Heading to High School as the Light of the World

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico

[homily for our students finishing seventh grade]

You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Lord Jesus says this to us.  Clear as day, He said it.  He said this during His famous Sermon on the…

We are the light of the world.

But, wait a minute, Lord.  Didn’t You say that You are the light of the world?

Didn’t the Lord Jesus say that He is the light of the world?  Clear as day, He did.  “I am the light of the world.”  John 8:12.  Also John 9:5.

Who is the light of the world, then?  The Son of God?  Or us?

Yes.

Christ, the High Priest of creation.  Christ, Who makes existing mean something.  Who spread out His arms on the Holy Cross as a declaration:  Truth and love will conquer.  This earth is not just a mess of atoms, or a tragic chaos arcing toward smelly putrescence.  No. This earth will have an eternal springtime.  And the dew on the grass will be the light of God.

Christ’s High Priesthood means that His light shines through us, since we are His ministers, priests of the cosmos with Him.

Soon you dear young people will enter high school.  But you are already priests of the most-high God.  Because you can offer yourselves, everything you are, everything you experience, everything you hope for from the future—you can offer it all to God as a pure sacrifice.  And when we offer ourselves in union with the Son of God, the Father receives the sacrifice with infinite pleasure.

After all, what does the divine Son offer to the Father?  Everything—everything, suffused with death-conquering hope.  We can offer that, too.

When we live, and move, and have our being in God, we offer everything to Him, just like Jesus. And this holy sacrifice of ours—Jesus’, and ours—it lights the world with a brilliance greater than a thousand suns.

Go First and Be Reconciled with Your Brother

The anger of man worketh not the justice of God. (James 1:20)

What does worketh the justice of God? The crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Christ is the justice, the righteousness, the wisdom of God. Christ became our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption—by being God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s eternal truth.

Our souls move with anger when we perceive injustice, just like they move with hunger when our stomachs are empty. To be human is to experience anger. No one can live on earth without experiencing anger at least once or twice.

But, weak and feeble vessels that we are, we must in conscience pause to answer this question: With whom, really, do I have a right to be angry? Who truly deserves my particular wrath?

I think we can say, upon reflection, that the only person who truly deserves to feel the heat of my anger would be the person for whom Christ did not die. When I meet someone for whom Christ did not die, then let me vent my spleen. Then let me blow my top. Then let me holler and caterwaul and go ballistic and rip someone a new you-know-what.

In the meantime, while I live out the rest of this pilgrim life among fellow sinners, let me try to remember that Christ died for each of us and for all of us. We have that in common, all these brother sinners and me. We all have that in common, that we each needed the atoning sacrifice of Christ–in order for us to have any hope whatsoever for anything other than everlasting hell.

Let me remember that I myself have no righteousness, other than the righteousness of Jesus–which Jesus wants everyone to have. And then let me try to take another look at whatever situation strikes me as so offensive. Let me try to see it from the Christian point-of-view. Let me try to see it as Jesus Himself sees it. From His throne, the cross, where He suffered excruciating agony for all of us and for each of us.

Quirky in Law

Put the snow on the ground and today’s gospel reading together, and we realize: the Winter of the Sermon on the Mount has not yet ended.

The Law. The Lord proposed a set of laws to a people–to our people, the People of God. The law binds, and its precepts oblige us to sometimes-difficult acts of self-denial. Because the precepts of the moral law all rest on one fundamental concept: loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Rachel Maddow MSNBCWe Catholics do not always have the same take on civil law that some of our countrymen have. We hold what a lot of people regard as “quirky” positions.

We would say that our positions are not quirky, but rather proceed logically from our fundamental presumption that laws concern, above all, the common good. A law is: “An ordinance of reason directed to the common good.” St. Thomas Aquinas. All cases do not fit one mold, of course, and individual liberty must be preserved–but always as measured with respect to the common good.

Someone might then ask us, “Well, do you insist on a common sexual morality for the sake of the common good? Or do you insist on government action to address economic injustice for the common good? Is your issue the sanctity of marriage and family, or is it poverty, “income inequality?”

To which question, we blithely answer, Yes. Greta van Susteren could ask us, or Rachel Maddow–and the answer would be the same. “Are you Catholics more hung up on sexual morality and unborn babies, or on championing the cause of the immigrant and the poor?” Yes.

A lot of people think we hold our quirky positions because we have a quirky religion. The irony is that we hold our positions precisely because we don’t have a quirky religion.

Greta van Susteren FoxWe don’t hold the false religion that ridiculously maintains that an individual’s unchaste acts don’t have any consequences for other people. We are totally secular when it comes to that religion, so we can see with our own eyes that it isn’t true. One person acts unchastely, another person suffers for it.

Nor do we hold the false religion that ridiculously maintains that an invisible force called “the market” will automatically keep poor people from suffering inhuman burdens. We are totally secular when it comes to that religion, too, and we see with our own eyes that it isn’t true. We see the obvious fact that some people enjoy the blessed privilege of using capital creatively, and they should be rewarded for it. But not everyone does–most people don’t, in fact. The wealth of our nation belongs to everyone, and everyone must have a decent share in it.

Also, we hold the outlandish position–held also by quirky people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.–that prayer and religion hold the key to a nation having just laws. We believe the first duty we have as a nation is to God, Who knows better than we do how to govern, and that we will thrive precisely to the extent that we submit to His gracious will. May He gives us the wisdom to continue to live together in this country in a just and loving manner.

More Sermon on the Mount

Gospel reading at Holy Mass today seems eerily familiar. We just heard it at Sunday Mass 3 ½ weeks ago.

“I am the Lord, your God.” That sentence is enough, really, to indicate to us the demands of Christian morality. The Sermon on the Mount just spells things out in detail to make it easier for us.

Do not murder, do not despise, do not yell at people, do not so much as nurse the smallest grudge. Why? Because God above will judge justly. We do not know how to do that. Judging people is above our pay-grade. We are much better-suited to kneeling down and begging God for mercy.

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_AngelicoAlso, the Lord, our God, will provide. Sin duda. So we need not fight among ourselves. We need not contend for what we think we ought to have, to get it out of the hands of someone else. God will give us all what we need. Our job is to be friends, as best we can. So we can praise the heavenly Father together in peace.

Then we get to go to heaven. The scribes and the Pharisees fought with each other about how to be righteous, and they never conceived of the heaven that God has prepared for those who love Him.

But Lord Jesus makes promises of an altogether higher order: I am the Lord your God Who gives heaven. Stop fighting. Make a humble peace. Why fight over the petty things of this pilgrim life when you could be walking towards heaven together?

Sermon-on-the-Mount Sense & Motivation

moses_ten_commandmentsThe Commandments do not come from some place far away from our experience. Granted, the Lord spelled them out as a list of ten on Mount Sinai, which does seem like a long way away from here. But the tables given to Moses do not say anything which we do not, in our heart of hearts, already know. Starting with the first commandment, that we acknowledge God. Truth is, all the rest of the commandments follow from #1.

And we know, practically from the womb, that a glorious Power greater than us made all and governs all. We know that our job, our common task, our vocation as human beings bound together by our inherent social nature, is: To serve the grand designs of God as faithfully and as lovingly as we possibly can. We cannot consistently maintain any other vision of life, unless we lull ourselves into living a lie by repeated acts of self-debasement. God’s plan involves glorious goodness beyond what we can imagine. He gives us the insight and the honesty to know that we must diligently and consistently serve His plan. Humbly. That’s why we exist.

So when the Lord Jesus ascended His own mount and gave a sermon explaining the Ten Commandments, unfolding all of their profound demands, He was really explaining to us the most fundamental imperatives of our own hearts. He explained what our own consciences demand of us when we give ourselves the peace and quiet to hear it.

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Dead Sea Salt

Dead Sea these days
Dead Sea these days

The third graders at Roanoke Catholic and I were chatting about the various bodies of water that we hear about in the gospels. Among them, the Salt Sea, also known as the Dead Sea, certainly intrigues the nine-year-old mind. When the children learned that I myself have not only seen the Dead Sea, but have actually gone swimming in it, they sat speechless, mouths agape, eyes wide with wonder.

“Did you taste the water?” Honestly, I tried to avoid it. But I am not a dexterous swimmer, so I wound up with a mouthful, and it was disgusting. It takes the whole rest of the day, and multiple bottles of Deer Park, to get the foul salty savor out of your mouth.

Indeed, the salts of the Dead Sea are notoriously impure. The ancients appear to have had a process for purifying the salt of the Dead-Sea water. They dug large holes in the clayey sand on the shore and filled them up with seawater. Then they let the sun burn off some of the water, until the little pool was just five feet deep. At this point in the evaporation process, the most pure salt lay in a crust at the bottom of the pool. So they would wade in and dig the salt out with their feet.

Even after using this purification process, and subsequently washing the salt with fresh water, the salt of the Dead Sea still had to be used promptly, or it would go bad, decay, become insipid and useless as a preservative, or for flavor. We are accustomed to salt shakers sitting around indefinitely without any problems, because we have highly purified salt. But that could lead us into a fool’s paradise, when it comes to understanding the Lord Jesus’ little parable about insipid salt. Let me explain.

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