The Oil of the Wise Virgins

William_Blake_-_The_Parable_of_the_Wise_and_Foolish_Virgins

Today at Holy Mass, we read the Parable of the Ten Virgins. They await the bridegroom’s arrival, deep into the night. Then, behold, he comes! But only five of the young ladies have an extra flask of oil, to keep their torches burning.

Here’s a little compendium of links to the homilies I have given about the parable, over the years.

The Ten Virgins at Super Bowl XXII (2020)

The Wise Virgins’ Oil (2018)

The Wise Virgins’ Parable (2017)

The Mass is the Oil (2017) I remember giving this one in the basement social hall at St. Francis, while the workers were laying the new hardwood floor in the church above us.

Where is Time Headed (2012)

In Here, Lord? (2011)

Hamlet + Ten Virgins (2011)

If the necessary oil represents a completed manuscript of Ordained by a Predator, sent to a potential publisher, then yours truly is good. Thank you for praying. 🙂 It’s all in the Lord’s hands now.

 

 

Risks of Love

ten-thousand-dollar-bill-salmon-p-chase

The parable of the talents, which we read at Holy Mass tomorrow. Two points. [Spanish]

1. The investment strategy of the first two servants: risky or conservative?

A “talent” was the annual salary of a skilled worker, $50,000 in today’s money. The master gave the first servant $250,000 to invest; the second got $100,000.

How much time did they have to work with? How long did it take for them to double their money? The parable says that the master took a “long trip abroad.” Maybe a couple years. Probably not seventy years.

I bring up seventy years because: At today’s interest rates, and adjusting for inflation, it would take seventy years to double your money by putting it into a safe savings account. The first and second servants doubled their money much more quickly than that. They took big risks. They could have lost everything their master gave them. He could have returned from his trip to find those first two servants penniless. But he didn’t. Their risks paid off.

Meanwhile the third servant got intimidated by all the big numbers and risk taking. He thought to himself, “I don’t belong with these high rollers.” The master had given him $50,000. Not as much as the first two, but still a lot of money. He played it safe. He protected himself from potential catastrophe. He hid everything he had, in a secret place, away from prying eyes.

In sports, if you have a lead and then just play defense and try to run out the clock, what happens? You almost always lose.

sacredheartPoint 2. At the beginning of the parable, the Lord Jesus said that it explains the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, He was not talking Wall Street in this parable; it’s not really about money. The talents in the parable represent something else. What do they represent?

What chapter of the Bible is this? Matthew 25. What comes at the end of that chapter? We will read it next Sunday. The separation of the sheep from the goats. The king tells the sheep, “Come inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, because you loved Me when I needed it. You welcomed, fed, clothed, comforted, and healed Me.” They say, “When did we see you, Lord?” He answers: “When you did it for these least brethren of Mine, you did it for Me.”

The cash in the Parable of the Talents represents love and kindness, openness and understanding, patience and gentleness. The first two servants received a lot of “money”—that is, the Lord gave them big, devout hearts. They proceeded to love dangerously with them. They loved without holding back. They risked everything—they risked themselves. They gave themselves over completely to the work of loving God and neighbor. They had faith; they trusted in God. They feared nothing.

Meanwhile, the third servant received a pretty big heart also. He could have used it to love God and his neighbor, but he didn’t bother. He feared potential dire consequences. He did not consider himself an adventuresome person, when it came to caring about anything. “That’s for heroes, and people like that, not me,” he thought to himself. “I just need to make sure that no one gets mad at me. I don’t want to get hurt.”

We cannot serve both God and mammon. We have to choose one. We have to choose God and despise all the pomp and circumstance of this passing world. But we serve God well in the same way that worldly people make a lot of money: by risking everything. By fearlessness. By jumping out into some unknown situation because I believe I have something good to offer that no one else does.

The point of the Parable of the Talents is: No one ever made it to heaven by loving God and neighbor timidly. Half-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ never did anyone any good. God gave us everything, and, as the parable has it, He is a “demanding man.” He expects us to risk ourselves completely for His glory. We owe Him nothing less than that.

What do we imagine the master in the parable did during his long journey abroad? Did he play it safe? Did he go somewhere comfortable, some place he had visited before? Where do we figure he got the $400,000 he gave his servants in the first place?

He obtained his fortune by going on adventures. He traveled in dangerous places, in order to give the world something new and good. His creativity, confidence, and energy provided the servants with something to work with themselves.

We do not have to come up with zeal and love out of nothing. God gives us what we need to work with, in order to do something good—namely, ourselves. We just have to risk ourselves fearlessly, so that the good thing He has begun in us can come to fruition.

God is undying, infinite love. That’s what we believe. That’s what Christ crucified teaches us. If we believe that, then we have no excuse for being afraid to love Him back, and love our neighbors, with everything we have.

The Ten Virgins at Super Bowl XXII

last-judgment

The Lord Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe this, the seventh article of the Christian Creed. The parable of the Ten Virgins, which we will hear at Holy Mass tomorrow, helps us to meditate on this article of faith. In the parable, the arrival of the bridegroom at the wedding represents the second coming of Christ. The groom’s arrival represents the final judgment and the consummation of all things. [Spanish]

The virgins in the parable represent all of us who believe in the Creed. The ceremony of an ancient Palestinian wedding involved a torch-lit procession, leading the groom to the couple’s new home. The parable centers around one item in this procession: the oil needed to make the processional torches burn.

The ten young ladies came to the house, to celebrate the marriage of their friends. All ten looked forward to a delightful feast, a party that would last for days. Maybe the young women had thoughts in their minds like, “I will see young Mr. Eligible and Handsome So-and-so at this party!”

TP_278400_LYTT_DWILLIAMS_1These ten had been chosen to participate in the solemn joy by doing a specific sacred office. They were to illuminate the dark night in front of the bridegroom as he made his final steps to the house. Then the feast could begin.

The bridegroom took his time in coming. Maybe his camel had a bum leg. The virgins waited for hours for word that the groom had reached the edge of town. The young ladies got sleepy and dozed off. It was late. No foolishness in any of this.

Among those dozing ten ladies, however, there were two distinct groups. The five members of the first group had thought ahead. They anticipated what would happen when the word came to go out into the night to meet the groom.

At that moment, with no time to spare, each torch-bearer would have to pour a little flagon of oil into her torch, as someone came down the line with a taper to light all the torches. These torches held only enough oil to burn for a half-hour or so—just long enough to escort the groom from the edge of town to the house.

As the ladies dozed, the first group slept in peace. They had little flagons of oil in their pockets. They were ready. They were wise.

Some of you know how my brother and I got to go to Super Bowl XXII, thirty-three years ago. We were goofy teenagers, to be sure, but not altogether foolish. A business associate of my father had given him two real Super Bowl tickets. My father gave them to us. If my brother and I had flown to San Diego and caught the bus to Jack Murphy Stadium, without any tickets in our pockets, that would have been, as the Lord put it, foolish.

That, however, is basically what the other five young ladies did. They came to the Super Bowl with the right jersey on, with their favorite player’s number, and with a placard that read, “Go, Doug Williams!” or “We love the Hogs!” But they never stopped to ask themselves, “How will we get into the stadium?”

The time to light the torches came, and the five fools only then thought to themselves, “Wait. I guess these things require some kind of fuel?”

Which brings us to the decisive question: In the Lord’s parable, what does the oil for the torches represent?

The Lord Jesus Christ will come again to judge. At that moment, which could come anytime, what must we have? What is the ‘ticket’ that we need, to enter the stadium of heaven, where the Washington Redskins will reign as Super Bowl Champions forever?

Seriously: What will make our torches burn, to welcome Christ when He comes? What is the oil we will need then, to participate in the final procession into the Kingdom of God?

I think the answer is so simple, yet so hard to achieve, that we might make this more complicated than we have to. What each of us needs is: a clear conscience.

When Jesus comes, He needs to find us with hearts fundamentally at peace. Since all of us have sinned, that means the oil is Divine Mercy. The tender love of the Savior’s Heart, living inside mine. That alone gives a sinner peace. And it makes me a just and honest person. It makes me into the kind of companion that can forgive a fellow sinner and start over in peace.

Then we can go in and enjoy the wedding.

The Catholic Banquet

Zubaran agnus dei

At Holy Mass on Sunday we will hear a parable from the gospel, about a king giving a wedding feast for his son. The marriage in question involves the Lord Jesus Christ and all our souls, each individual soul. [Spanish]

God made me, and He exercises ultimate control over the entire course of my life. Every day—every moment—involves an invitation. The loving, almighty hand of God lavishly arrays everything that I experience. All for one reason: to communicate love. To give life. To open up the infinite horizon of friendship with Him.

When did Jesus weep? He wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. But that wasn’t the only time. Once, as He approached Jerusalem as a pilgrim, He paused on the hill overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Temple Mount beyond, and He wept. “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those whom the Lord sends to you. How many times have I longed to gather your children together, like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

God demands my attention, more urgently than anything else. Who has more of a claim on me than He does? My Creator has a right to expect my devoted love.

But… He’s invisible. And so confoundedly silent. He seems aloof. Intentionally mysterious. Is He really, you know—there?

Let’s not forget about the banquet in the parable, the “calves and fattened cattle” that the king prepared for his guests. We do not seek friendship with God in an arid wasteland. We don’t have to invent our own religion, based on our own clever insights. We seek friendship with God at a fully stocked banquet table that He has prepared.

He became man. He gave Himself for us on the cross, and then rose again to minister in heaven as our High Priest. He founded a Church and endowed Her with holy writings and sacraments. He has given us a religion, which allows our friendship with Him to grow through the whole course of our humble lives on earth.

God prepared this banquet of grace, this great, undefinable “thing” that is Christianity, Catholicism. He made it; I didn’t. It’s not for me to understand it all, just like it’s not for wedding guests to know all the recipes for every item on all the banquet tables. My job—our job—is to partake. If I make my own understanding of God the measure of my friendship with Him, forget it. After all, the closer we get to God, the more we realize how little we understand.

What I do or don’t do, what I understand or don’t understand—none of that makes or breaks my religion. Most of us hardly know what we are doing most of the time, anyway. What really matters is that God has intervened in history. He founded a Church.

Now, to be sure, our Church clearly has some serious problems. Also, no one has an obligation to go to Mass right now, because of the virus. But my point is this: the Catholic Church’s fundamental institutions deserve my trust and devotion, because they are the means by which I receive God’s grace. When I trust in the mystery of divine love revealed by Christ, I can partake of the banquet of heaven at the altar. I just need to take my place among all the sinners who need that grace.

The king of the parable really just wants everyone to be happy, but he is utterly demanding in one way. He invites us to the wedding banquet of His only Son, and we must accept. If we fail to accept the invitation, we lose our one chance at finding meaning in life. We accept the invitation by believing—believing in Christ and in the sacraments He instituted, and frequenting the sacraments at the right time, and under the right circumstances, of course, considering the public-health situation we face.

No matter what our particular individual circumstances right now, having to do with the virus, or being suspended from ministry, or whatever might get in the way–the main thing is faith. And hope: looking forward to better days, when we can live the life of the Church together, in peace.

Those days will come. In the meantime, we share in the banquet by believing, hoping, praying, and receiving the sacraments insofar as that is possible.

PS. Happy Feast of Saint Dennis 🙂

St Denis
Statue of St. Denis in Virginia Museum of Fine Art

Wicked Tenants, Right and Wrong

In the parable of the Wicked Tenants, the vineyard owner had fully equipped the vineyard ahead of time. He had developed it expertly, and he leased it to the tenants only when it was ready to produce plenty of wine annually. The tenants just had to put in their daily work. [Spanish]

grape vine mosaicOf course the tenants owed the landlord his rent, the portion they had agreed to pay when he leased the vineyard to them. Paying up would not have caused them any problems, provided they had worked diligently. They would have had plenty to live on, even after having paid the rent.

We read in the parable about how the tenants not only refused to pay the rent, they even became murderous in their refusal to do so. What made them neglect their duty, to the point of such violence? Had they gotten lazy, failed to work like they should have, and wound up with too little to pay the rent and also survive? Had they grown greedy and selfish? Did they want to keep it all for themselves, even though they had more than enough? Did their greed make them resent the landlord’s demand for his rent, even though he had every right to it?

Maybe the explanation for the tenants’ wickedness has to do with the landlord’s absence from the vineyard. The tenants did not know where he was. They assumed that he sojourned far away. His role in their lives impressed itself upon them every day, since it was the landlord who had provided them this well-appointed vineyard in the first place. The landlord remained present there, in the orderly rows of grape plants he had cultivated, and the equipment he had built.

But the tenants did not see the landlord. In their shortsightedness and self-centeredness, they grew to distrust him as an absentee. They resented him for going away, and they abandoned their loyalty to him. ‘He has nothing to do with us, so we will have nothing to do with him! He does not deserve our rent payments, and when he sends emissaries to collect the rent, they deserve death! And now he has the temerity to send his own son, as if that will win us over. No way! We will relish killing the son and casting off the bitter yoke of this absentee landlord forever.’

There are two ways of looking at what God demands of us. When our souls rest in spiritual consolation and peace, we can perceive that Almighty God has given us everything, and that He has done so freely, out of infinite love. All He asks is that we love Him back. And He asks for our love not for His sake, but for ours. By believing in God and loving Him, we save ourselves from giving our hearts to something beneath our dignity.

There is another way of seeing all this, however. It starts with: Where is this God? Not here; we see nothing of Him. Maybe—just maybe—He started this whole mess, back at the Big Bang. But we have not seen hide nor hair of Him since. What’s more, He is impossible to be friends with. When you give Him a chance, He demands too much. For Him to expect us to submit completely to His will? And accept that His absence and invisibility is not only ok, but actually for the best? He demands that we gaze at an ancient crucified carpenter, and offer our entire lives to that man? We must be willing to die for such a dreamer as Jesus of Nazareth? Come on. Too much.

Two perspectives on the one, actual, real God. Both 100% on-the-money. It is perfectly true that God demands nothing from us and only gives. He gives us the duties of religion only to benefit us. But it is also perfectly true that God demands the kind of faith and devotion that ultimately costs us everything. His demands are extreme; there’s no middle way, no real way to hedge our bets. Either you go all-in, bound to Christ unto death, or you wind up cursing God and hating Him, when the comforts of this passing life inevitably fade.

All the exterior “vineyard equipment” in the parable represents the interior powers that the Lord has given us to work with in life. We have inside us the capacity to seek the truth. We have the capacity to behold beauty. We have the capacity to love—to love not just comfort, not just a full belly and a warm bed–but to love another human being for that human being’s sake; to desire the happiness of another, not just my own.

The good Lord equipped us to do these things with our souls. When we do them, we wind up producing plenty of “produce.” The more we bestir ourselves to seek the truth, the more zeal we have for it. The more we quiet ourselves and behold beauty, the more beautiful we ourselves become. The more selflessly we love, the more love we have inside ourselves.

Then the rent seems like no burden at all—to give God the glory. We owe Him everything. When we give Him ourselves, He gives us much more than we had before.

The Gift of Daily Rhythm

alarm clock

Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Monks pray. They chant psalms and canticles to give God glory. [Spanish]

Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Nurses in hospitals see to their patients’ medications. Make notes. Change shifts.

Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Worksite managers drink coffee out of big tumblers and plan, supervise, order equipment and materials. Chew the fat with customers, architects, engineers. Talk football.

Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Rehab patients and nursing-home residents contend with their aches, their pains, and their loneliness. They await their meals, their p.t. and o.t., their baths or showers, and their meds. They tune into their tv shows. They hope someone will sign-up for a social-distanced visit. Maybe they read their Bibles and pray.

Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Students arise, eat cereal or pop-tarts, maybe stress-out about the homework they haven’t done. They get on the computer and try to learn something remotely. They get called-on via Zoom. They get bored. They turn off the camera and fall asleep.

Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Depressed people suffer, suffer–with every tick-tock minute poking the scalp like sixty little needles, one second after another. Landscape workers sweat in the sun, dirt grinding into the skin of their fingers. At Waffle House, they sling the hash; at Mickey D’s they drop the fries. Truck drivers look through the windshield down the highway and plan their next bathroom/coffee stop. The unemployed wait in agony for e-mails to come.

How could we get through life without the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms? This year with a pandemic has broken our rhythms–which makes us appreciate all the more whatever rhythms we can manage to have. The bishop broke my rhythm pretty badly. Thank you, Lord, for sending me work to do.

The rhythm that makes the passage of time endurable always involves some kind of work. Work makes time a friend, an ally, a partner. On the other hand: when you’re idle, time becomes a mud patch, an enemy, a dark confusing cloud of frustrated non-possibilities.

At Holy Mass tomorrow, we will read the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. What exactly does this parable teach? The main lesson is: the owner of the vineyard is generous. “I am generous,” he said.

We earn our daily bread by the sweat of our brows. We get to sleep the sound sleep of the just by working hard, from dawn to dusk. But did we earn these brows, upon which we sweat? Did we earn these hands we use? Do we receive 24 hours every day because we pre-paid for their delivery?

No. A huge gift came first. We have what it takes to build up a rhythm of life because God gave us us. The idea that I deserve even to exist: that idea is the gravest enemy my spiritual life can have. If I start kidding myself that I somehow gave myself the morning sun; if I start tallying all the benefits and perks that my illustrious efforts deserve, then I run a grave risk. I will find myself standing there with just one little denarius in my hand at the end of the day. When I frown, the Lord will ask me, “Are you envious because I am generous? I have paid you fairly.”

The vineyard owner in the parable was rich, rich in a higher order of magnitude than the laborers he hired. The owner did not deal in loose change. The standard wage for a day’s labor was a denarius. The owner didn’t have any smaller coins. All the workers got the same pay, whether they started at dawn or at 5pm.

The owner did not think twice about it, because a denarius was loose change to him. He needed able-bodied workers in his vineyard, for however many hours he could have them, as many workers as he could find. He had a lot of ripe grapes to pull from the vines.

Some people live in run-down double-wides, and some live in mansions with wall-to-wall carpet and tropical fish tanks. Who really deserves either one? And, in the end, what difference does it make? I could fight all my life to win the esteem of men, to consume daily gourmet meals, to rack-up professional accomplishments and little performance-review trophies. I will still die as naked as I was born.

God gives me today. For free. We will all die wretched and miserable deaths unless we spend the rest of our lives trying to grasp this one simple fact. God gives. God gives the dawn. And 9am. And noon. And 3pm. And the evening.

He gives it all, to everyone, every day, freely.

The Super-Rich King and 9/11

twin-towers

At this Sunday’s Holy Mass, we will read a parable from St. Matthew’s gospel. Our English translation of the parable refers to a debtor owing “a huge amount” to his employer. The original Greek text reads “ten thousand talents.” The current U.S. dollar equivalent would be: $225,000,000. [Spanish]

In the royal throne room, the official groveled before his master.  Again, to translate literally from the Greek: the debtor did the king homage by kissing the royal hands and then prostrating himself on the floor.

Now, this king had some money. He possessed stunning power and largesse. The extent of his resources made even this particular IOU of 225 million seem small. He knew this poor little spendthrift of a provincial official would never be able to pay it back. The official had squandered the money on some terrible idea.

But the king liked the official anyway. Maybe the king enjoyed the official’s sense of humor, or appreciated his political loyalty, or maybe the official had superior military skills. Who knows?

‘Come on, get up, old boy! What’s $225 million among friends?  Go home, and give your wife and kids a kiss for me.’

Here’s the question: What kind of king is this? How did he manage to amass so much wherewithal that he could wave off a debt of a quarter-billion dollars without batting an eyelash, smiling indulgently?  Who has the power, the confidence, and the resources to act with such otherworldly magnificence?

Nineteen years since 9/11. Let’s remember: There is one point-of-view from which the Twin Towers in New York City, even when they stood a quarter-mile high, did not look tall. Those of us old enough to remember, we can tell our young people: ‘From the ground, those two towers made for an awesome spectacle.’ Someone Else, however, looked down upon them, with all-knowing eyes. They looked small to Him.

How can we Christians find it in ourselves to be genuinely forgiving?  How we say something like: “I hope everyone who died on September 11, 2001, can get to heaven somehow. Everyone. I pray for the thousands, of good guys. And I pray for the 19 bad guys, too. May we all be in heaven together someday.’

How can a Christian muster the magnanimity to pray for his enemies? To love his enemies. To want nothing other than to live in the Kingdom of God with both friends and foes alike?

I’ll tell you one thing: Will-power alone cannot bring it off. We human beings do not become merciful by our own force of will. The evil of the world dwarfs our natural virtues. If we presume to go up against the malice of Satan without God’s grace, we will be crushed instantly in a hail of debris.

But we can be merciful, because God is great. We can share in His infinite resources.

The Lord looks down and sees the world, His handiwork. When part of it is scarred by the ugliness of evil, He immediately sees how, by His infinite power, He will heal and rebuild. Because He sees a world full of His children. Not one falls outside the reach of His love. When one sins, He sees immediately how He will move the sinner to repentance by the calm light of truth. All things will be made right by the blood of Christ. The sinner will not be lost.

In other words, God has a bank account big enough to cover the most outrageous debts. When the planes and the buildings came crashing down on September 11, the Lord thought: This is terrible. But of course I will pour out everything needed to bring good even out of this, and the sun will rise again. God’s love makes even the most tremendous catastrophe look small. God always has a way to heal it, and make all things new.

The divine safety net of mercy will never collapse. It is no ponzi scheme. The Lord loans and loans and loans, never expecting repayment. And infinitely more wealth still sits in the Almighty bank.

May His Kingdom come. May He give us our daily bread. May He forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

To go back to the Greek text of the gospel reading one more time.  Our translation has it that the second servant owed the first “a very small amount.” Approximate calculation from the original text, in our currency:  $35.

The first servant owed the king $225 million. The second servant owed the first $35.

Certainly, you and I owe each other $35 here and there. Let’s make apologies, and do what we can to make it right. Then we can forget all about it, and we can go together to kiss the King’s hands and prostrate ourselves before Him. He will smile to see us together.

Infinite Love and Unfathomable Hate

devil sewing tares

This week’s parable comes as a sequel to last week’s. Last week we focused on the sower of the seed in the farm field. [Spanish]

In this week’s parable of the weeds among the wheat, they came to the sower and asked him:

Sir, didn’t you sow good seed? Where have all the weeds come from? We know you scattered some seed among thorns and thistles, hoping for the best. But now we see weeds growing even in the good soil, interspersed with the wheat plants. Who put those bad seeds in with the good?

An enemy has done this.

God made us to grow in healthy fruitfulness, to flower, to reach the fullness of divine love. Out of what did He make us? The clay of the earth, yes. But not only that. With His limitless genius, He formed us in His divine image and likeness. He breathed into us the breath of spiritual life.

He made us for peace, for fair dealings with each other, for friendship. He gave us the talents we need to build cities and communities worthy of children of God.

But we know the field has aggressive, harmful weeds. We know that alongside our talents to build something good together, by God’s Providence, we also have perverse capacities. The capacity to abuse everything good, and to despise God’s Providence.

skinscowboysSometimes it seems that things have gotten so complicated and messed-up in human society that we can hardly hope for the good things God made us for. An enemy has done this. The devil exists. If we didn’t think so before, certainly the year AD 2020 has taught us that the devil prowls about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.

Health-care workers taxed beyond the limits of human endurance. The whole country confused about what will happen next. Will my job be there much longer? Plus, months of summer with no baseball. And the end of the Washington Redskins. It’s like the Cowboys have won. Forever. Satan has triumphed.

Seriously, though. The Evil One has his minions, the legion of fallen angels. They exist. They tempt every human being to sin.

God made us to do good. But our First Parents succumbed, when Satan tempted them to disobedient pride. So we get born in weakness and interior disorder. Doing good comes hard, requires us to organize and discipline ourselves. Doing evil comes easy.

The demons despise us. We have to remember: It is impossible for us mortals to imagine just how much the demons hate everything that is beautiful about human beings. Let me repeat that, because it is crucially important: Our minds do not have the depth necessary to comprehend fully how much the demons hate us.

This explains why the Master told them to wait, rather than try to pull up the weeds. We cannot competently judge the situation fully. It’s not that we might fall into cynicism in our judgments about good and evil. That’s not really the danger. Rather, we will fall into naivete. We will always, always under-estimate the real evil-ness of demonic evil.

the-fallWhy do I say that? We human beings simply cannot help but try to see meaning in things. Because the meaning is actually there. God has a reason for all His works, and His reason is infinite love. Therefore, everything that happens has a kind of infinite meaning. We naturally seek to understand that meaning. We string events together in our minds; we conceive of them as part of a drama, tending toward a meaningful outcome. We believe that strife bears fruit. Because it does.

Satan wills to attack us at that deep, deep level of how we understand life. He wills to render life meaningless. A waste. Fruitless, pointless slavery.

So my point is this: We have to remember that, fundamentally, we are all in this battle to find the meaning of life, together. The Master says, Wait, don’t try to separate wheat from weeds yourselves. Leave that to the experts. Leave that to the holy angels.

The holy angels understand the full depth of demonic evil. They never fall into our human naivete about it. The holy angels will not misidentify human foibles as demonically evil. They will not throw well-meaning, but misguided, human zeal into the furnace; rather, they will purify it. They will not crush human weakness; rather, they will try to heal it. They will not despise delusional idealism; rather, they will try to save the good while purging out the bad.

The holy angels see us for what we are; they see our weaknesses for what they are. They know that fully demonic evil operates much more subtly, much more deeply, and much more destructively. The demons attack the beauty of mankind at its roots.

What’s one thing that the holy gospels certainly teach us? That the Lord Jesus hated pharisaism more than any other sin. He hated people thinking to themselves: We’re on the good team, unlike the dirty people on the bad team.

No. We are in the battle against Satan’s hatred together. The angels will separate the teams when Judgment Day comes. In the meantime, in the struggle to find the meaning of life, and hold onto it—we’re all in it, together.

Parable of the Sower Reflection

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parable

A little seed can germinate, grow, and bear fruit. From a little seed, you can wind up with a loaf of bread, or a plate of spaghetti, or a birthday cake. That little seed can help keep a family healthy, happy, and growing. [Español venga pronto.]

But plenty of hostile forces can get in the way.

They farmed on the craggy hillsides around the Sea of Galilee. Not many large, level fields there. Thorns and thistles sprouting up everywhere. Oxen, donkeys, and other people treading the paths that traversed all the cultivated areas. A scorching sun, high in the sky. And plenty of hungry birds, ready to peck up any seed they could find.

Faith in Christ is the great seed of peace and eternal life. To believe what the Blessed Virgin believed, when the angel came and asked her to participate in the salvation of the human race by bearing the divine Child, and she said Yes. To believe what the shepherds believed on Christmas Eve, when they heard the angels singing Glory to God and peace to mankind. To believe what St. Thomas believed, when he saw Jesus risen from the dead and declared, “My Lord and my God.”

To believe what the ancient bishops of the Church gathered in Nicaea believed, and the bishops gathered in Trent to sift through the teachings of the Protestants, and the Fathers at the Vatican sixty years ago, trying to understand the Church’s mission in the 20th century and beyond—to believe what they all believed, from Abraham to Saint Joseph to the living saints among us: to believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, the Word made flesh to save us and give us the Kingdom of Heaven. This faith is the great seed of human peace and death-conquering life.

seed germinationPlenty of hostile forces get in the way. Do we find ourselves at peace in our country? Growing in gentle communion with each other? Seems more like we have fallen into a bad national nightmare. Everyone wishes we could just wake up. 2019 wasn’t exactly a great year, but, gosh: could we take a time machine back a few months anyway?

Do we have peace in our Church? The steady life of fruitful growth, everyone growing together unto the fullness of Christ? Seems more like a lot of thorns and thistles in the temple, heavy footfalls trampling on the seedlings, and the soil feels shallow and dry under the relentless sun.

But wait. Let’s consider the sower in the parable. Where did He get His seed to sow? Southern States? Lowe’s? No. He simply has it. He didn’t have to go anywhere to get it. And He does not skimp in spreading it.

Why did He sow seed on the path in the first place? Or on the rocky ground? Or near the thorns and thistles? Is He blind, this Sower?

No. The opposite. He just has so much seed to sow that He spreads it everywhere. He never worries about running out.

God gives the gift of faith in Christ. God gives hope for peace and eternal life. God gives insight, patience, trust, and communion with heavenly love. God gives the interior seeds that can build up our relationship with Him, and with each other.

God doesn’t run out of grace. The hostile forces may get in the way and choke out some growth sometimes. But God has more seed in the seed bag. He tries again. He spreads some more.

caravaggio_incredulity_st_thomas1I have sought “mutual understanding” with the Lord, especially lately. Teach me Your will, Master. Give me the persevering courage necessary to do it. Help me understand. That’s our daily prayer, all of us.

But what does mutual understanding between a human soul and God really come down to, in the end? It’s not like an algebra lesson, with formulas and stuff. It’s this: He understands, and I don’t. I understand only that He fully understands everything that confuses me.

His plan leads to peace and life. His Kingdom comes–when I trust, and abandon everything for Him. The seed germinates within me, when I believe. Especially when my leg aches, because it’s infected from a dog bite, and I have no idea what my future holds, and all earthly hope seems lost.

It’s precisely in moments like that when He told us: Rejoice and be glad. Your names are written in heaven. I died on a cross and sojourned among the dead, in order to give you endless life.

Let the thorns and thistles try to choke off My harvest. Let them try. Let the birds peck, and the heavy footfalls crush. Let the hot, dry sun beat down. Let them all try to cause famine and death. Let them try.

I have visited the underworld Myself, the land of darkness and endless thirst. I stood there, with five gaping wounds in my flesh. And Life flowed out of them.

Our faith in Him will bear fruit. It comes from heaven as a gift. Let’s hold fast to it, so that it can grow.

Thief in the Night (I Advent Homily)

(written 11/29/2019)

If the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  (Matthew 24:43)

Petty thefts occurred every night in ancient Israel. Most people lived in small homes made of mud bricks. Your roof served as the bedroom. A thief could quietly claw a hole in the mud at the foundation of the house, crawl inside, and steal your valuables as you slept. Then you wake up in the morning, climb down the ladder to start making breakfast, and all your pots and pans have disappeared! Not to mention your figs and wine. [Spanish]

In this parable, the thief who breaks into the house represents… The Lord. The Son of Man. The Messiah. God’s anointed. Maybe that seems strange, God stealing things. Doesn’t mean thou shalt not steal no longer counts as a commandment. Thou still shalt not steal. But God will come like a thief. To steal what?

paul simonMaybe that’s our question for Advent. What does baby Jesus come at midnight to steal from us? Little baby Whose birthday comes in three weeks and three days, the Son of Man. He came suddenly into this world, during the night–to steal something.

To answer this question, let’s consider this: One image appears repeatedly in the first reading and psalm of today’s Holy Mass. The Temple of the Lord, the house of Jacob, the house of David, the great stronghold of the city of Jerusalem: not a mud-hut susceptible to burglars. Rather, a fortress of peace.

May peace be within your walls! …From His holy mountain, God will instruct us in His ways, and we shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! Peace.

We might complain that the western world has lost the Christian faith and no longer knows the reason for the season. But everyone knows—even the “Nones,” who say they have no religion—everyone knows: Christmas means peace. The newborn child comes to Bethlehem as the Prince of Peace. God Almighty, the awesome, the terrifyingly holy: He has come to the world as a defenseless baby, armed not with spears and arrows, or flaming thunderbolts, but only with ‘eyes as clear as centuries.’ (That’s from a Paul Simon song.)

What does He come to steal, this gentle baby Son of Man? Doesn’t His arrival, in and of itself, steal our pretexts for hating each other? Doesn’t He take away our reasons for violence? Doesn’t baby Jesus invade our little egos, so as to clear out all the self-serving nonsense that we keep stored in there, the stuff inside me that sets me against my neighbor?

I may find myself desperately attached to the idea of myself as a bigshot. I may base my entire worldview on “us good people” vs. “those dirty people.” Maybe I have convinced myself that I deserve all the fanciest new voice-activated gadgets, like the little canister that I can talk to and make my lawn-sprinklers come on, at my command. And I’ve decided I will use it against my annoying mailman.

st-augustine
St. Augustine

But the little baby of Bethlehem comes to dig into us, into the little mud-huts of our souls, and steal every self-aggrandizing delusion out of our egos. When I contemplate the Prince of Peace, laid in an animals’ manger; when I reflect that this is God Almighty: my sense of my bigshot self has to go out the window.

I meditate on Our Lady nursing the cooing baby, and I have to recognize: God has acted with this kind of peaceful compassion towards me. Even though I certainly don’t deserve it. Even though God really has every right to distrust me or even smack me in the face. Instead He comes in peace.

So how can I hate my neighbor? How can I lash out at that bad driver? How can I continue to pile up loot and chase after silly trifles, without giving a thought to other peoples’ struggles?

The Prince of Peace came to turn enemies into friends. St. Augustine described how we will, please God, sing Alleluia together, in heaven. Here’s how the saint put it:

O, what a happy alleluia there–how carefree, how safe from all opposition, where nobody will be an enemy, where no one will ever cease to be a friend!

A very clever thief, this baby. We contemplate Him, born of a penniless mother, in a stable with the animals. The bottomless peace of His humble birth steals every pretext I could possibly come up with to harbor resentment in my heart. He fleeces my soul of all the empty pride I have piled up there, the lies and half-truths that make me think I’m better than so-and-so. Just by being born in Bethlehem, the Son of Man steals all that from me and carries it away like a thief in the night.

Then, all we have left is: His divine love. These little mud-huts we have for souls can become His everlasting Temple, the stronghold of God’s peace.