The Apprentice, I-Cor-13 Love

Trump The Apprentice


Last Sunday some of us found ourselves snowed-in. Couldn’t come to Mass. Which meant missing St. Paul’s parody of Donald Trump’s old show, “The Apprentice.”

In I Corinthians 12, St. Paul imagines the various members of the human body yelling at each other about their work, like on the show. Paul points out how absurd it would be. The foot cannot say, because I am not a hand, I have decided to seek employment elsewhere. The ear cannot say, because I am not an eye, I quit. The head cannot say to the feet, You’re fired!

St. Paul went on: Now, you are Christ’s Body. You are individually parts of it. So: No I quits. No you’re fireds.

A son can’t fire his father. A wife can’t fire her husband—even if sometimes the performance reviews include a lot of “room for improvement.” Likewise, we baptized Christians form a family, an inseparable Body. No I quits. No you’re fireds. Instead: We strive to believe in each other, to wish the best for each other, to love each other–with true, selfless love.

At Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear the sequel to last week’s “The Apprentice” reading from I Corinthians. This Sunday’s second reading gets read at practically every Catholic wedding. And on the fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

What is love? Patient, kind, humble, unassuming, gentle, generous, calm, forgiving, faithful, hopeful, and true.

elijah widow
Elijah in Zarephath

This is not St. Paul’s prescription for a romance novel or a chick flick. It is how he describes the divine love that binds the Body of Christ together, the force that binds the Christian Church.

Romance and soul mates and lovey-dovey is fine, as far as it goes. But the Christian love of the People of God makes Romeo and Juliet look like the j.v. squad, by comparison. The love of Christ that binds the Church together as one Body: that is real love.

Now, with all this in mind, with the idea of holy mutual love binding us together, let’s take a quick look at what happened in church that day when the Lord Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Bound in love, the People of God gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, affirming each other in the faith. They smiled when they saw Christ. Here’s a local boy done very well. Full of wisdom and gravitas.

Says he’s the Messiah… Huh. The Messiah. Really? We’re more familiar with him as someone who helped his father make our tables and chairs. We know him as a rather-sweaty, adze-wielding labor man. The Messiah? Huh.

How did Jesus react to this? He went for the jugular, so to speak. His reaction makes the hard-nosed businessmen of The Apprentice look like milquetoasts. The Lord met pride, cynicism, and smallness with tough love.

To summarize His speech in a nutshell: Christ said to the Nazarenes, You seem to think a lot of yourselves, o fellow Jews of Galilee, gathered here in church. You seem satisfied with your little selves. But God loves humble, faithful foreigners more than He loves you. Your own Scriptures says so!

…We cannot underestimate how much the entire spiritual edifice of the Christian life rests on one thing. Humility.

What did the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian have in common? Practically nothing, except: They both encountered a holy man, a true prophet, a messenger of God, filled with divine power—they both encountered such a man.

The widow met Elijah; Naaman met Elisha. Both the widow and Naaman questioned what they heard the prophet say. Feed you with this little amount of oil I have in my jar? I don’t think so. Wash in the Jordan waters? Why bother?

But both the widow and Naaman obeyed anyway. The widow and Naaman both believed, believed in God more than they believed in their own personal mental powers. They acknowledged their own limitations. And they acknowledged the loving power of Almighty God, the omnipotent, the mysterious, the awesome.

…There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in being a Roanoker. I take pride in it myself. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in belonging to Hokie Nation. But if we think that what makes a church a place of love comes from this earth, we deceive ourselves. If we think that the power that turns a parish into a loving family comes from us, we’re wrong.

Almighty God, the omnipotent, the mysterious, the awesome—He possesses the love described in I Corinthians 13. I Corinthians 13 elaborates in words what we see whenever we look at a crucifix. God alone possesses I-Corinthians-13 love in His own Heart. He alone provides such love.

And He offers it to the humble. Only the humble have hearts open wide enough to receive love as grand as the divine love.

The church people in Nazareth grew furious with the Word made flesh because… pride. Worldliness. Spiritual sloth. They insisted that God fit into their sphere. They thought they could measure God and insist that He please them.

Jesus told them: Fellow Nazarenes, your world is way too small. Your measuring stick is too short. The only way to take in the divine grandeur is to humble yourselves.

Hoping in Christ for This Life Only?

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ… I Corinthians 15:19

el-grecost-paulFor this life only.

The life of tireless toil and struggle, as St. Paul described his ministry in the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians.

This life in which baptism is administered, with immeasurable attendant mystery, and the eye sees practically nothing of what actually happens.

This life in which the Church lives in a unity which no one can see, in which individual personality does not matter, but only Christ crucified for our sins.

This life, in which the wisdom of the wise amounts to so much foolishness in the face of God’s inscrutable mind.

This life, in which it is better to suffer injury than to seek justice according to the world’s norms, better not to eat than to do anything that could harm anyone else’s conscience, better not to marry, better to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

By the time St. Paul has made all his pastoral demands on his Corinthian people, in the course of his lengthy letter, he hopes that they, too, would see the absurdity of hoping in Christ for this life only–the utter absurdity of the idea–and laugh out loud at it. Hoping in Christ for this life only?! Hah.

But we are not pitiable men. We have the sure and certain hope of a future resurrection. We look forward to sharing the undying life of the Son of God.

Portrait of Unity

fray hortensio portrait el greco

At Sunday Mass, we find ourselves in the middle of a three week tour of St. Paul’s treatise on love and unity. Next Sunday, Mass will be like a wedding. The second reading will be I Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

This Sunday, we hear the second part of the twelfth chapter, which contains one of the most entertaining passages in the entire Bible: Body parts begin talking to each other, like members of a self-pity support group.

The goofy-looking foot miserably laments, “I am not a hand, so I really don’t feel included!” The hand just sits there quietly, looking graceful and debonair.

Then the ugly, lumpy ear jumps in: “Look at me! I am not luminous and iridescent like the eye over here. So I just get shut off to the side and used as a kind of doorstop for people’s glasses!”

earLet’s focus on this: In writing this section of his letter, St. Paul focused his imagination on the human body with the meticulous eye of a portrait painter.

The portrait painter wants to capture the details of all the various parts of a person’s human form, in order thereby to present the unique and distinctive whole: the personality of this particular human being.

If you don’t mind, let’s take an example. My favorite portrait painter is El Greco (as you can tell, because he is in the Hall of Fame to the right). He painted a portrait of a friend of his, a priest and Trinitarian friar, whom the king of Spain had appointed preacher to the royal court.

Continue reading “Portrait of Unity”

Praise and Blame

Contemporary pop-psychology emphasizes the importance of “positive reinforcement” or praise. All of us long for the approval of our peers. By the same token, no one wants to take criticism.

The word “moral” has practically been banished from the English language. But our everyday, pop-psychology-filled lives involve constant moral evaluations. To praise or “affirm” someone almost always requires some kind of moral judgment; likewise criticism.

In fact, it seems to me as though we live in an age of moral judgments as severe as any in recorded history. Pretty much any political speech these days involves condemning someone—or even a whole group of people—as fundamentally bad. The Salem witch trials dripped with circumspection, compared with Fox News vs. MSNBC and CNN.

In other words, giving other people the benefit of the doubt seems to be a dying art. Thinking of other people first and foremost as brothers and sisters, and then secondarily as someone with whom I may have a serious disagreement—we don’t see too much of that on t.v.

What’s the answer? I think the answer lies in one of the neglected aspects of the Gospel message, the aspect to which St. Paul refers in today’s reading from I Corinthians.

Christ will judge. Christ alone knows the whole truth. He will judge with perfect fairness. In the end, at His second coming, true goodness will be praised, will be affirmed, with an unimaginably delightful reward, the smile of God Himself. And all that is genuinely evil will be condemned and thenceforth stricken from the kingdom forevermore.

It is good for us to praise those who do well. And love can also move us to condemn severely actions that an honest person would judge to be evil.

But in the grand scheme of things, the job of judge has not been given to us. We need not fear: justice will be done by the Man Who has that job.

In the meantime, the job we really have now is to do our best to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt–and worry about repenting of my own sins.

Where is Time Headed?

In explaining his international preaching enterprise, St. Paul takes one interesting fact for granted. In his famous sentence,

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified,

St. Paul takes this for granted, namely that the preacher will always have an audience, no matter where he goes. The preacher will have an audience among all the different peoples of the world, because everyone everywhere wants to learn something; we want to hear the answer to some mysterious question or questions.

Now, we could spend all day discussing what it is exactly that this eager audience longs to hear. I hardly propose myself as competent to give an exhaustive answer. But let me suggest one thing. It is the mystery which lies, in my opinion, at the heart of today’s parable of the Ten Virgins.

What do we want to know, that a preacher can tell us? One thing, it seems to me is this: Where is time heading?
We observe that times moves forward. For instance, I observe that I am now 42 years old. It seems like the last time I checked, I was like 12. Time moves on; it waits for no man.

But, on the one hand, time appears to move in a circle, like NASCAR racers around a track. Noon recurs. Friday recurs. August 31 recurs. We have been here before.

But, actually, we haven’t. As of August 31, 2011, the Mexican Olympic soccer team had never won a gold medal. As of August 31, 2010, Steven Strasburg had never had Tommy-John surgery.

This is not just one big loop. We are headed somewhere. Where?

St. Paul, where are we headed? Church of Christ, where are we headed?

To Christ. The power of God and the wisdom of God. The firstborn of the many brethren who have fallen asleep. Who will come in glory to judge. Whose kingdom will have no end.

It’s not Just a Religion, It’s an Adventure

…Let me say this, my blizzard-jockey friends: When the Washington springtime comes this year, it will be the sweetest ever…

Simon Peter fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him.

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

These were St. Peter’s words when he recognized the awesome holiness of Christ. Peter was afraid. He knew he was not worthy to be in the presence of God. After all, he was a rough and humble working man.

Continue reading “It’s not Just a Religion, It’s an Adventure”

Purgatory Pain

If you feel like re-living the experience of reading the explanation I gave of I John 5:4 when we read it at Holy Mass last year, click here

…Painful Hoya loss last night. But we will live to fight another day. Huge game against Connecticut on Saturday.

And there are other things that cheer a guy up, like:

1) It does a heart good to see the Holy Father celebrate Mass on Epiphany in an even more beautiful Roman fiddleback chasuble than the one he wore last year.

2) In Spe Salvi, the same excellent Pope gives the most exquisite one-sentence explanation of Purgatory I have ever read.

The Pope is explaining I Corinthians 3:12-13:

No one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.

The Holy Father proposes that the fire of Purgatory may be nothing other than the gaze of Christ.

He gazes upon us with perfect justice and perfect love. His gaze discloses all truth; nothing is hidden; all falsehood is laid bare. For most of us, this will be agonizing.

But there is hope: The gaze of perfect justice is also the gaze of infinite love. He demands pure truth BECAUSE He loves us so much. As the Pope puts it:

The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy
(Spe Salvi 47).