Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. (Colossians 3:2)
From time immemorial, man has conceived of three levels. 1) Here—the observable cosmos. 2) Up. 3) Down.
Here: the earth, the universe…day-by-day life with baseball games and back-to-school sales and train wrecks and summer movies. This level involves constant change, time passing, uncertainty, potential (that can be fulfilled or not), injustice lurking in every corner, fleeting pleasures, the possibility of a steak being good or bad, etc.
In other words, nothing on this level is sure, nothing absolutely permanent. Twinkies may or not be available in the future. It might rain tomorrow; it might not. This level has excitement. But Fate is fickle. It would be nice if the Redskins went to the playoffs this year. But they might not.
On the other hand, the other two levels—the upper and the lower—they are more stable. Their realities endure.
More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the LORD, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
One of the essential tenets of our religion holds that God judges souls. We do not. We do not have what it takes to penetrate deeply enough into another person’s soul so as to know whether it be good or evil. After all, we can barely manage to penetrate into our own souls; we can hardly begin to sort them out.
Sometimes we have to exercise limited judgment over external matters pertaining to other people. People with great responsibilities have to do it a lot. But our prayer as Christians is always: Lord, be merciful. Father, forgive. May everyone get to heaven. Have mercy on me, and help me to be good like other people are, because I am really the worst sinner I know.
Also, even in the realm of limited judgments about external matters: the wise philosopher of old, Aristotle, warned against anyone trying to exercise judgment of any kind over someone more experienced.
None of us have the right, really, either to blame or to praise anyone who knows more than we do. It goes for both praise and blame. Just as it requires superior wisdom and experience justly to blame another for his or her bad actions, it likewise requires superior wisdom to praise someone for actions we judge to be good.
The simple way of saying this is: Parents have the right and duty to praise and/or censure their children. Children have no standing either to criticize or to commend their parents. If a little boy says, “Daddy, you are such a good daddy!” the wise father would have to say to himself: “That’s nice. But it doesn’t mean that I am good. Only a father wiser than myself could really give me such a compliment.”
This is why I do not understand why anyone would think that he or she has the standing to make any judgment at all about Pope Benedict’s decision to resign. Is there any question that Pope Benedict is a wiser and more experienced man than I am? There is no question. Not a person on the earth can really say that he or she is wiser or more experienced than the Pope. So really it makes no sense to judge the decision at all. Bad or good, the Pope will answer to God for it. For our part: we pray for him; we love him.
For nearly eight years, we have been praying for “Benedict, our Pope” at every Mass. That’s well over 2500 times for me—praying for Pope Benedict at the altar. It has been a privilege to be able to do so, a privilege granted to me despite my unworthiness.
And: Can any of us doubt that the Pope has been lovingly praying for us all this time, too? No, we cannot doubt it. He certainly has been. And we know that he will continue to pray for us, as he enters his hidden life inside the precincts of the tomb of St. Peter.
Our Holy Father resigns his office today. Indeed, that makes today an unusual day in the history of the world. But is it earth-shattering? I mean, after all: before we know it, Pope Benedict will be dead, just like the rest of us.
So let’s just focus on God, and pray that everything happen in such a way that everyone will be able to get to heaven. And let me do my little part, and leave the business of judging to the wiser and more experienced people, and to God.
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him…
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. (John 3:16-19)
“This is the verdict.”
Can it be a co-incidence that when we come to church this week, when our national airwaves are full of justice finally being done on our enemy, we hear the most famous verses of the Bible, and one of the verses is: “This is the verdict.”
Verdict. Verum dictum. True word.
The truth harries a man who has done evil. We can run; we can blind ourselves; we can fill our heads with noise to provide a distraction. But the truth will not go away. The truth waits. It is patient. He is patient.
Christ came as the light of the world. He came to restore us to our original dignity. The dignity of man is to be a flute that harmonizes with the divine orchestra in a springtime fantasia. The dignity of man is to abide in peace with everything that is beautiful and true.
But Christ is patient about shining His light of truth. He let His life be snuffed out by evil men.
God became man to gather His scattered people. The Creator became a shepherd of men, a pastor. He summoned the wandering sheep by the sweet, true sound of His voice.
The sheep heard the call and came to Him. He taught them His unique heavenly doctrine.
“Your Father provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, who neither sew nor reap nor toil or spin. You are worth more than many sparrows… Forgive seventy times seven times… There is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come… If someone strikes you on the left cheek, offer him the right cheek as well…”
The sheep heard His words and took note. But they did not understand.
As late as Holy Thursday night, the lambs who had walked closest to the divine pastor still had no idea what valley they were about to walk through.
“Lord, why do you reveal yourself to us and not to the world? Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Lord, show us the Father, then we will be satisfied. Lord, even though I have to die with you, I will not deny you!”
Deep into the night, Christ spoke to them about the Blessed Trinity and the Holy Spirit. They listened and took note, but they did not understand.
This morning I found myself in a church where I had been precisely once before–in 1994. Back then I was a 24-year-old nitwit, as opposed to the 40-year-old nitwit I am now.
Being back in this place, I realized: By the grace of God, I managed to spend most of my twenties praying. Then I realized: Dude, you pretty much spent your thirties praying, too.
So I may be a nitwit. But at least I have this going for me.
AND I know God loves me, because: Last year the Hoyas beat Duke. This year the Hoyas don’t even play Duke (except maybe in the NCAA tournament). But this year, the Hokies beat Duke!
Tech beating the little blueys was not the victory of the day yesterday, however. The victory of the day was Brigham Young marching into southern California, confronting an arena full of losers dressed-up as Mormon missionaries in mockery, and proceeding to whup San Diego State’s butt.
…Listen, I don’t mean to pester you. But we really have to deal with the metaphysics of morality. We have not begun to scratch the surface.
So far we have: the existence of God and religion. There is a moral law revealed by God, the Ten Commandments. We will face judgment and will either be punished or pitied. Faith is the foundation of morals.
But this is clearly not the whole story. There are non-believers with impeccable morals. Also, the Ten Commandments do not apply themselves to particular cases. One person may have a duty to act in one way, and another person in a different way, under identical circumstances.
And there is more: Don’t we perceive our options according to our habits? The question of whether or not to spend $2.50 for a cup of coffee is an altogether different question for someone who does so regularly versus someone who does not.
If we are going to be judged–and we are–then what are we going to be judged ON? Understanding how the Olympic judges score gymnastic routines is hard enough. What exactly are their criteria? But what about the all-knowing divine Judge? What are HIS?
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.
Here is a somewhat interesting discussion between Bill Maher (maker of the documentary movie “Religulous”) and Governor Mike Huckabee.
I like Mike Huckabee, but I think his engagement of Maher’s points is weak. He let Maher keep the conversation on the historical, human level. The conversation never became genuinely theological–that is, it never became a reasoned argument about God. Huckabee never brought up the fact that the existence of God is evident from the order of the world and the depth of human personality.
At one point, Maher said: “I don’t know. And you don’t know either. You don’t know what happens when you die, and I don’t know either. I am sure you don’t know, because I don’t know, and you don’t have power I don’t possess.”
He is right that Mike Huckabee does not possess superpowers. But the basic idea is wrong in two ways. What Maher said is a fundamental thesis of agnosticism, and it is false. We have some certain knowledge about what happens after we die.
First, we can say for sure that bodily death does NOT mean the end of existence. The body is obviously animated by an immaterial soul. There is no physical force that can destroy or corrupt an immaterial thing. The soul certainly continues to exist after bodily death. The soul is not mortal like the body is.
Human beings have always known this. Because we have, we have concocted myths from time immemorial about what happens after death. Some of these myths possess some truth. Maher and all agnostics are right, though, to dismiss the myths of pagan religions as generally false.
This, however, brings us to the second reason why Maher’s statement is wrong. He is right that we do not on our own have the power to investigate what happens to us after we die. But we have been given detailed information by God Himself.
God became man and taught us what happens after bodily death. He did not teach us everything by any means. But He taught us enough to give us certainty on these points:
1) We will be judged.
2) Our ultimate destination will be either heaven or hell.
3) At the end of time, everyone will rise from the grave. We will live forever, body and soul, either in heaven or hell.
To be certain on these points is not “neurologically disordered.” It is clear that the Lord Jesus taught these things. It makes more sense to believe Christ than to disbelieve Him, all things considered.
The Christian faith is indeed a divine gift, but it is not in any way unreasonable.