Transparent and Unfathomable

Be opened! The man’s ears, his lips. “He spoke plainly.” The deaf-mute now became a witness, a vessel for the Word of God, a pipe to make music to the praise of God’s glorious grace. [Spanish]

sacred-heart-cross

Opened, like the ears and lips of Christ Himself. Through the prophet, the Lord had praised His heavenly Father: You have opened my ear, and I did not refuse, did not turn away.

In Luke’s gospel, we read about the time when the Lord Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and praised the Father, ‘Lord of heaven and earth, you have revealed Yourself to the childlike!’

We know that Jesus taught His doctrine openly. During His Passion, when the chief priests interrogated Him about what He had taught, the Lord could say with perfect honesty: You can ask the people who heard Me teach. I have not secrets, nothing to hide. Ask them.

So, indeed: If “transparency” is a virtue of a good leader, we can hardly imagine anyone more “transparent” than Jesus Christ Himself. No deceit was ever found in Him. On Mount Tabor, He went so far as to reveal the divine light, shining through Him, to His chosen Apostles. That light of perfect and complete truth—that light shone through the body of this man, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth.

Then, on the cross, the ultimate opening occurred: The soldier thrust a lance into His side, opening His Heart. Blood and water flowed out, the fountainhead of eternal life. The openness of Christ is the openness of God. God opening Himself to us. It is literally impossible to imagine any more truly wonderful openness.

But, here’s the thing. Yes, the Messiah, our Lord, is altogether pure, honest–a vessel of the Light of Truth that penetrates all darkness. But: Don’t we also say that His Heart contains a hidden abyss of goodness, unfathomable depths of love, a mystery that no eye can see nor tongue proclaim?

Let me quote St. Francis de Sales on this:

Behold him, this divine love of the beloved, how he stands behind the wall of his humanity, making himself to be seen through the wounds of his body and the opening of his side, as by windows, and as by a lattice through which he looks out on us…

Our Savior’s Heart, as upon his royal throne, beholds by the cleft of his pierced side all the hearts of the sons of men: for this Heart being the King of hearts keeps his eyes ever fixed upon hearts. But as those that look through a lattice see others clearly, and are but half-seen themselves, so the divine love of this Heart, or rather this Heart of divine love, continually sees our hearts clearly and regards them with the eyes of his love, but we do not see Him. We only half see Him. (Treatise on the Love of God, Book V, chapter 11)

So: Although our Lord outdoes the transparency of the most-transparent people we know, we still have to walk by obscure faith in unseen things.

God sees all. And on the last day, we will see everything, in God’s light. But, in the meantime, we stumble along, trying to hold fast to the truth, knowing that we do not know everything.

Ok. Our Church floats along in the middle of a colossal controversy right now. At the highest level of authority, charges of negligence remain unanswered.

Is it all about who knew what and when? Or is it about who knows how to handle things like this better?

Hopefully it is about knowing right from wrong. The Lord always helps us to do that, to know right from wrong. He may confront us with difficult moral choices. But He never leaves us without an honest path forward, one we can take with a clear conscience.

Pope Francis Easter candleThe duty we all have is to follow that path, the path of an honest conscience, of a “transparent person”–to follow that path into an uncertain future.

In my book, our Holy Father has not responded in an honest manner to the controversy. He has not made himself transparent regarding the facts about Theodore McCarrick, facts which I know a lot about. And it looks to me like the pope has fallen into dishonesty regarding other cases involving prelates and sex abuse. That said, I certainly don’t know everything.

I wish Pope Francis would step aside, trusting God to provide a new shepherd who could actually tackle this crisis honestly and give us a fresh start.

But it’s the Pope’s decision to make. We all have to make our decisions. As honestly, as forthrightly, as “transparently” as we can. Knowing full well that only God knows everything.

Sins and Commandments

The_Head_of_Christ_by_Warner_Sallman_1941

Sometimes the Lord Jesus said genuinely hard-to-understand things. He came to reveal the eternal mysteries of divine love. So the gospels record statements He made that require a lifetime of meditation even to begin to understand. Like “I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me.” [Spanish]

But sometimes Jesus’ words sound out clear as a bell. Like the list of evils we hear at the end of Sunday’s gospel reading. In addition to “evil thoughts,” the Lord listed twelve particular sins that defile the human heart. We can break down the list into four groups, and co-ordinate them with the Ten Commandments. Let’s turn this into a fun little quiz.

Group One: Adultery, unchastity, and licentiousness. First we have to make sure we know what “licentiousness” means. Promiscuity, unprincipled sexuality. So: adultery, unchastity, and licentiousness involve violations of which commandment? Or commandments? Correct. The Sixth and the Ninth, which prohibit violations of the marriage bond.

We can begin to grasp the fundamental holiness of marriage when we reflect on how we each came into existence. Namely, the union of a man and a woman. Because children deserve to grow up in a family, sexual union requires lifetime fidelity. We talked about this a little last week. God makes the rules, and the law of chastity is crystal clear.

The Catechism has a helpful definition of chastity:

The inner unity of a human being, body and spirit. Sexuality becomes truly human when it makes a part of a lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman… either man governs his desires and finds peace, or he lets himself be mastered by them and becomes unhappy. (CCC 2337-8)

Ok. Second group of items on Jesus’ list. Greed, envy, theft. Which commandment? Or commandments? The Seventh and the Tenth. Thou shalt not steal nor covet.

When my neighbor has something good, and that very fact makes me sad, instead of happy; makes me want to have the good thing, rather than my neighbor having it—well, then I’m in trouble.

What’s the antidote? St. Paul wrote about “the desires of the Spirit,” as in the Holy Spirit. If we live the Catholic life, receiving divine grace through the sacraments and praying daily, then God will work within us. He will move us to desire Him. He will make us want the true happiness of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. When we want God, envy, greed, and theft, fall by the wayside.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments Moses

Third group. Arrogance, malice, murder. Which commandment? The Fifth.

God does not simply prohibit literally killing people, like in abortion or euthanasia. God prohibits not just killing people, but also hating people. When they came to take Jesus to the cross, He told Peter to put his sword in its sheath. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We must practice brotherhood. Some people practice tennis, or yoga. Fine. But Christians practice brotherhood, sisterhood.

Finally, the last group of items from Jesus’ list of sins: Blasphemy, deceit, folly. Which commandments? The Second and the Eighth.

We owe the ineffable mystery of God profound respect. We owe Him silence. We owe Him our attentive ear.

Yes, we must speak of Him sometimes. We’re not agnostics. We have a message to communicate to the world. God has revealed Himself, and He has entrusted His Holy Gospel to us, for us to spread and help souls get to heaven.

But we must exercise great restraint and discipline in speaking of God Almighty. Because His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. Like I said, we are most certainly not agnostics; we believe that God has revealed Himself fully in Christ. But: We give the genuine agnostics a grudging respect. Because they cultivate the skill of absolutely avoiding blaspheming the impenetrable awesomeness of God.

Now, that great God gave us our capacity to communicate, so we must use that capacity well. That means honesty. I daresay that ‘deceit’ might pose the greatest danger of all the items on Jesus’ list. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to…

Problem is: Good intentions can and do lead us down the path of deceit. Because we have Messiah complexes. I am a good person; I please everyone; I do good to everyone…

But wait. Oh, no! I double-booked myself. Or: Oh, no! I’m too tired or out-of-sorts to do that good deed, even though I said I would. Or: Gosh, I’m embarrassed by my own weaknesses and human limitations. I can’t bring myself to admit them even to myself.

So I lie.

Maybe I convince myself it’s a “white lie.” Maybe it protects someone else’s feelings. More likely: It protects my feelings. That is: my egomaniacal delusion that I am Mr. or Mrs. Super-Good Person.

Well, what could I have said, Father? Rather than that little white lie? How about… Nothing.

May God help us to avoid all the sins that Lord Jesus listed. And humbly try to do good.

Christ’s Groan

Christ looked up to heaven. And groaned. Then He commanded the ears and lips of the man to open.

Usually, when we hear the word ‘groan,’ we think of an expression of exasperated displeasure. “Accident on 81. Traffic backed-up twelve miles.” Groan. “Robert Griffin III injured again.” Groan. “Honey, Junior has a soccer tournament in the morning. In western Pennsylvania. The bus leaves the school parking lot at 5:15. Can you drop him?” Groan.

RGIII sign of the crossBut the groan of our Lord’s, during His intimate moment with the deaf-mute, and with the Father above—Christ’s groan indicated no exasperation. I think we can safely say that Christ never groaned over spilt milk in His life. Christ’s groan communicated something much more profound.

We read in the book of the prophet Ezekiel how the Lord commanded that the prophet groan. Groan, in order to teach the people that the day of the Lord is coming. Justice will be done.

Also, St. Paul says that we Christians groan within. We groan in this earthly tent of ours, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling. We groan, along with all creation itself groaning under the burden of sin, as we await our full adoption as God’s children.

And how about other times when Christ Himself groaned? He groaned when He found the people weeping over his friend Lazarus’ corpse. Then Christ groaned a second time, shortly after—right before He ordered Lazarus to get up and walk out of his tomb.

The groan of Christ does not express peevish displeasure with any trifling matter. It is a groan of longing. It is a groan, instead of a canticle, because God has united Himself in Christ with all of humanity’s suffering, all of the agony we bear. But Christ’s is not a groan of despair. Because, by groaning, Jesus, the new Adam, calls out with sovereign confidence for aid from above. Christ knows both our suffering and the Father’s kind will to comfort us. The Father does will to comfort us. Christ, and His own triumph over suffering and death, teaches us this fundamental truth: We were not made to suffer, we human beings. Not forever, anyway. We were made to exult.

Now, I have blithely skipped over perhaps the pre-eminent use of the word ‘groan’—pre-eminent both in Scripture and in general.

Of all those who groan, who groans with the most wrenching depth? Who groans with the most convincing eagerness? Gasping and panting…. Who is the champion of all who groan? Of course, the woman in labor. No one groans like her. We’re going to focus on mothers birthing babies for our ‘Labor’-Day-weekend sermon this year.

babyI don’t think it is an accident that the mother in labor shares with Christ in His great groan of longing, the groan He groans to the Father on behalf of our whole race. The groan that opened the ears of the deaf, that loosened the tongue of the mute, the groan that brought Lazarus back from the dead.

Some of us will never have children of our own. But that’s not the point exactly. We heard St. James exhort us, “Do not show partiality to those with rings and fine clothes. Do not despise the shabby ones, the poor child and the dark-skinned immigrant. God has promised the Kingdom to the ones with no extra cash.”

Forgive me, but I have to say this. Everyone know who Margaret Sanger is? Founded Planned Parenthood. And Donald Trump? I think everyone knows who he is. Anyway, what do they have in common? Rings and fine clothes? Maybe. But what they definitely have in common is: don’t like dark-skinned babies being born north of the Rio Grande.

My point is: Union with God in Christ means rejoicing at the birth of the poorest child. It means seeing with clear eyes that any newborn baby is worth a thousand Lexuses and a million rings. Because, through all the strife of mothers giving birth, through all the groaning, the Lord is giving us the future He wills for us. Through all this groaning, the Lord is opening up the only real door to the Kingdom of heaven. In the eyes of a poor child, the smile of a little child—a child who has nothing to his or her name, except his admiration for the shininess of the world.

We Christians cannot help but groan when we encounter the un-kept promises of Eden. The human race turned away from the Garden of God, just to build our own dingy castles the way we want them to be, according to all our supposed brilliance and awesomeness, on our own masterful terms. Why bother me to gaze at the dappled light on the mountainside? Can’t you see I’m checking my facebook! Pray? Who has time for such nonsense these days?

GROAN.

Christ’s groan says these two things at the same time: To the Father He cries, “See how my brethren suffer under the burden of having themselves shattered the paradise You made for them?” To us, Christ’s groan declares, “Groan with Me, my chosen ones, full-throated and unsparingly! Do not fall silent in despair. No. Groan and groan with me to the Father. Because He has plans for welfare, not for woe. This moment of trial and strife will pass. A beautiful future will soon be born.”

Fallen Man’s List

last-judgment

From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within, and they defile. (Mark 7:21-23)

Thus says the Lord. I think we can find a lot of answers by reflecting on these two sentences. First, let’s make sure we understand the words.

From within people, from their hearts, come… 1. Evil Thoughts. Okay, yes. As in, Yes, I know what that means. And, yes, I am guilty of it.

2. Unchastity All of us grown-ups know what that means? Unchaste acts or unchaste thoughts. Unchaste websites or unchaste smartphone apps–unchaste anything. Anything other than: love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

Theft. Murder. Adultery. Greed.
We know the definitions of these words, I think. On Wednesday, cold-blooded murder punched us square in the face. But let’s finish the list and come back to that.

7. Malice. Not an easy word to grasp the meaning of. The more prevalent malice is, the harder it is to see. It’s like the opposite of sunlight. The sunnier the day, the more sunlight we see. Malice is the opposite. The more malice there is around us, the more and more blind to it we become.

On the cross, Christ revealed how God thinks of us. No malice. God made Himself the victim of all the Devil’s immeasurable malice, because our Creator holds no malice in His heart towards us. He wills only that we would share the Father’s love. On Wednesday morning , we saw malice, in all its grotesque ugliness. But, like I said, let’s finish the words in the sentence, then we’ll come back to the $10,000 question.

Next word: Deceit. I think we know the meaning: wrongly keeping someone in the dark about the truth.

9. Licentiousness. Anyone know what that means? …Driver’s license, pilot’s license, license to practice medicine… License-tiousness. Artistic license can be a good thing, like when Michelangelo used artistic license in depicting the Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel. But taking moral license means saying to myself something like: “Keep holy the Sabbath is a great commandment, but I have a soccer game!” Or “I know I already ate ten cookies, and that’s gluttony. But I’m going to have another one anyway, because I want to. I give myself a license to have an eleventh cookie.”

10. Envy. We understand the word, I think. 11. Blasphemy. Speaking of God, or anything associated with God, without reverence. 12. Arrogance. Again, I know what it means. And I know that I am guilty of it.

Mr T13. Folly. Anybody remember Mr. T? I pity the fool. I pity the fool who acts or speaks without thinking. The fool who makes decisions without first asking, What would the Lord have me do?

Ok. That’s the whole list. Guilty we are. All of us, somewhere along the line. We are children of Adam and Eve, members of the fallen race, for whom Christ had to die, so that we could receive mercy instead of punishment.

The Jews had their customs (as we read at Holy Mass). All of their practices had some reasonable origin in the piety of their forefathers. Washing up before a meal? That’s a good habit to have. Like keeping the kitchen clean, and all the plates and pots and pans. Keeping the Sabbath, as a genuine day of rest and spiritual refreshment. All good.

When the Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees, He hardly intended to declare that eating with your hands dirty is the Law of the New Covenant. But: Carrying on as if washing my hands and letting the goyim do my work for me on the holy day… carrying on as if such things make a person righteous—that’s called hypocrisy. “A sinner? Oh, no. Not me! Look at my clean pots and plates!” That’s Pharisaism.

Because within us, within the innermost secret heart of any member of the human race, we can find the desperate smallness, the obtuse pride, the propensity to malice which somehow convinced Adam and Eve to trust the Devil, instead of God. The Devil managed to convince the First Parents of the human race that he is more honest than God.

He’s not, of course. Satan is a liar. The Liar. Maybe one reason why God let this terrible thing happen Wednesday is to remind us, each of us, in the secret center of our hearts:

“Look: You know neither the day nor the hour. This pilgrim life is fragile and short. Pray for the dead, pray for the suffering. And seek God. Seek God’s kingdom.” To find God, we just have to humbly admit that we need Him. Admit that we are gaping vortices of emptiness, without Jesus Christ.

After falling away from God by his pride, the devil despaired. Satan never hoped to find mercy. But that doesn’t make Satan a charmingly self-indulgent, fat, and rummy devil. His despair makes him, above all, perversely self-righteous.

The farthest thing away from Christ is not any particular item on the list of bad moves which children of Adam and Eve tend to make–the list which Christ spelled out for us in the gospel passage. The farthest thing away from Christ is the self-righteousness that would deny our need for Him. When we turn to our God on the cross, and open our inner floodgates, and cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”–He does.

Fat-free, Sin-free

“Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

“But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark 7:18-23)

You know, the last time I gave a homily on this particular passage of St. Mark, a couple approached me after Mass. They offered me the best compliment I have ever received in my life.

“Father, when you preach, you sound like Captain Kirk, of the starship Enterprise.”

milkshakeAnyway. First officer Spock, Uhuru, Sulu, Checkov, all my dear crew—let’s try to eat healthy. Lord Jesus obviously wants us to eat wholesomely, so that we can digest our sustenance properly.

But, if you’ll forgive me: Seems to be another upshot to the passage as well. Actually, the healthy digestion message would appear to take second place. Eat healthy, saith the Lord, to be sure. But He also seems to be saying: Avoid sin.

Don’t lie. Don’t nurse jealousy. Don’t order people around arrogantly. Don’t indulge yourself. Don’t be mean, or bitter, or self-righteous, or petty.

Because these things do a great deal more damage to us than a thousand-calorie milkshake.

We want good digestion and washboard stomachs, yes. But, more than that—much more than that—we want pure hearts. We want upright hearts. We want hearts at peace with our Maker.

Large milkshakes can make a person fat. But gossip and lust and impatience and a quick fuse can make a person defiled, says the Lord—and that’s worse. Lots of Big Macs? Probably not good. But: Selfishness? Self-centeredness? Worse.

So let’s eat healthy and be kind, humble, chaste, forbearing, faithful, honest, and disciplined, too.