of your witness to God.

Two points on this:

1. I could shun wrongly. That would involve idolatrously worshiping my own self-righteousness. So when it comes to shunning anything or anyone, let me always preserve romanità.

What does that mean? Romanità means having a universal, cosmopolitan outlook. Always give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Assume I have fellowship in Christ with everyone. Never interest myself in another person’s sins unless I absolutely have to.

2. Today Fr. Boniface Ramsey—the original Theodore McCarrick whistleblower—published a lucid summary of what he knew about McCarrick and when, and what he did about it.

One thing in particular that moved Fr. Ramsey to action: Seeing other bishops—men who knew that McCarrick had preyed on seminarians–seeing them graciously and fraternally interact with McCarrick at the altar at major Masses, like big funerals, etc—seeing them interact with McCarrick and not shun him.

How can you men of God and successors of the Apostles not shun this man, knowing what you know? That thought moved Fr. Ramsey to act, to write, to pester the hierarchy. May God reward him for it.

In sum, then: Without romanità, we risk becoming unkind and self-righteous. But too much romanità, and we become: Compromised in our integrity.

Lord, help us to know when not to shun. And when to shun.

Forty Years Ago Today

Pope John Paul II: His Remarkable Journey

Pope St. John Paul II began his ministry as the pope. Over the course of the ensuing quarter century, many of us came to revere John Paul II as a hero and a spiritual father.

During the 1980’s, when I was in high-school, some of us held on to the pope for dear life. It seemed like he alone, on the whole face of the earth, offered a brave witness to sexual sanity, to chastity–while everyone else was awash in condoms and broken marriages.

Many of us spent the 90’s reading John Paul II’s writings. He consumed himself with teaching the faith inherited from the Apostles. He traveled the world and used the power of his reverberating voice and magnetic charm to evangelize.

Technocrats and feminists hated his intransigence on artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, and the men-only ministerial priesthood. Political and aesthetic conservatives hated his rejection of the capitalist profit motive and his embrace of Vatican II.

But in the middle, we vast multitudes of spiritual children listened eagerly to the man we loved as a trustworthy father. A lot of us wept more bitterly on the day that he died than we had since we were babies. Mainly because we knew we wouldn’t hear the sound of his voice on earth again.

Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, we can wish that JP II had applied himself more to the reform of the Roman Curia. We can wish that he had understood the sex-abuse crisis better–understood it more as a practical matter, rather than as a purely spiritual one.

st john paul ii

And we can recognize: The way Popes Paul VI and John Paul II defined the Roman papacy after Vatican II left a huge gap in authority. That gap has now brought the Church to the point of paralysis.

Bishops need a disciplinarian, too—just like priests, seminarians, doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, bricklayers, school children–everybody needs a disciplinarian. But the world’s Catholic bishops don’t have one. The whole post-Vatican II system of Church governance assumes that bishops will do right. But, as we now know all too well, often they do not.

So St. John Paul II had human faults, blind spots—which we did not want to see, as we listened to him heroically urge us on to holiness.

But let’s go back to October 22, 1978, to what he said in his homily that day. His words resonate today with even more force than they had then.

Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself…

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.

The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk….

Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ… Christ knows ‘that which is in man.’ He alone knows it.

…Man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart… He is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

Non-Political Truths of Marriage

weyden_matrimony1A marriage is a marriage because a man and a woman make vows to God. Getting married is, fundamentally, an act of faith in God. And getting married always involves not just the two individuals, but also their families, the children the Lord pleases to give them, and all the people who will relate to them thenceforward as a married couple. [SPANISH]

The idea that the laws of marriage could ever be the subject of political dispute? Marriage as a political hot potato? That strikes us Catholics as strange and shallow. Marriage is not a “political issue.” Marriage is what Jesus Christ said it is: 1. God made us male and female. 2. A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh. 3. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

Marriage is not “political.” It is beautiful. Man and wife, united in an unbreakable bond, reflect the love between Christ and His holy People. Husband and wife, faithful through all trials, persevering through setbacks and defeats they never could have anticipated, but never giving up—that offers hope. That offers convincing testimony to the truth of the Catholic faith.

I don’t think I go too far when I say: The faithfulness of husbands and wives makes the world beautiful and trustworthy. Faithfulness made possible by the grace of God, delivered through the sacrament.

Marriage is not “political.” Marriage is spiritual. Discerning the will of God about marriage requires prayer and the regular, sustained practice of our religion. Remaining faithful in marriage requires prayer and the sustained practice of our religion.

And remaining faithful requires embracing the Cross. The world has never seen a marriage that didn’t involve a Via Crucis. If you won’t walk with Christ the Way of the Cross, don’t get married. That said, no one can get to heaven without walking the Via Crucis with Christ. So we all might as well prepare ourselves to follow the Way of the Cross, whether or not we have any thought of getting married.

Marriage is not “political.” But it is legal. Laws can cut like razors, both for good or ill, depending on your point of view. Without following the laws of marriage, you can’t obtain the sacramental grace of marriage. And no one loses the freedom to marry in a scenario in which the laws of marriage didn’t get followed.

elgrecochristcrossSome people think the Church’s marriage laws are too strict, making it difficult to get married in church. Some people think they’re too lax, allowing for too many annulments. No one says that the laws are perfect. But they are fundamentally reasonable.

You have to be mature and clear-minded in order to bring about the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Once that happens, it lasts until death. But sometimes it doesn’t happen, even when a couple tries to make it happen. Because they didn’t meet the legal criteria.

Which means that there is nothing faithless or unspiritual about petitioning for an annulment when you have a solid case for obtaining one. And there’s nothing faithless or unspiritual about Church tribunals granting decrees of nullity in accord with the law.

That said, there certainly is nothing faithful or spiritual about the kind of pride that would lead someone to try to grant him- or herself an annulment. Or the kind of pride that would refuse to seek an annulment when the law would provide for one.

Marriage is not “political.” But, by the same token, it is also not eternal. Christ was made lower than the angels “for a little while.” A man and a woman get married, and live the Christian married life, until death do them part, beautifying the world at every step… But it all lasts only a little while. In the grand scheme of things.

Some choose not to marry because they have no faith and would rather just skate along. Some don’t marry because they won’t make a commitment to love like Christ. Or they don’t know how. These aren’t worthy reasons.

But some choose not to marry because eternal life beckons. Even now, the Kingdom of Christ the God-man beckons. Not marrying because of that doesn’t mean rejecting love. It means embracing the Love that made them male and female in the first place.

Sins and Commandments

The_Head_of_Christ_by_Warner_Sallman_1941

Sometimes the Lord Jesus said genuinely hard-to-understand things. He came to reveal the eternal mysteries of divine love. So the gospels record statements He made that require a lifetime of meditation even to begin to understand. Like “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.” [Spanish]

But sometimes Jesus’ words sound out clear as a bell. Like the list of evils we hear at the end of Sunday’s gospel reading. In addition to “evil thoughts,” the Lord listed twelve particular sins that defile the human heart. We can break down the list into four groups, and co-ordinate them with the Ten Commandments. Let’s turn this into a fun little quiz.

Group One: Adultery, unchastity, and licentiousness. First we have to make sure we know what “licentiousness” means. Promiscuity, unprincipled sexuality. So: adultery, unchastity, and licentiousness involve violations of which commandment? Or commandments? Correct. The Sixth and the Ninth, which prohibit violations of the marriage bond.

We can begin to grasp the fundamental holiness of marriage when we reflect on how we each came into existence. Namely, the union of a man and a woman. Because children deserve to grow up in a family, sexual union requires lifetime fidelity. We talked about this a little last week. God makes the rules, and the law of chastity is crystal clear.

The Catechism has a helpful definition of chastity:

The inner unity of a human being, body and spirit. Sexuality becomes truly human when it makes a part of a lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman… either man governs his desires and finds peace, or he lets himself be mastered by them and becomes unhappy. (CCC 2337-8)

Ok. Second group of items on Jesus’ list. Greed, envy, theft. Which commandment? Or commandments? The Seventh and the Tenth. Thou shalt not steal nor covet.

When my neighbor has something good, and that very fact makes me sad, instead of happy; makes me want to have the good thing, rather than my neighbor having it—well, then I’m in trouble.

What’s the antidote? St. Paul wrote about “the desires of the Spirit,” as in the Holy Spirit. If we live the Catholic life, receiving divine grace through the sacraments and praying daily, then God will work within us. He will move us to desire Him. He will make us want the true happiness of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. When we want God, envy, greed, and theft, fall by the wayside.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments Moses

Third group. Arrogance, malice, murder. Which commandment? The Fifth.

God does not simply prohibit literally killing people, like in abortion or euthanasia. God prohibits not just killing people, but also hating people. When they came to take Jesus to the cross, He told Peter to put his sword in its sheath. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We must practice brotherhood. Some people practice tennis, or yoga. Fine. But Christians practice brotherhood, sisterhood.

Finally, the last group of items from Jesus’ list of sins: Blasphemy, deceit, folly. Which commandments? The Second and the Eighth.

We owe the ineffable mystery of God profound respect. We owe Him silence. We owe Him our attentive ear.

Yes, we must speak of Him sometimes. We’re not agnostics. We have a message to communicate to the world. God has revealed Himself, and He has entrusted His Holy Gospel to us, for us to spread and help souls get to heaven.

But we must exercise great restraint and discipline in speaking of God Almighty. Because His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. Like I said, we are most certainly not agnostics; we believe that God has revealed Himself fully in Christ. But: We give the genuine agnostics a grudging respect. Because they cultivate the skill of absolutely avoiding blaspheming the impenetrable awesomeness of God.

Now, that great God gave us our capacity to communicate, so we must use that capacity well. That means honesty. I daresay that ‘deceit’ might pose the greatest danger of all the items on Jesus’ list. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to…

Problem is: Good intentions can and do lead us down the path of deceit. Because we have Messiah complexes. I am a good person; I please everyone; I do good to everyone…

But wait. Oh, no! I double-booked myself. Or: Oh, no! I’m too tired or out-of-sorts to do that good deed, even though I said I would. Or: Gosh, I’m embarrassed by my own weaknesses and human limitations. I can’t bring myself to admit them even to myself.

So I lie.

Maybe I convince myself it’s a “white lie.” Maybe it protects someone else’s feelings. More likely: It protects my feelings. That is: my egomaniacal delusion that I am Mr. or Mrs. Super-Good Person.

Well, what could I have said, Father? Rather than that little white lie? How about… Nothing.

May God help us to avoid all the sins that Lord Jesus listed. And humbly try to do good.

Even More Dramatic

head-platter

If we were looking for something more-dramatic than the controversy involving the pope and bishops, we found it. The Passion of St. John the Baptist, the anniversary of which we keep today.

St. John, while languishing in prison, sent two of his disciples to Jesus, to ask if He is indeed the Christ. I think we can safely assume that John sent these disciples with this question for their benefit, not his; he knew the truth.

Anyway, the Lord Jesus answered the question with a kind of question of his own (though it was hardly a prevarication 🙂 ) The Lord asked them: What do you see?

I have come, and the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear; lepers are clean, the dead rise again, and the poor have hope. Blessed is the one who takes no offense in Me.

In other words: Look, I may be a humble, dusty, sweaty Nazorean with no property, surrounded by low-class followers. But I am obviously the Messiah. You can see with your own eyes that I am the King of Justice, Peace, and true Life.

Tissot Herod
Herod

…Now to the dramatic moment of St. John’s death.

Herod drunk at his egomaniacal birthday celebration. Engaging in perverse, incestuous sensuality by leering at his own step-daughter, who was also his half-niece, the daughter of his half-brother. Reveling in his worldly power, swearing up and down to give her anything–as if he, Herod, were some kind of tin-pot god.

Then a dark thunderclap cuts through all the debauched levity. Execute the holy man. Kill the herald of the Messiah.

The mother and daughter had called Herod’s bluff.

Herod knew that what they asked him to do was wrong—grievously, preposterously wrong. He knew that a sober man would not think of such an act of violence. He knew that John, and John’s lord Jesus, spoke righteous truth, gave hope, offered people a path toward a good and wholesome life in the sight of God.

A big part of Herod’s own soul wanted to go down that path. But he couldn’t choose it; wouldn’t choose it. Instead, he chose merciless, hopeless, meaningless death. All because he feared being exposed for the puny little fraud that he actually was.

May God save us from such a fate. May He strengthen us so that we can face our choices humbly and soberly.

Let’s start by freely acknowledging that we ourselves are puny little frauds. No need to fear being exposed as such; we declare it ourselves! Then let’s stay close to Jesus and His saints.

New Scandal, Worse Than the First

McCarrick sofa

He spoke with forked tongue. In Dallas. In 2002. When the American Bishops’ Conference supposedly addressed the problem of sex abuse by priests.

If it turns out we are not faithful to what we have all agreed, it will be similar to if we’re not faithful in teaching the faith. This will be a delict that we will be sanctioned for.

Craven hypocrisy. Thundering, preposterous, sickening lies.

We will take this seriously… We will be accountable to do what we promised to do… We must put an end to this.

McCarrick lead the bishops. In their supposedly sincere effort to win back the public’s trust.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, the holy angels looked down upon the spectacle, and they wept. Because the Vatican’s Man of the Hour in 2002, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, himself deserved, at that very moment, to be defrocked and jailed for the rest of his life.

When I wrote about this before, I made a mistake regarding Cardinal McCarrick’s statement last month, when the Pope suspended his public ministry. McCarrick said: “I have no recollection of this reported abuse… I believe in my innocence.”

I interpreted this as an implicit admission of guilt. In my then-naive mind, I could not imagine a grown man, a priest, who could not remember whether or not he fondled the genitalia of an eleventh-grader. So this is the Cardinal’s way of admitting that he did it, I concluded.

But now, with more information available, the Cardinal’s statement makes more sense. It is plausibly sincere. As in:

I myself have watched the sun rise many, many times in my life. Did I ever watch the sun rise from the Virginia side of the Potomac River? Or did I ever watch the sun rise while thinking about 19th-century Italian politics? Can’t say that for sure; can’t remember that exactly. I have no recollection of thinking about Vittorio Emanuele while watching the sun rise. (Though I may have done so.)

sunrise2It appears that Cardinal McCarrick has fondled many different male genitalia in the course of his life. So maybe he truly and honestly can’t remember that particular time in 1971. The one that got him suspended from ministry, forty-seven years later.

I have no patience for vagueness and rumor mongering. Plenty of writers in the Catholic press have felt free to insinuate that “many bishops must have known about this.” But there’s not a single fact in that sentence. Others assume that more, terrible stories about McCarrick will emerge. Maybe they will; maybe they won’t.

But the simple facts that sit on the table now: McCarrick fondled a teenage seminarian in 1971. He abused a boy he had baptized through his pre-teens, teens, and twenties. He manipulated seminarians into sleeping in the same bed with him. The Church paid out cash settlements in secret to protect McCarrick–at least $180,000 that belonged to holy Church, spent to buy the silence of abused seminarians. These facts suffice.

Yes, I believe in due process, not trial by newspaper article. But can we honestly think that these stories are all untrue?

Does Pope Francis care? About McCarrick’s multiple victims?

Do the bishops of the United States care? And do they recognize that the institution called “the USCCB” has now suffered irreparable damage? McCarrick always called himself “a man of the Conference.” The “Conference” has burnt to ashes now, your Excellencies.

Speak. As individual men, as aggrieved fathers in God.  As St. Thomas More put it so eloquently, “Silence gives consent.” The papal and episcopal silence at this point is genuinely sickening.

Wimpy bureaucrat-ese won’t do it. McCarrick’s red robes must burn in a bonfire in St. Peter’s Square. Or no one will ever listen to anything. Any of you say. Ever. Again.

Jairus and the Life-Giver

ily-repin-raising-of-jairus-daughter

Things have come around in a circle. We talked about Jairus the synagogue official and his twelve-year-old daughter three summers ago–in the lovely little parish churches of St. Francis and St. Joseph. Shortly after that, I had to go to Roanoke. Now, praise God, I’m back as the shepherd of Franklin and Henry counties. And we’re talking about Jairus and his daughter again. [Spanish]

That was a World-Cup-Soccer summer, too—the summer of 2015. The women’s. And we won it, the USA.

Now, we don’t know if Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter played soccer. We do know, from the end of the story, that she had a twelve-year-old-soccer-player’s appetite. We also know that the girl’s father loved her. He refused to accept the apparent death sentence her illness had imposed on her. He wanted to continue to help her grow up.

As his daughter lingered on her sickbed, Jairus found himself surrounded by well-meaning Debbie Downers from all over the neighborhood. O, alas, alas! She’s dying! Woeful tidings! Lamentations! What a hopeless, cruel world we live in!

Maybe Jairus simply got annoyed with the weepers and the wailers. He got up and left the house. He strode off to look for the famous Nazarene rabbi, who had just returned to Capernaum from a visit to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Pope Paul VI 1975Jairus found Christ and begged Him to come to his home. “Lay hands on my daughter, and she will get well and live.”

Now, why did Jairus say this to Jesus? Did Jairus know what we know? Namely, that this wandering rabbi had the omnipotent power to form the heavens and the earth out of nothing? To knit together little girls and boys in their mothers’ wombs? So he could certainly save the girl from death?

Somehow, at least some part of Jairus did know. He believed in the Nazorean. Jairus appealed to this poor, dusty former-carpenter—appealed to him as if he were appealing to God. I think we can imagine the look that Jairus gave Jesus. Jairus had left the den of weeping and wailing that his home had become. He had stepped out into the light of day, because he refused to give in to despair. He wanted to keep fathering his daughter. He looked at Jesus with eyes that said: I have hope, because You have the power of life. Help me. Help us. Help our family.

Then the bad news came from the house: The little bundle of energy has lost the light from her eyes. She’s dead.

Now Jairus’ hope was about to falter. Maybe this is a meaningless world after all? But Christ returned Jairus’ gaze.

‘You had faith before. Hold on to it. You are dealing here with no mere traveling Torah expert. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Morning Star and the eternal Word. I am the Giver of Life. I love your daughter even more than you do.’

Jairus believed. He did not say, ‘Oh, no, teacher. It’s over. Let’s both go home. And I’ll start making funeral arrangements.’ No. Jairus believed that the girl who could eat her way through four or five pitas at one sitting, and who had a question about everything, and who loved to run around chasing the chickens—he believed what the Teacher said about her: She will live.

At that moment, dear brothers and sisters, we can find in Jairus something close to the epicenter of our own Christian faith. Because we believe in the Gospel of Life. We believe that God wills not that we should die, but that we should live. We believe that life and love have a meaning, an eternal meaning in God.

Pope Francis baby kissWe look at the earth and the sky; we see the people we care about around us; we honor the memory of those who gave us our inheritance. And we know: A power that gives life made everything. He wills a triumph of life. He loves with a life-giving generosity that never runs out. Death and darkness try to snuff out the power of life. But springtime comes.

People outside the Church think that our Catholic code of sexual morality and family life doesn’t make sense. They think the Catholic sexual rules cramp your style, limit your freedom, make you less of a person.

A huge irony, since denying the religious aspect of sex actually means failing to honor your own origins. We all come from that moment when a man and woman embraced in the way of marriage. That’s where we are all “from.” And it’s a holy place to be from. It’s where Jairus’ daughter came from, where all God’s sons and daughters are from.

This year we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s solemn declaration that artificial contraception, condoms, birth-control pills, etc., have no place in the life of a Christian. Because the life of a Christian means believing in, and co-operating with, the Lord and Giver of Life, Who governs sex and marriage the way He does for His own very good reasons.

The entire sexual morality of the Catholic Church proceeds from this idea. There is nothing arbitrary or constricting about Christian chastity, inside or outside of marriage. Masturbation, pornography, sex outside marriage, homosexual acts, abortion, artificial fertilization, etc.—all of this is wrong for one precise reason: Because every human being always needs to be right where Jairus was spiritually when He looked at God and begged His help. And God looked back at him. And helped.

Jairus knew, at that moment: This is holy business, this business of marrying and having children and raising them. And God comes into the middle of it, to make it good. To give life. To fill the world with girls and boys who play soccer, and eat a lot, and spill stuff. And who fill our world with joy.

“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.

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.