Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)
Every time we read this verse, it comes as a surprise. (Except for the subsequent part about strife between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.)
Since we know that: Lord Jesus came to unite the human race. In the Holy Spirit. Divine love unites all Christians, in Jesus’ Church.
But the path to unity goes by way of extreme solitude. Jesus suffered alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. He died alone, just like every human being must die alone. We reach unity with God in Christ and His Holy Church by way of: the utter solitude of death.
Which means we can never try to domesticate or render saccharine the mysterious unity of Christ’s Church. Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani said it, at Vatican II, after another Council father had given a speech about the “collegiality of bishops.” Ottaviani pointed out: The New Testament records one instance when Christ’s disciples acted in complete unison. When the Lord was arrested, they all fled. (Matthew 26:56)
But the Christ’s mission did not end with His solitary death. He rose in the flesh. His risen flesh unites us. What we have to do is: believe.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume, and thieves break in and steal. But lay up treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in, nor steal.
That’s part of our Lord’s Sermon on the… Mount. Which helps us understand the parable we hear in our gospel reading at Sunday Mass, traditionally known as the Parable of the Rich Fool.
When St. Basil preached on this parable, he pointed out that earthly prosperity can serve as a trial of faith, just like difficulties and tribulations can. We usually think of a ‘trial’ as a deprivation or an occasion of suffering, like: “Her husband just got a cancer diagnosis. What a trial for her!” But easygoing prosperity poses a spiritual challenge of its own. Godless worldliness can overtake the comfortable. The prosperous can succumb to: total secularization.
Growing rich is no sin, in and of itself. The man in the parable did no outright injustices to his fellow man. Good weather and fruitful soil gave him a superabundant harvest. But the rich man in the parable showed himself a fool by thinking neither of God nor of others. He thought only of his personal comfort. St. Basil put it like this:
Think, o man, think of the Giver! From Whom have you received your wealth? You are the servant of the good God, a steward for your fellow servants.
A servant of God and a steward for your fellow servants.
Now, I think many of us were shaken this past week by the cold-blooded murder of a priest, near Rouen, France. Father Hamel’s murder shakes us especially because it occurred at the holy altar, as he ministered in the person of Christ, at Mass. French president Hollande called the murder a “profanation.” The profanation of something sacred.
We need to focus hard on what the sacred thing is, that this murder profaned. The sacred thing is: Religion, our relationship with God, the meaning of life, the eternal mystery of undying love, the foundation of peace among men.
In the rich fool’s life, comfort—or wealth, or something—something secular—crowded God out. God gave the man good things in abundance, but the rich fool did not humbly thank Him. And the fool did not understand his duty to share his wealth.
Why? Because he thought too much of himself? No. The rich man’s foolishness involved selling himself short. He thought of himself merely as a consumer of material goods, capable of nothing more beautiful or noble than catching a buzz and then filling his belly.
“You fool!” said the Lord. Did I make you to rut around the earth like a worm? No. I made you to be My friend. I made you to share in the great work of love that I bring about, by My almighty power.
The holy, sacred beauty of God, the triune God Who revealed His infinite love on the cross: the altars of our churches stand firmly consecrated to our on-going relationship with Him, with this transcendent Love.
Pope Francis has said that a “piecemeal” World War III has long since begun. This war costs us a lot—not just dollars, but pain and anxiety. It assaults us with blow after blow of horrifying violence. And a dark specter rises behind the barrage of killings: the idea that life itself is brutal and meaningless. The rich man in the parable went to his death a fool, because he had not prepared himself to meet God. He had no altar. He had no relationship with the Almighty.
In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries, globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated.
The process of secularization, by completely rejecting the transcendent, has produced a growing deterioration of ethics…a general sense of disorientation… a remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. (paragraphs 62 and 64)
We talked about this back on Fourth of July weekend: the beautiful idea that can stabilize and unite us human beings in an enduring peace is the very treasure of our holy altars: The idea of true human dignity. The great God invites us to be His friends. We are not expendable. We are not worms. We are children of the Most High.
Our adversaries make war against: the sacred truth of human dignity. They make war against human culture’s greatest accomplishment: the doctrine of human dignity, taught by Christ. The great mystery of our beautiful, eternal destiny. With which we commune at the altar. May God have mercy on them, for making war on the heart and soul of human peace.
How do we fight back? By kneeling down and praying. Praying with Christian faith and Christian love, at Christ’s holy altar, for deliverance from this unholy war.
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.
After 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.”
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (John 3:20-21)
These words we hear the Lord Jesus say to Nicodemus at Mass today echo what He said about “nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Luke 12:2-3)
I.e. No one keeps secrets from God.
While I was trying to nurse my poor back I had the chance to watch the recent movie version of Anna Karenina. When Anna and the Count are beginning their affair, they picnic together in a secluded spot. But Anna nonetheless worries about being overheard. The Count says, “There’s no one around.” Then she looks up through the trees to the sky.
There is always Someone around.
Does that mean that the Lord Jesus invented the idea of “transparency?”
Well, not exactly… He also counseled—and practiced—discretion. He spoke openly in parables, but only explained them in private to His chosen ones. He ordered His disciples never to cast pearls before swine. He knew all along Who He was and what the Father willed for Him, but He was mighty cagey about spelling it all out. He told the people He cured to keep quiet about it. When demons recognized Him as the Messiah, He commanded them to be silent. He ordered us, when we pray, to go to our inner rooms to do so.
We certainly want “transparent” organizations, as opposed to shady, corrupt ones. The Lord Himself declared, more or less, something that we all know: Honest people welcome investigators. Honest people have nothing to hide. In fact, honesty gives us the luxury to forget the things that we tell people today. If all the things we say today are true, then they’ll be true tomorrow, too, whether or not we remember. Liars have to lay awake nights remembering all their lies.
The light of truth will reveal all in the end. The truth will vindicate the honest and will condemn the dishonest.
But, until then, not every moment calls for “full disclosure.” I had a girlfriend in college, and we agreed that our relationship had to be based on “100% honesty, all the time.” You can see how that worked out.
Being genuinely trustworthy has two sides: 1. Always speaking truth. 2. Keeping silent a lot of the time. We just heard the consummate example of this two weeks ago: During His Passion, the Lord—Who did not shy away from speaking the truth at the proper time—went from quiet to absolutely silent. People asked Him questions, to which He certainly knew the answers. But He opened not His mouth. It was not the time. Speaking would have served no purpose.
The truth is always bigger than what we mortals can know or express. May we seek it always, live in it always, testify to it when we should, and spend the rest of the time listening for it.
Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. (Luke 12:6)
The notice of God.
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? God hears.
The multicolored deep-sea eels and seahorses and octopi, and other magnificent creatures that live in the ocean’s deepest valleys and have passed through countless generations without a single human eye ever being laid on their stunning beauties—why do they exist? Because God takes notice of them constantly and delights in them.
What could be more terrible and disorienting than the idea that God does not notice what I do or who I am? Could the world really be so completely meaningless that what I do and who I am just falls into a chasm of nothing, and no one cares? That no one knows the whole truth, and we are all doomed to be imperfectly understood by our fellowmen and then die—with no one ever altogether noticing? I mean, even if I got my own show on cable, the cruel fact of the matter is that not everyone would watch it.
Can it really just be empty air around me, and my own pitiful forgotten self?
No. God takes note. God notices. When I tell a lie and apparently get away with it, God knows the truth. When I do the right thing, and everyone else is too self-absorbed to appreciate it, God does notice. There is always an audience—an eminently discerning, selflessly appreciative audience.
He does not let sparrows fall to the ground without noticing. He does not let stinkbugs gets squshed in an unconcerned oblivion. No, God has counted every stinkbug.
And He values us much more highly than any stinkbug, any sparrow, any beluga whale.
Seven billion may strike us as an inconceivably large number, beyond real reckoning, like an endless ant colony of humanoids on this spinning rock. But for God, to focus on every human being, to know the truth in every human heart—that’s how He rolls.
He looks at each of us all the time, with infinitely more tender care than a mother looking at her single newborn child. He notices every little breath each of takes. And He guides us toward the complete revelation of His loving gaze, when we will know fully, even as we are now fully known by God.
The best place for a church and rectory is: The middle of the parish cemetery. The priest should live among the dead, with skeletons for his roommates.
At my little church, we don’t have a parish cemetery. But I have the next best thing: There is a beautiful, enormous, old cemetery right up the hill. Not only that, I have owned a grave in this cemetery for years.
Barring a transfer, I will spend the rest of the history of the world in this neighborhood. My bones will moulder alongside those of my most long-term neighbors.
St. Augustine was a fearless preacher. For example:
God isn’t too grand to talk even to fools. Some of you may say, perhaps, “And how did God talk to a fool?” O my brothers and sisters, how many fools is He talking to here, when the gospel is chanted?
Anyway: The saint was talking about Luke 12:20, when God says to the rich man building bigger barns, “You fool, today your soul is required of you.”
The discipline of clerical celibacy is a constant reminder that death is near.
This is a great blessing: Every time we Catholics come to church, we are confronted by a man who has no inheritance in this world. The members of his body have been put to death. He lives with a foot in the grave, shrouded in black at all times.
This helps us all, we priests included. We need this discipline as much as everyone else. We priests did not choose it; it chose us. The discipline of celibacy has made us bearers of the ultimate truth.