Infinite Love and Unfathomable Hate

devil sewing tares

This week’s parable comes as a sequel to last week’s. Last week we focused on the sower of the seed in the farm field. [Spanish]

In this week’s parable of the weeds among the wheat, they came to the sower and asked him:

Sir, didn’t you sow good seed? Where have all the weeds come from? We know you scattered some seed among thorns and thistles, hoping for the best. But now we see weeds growing even in the good soil, interspersed with the wheat plants. Who put those bad seeds in with the good?

An enemy has done this.

God made us to grow in healthy fruitfulness, to flower, to reach the fullness of divine love. Out of what did He make us? The clay of the earth, yes. But not only that. With His limitless genius, He formed us in His divine image and likeness. He breathed into us the breath of spiritual life.

He made us for peace, for fair dealings with each other, for friendship. He gave us the talents we need to build cities and communities worthy of children of God.

But we know the field has aggressive, harmful weeds. We know that alongside our talents to build something good together, by God’s Providence, we also have perverse capacities. The capacity to abuse everything good, and to despise God’s Providence.

skinscowboysSometimes it seems that things have gotten so complicated and messed-up in human society that we can hardly hope for the good things God made us for. An enemy has done this. The devil exists. If we didn’t think so before, certainly the year AD 2020 has taught us that the devil prowls about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.

Health-care workers taxed beyond the limits of human endurance. The whole country confused about what will happen next. Will my job be there much longer? Plus, months of summer with no baseball. And the end of the Washington Redskins. It’s like the Cowboys have won. Forever. Satan has triumphed.

Seriously, though. The Evil One has his minions, the legion of fallen angels. They exist. They tempt every human being to sin.

God made us to do good. But our First Parents succumbed, when Satan tempted them to disobedient pride. So we get born in weakness and interior disorder. Doing good comes hard, requires us to organize and discipline ourselves. Doing evil comes easy.

The demons despise us. We have to remember: It is impossible for us mortals to imagine just how much the demons hate everything that is beautiful about human beings. Let me repeat that, because it is crucially important: Our minds do not have the depth necessary to comprehend fully how much the demons hate us.

This explains why the Master told them to wait, rather than try to pull up the weeds. We cannot competently judge the situation fully. It’s not that we might fall into cynicism in our judgments about good and evil. That’s not really the danger. Rather, we will fall into naivete. We will always, always under-estimate the real evil-ness of demonic evil.

the-fallWhy do I say that? We human beings simply cannot help but try to see meaning in things. Because the meaning is actually there. God has a reason for all His works, and His reason is infinite love. Therefore, everything that happens has a kind of infinite meaning. We naturally seek to understand that meaning. We string events together in our minds; we conceive of them as part of a drama, tending toward a meaningful outcome. We believe that strife bears fruit. Because it does.

Satan wills to attack us at that deep, deep level of how we understand life. He wills to render life meaningless. A waste. Fruitless, pointless slavery.

So my point is this: We have to remember that, fundamentally, we are all in this battle to find the meaning of life, together. The Master says, Wait, don’t try to separate wheat from weeds yourselves. Leave that to the experts. Leave that to the holy angels.

The holy angels understand the full depth of demonic evil. They never fall into our human naivete about it. The holy angels will not misidentify human foibles as demonically evil. They will not throw well-meaning, but misguided, human zeal into the furnace; rather, they will purify it. They will not crush human weakness; rather, they will try to heal it. They will not despise delusional idealism; rather, they will try to save the good while purging out the bad.

The holy angels see us for what we are; they see our weaknesses for what they are. They know that fully demonic evil operates much more subtly, much more deeply, and much more destructively. The demons attack the beauty of mankind at its roots.

What’s one thing that the holy gospels certainly teach us? That the Lord Jesus hated pharisaism more than any other sin. He hated people thinking to themselves: We’re on the good team, unlike the dirty people on the bad team.

No. We are in the battle against Satan’s hatred together. The angels will separate the teams when Judgment Day comes. In the meantime, in the struggle to find the meaning of life, and hold onto it—we’re all in it, together.

Liguori + Final Judgment

Basilica St Alphonsus Liguori Pagani Italy

St. Alphonsus Liguori died 232 years ago today. His body lies in the Redemptorist basilica in Pagani, Italy.

Not that we count St. Alphonsus among the pagani! The town presumably got its name from the ancient pagani of Pompei.

Reminds me of a couple I knew, in a former parish. The Pagans. Mr. and Mrs. Pagan. Devout Catholics. Not pagans.

Anyway… In His preaching and teaching, Lord Jesus clearly announced the final judgment. He left us in no doubt about it. The Catechism puts it like this:

The conduct of each individual and the secrets of hearts will be brought to light. The culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing will be condemned. Our attitude toward our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love

To break that down:

Salvation on Judgment Day begins with: believing in God and His saving Christ. Faith in Jesus comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit. But we have a responsibility to accept that gift, and to live by our faith in the triune God.

Second: The Judge will say, “As you did to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.” The Lord will judge us according to our co-operation with divine love, in all our interactions with our fellow human beings.

So: We will face Jesus Christ as the judge of our whole lives, He Who knows all and sees all, Who understands us better than we understand ourselves. This is a supernatural fact that God Himself has revealed to us. We believe it with utter conviction, because of the authority and trustworthiness of God Almighty, Who revealed it.

We know neither the day nor the hour. So we live with an eye to the final judgment and the life to come. In the meantime, the more fully prepared for judgment we are right now, the more deeply do we grow in friendship with God .

Just Thoughts, Righteous Feelings, Good Works

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
upon those boughs which shake against the cold.
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

(Wm. Shakespeare, sonnet 73)

Soon Mother Earth will edge into chill, even with global warming. The waning days of fall remind us that our pilgrim life flies fast. Here in the northern hemisphere, we approach the season of the Last Things.

The Word of God teaches us: the Son of Man will come in glory. At an hour we do not expect. The Judge Who sets all to rights will suddenly arrive from heaven.

st nikolaj velimirovic

St. Nikolaj Velimirovic wrote a little catechism to explain the Christian religion. He poses the question:

How should we prepare ourselves for that tremendous day, Judgment Day?

The saint’s answer:

With just thoughts, with righteous feelings, and with good works, according to the teachings of Christ and the Church, and the example of the saints.

Just thoughts, righteous feelings, good works.

Now, how do we know what thoughts are truly just, what feelings truly righteous, and what works are truly good? By studying the teachings of Christ and His Church, and the example of the saints.

Next week we keep the Solemnity of…?

All Saints day falls on its proper date because, back in Roman times, the pope consecrated a chapel in honor of all the martyrs on November 1. But it’s no co-incidence that we keep the Solemnity of all the saints at the very time of year when the trees and the air remind us that we will all die.

Because the legions of saints show us how to be ready. They teach us that everyone has his or her own individual way of readying him- or herself, by growing ever closer to Christ in the specific little life He has laid out for each of us.

Jesus Christ and His Church—that’s what all the saints have in common. The saints had just thoughts and righteous feelings, and they did good works. We can, too, just like they did—when we stay close to Christ, in His Church.

Suing for Peace

If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. (Luke 12:58-59)

“Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Lord seems to indicate that Judgment Day will come with great severity. We rightly tremble at the prospect of strictness at that crucial moment.

white flagAfter all, we may try to do good and avoid evil. But we do not always succeed. If we had to atone for everything selfish, sensual, or proud we ever did; for every errant word; for every failure of devotion to our Creator and Father? We would hardly have a hope.

But we can negotiate this. We can wheel and deal here—provided we’re not too proud to admit we need some assistance. We can stave off the inevitable condemnation and punishment that would come if we just sat on our own meager laurels.

We can sue for peace. Peace with the Judge Himself, and peace with those we have wronged. We can be the kind of peacemakers who say:

“Lord, look upon the perfect justice and holiness of Your Son! Count me among those redeemed by His Precious Blood!” (That is actually precisely what we do say whenever we assist at Holy Mass.)

Then we can be the kind of peacemakers who say to each other whenever we can: “I know I have wronged a million people in a million ways that I am too obtuse even to know. I would like to make up to you any wrong I have done you. And I would be glad for you to teach me how to be a better person. Let’s be friends.”

Last Day

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day. (John 6:40)

He will raise us on the last day. A last day will come.

Not just a last day of school, or a last day of work, or a last day of the Masters.

There will come a day when we will truthfully say, “No more ‘unscripted’ visits to New Hampshire by aspiring presidential candidates. No more having to charge my cellphone. No more mortgage payments. Todo finito–all these worldly cares.”

ezekiel bonesI guess this is one of those fundamental convictions about reality which separate the believer from the pagan. That a Last Day will come. Justice will be done. Redemption will be won for the servants of Eternal Love.

But, as the Fathers of Vatican II put it in Gaudium et Spes, this cognizance we have of the inevitable Last Day—which cognizance makes all these other days look different, puts them in a different light—this cognizance of ours does not make us despise these current days. It actually makes us care about them all the more.

After all, the Last Day could be today. Tomorrow is the 451st anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, not to mention the day when we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of Roanoke Catholic School. But maybe we’ll never make it to tomorrow. Maybe the Lord will demand our lives from us this very night.

Will I face Him having been fair to all the people I have a duty to be fair to? Will I face Him having cared for people who bear the oppressor’s rod and suffer the whips and scorns of outrageous fortune? Will I face Him, and find mercy for my sins, because I have been merciful to other people myself?

Pagans don’t like to think about such things, I don’t believe. But: attending Mass, when we really think about it, requires us to examine ourselves like this every time. At Mass: here we are, in our bodies, the very bodies which will rise on the Last Day. And here He is, Christ our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament. If this isn’t a dressed rehearsal for Judgment Day, I don’t know what is.

Perfect love casts out fear. We have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, like holy St. Paul did. But when we are used to meeting Christ in the flesh, which we do whenever we go to Mass, we need not fear the Last Day. It won’t be any more terrifying than a Mass at which we could see everything—see everything that we now believe in, without seeing.

Christmas in the 21st Century–as it could have been, and as it Is

God came to visit His people by His holy Incarnation, by becoming one of us. Let’s consider for a moment the difference between what could have happened when God did that, and what actually did happen. Then I would like to add something about Christianity in the 21st century.

pantocratorFirst: what it could have been like, when the God-man came. He could have arrived full-grown and terrifyingly stern, intent on executing the strictest, most righteous judgment. He could have come on a black cloud, with a scales for balancing in His hand. In one pan: What the Creator has given us, namely everything. On the other pan, what we have given back–as far as religion, obedience, and eager service.

The judge would justly have condemned us all. Christmas could have been very different. It could have meant that we all got judged and sent to hell.

We might say, “That’s so depressing! Even God would be sad if Christmas meant nothing but strict justice!” But: We would only say that because we happen to know the real, true account of what Christmas is. Jesus has taught us to believe that God loves us and wills our happiness. So we think that God Himself would be sad if Christmas were the day when we all got sent to hell.

That, however, is not exactly true. Almighty God has always been and always will be perfectly happy, with or without us. He didn’t come to save us because He was lonely and sad. No. He came to save us because, in His infinite, endless happiness, He is perfectly selfless.

So He gave us Christmas as it actually is. He did not come the first time as a terrifying judge, six-and-a-half-feet tall, with eyes of fire. He came as a cooing baby, born of the sweetest, humblest, gentlest mother imaginable. He came as a poor child, of poor parents, with no clout whatsoever in this world.

God incarnate arrived with a clear and detailed mission. Namely, to do every single thing that needed doing for our salvation. He came to teach us the love of God, to show us how to live in a way pleasing to God. He came to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice—as our perfect sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice that we, as the human race, truly have made to God. And He came to conquer death and pour out His undying grace upon us from heaven.

columba-marmionWe believe that what the first Christmas could have been—that is, a day of judgment by the God-man; we believe that such a day will come. But we need not fear such a day, because the first Christmas came to pass the way it did. Christmas saw the birth of a divine Savior, a divine Redeemer, a divine king Who rules by offering Himself as our Priest and gently shepherding our souls.

…The other morning I re-read the preface of one of the books of Blessed Columba Marmion. My mind lingered on the date when he wrote the preface, 1922.

In case you don’t know: Dom Marmion is like a latter-day Father of the Church. His books are comprised of notes people took while he talked, explaining, in retreats and sermons, the Good News of Christ, based on the teachings of Scripture.

Anyway, it struck me as altogether stunning to imagine that on the very day when Dom Marmion wrote the preface to this particular book of his, F. Scott Fitzgerald sat in his Long-Island home, writing his novels. The spiritual crisis of the western world caused by World War I was setting in.

angels nativityIf I might put it like this: the 20th century became a century of uncertainty about God. Does He exist? Can we really believe what the Bible says? Can we trust the teaching of the Church? Twentieth-century man had the idea that ‘I have to decide for myself what is true and what isn’t true, when it comes to God.’

Our grandparents—some of them anyway—imagined such systematic doubt to be a noble undertaking. But: Doesn’t doubting like that—doesn’t it really condemn you to the first kind of Christmas that I described? Setting myself up as the ultimate religious authority means: on Christmas Day, I have nothing but a God of strict justice to judge me.

Because the wonderful mystery of the real Christmas, the Christmas of my salvation—that good news comes to me as a gift that transcends my capacity to comprehend. A gift that I can only receive like a child receives something from his mother.

Now, the good news for us is that the spiritual struggles of the last century do not have to be ours. We need not get bogged-down in questions that have grown obsolete. We can hold the faith of the Church with childlike hearts, without giving a second thought to whether or not we are “modern” enough. We are plenty modern, whether we want to be or not. We don’t need to work on ‘updating the Church.’ We need to work on giving the next generation of Catholics the ancient faith that we received.

The Christian life is actually a lot simpler than many 20th-century people thought. We just have to be prepared to be martyred. Our true Christmas merriment comes from our knowing that the only life worth living is one of total fidelity to this particular baby. He gave me His life. I owe Him mine. We all owe this baby, Who founded our Church—we owe Him our lives.

But that, after all, is the greatest gift of Christmas, the real Christmas: It gives us a chance to live a life worth living. To live not for myself, but for Christ.

The End and the Figs

Everyone seems to agree on the fact that the end will come. Sometimes our lives fall into a dull routine, a seemingly endless, profitless monotony that stretches ahead of us like a dark tunnel. But no one seriously doubts that it will, in fact, end. The disputed points are: how and when.

How will it end? Will a sudden environmental disaster overwhelm the earth? Will we all die gradually of disease or natural causes and vanish into oblivion? Will the Mayan apocalypse annihilate everything?

Continue reading “The End and the Figs”

Fast

Totally in love with Nicholas David? Me, too. (Oh, the shoes! He is AWESOME!!)

Do not run in pursuit. (Luke 17:23)

The Lord explicitly orders us not to run hither and yon, not to agitate ourselves, not to fret and frantically fumble after the definitive revelation of the truth.

The problem is not that we can be too fast-moving for God. We do not need to slow down so that He can catch up with us. No.

The problem is that, quick-witted as we are–compared to turtles and mules and Internet Explorer 8.0—we are nonetheless slower than frozen molasses, compared to God.

As He says, He moves like lightning.

When the time comes; when it’s all said and done; when there’s no more need for investigation and fact-checking, no more opportunity for reform and renewal—when that day, that moment, that instant arrives, and the light that will never go out shines, it will come like a thunderbolt across the sky.

The speed of lightning, as we know from its frequent metaphorical invocation in common parlance, reaches an order of magnitude altogether above our capacities.

Let’s say I challenge lightning to a race. Ok. Ready. Set. Go. It’s over. You lost, human. And so it will be, if we imagine that picking up our mental speed will somehow enable us to get a jump on the final apocalypse. No way.

Before we know it, we will be eating a bowl of microwave popcorn, or painting a fencepost, or driving to Wal-Mart, and the apocalypse will envelop the entire earth like King Kong grabbling a bi-plane out of the sky.

So there can be no hasty chasing of the resolution. The Lord’s point is that it’s pointless to try that. Rather, the best course of action is simply to sit still and wait patiently in a state of perpetual readiness.

The lightning will strike from east to west. So we keep our eyes fixed on the eastern horizon. Which, as Pope Benedict has explained, means having faith. We keep our interior eyes fixed on the eastern horizon by greeting every moment with faith in the good and almighty Lord Christ.

May God Lay Aside the Violence

Jonah by Michelangelo

Jonah went to the enormous city of Nineveh and informed the people that the Lord intended to destroy the place in forty days. In other words, the prophet presented himself as a sign to the Ninevites, a sign of the transcendent justice of Almighty God.

The king of Nineveh saw the sign and believed. Speaking on behalf of the whole city, the king repented of his injustice and declared that all the Ninevites would lay aside the violence that each had in hand.

The king took for granted that he and all his people had violence in hand. This was a fair assumption. One does not like to generalize, but we can safely say of ourselves that we sinners generally have some kind of violence in hand. Maybe not shedding blood. But violence to someone’s good name, or violence to someone’s vulnerable feelings, or violence to good order and someone’s rightful place. Our egos are voracious; they make us do violence, often under-cover.

So, talk about a good thing to do for Lent: to recognize the violence I have in hand for what it is, and lay it aside. Because look at what happened next in the Book of Jonah: When the Ninevites laid aside the violence they had in hand, the Lord laid aside the violence He had in hand.

We know the Lord is meek and gentle. But we also know that He is unfailingly righteous. He is perfect peace in Himself. But His omnipotent truth and justice destroys evil and deceit. Do we think the tsunami in Japan was a formidable force? The truth of God will roll like a tsunami over all lies, and it will make the north of Japan look like a kiddie pool. God does not will violence, but His willing of peace does violence to disorder, selfishness, and pride.

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us lay aside the violence we have in hand—the jealousy, grudges, turf wars, one-upmanship, gossip, selfishness, pettiness, meanness—let’s lay it all aside and beg God with desperate hearts:

Easter time. Something to look forward to.
Lord, we know that in justice we deserve condemnation, but have mercy on us anyway, forgive us, and help us!

…In the first game of the NCAA tournament, four players fouled out. Sportscaster lingo: “DQ” for disqualified. Five fouls? Dairy Queen.

By the by, the Dairy Queen density of southwest Virginny crushes the DQ density of metro Washington. Not even close. At this moment, there are 16 DQs within twenty miles. (Total number of Dairy Queen in the Archdiocese of Washington? Five.) Cannot wait for Lent to be over.

Basics from the Baptist

The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10)

The people came to St. John the Baptist, asking for basic moral guidance.

St. John gave specific answers to the various different kinds of people who asked. In each case, he outlined the basic form of an upright life.

Are you wealthy? Keep only what you need, and give the rest to those who have less. Are you in business or government? Then make sure all your dealings are fair and lawful in every way. Put in an honest day’s work, and be satisfied with what you are paid—no bribes, no schemes. Do you carry a weapon in the name of public peace and security? Then carry it peaceably. Only draw it against real bad guys.

Clear, basic moral guidance. St. John was directing people how to live reasonable, sober, honest lives in this world. We need this above all: To know how to live in a way that pleases God.

If anyone takes this knowledge for granted, so much the better. When the rich young man asked the Lord Jesus, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” the Lord spelled out the Ten Commandments. The young man was perhaps amused at so basic an answer, and he said, “Master, I have followed all these from my youth.” –If you can say the same, praise God! The Lord loved the young man for being able to say it.

Continue reading “Basics from the Baptist”