What a Fool Believes He Sees

[An essay at theatlantic.com inspired me to give the old blog a new name–the first line of Shakespeare’s Henry V. A Muse of fire can destroy a Death Star.]
Homily on the Parable of the Sower

The eternal Word proceeds eternally from the Father. He pours out the eternal Spirit. And He gives us created reality as we know it, in all its glory.

Or, should I say: He gives us reality as we strive to know it. The work of our lifetime: to attune our wayward and ignorant minds to reality as it actually is, as God gives it to us.

To hear the Word and accept it—that requires constant effort. It requires our daily readiness to admit that we, for the most part, live in our own little dream-worlds, miles away from God and each other.

doobie brothers 1979

What a fool believes he sees no wise man has the power to reason away.

(Doobie Brothers, 1979)

How? How can we find the courage to reason away all our own foolishness? So we can welcome God’s gift, as it comes? Without getting in His way? Without shutting the little door that cuts off our ‘personal space’ from the great, lovable world outside, full of people whom God gave me to love?

How about if we try to grasp the most-fundamental reality of all, first.

On the cross, the eternal Word spoke His entire truth. “You are My people!”

Let’s answer: “You are our God!”

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Growing in God

farm

The Parable of the Seed’s Growth. The farmer sleeps and rises, night and day, and his plants grow. He knows not how. [Spanish]

Even if this particular farmer had a doctorate in cellular biology, or botany, or meteorology—he still could not claim really to know how his plants manage to grow. To produce blade, then ear, then the full grain in the ear. The sun has power, and the rain, and Mother Earth, and the genius of the little seed: all have power which the farmer does not fully understand.

If he’s a contemplative sort of person, the farmer sleeps and rises, night and day. He watches this power unfold itself before his eyes. He gives God the glory.

Which brings us to the fact that the Lord Jesus presented this image as a parable of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we could synthesize the parable’s meaning with one sentence. Life means growing in divine love.

Now, do we care what life means? Or do we just want pleasure, or wealth, or power, whenever and wherever we can find it? Without bothering to try to understand why we exist?

Well, I think we care. We want to understand why we exist. And try to do it right. We know that no matter what doctorates or other forms of education or expertise we might have, we need God to teach us the meaning of life. No one else can.

Bill ClintonDivine love. God loves. The infinite and all-powerful God loves infinitely and all-powerfully. We exist because He loves.

He was fine. He was happy. He longed for absolutely nothing, because He had everything. But: Because He loves so generously, He made the heavens and the earth, the angels, and us.

He loves us. The meaning of life involves loving Him back. The human race failed to love our Creator, and made a huge mess of sin, but He didn’t give up on us. To the contrary, He came to the earth, and spread out His arms on the cross, to show us an open Heart, and to open our hearts by the power of His love. That’s Jesus Christ. That’s the Holy Spirit and the work of the Church, the life of the sacraments.

Therefore, life means: living in Christ’s Church, loving God back for the love with which He has loved us. And it grows. By the grace of the sacraments, divine love grows in a Christian heart. We know not how.

Time passes. Some of us could say that the Bill-Clinton presidency seems like just yesterday. Or even the Reagan presidency, or the Carter presidency.

The world turns. We meet people. We try to treat them right. We try to live in the truth. We pray. We try to obey God. We try to do well the work God has given us to do. Meanwhile, through all this, decades pass, and we grow in divine love.

Setbacks come, to be sure. We amaze ourselves with our own moral weaknesses. But we don’t give up. Life means loving the God Who loves me, Who loves us. Let me learn. Let me understand better. Let me master myself. Let me forget myself. Let me grow.

earthsunAnd it happens, we know not how. Now, not knowing how—that goes against the grain for us little human geniuses, who pride ourselves on our knowhow.

But: God is God. What do we really know about Him? Loving God is like loving a country which we have never even visited. The pictures we have seen—they’re accurate, yes. Jesus Christ and His saints, they are the pictures of eternal heaven. And they are absolutely accurate pictures. We can’t doubt the glory and beauty of the God we love. But we have never been to that country, not yet. We don’t know. We do not know God.

The contemplative farmer stares at the sky, and the rain clouds forming in the west, and his fields with the little cornstalks in their rows—doing their thing, getting bigger in tiny, daily increments. He gazes at all this, and he thinks to himself:

‘This is something. This is life living. I’m the farmer, and I cultivated this ground and sowed these rows of seed—so I have to credit myself with making some contribution here. But I can only consider myself a docile, uninformed custodian. It requires an intelligence a million times bigger than my own, and a power a million times bigger than mine, to make one single ear of corn. To God Almighty be the glory!’

I think that may be what the Lord intends to teach us with this parable. We grow in God’s love, night and day, sleeping and waking, precisely by: humbling ourselves before Him. Like that farmer humbling himself before the power of earth and sky and Mother Nature.

Growing in divine love involves not knowing everything and controlling everything. Like I said, that goes against the grain for us sons and daughters of this technocratic age of unbridled human cleverness. But: trying to know and control everything stifles our growth in divine love. Growth in divine love requires one thing: Faith.

When we believe in Christ, the love that dwells in His Heart can and does dwell in our hearts, too, by the power of the Church’s sacraments. Then, we just patiently do our duty. And our hearts grow in God.

Divine Messages

st-andrew-double-rainbow

There is nothing hidden except to be made visible. (Mark 4:22)

When you get to see a double rainbow during your morning run, you praise the Lord for His kindness and mercy.

Because, as we know from participating in the life of the Church and reading our Scriptures: a rainbow indicates more than the occurrence of a particular refraction of sunlight owing to atmospheric moisture. A rainbow also betokens God’s promise. Of old the Lord spoke to Noah, saying,

I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth…that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings. (Genesis 9:15)

So a person can find him- or herself out running, or walking the dog, or waiting for a bus, or walking into the office from the parking lot, and God spreads the bow in the sky to remind you, “I love you, child. I love the whole earth I have made. Stride into the future, just like Noah and his family did. Because I guide all things toward a good goal.”

God communicates with us. St. Paul gave everything in the service of this fact, as did his protégés Saints Timothy and Titus, as have all apostolic men and women throughout this Age of the Christ’s Church.

noah-covenantWe get God’s message not by idle dreaming, or by fruitless navel gazing, or by willful egomania—we get God’s message by believing in Jesus Christ. We believe that He spoke absolute truth and that He is absolute Truth. And we believe that He pours out a divine Spirit from heaven, to sanctify us and guide us to the goal.

Now, how do we center ourselves in this journey? To one side lurks the danger of deaf and blind obtuseness. God wills to communicate with us, and He will communicate with us as He wills. We must remain open to Him always, in every little thing. Because nothing exists, except by the power of His love.

To the other side lurks the danger of irrationally seeing signs and messages in every little thing. Like, “Daggone, I didn’t hit that red light this morning! That must be the Lord telling me to march into my boss’ office when I get to work and demand a 50% raise!”

The way we center ourselves and avoid these dangers is: standing squarely within the fold of the Church. Growing constantly in our powers of discernment by actively participating in Mother Church’s prayers and ceremonies, studying Her teaching, going to confession every month, praying every day.

Lead on, o kind God of the covenant rainbow! Lead on, o Savior nailed to the cross. Lead on. We will do our best to hear You.

Parable of the Snower

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parable“A snower went out to snow.  And, as it snowed, a lot of snow fell on the path, and on the rocky ground, and on the thorns, and on the rich soil.

“The shovelers came and removed the snow on the path.  The sun rose and melted the snow on the rocky ground.  The snow around the thornbushes had to be removed because it impeded the air flow around the heat pump.

“But the snow on the rich soil just sat there.  And sat there.  And sat there.

“Do you not understand the parable?”

Seriously, though, I think we can actually find one genuine point of agreement between the real parable and my “Winter-storm Jonas Aftermath” version.

Everyone thinks that children love a big snow the most, because school gets canceled for at least 3 ½ days.  But, actually, it’s not children who love a big snow the most.

Who loves a foot of snow more than anyone else?

Farmers, of course.  All that water, sitting on the fields.  For days, for a week, for two weeks.  Melting little by little by little into the soil.  Nothing moistens a field like a foot of melting snow.

God has spoken His Word to us.  Indeed, He has showered it down upon us like a foot of snow.  When we participate regularly in the Church’s Sacred Liturgy, the Word of God sits on our souls like snow pack on a field.  It moistens our spirits—gradually, constantly, giving us the capacity to burst forth with springtime life, eternal springtime life.

Apostles of Sunday Mass

To the one who has, more will be given. From the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (Mark 4:25)

These words of our Lord have troubled and perplexed people ever since He first uttered them. Doesn’t sound like Mr. Nice Jesus at all.

encounter-joy richmondPerhaps one way to understand what exactly is to be given or taken away is this: a genuinely Christian vision of life.

Some people have lived under circumstances when a genuine Christian vision of life practically grew on trees. Church stood at the center of town and the center of life. Books and entertainments referred constantly to saints and Bible heroes; everyone knew the events narrated in the Scriptures; the name of Jesus tripped reverently off everyone’s lips all the time.

Beautiful circumstances, in other words, for cultivating one’s spiritual life. Like I said, some people have lived under such circumstances. Not us.

At Holy Mass today, we hear St. Paul exhort the Hebrew Christians: “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some.”

Obviously, we owe God our weekly act of worship. In the days of Christian culture, everyone owed God a weekly act of public worship. And we owe Him that debt now, too.

But: don’t we also have to recognize that without Sunday Mass every week, it has become practically impossible, these days, for a soul to maintain a Christian vision of life?

“Even what he has will be taken away.” Without regularity in Sunday Mass attendance, won’t whatever little Christian spiritual life a person may have—won’t it wither away and die, sooner rather than later—because the world affords no other supports for it?

On the other hand: “To the one who has, more will be given.” With the habit of regular Sunday-Mass attendance, our souls swell with wisdom, peace, and joy—a kind of wisdom, peace, and joy that has become practically unknown in the world.

So, if I might presume to put it like this: If we want to participate in the New Evangelization, we must become apostles of: Mass every week.