Fasting and Corona

[written 2/28/20]

Corona beach

‘Why do your disciples not fast?’ Lord Jesus answered, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom remains with them? They will fast while He is away.’

So: Christian fasting involves mourning. Mourning the fact that we human beings have thoroughly messed up the good world that our heavenly Father made with perfect wisdom. We have disturbed the earth enormously by our willful selfishness.

Blessed are those who mourn. Because mourning and Christian fasting means recognizing reality. Seeing that we have sinned. And turning to God for mercy and for His gracious help. So that we can find the right path, and have the courage and strength to follow it.

Sickness, disease, epidemics, etc.—they affect mankind because of the Fall. We will discuss the Fall more this weekend. And the remedy for the Fall.

But right now, let’s pray hard. Some regions of the world have shut down because of this still-mysterious virus. When northern Italy closes for business for over a week, because of a sickness that began in China—not good.

Let’s pray and fast, asking God to help us find a cure for this virus quickly. And may it be something as simple and easy as drinking a Corona. 🙂

We mourn the sick and sinful state of this world, Lord. So we fast, awaiting the Bridegroom’s return. Come quickly. Help us. Comfort us.

Eating with Sinners vs. Shunning Gay “Marriage”

Christ dines with publicans sinners.jpg

“Why does He eat with sinners?” The Pharisees asked. We know the answer: “Because He came to call sinners.”

But what about shunning? Sometimes you have to refuse to eat with certain people, in order to retain some kind of personal integrity. We would certainly have to refuse to eat with militant white supremacists or plotting terrorists.

After all, Lord Jesus said: “If your brother sins against you, tell him his fault, between you and him…If he does not listen, take one or two brothers with you…If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile.”

St. Paul wrote: “Do not even eat with anyone who bears the name of brother, if he is guilty of sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, or swindling.”

marriage_sacramentSeems to me that the most-confusing gray area for us right now involves “gay marriage.”

On the one hand, a “marriage” ceremony missing the necessary man or woman to complement the other woman or man—that certainly offends God. Offends all the good, honest, faithful husbands and wives who have ever sacrificed and co-operated as friends in order to bear children and raise a family. Offends everyone who tries to use the word ‘marriage’ in an honest manner.

The very idea that two people of the same sex can ‘marry’ lies so far beyond the pale of honesty, in fact, that we probably do best just to ignore it. Better to see the whole pretense for the pitiable charade that it is. And try to respond with compassion.

Because, on the other hand: Some men do fall in love with other men, and some women with other women. And we cannot say that everything about such friendships is evil. That would not be true, at least not in every case.

And the aspect of the friendship that is evil may not be any of my business. Since homosexual marriage isn’t “wrong”—it’s simply impossible—then homosexual immorality remains a purely private matter, in and of itself. And private immorality only becomes my business when someone involved chooses to make it so.

We traditional Christians rightly resent the “gay lobby” for going on the warpath and trying to force our hands against our consciences. But that means we also have no right to go on the warpath, either.

We can’t go to any gay “weddings” as joyful guests. But, by the same token, we can’t cut people off, either—at least people who haven’t made any threats of violence. Family Fourth-of-July picnics and Thanksgiving dinners don’t need to become morality battlegrounds. Sometimes it’s perfectly Christian to pass the potato salad, smile, and talk about the weather.

Mercy at the Beginning and the End

That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Matthew 9:6)

confessionalThe mercy of God. We repent of our sins, beg His mercy, and receive forgiveness in the confessional.

Does ‘mercy’ mean, then: Forgiving the one who repents, and starting fresh, rather than holding the offense against the offender? Yes.

But there is more. Mercy comes at the end of reconciliation. But it also comes at the beginning.

God became the Lamb and spread out His arms on the cross first. Christ crucified revealed to the sinful human race the unfathomable depths of the eternal and infinite mercy of God.

Examining our consciences to prepare for a good confession takes mucho courage. None of us could ever find that kind of courage, except that we know ahead of time that God forgives. He loves us with the love of an infinitely patient father, who has taken out a huge insurance policy on the family car and smiles when we smash it up on our learner’s permit. We admit the truth because we know we have nothing to fear. ‘Okay, yes, dad. I was driving blindfolded. So-and-so dared me to do it.’

So: On the one hand, we reject the idea of “cheap grace.” You can’t presume on God’s love and never bother to search yourself, acknowledge your sins, and work hard to do better.

But, by the same token: we do not start with slavish fear of judgment. That only leads to compulsiveness and pharisaism anyway. We start with Christ crucified for the whole human race. We start knowing that God loves with mercy, that He made us out of love and mercy in the first place, and that our very desire to live in His friendship is itself a free gift of His mercy.

Saved How?

Christ was “moved with pity” for us. So He saved us.

goodshepherdChrist has saved us. We believe that—we utterly, completely believe that, since it’s the Christian faith.

But what exactly does it mean? What exactly does it mean to say that Jesus of Nazareth is our Savior? Thoughts?

Part One

Seems to me that we must first answer that Christ has saved us from condemnation after death.

We read that Christ took pity on us because we are “troubled and abandoned.” Troubled first and foremost by not knowing the meaning of life and the fate that awaits us after we die.

Without Christ’s offering of Himself on our behalf, we would have no hope of happiness in the life to come. We could only seek satisfaction in this life. And even the most genuinely satisfying joys we know of endure only so long.

Christ has saved us by turning the ultimate horizon of life into something luminous, rather than dark. We need not fear nor dread death; death no longer holds an enemy’s power over us.

Instead, we serenely acknowledge that life on earth is short. And we hope for a better life, a better realm in which to live, a place of true peace, with joy that doesn’t pass away.

But Jesus Christ saves us not just for the life to come. He also saves us here and now. He is alive and at work, using His infinite powers. He helps us directly, all the time. He gives holy inspirations and interior strength; He softens our hearts and clarifies our minds; He loves—with divine love—in us and through us. By virtue of that divine love, the heavenly life that we hope for begins even now.

Christ our Savior governs us from within. Because we believe, we can participate in the working of His perfect wisdom, simply by obeying Him. He took pity on us because we were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

Sheep can and will thrive and live happy lives, but never as rugged individualists. Sheep don’t do well when they try to stand out from the crowd. To the contrary, they relax and enjoy life precisely when their knowledgeable shepherd tells them where to go and when. They don’t resent him for it; they rejoice in his patient but firm guidance.

sheepChrist saves us by giving us His law to obey. Moral free-lancing does not suit us. Nor does blind conformity to the ways of our neighbors. No, we need the interior law of Christ. To have Christ in charge of us is itself salvation.

Part Two

How does Christ save us?

First and foremost, He saves us by giving us eternal life in heaven. We have no hope of such grandeur without Him. But He offers it to us freely.

But that’s not all. Christ also saves us here and now by healing our wounded souls by His grace and gathering us into His flock.

It’s hard to imagine anything more improbable than the catholic and apostolic Church. None of the principles of successful business or government have ever been followed. The Church makes no appeal to the worldly interests of mankind. To the contrary, She insistently demands that mankind cast away its worldly interests.

And yet this little band of spiritualists—which began with a pair of brother fishermen, a tax collector, and some revolutionaries—this little band has extended its weird, improbable tentacles to this place and this time. Using the same ceremonies and customs in force for almost two full millennia, Christ Himself gathers us and forms us into His obedient flock. Through the ongoing life of His Church, He infuses Himself into our lives, saving us from ten million foibles that we might not even know we would have, were it not for Him.

We need to be saved both from our own self-destructive individualism and from mindless conformity with the Joneses. We find that salvation in Christ’s Church.

And the communion of Christ’s obedient flock is not just a matter of the laity obeying the clergy. We clergy need to be saved from ourselves, too; we, too, must obey.

We all live in the peace enjoyed by Christ’s true sheep when we submit ourselves to the beautiful, motley reality that is the Church. The Church that got founded when Jesus said to the Twelve, “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

M*A*S*H and the Call of Matthew

MASH cast

Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. (Matthew 9:12)

These words of our Lord remind us of our Holy Father. Pope Francis has said that the Church is a field hospital. Which is cool, because then I can be Hawkeye Pierce.

I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 9:13/Hosea 6:6) The Lord also said that the true sacrifice He desires is: obedience. Not burnt animals, but obedience (I Samuel 15:22).

We find ourselves in the middle of a “war:” sin in this world. We suffer because we ourselves sin; we suffer because our neighbors sin; we suffer because our ancestors sinned. We suffer because, instead of obeying the kind will of our heavenly Father, we have filled history with many nonsensical undertakings. Not just the Korean War–nonsensical as it may, or may not, have been.

Disobeying God wounds souls. And those wounds need emergency care. They need the care of rough-and-ready medical personnel with generous hearts, like Col. Blake or Trapper. On M*A*S*H, they just listened for choppers and then got to work.

The war is real. The medicine is also real. In fact, in the field hospital of the Divine Physician, it’s open-Heart surgery.  The surgeon’s Heart is open.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

(From T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets)

The sin of the world makes our fever charts enigmatic. That is: we fail to make sense, we sinners. Someone has to resolve this unfathomable mystery, the mystery of human confusion. When we find a way to make sense, we’ll be healed.

Christ can make sense of us. Christ crucified, the surgeon with wounded hands. He treats our disobedience with the merciful medicine of His own perfect obedience.

Radar. Margaret. Klinger… Ultimately they all grew cynical about the war effort. But not in this field hospital. We may have personality quirks worthy of situation comedy. But we’re no cynics. Because the chief surgeon in this medical camp is the infinitely merciful, perfectly obedient Son of God.

Mourning Last Year, Rejoicing Now

Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Matthew 9:15)

Pope Francis waving

A year can make a great difference. A year ago this week, it rained and didn’t snow.

Also: Anybody remember what we mourned during the week of Ash Wednesday 2013? The fact that we had to face losing our pope. Pope Benedict announced his resignation during the week of Ash Wednesday last year.

This year we keep the beginning of Lent as a celebration of the first anniversary of the Lord giving us Pope Francis. Next Thursday: first anniversary of Francis on the loggia.

So, the gospel for the Friday after Ash Wednesday just keeps resonating for us: Last year, the Pope was taken away. The Vicar of Christ was taken away. This year, our beloved Holy Father keeps the season of Lent very much with us, alongside us.

Therefore: Yes, we fast. The Church fasts. The Pope fasts. We all fast. Because we still languish a long way away from the wedding banquet we seek to enter.

But we also rejoice, because the Lord has given us such a wonderful father as Pope Francis. Long may he continue to keep shepherding us toward the Lord.

Tharsei, My Child

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Courage, child. Your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9)

He saw their faith, which was great. Faith in Christ: He saves. His power conquers evil. Let’s get as close to Him as we possibly can, because with Him there is always hope.

He saw this great faith. He smiled. He said something in Aramaic, which St. Matthew rendered in Greek as tharsei.

Apparently, the Lord said the same word to the woman with the hemorrhage, who we heard about on Sunday. St. Matthew translates the word the Lord spoke to her with the same tharsei. And St. John also translated the Lord Jesus’ word of encouragement this way: When Christ spoke to the Apostles at the Last Supper, He concluded by saying, “In the world you will have trouble, but tharsei, my friends. I have overcome the world.”

When Christ sees faith—faith in the all-powerful, all-loving divinity of the Galilean rabbi; when the Messiah sees eyes of faith looking at Him and perceiving Who He really is, He responds by saying: Take heart! Be of good cheer! Bolster your spirits! Embolden yourselves.

Why does He say this to those who believe in Him? Because all really will be well. Because He really has conquered death. Because heaven really does await those who serve Him faithfully.

Couragio. Be not afraid.