The παρρησία of the Apostles and Us

El Greco Pentecost

Parrhesia. Childlike boldness in praying to our heavenly Father. And fearless boldness in bearing witness to Christ before men.

Christian boldness springs from our conviction that God has spoken His Word of love in Christ. And we—obtuse and klutzy as we are—serve that Almighty Word.

Gamaliel the Wise counseled the Sanhedrin during the first Easter season: Leave these ‘apostles’ alone. If they act out of real obedience to God, then nothing will stop them anyway. If not, then their misplaced fervor will die out on its own.

So the Sanhedrin had the Apostles flogged and released, instead of jailing them pending execution. And St. Peter and Co. rejoiced—for having the opportunity to share in the sufferings of the crucified Word of God.

This parrhesia—our bold conviction that the Gospel of Christ is altogether true; that the man who fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish is the Anointed One—this “parrhesia” is one of our Holy Father Pope Francis’ favorite things.

Pope has used the word parrhesia over and over again in his teachings. And he has dedicated an entire section to the word parrhesia in his new exhortation to holiness. Let me quote the Holy Father:

Holiness is also parrhesía: it is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus himself comes and tells us once more, serenely yet firmly: “Do not be afraid.” …Parrhesía describes the freedom of a life open to God and to others…

Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite…

Parrhesía is a seal of the Spirit; it testifies to the authenticity of our preaching. It is a joyful assurance that leads us to glory in the Gospel we proclaim. It is an unshakeable trust in the faithful Witness who gives us the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar… He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! (Gaudete et Exsultate 129-135)

Then the pope quotes himself, from the speech he gave as a Cardinal, right before the conclave elected him pope.

We know that Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. We read that in Scripture. But maybe He wants to go out “to escape from our stale self-centeredness.”

Some people find the pope controversial. A lot of people don’t. Regardless of whether we find him controversial or not, we have to hear what he is saying here. We have to let the Vicar of Christ remind us about this fundamental aspect of Christianity: Every human being searches for the meaning of life. And we cannot live in the truth ourselves if we do not take the risks necessary to form relationships with other human beings searching for the meaning of life like we are.

Especially the ones we do not want to form relationships with, because they do not presume the same things that we do. Relating to them is hard. It requires the very hard work of sincere communication. Which we can’t do without working hard at understanding ourselves. Which will ultimately lead us to the point where we have to acknowledge: we are fundamentally just as weak and clueless as any confused child.

But God loves us anyway. That is the Gospel!

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Crying and Laughing: Dreamers

Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of…that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace…A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths…unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.  (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate 25, 76)

Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor…Ill humor is no sign of holiness. “Remove vexation from your mind” (Ecclesiastes 11:10). We receive so much from the Lord “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17), that sadness can be a sign of ingratitude. (Gaud et Exul., 126)

Mercy Toward the Enemy

Whoever lives the truth comes to the light. (John 3:21) The light of calm, sober truth—which we can only reach by a patient search. A calm, patient search for truth. For instance, when an accused criminal faces a trial in a court of law, governed by fair rules.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote us a letter Monday, exhorting us to seek holiness by practicing mercy. Mercy not just towards the people we like, but towards everyone who needs help. After all, the Lord taught us to love our enemies.

osama-bin-ladenSo: Get ready for a doozy of a homiletic application. After all, this week marks the anniversary of two deaths.

The first one is the martyrdom of the Polish saint, Stanislaus. He died at the hands of a lawless monarch, who had kidnapped and plundered, and abused his power up and down the land. St. Stanislaus, as the bishop of Krakow, condemned King Boleslaw for this. So the king killed the bishop with his own hands, during Mass.

Now, St. Stanislaus recently had a very-famous successor as Bishop of Krakow. When Pope John Paul II visited his former cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Stanislaus, he referred to his holy predecessor as the “patron of moral order for the Polish people.”

Moral order. A sober society of law, justice, and peace, governed by the calm light of truth. That’s the ideal of Poland, and it’s our ideal, too. Truth, justice, the American Way. Terrorists have attacked that ideal by killing innocent people, especially on September 11, 2001. Decent people rightly condemn the terrorists for having done that.

But:

The other anniversary this week is what some people regarded as President Obama’s finest hour. Zero dark thirty happened seven years ago, during the second week of Easter. I remember reading John 3:16-21 at Holy Mass right after learning that we had killed Osama bin Laden.

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPEBut I cannot call that President Obama’s finest hour. Because he should have expressed one regret about what happened, and he never did.

Perhaps we never could have captured bin Laden alive and tried him for his crimes in a court of law. But it would have been better if we could have. If bin Laden had been tried, according to the rule of law, he might rightly have received the death penalty. But applying the death penalty without a trial—that is not what we stand for. That’s not the American Way. That’s not moral order.

I said this would be a doozy of an application of our Holy Father’s exhortation for us to practice mercy. But can we doubt that—even at the very moment when he breathed his last, after suffering a mortal blow—can we doubt that Saint Stanislaus prayed for king Boleslaw, the very man who had just killed him? Can we doubt it? After all, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them.” King Boleslaw and St. Stanislaus might be friends in heaven now.

Maybe, when Osama bin Laden died seven years ago, he went straight to hell. But we should not think that he did. We should assume that he is in purgatory, having been redeemed somehow by the omnipotent power of the blood of Christ. And we should pray and offer sacrifices for the repose of our enemy’s soul. It’s not easy to say, but we have to find a way to say: “May Osama bin Laden rest in peace.”

If we can’t bring ourselves to do that, then we’re not as holy as we should be.

Exhortation to Holiness, Kind Of

pope-francis_2541160k

Thank you, Holy Father, for giving us an exhortation to holiness. May the good Lord grant us the humility and grace to heed your words.

I am not for being suspicious of the pope. I am not for thinking the pope is “too liberal.” He’s our pope. We only have one. The more fools we, if we do not love him.

But there is something odd about this exhortation to holiness, and I cannot hold my tongue.

Pope Francis’ spiritual father, St. Ignatius Loyola, wrote at length about the vows of poverty and obedience, in the Constitutions of the Jesuit order. But the founder of the Jesuits got stingy with his words when it came to the vow of chastity. He wrote: On the matter of Jesuit chastity only one thing needs be said. Jesuits ought to imitate the purity of the angels. That’s it. –Pretty parsimonious, as far as giving the would-be angel something to go on.

ignatiuswritingBut not as parsimonious as our Jesuit pope

Gaudete et exsultate exhorts us to holiness over the course of 176 paragraphs, without ever using the word chastity at all.

Or purity. Or the word sex.* Holy Father never mentions the sixth commandment, or any of the Ten Commandments, other then the eighth (in para. 115, against slandering on the internet.)

Chapter Three includes a commentary on the Beatitudes. In commenting on “Blessed are the pure of heart,” Pope Francis refers to the Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:19. The Holy Father quotes Christ: “from the heart come murder, theft, false witness, and other evil deeds.” But when we read the gospel verse we find that the Lord didn’t actually say ‘other evil deeds.’ He said “adultery, unchastity, and blasphemy.”

Is this not odd? This utter silence on the subject of sex, in an exhortation to holiness? In the year 2018? Maybe “chastity” is too abstruse a word? But the Holy Father repeatedly uses the words “gnosticism,” “Pelagianism,” and “semi-pelagianism.”

Now, I’m also not for having a siege mentality when it comes to the sexual revolution. In my experience, most people still know deep-down that a chaste life is a happier and better life.

But: Do we not face a problem? The billion-dollar pornography industry, with all its inhuman degradations? Young people highly confused about how to find the path to a lasting marriage? How do you publish an exhortation to holiness in AD 2018 that doesn’t have the word chastity in it?!

This reminds me of when I served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, before I entered the seminary. The five of us Baltimore volunteers–three men and two women, all between 22 and 24 years of age– we lived in a slightly ramshackle house on the edge of the ‘hood. The kind, fatherly Jesuits who lived nearby often visited us. They liked to do our dishes after dinner.

Let me re-iterate. We were all between 22 and 24 years old. Three men and two women, living under one roof. We needed guidance in the area of sex. Desperately. But none of our Jesuit fathers ever brought the subject up. Ever. I had one for a spiritual director for two years. I brought the subject up once. He did not want to talk about it.

Like I said, I am not for criticizing the pope. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. If I were writing an exhortation to holiness, I would insist on daily meditation on the inevitability of death. And I would encourage the fear of hell. But I’m not the pope.

However, I cannot let this particular matter pass in silence. I am dismayed by this omission. The young people of the West are groaning under the weight of utter confusion when it comes to sex and marriage, and our pope’s 2018 exhortation to holiness doesn’t even mention the subject.

__________

*The word lust does appear once, in a parenthetical list of vices, para. 159.

Our Lady vs. the Gnostics and Pelagians

The Angel Gabriel from heaven came. He came to Our Lady on March 25. But we couldn’t have Annunciation Day on Palm Sunday. Or during Holy Week, or the Easter Octave. So this year, Mary will give birth on December 25, after only 8 ½ months.

At the Annunciation, the holy Incarnation occurred. Actually, calling the mystery the “holy” Incarnation is redundant, since “Incarnation” means God becoming man, and God is Holiness Itself, of course.

After she conceived the Lord in her womb, the Blessed Mother traveled to the Judean hill country to visit her cousin, and she sang her canticle, the Magnificat. Mary called herself a lowly servant upon whom the Lord had looked with favor, showing the strength of His arm and scattering the proud in their conceit.

Pride gets in the way of our friendship with God. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has identified two forms of pride that lead to heresy. And he asks us to examine our consciences for these dangers.

Gnosticism. The ancient Gnostics called themselves Christians. But they didn’t really believe in the Incarnation or the Church. Instead, they held to what they regarded as their own privileged knowledge of God.

gaudete et exsultateI think this heresy does indeed continue to lurk all over the place. Many people put their own ideas ahead of the teachings of Scripture and the Church.

For instance, statements like: “God is greater than any religion, since religion is something that human beings do.” Okay, true enough. But how about this: “God is greater than that idea—the idea that God is greater than any human religion.” After all, God is in fact so awesomely great and transcendent that He became a man and practiced religion Himself. The religion of Jesus is the true religion, because it is not just a human religion, but is also the work of God.

Pelagianism. The ancient Pelagians thought that they could perfect themselves through their own efforts. They called themselves Christians because they regarded Jesus as their great example. But the Pelagians refused to confront the fundamental fact about human salvation. They refused to acknowledge: without Christ’s grace; without God giving His justice and goodness to us, even though we did not deserve it–we would have no hope. The Pelagians would not acknowledge the utter neediness of the human situation. Therefore they could not really rejoice in the gift that God has given us by sending His Son.

Again I think our Holy Father is absolutely right that this heresy lurks everywhere today: wherever human egos put themselves in the place of God, Who lovingly places on our shoulders not a burden of servitude, but the sweet and gentle yoke of His Son Jesus.

Let’s contemplate Our Lady singing her Magnificat. The angel had demanded that she have faith beyond the limits of human conception. Her prospects for a comfortable life had gotten thrown out the window. The entire course of history would turn on the life of the fruit of her womb. And she would have to go along for the ride, without having any idea ahead of time how it would all unfold.

Yet she sang with solemn, exuberant joy—not about herself, but about the good, merciful Lord. God had drawn her closer to Himself than any human being ever; He had made her the queen of His saints. And she had the rough-and-ready humility to take a mother’s delight in it.