Getting Taken Down a Notch

The first reading at Mass on Sunday comes from Isaiah 63. Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways and harden our hearts so we fear you not? …Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of your ways! There is none who rouses himself to cling to you. [Spanish]

sistine isaiahThe prophet speaks on our behalf, on behalf of the human race. As a sinful human being, Isaiah wrestles with his conscience. We experience this struggle within ourselves, too.

We have fallen away from God, and we know we have. We know the difference between how we are and how we should be. We’re in a bad situation, but it’s not entirely hopeless, because we see it for what it is. We are blind and lame. But not totally blind.

The passage from Isaiah expresses the way we wrestle with our consciences. If we give ourselves the chance, we can find enough of the truth within us to accuse ourselves of our own sins.

And we find that we have wandered off the path, not just as individuals, but as a people. We have lost our sense of purpose, the purity of our innocence, our discipline and ideals. Our institutions should guard the treasures of our identity as God’s children, but those institutions themselves have grown worldly and corrupt.

We have one thing left in common, one thing that binds us all together—all races, all political parties, both sexes, all regions and continents, all health plans—we are sinners. We are not what we should be, and we know it. Without divine intervention, we languish in a hopeless situation. We need a Savior. We need heavenly grace, so that we can find ourselves again and be ourselves again.

It’s humbling to recognize that we dwell in the valley of sinners. But it’s a comfort also, because getting taken down a notch is exactly what we need.

Our pride and grandiosity draw us into debilitating self-deception. We enshrine ourselves as the gods of our own little cosmoses. Then we have to lie to ourselves about our god skills. We try to convince ourselves that we know what we’re doing. Problem is: we stink as gods. The Lord did not cut us out for that. He cut us out for obedience—obedience to Him. There we find our peace; there we excel.

The passage from Isaiah continues: We human beings are the clay. God is the potter. The good Lord made each of us and gave us each our own endowments and our own path. He put the light of truth into our minds, to guide us in following His holy will. He gives us the gift of faith, which rouses us to cling to Him. He gives us holy hope to trust in His plan even though we don’t know what it is. We know that God’s design beats anything we could ever imagine. He pours out His divine love into our hearts, so that we can obey His demanding Law, out of devotion. The Lord gives these helps to the sinful human race, showering them down from Jesus’ Sacred Heart as interior gifts for us.

In Sunday’s gospel reading we encounter a little parable about the Second Coming of Christ. The master of the household leaves all the servants with their particular work and goes away. When he returns, he expects to find all the servants working diligently, each at his or her appointed task.

The gatekeeper has a special role, to keep watch. The gatekeeper must alert everyone to the imminent return of the master, when the time comes.

Maybe we could say that the gatekeeper in the parable represents the prophet. The passage from Isaiah has helped us like a gatekeeper, alerting us to the voice of conscience inside us, helping us to learn humility before God. Only religious humility can keep us focused on our true role.

We each have a unique, humble task in the household. If my job is to keep the fire burning in the hearth, then let me focus on that. If I’m supposed to knead the dough in the kitchen, let me do that, and not distract myself with extraneous matters. After all, I am not the lord of the manor. I am the butler at best.

Forgive us, Lord, for distracting ourselves with delusions of grandeur. Give us a fresh start. When You come in glory, in Your own good time, may You find us doing Your will, doing the good little task you have given each of us to do.

Telling the Truth

Christ Sanhedrin

You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.

Lord Jesus quoted this verse to describe what will happen at the end of time. Anyone know where the verse originally comes from? Correct: the prophet Daniel. “You will see the Son of Man, coming on the clouds of heaven.” Now, let’s see who really knows the gospels. Did the Lord Jesus ever quote that verse again? [Spanish]

Correct. On Holy Thursday night, at His “trial” before the Sanhedrin. What crime did the accusers allege? Correct: Blasphemy.

So the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” And we can say: When the Lord answered by quoting Daniel 7:13, He spoke the decisive words of His life. He bore witness to the truth about Himself. It cost Him everything.

Are you the Messiah? “Yes, I am. And you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Indeed, we will see Him, the eternal Word of God’s divine love. He gave His life on the cross to assure us of the truth of these words. To give us hope and eternal life in Him.

This is our redemption from sin. Lord Jesus offered Himself in sacrifice for us, the perfect sinless Lamb accepting death to save us sinners. We come to know about the Redemption as an objective fact. Something that God has done for us, before we ever did anything good at all.

Michelangelo’s Daniel

But let’s not leave the Redemption “outside ourselves,” so to speak. To participate in it, we have to let Christ’s perfect honesty about Himself make us more honest.

Christ’s sacrifice of His life came to pass because: He would not fudge the truth in order to save His skin. It’s true that He didn’t walk around Palestine with a t-shirt or a cap that read, “Yes, I am your Messiah.” He had more discretion about His mystery than to do that. But when the high priest asked Him directly, before a room full of witnesses, the Lord did not hide the truth.

…The liturgical year draws to a close. Mother Nature lays down for winter. The readings at Holy Mass call to mind the ultimate end of all things.

Christ the Judge of all, the divine Justice Himself, submitted to giving testimony in a court convened to judge Him. Nothing required Him to answer; He answered for our sake.

On the other hand, we do have to answer for ourselves, in the end. We owe God an account for all our deeds, for our stewardship of His gifts, the greatest of which is: Me, myself.

Now, we sinners cannot answer for ourselves by claiming an A+ record. That comes as no surprise to Almighty God. He knows our weaknesses better than we do. We cannot lie to the One Who knows everything.

“Redemption” means: Just like Jesus spoke the truth about Himself to the Sanhedrin, I, too, can give an honest account of myself before God. Without fear. I can do it in the confessional. That will liberate me from having to face condemnation for my sins when I die.

You all know well enough that this past summer’s news about Theodore McCarrick has pretty much turned my life upside down. The fact that I received the sacrament of Holy Orders at the hands of a dishonest sexual predator, with a trail of ruined lives left in the shadows behind him.

I don’t bring this up for us to depress ourselves. I simply mean to draw a contrast. On the one side, a Cardinal Archbishop living a lie, having made a Faustian bargain with his own conscience. On the other side: the High Priest of the eternal covenant of real, honest love. Jesus Christ, bearing witness to the mysterious truth about Himself, knowing perfectly well that it will mean bitter suffering and death.

Let’s stand with Christ. He will come again in glory to judge. He who sees all, knows all, brooks no deception. He vindicates the rights of the innocent. Let us stand before Him without any subterfuges, admit our sins, and beg His tender mercy. He forgives.

For a Christian it’s never too late. Never too late to own up to the truth. Never too late to do the right thing. The Lord waits for us to repent and seek mercy. He waits until we breathe our last. He told the truth and died so that we could tell the truth and live.

Conscience and the Commandments

Rembrandt Moses Ten Commandments

The Parable of the Vigilant Servants, according to St. Mark. Here the Lord singles out the gatekeeper from among the servants. Does the watchful gatekeeper represent anyone in particular in the Church? Who among us must keep watch through the night, so to speak, for the benefit of the rest of the household? [Spanish.]

Maybe we could say: The monks and nuns? Or the Pope? Or the bishops? Or all us priests? Indeed, we all have our particular duties in the service of God, and we shepherds must concern ourselves not just with the dangers that could affect our own souls, but with all the souls in the whole flock.

That said, the fact is that every Christian must see him or herself as the gatekeeper in this parable. Because we all have to keep watch over ourselves. We have to pray insistently with the prophet Isaiah: Lord, when You come, may you find us doing good, and not evil!

Now, where do we live? I mean, at this point in our pilgrims’ progress? And I don’t mean Rocky Mount or Martinsville. I mean: “the world.” Right now we live under temporary circumstances, in a place that is not really “home.” A place where things change all the time, and it’s often difficult to get to the heart of the matter, and it’s easy to get confused. We live in a place where doing good doesn’t always come easily. And avoiding evil can involve enormous struggles. We walk as pilgrims in “the world”–a beautiful but dangerous land.

So we must keep watch over our actions and our omissions. We must examine ourselves interiorly, like the night watchman examines the dim horizon. And when we do that; when we live a reflective, careful, sober life–we find within ourselves a helper, a source of insight into the truth, a kind of “moral pacemaker,” so to speak: the voice of conscience.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments MosesThe invisible and transcendent God, Who has a plan to get us all to heaven–He speaks to me, deep within my heart and mind, to guide me along my pilgrim way.

God never fails to guide us. But I can and do fail to heed His guidance. And every time I ignore the voice of my conscience–every time I sin–I effectively turn down the volume on the interior speaker, if I might put it that way. Every sin makes the voice of conscience weaker. The more I sin, the deafer I become.

Lord, that You might meet us doing good! Because doing good gives us real peace. Doing good makes us genuinely happy. Sin might offer short-term pleasure–none of us would ever sin if it didn’t. But sinning always becomes a dog in the long run; sin always turns from short-term pleasure to long-term slavery. So we pray insistently with the prophet: Lord, rend the heavens and come down! Shake us out of our moral mediocrity! Make us good, by guiding us in the truth!

The Lord replies: Children. I already did that. I already opened up the heavens to help you morally. Ever hear of Moses and Mount Sinai? Remember when I gave you the eight commandments? (Trick question.)

When God gave Moses the tablets spelling out the fundamentals of doing good and avoiding evil, He did our consciences the greatest favor ever. Our consciences cannot work right without the Ten Commandments guiding them. When we stay close to God, the Commandments sit at bottom of the hull of our souls, so to speak, like a keel that keeps the boat from capsizing.

If I find myself starting to think things like, “Maybe one of these ten commandments really isn’t necessary,” then I know that I have strayed. I have turned the volume on the interior speaker of conscience down to zero by settling into one sin or another. I have become a stranger to the truth.

But if the Ten Commandments sing to me like a ten-stringed guitar; if I can hold them like a musical instrument in my hands, to give glory to God by living in obedience to His plan, then I can be sure that the volume knob on my conscience is turned up to the right level, and I can stride forward in life with confidence.

So, the $10,000 question. Do we know all the Commandments by heart? What greater Christmas present could I give myself than making sure that I do? My spiritual project for Advent maybe ought to involve re-memorizing the ten guiding lights of my conscience.

1? No other gods. 2? Don’t take His name in vain. 3? Keep the sabbath. 4? Honor father and mother. 5? Don’t kill anyone, either their body or their good name. 6? No adultery. 7? No stealing. 8? No lying. 9? No lusting. 10? And don’t get materialistic; live for God alone.

We want interior harmony. Harmony between our little wills and God’s great, all-encompassing, purely loving will. He showed us on the cross that He wills only our good, our salvation, our eternal life.

The Ten Commandments don’t solve every dilemma. Sometimes we need more help–prayer, advice, etc. But most of the time we can keep ourselves ready for the advent of the Lord by simply keeping the Ten Commandments in mind. And taking care not to break them.

Our Long National Nightmare

JTIII Hoyas warm up
(photo credit: @casualhoya)

…of no college basketball is over.

Hoyas keep scheduling warm-up games against local southwest-Virginia faves. Today the Radford Highlanders square off against Georgetown at Verizon Center. Yeah, buddy!

We present a homily for the penultimate Sunday of the liturgical annum. I wrote it long before Friday the 13th turned into a nightmare in Paris. But hopefully it will help us a little–to pray soberly… (Esta disponible en español tambien! Haga clic aqui.)

Continue reading “Our Long National Nightmare”

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”