Invincible Patience

The Most High is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (Luke 6:35)

Now, we have to ask the Lord exactly how He means this statement. We know that, when all is said and done, the ungrateful and the wicked will suffer eternal punishment. Although such punishment certainly qualifies as just, it would be a stretcher for us to propose that condemning the wicked to hell counts as ‘kind.’

So, we must ask: How exactly is the Most High kind to the ungrateful and the wicked?

This question touches us personally, because, to be honest, we must count ourselves among the ungrateful and the wicked. Have I shown God the gratitude that He deserves to get from me? Hardly. Have I escaped wickedness altogether? Have to take the Fifth on that one.

So we have a vested interest in grasping how the Most High is kind to the ungrateful and wicked people, like us. In the end, God will judge with justice. But, in the meantime, what does He do?

At Holy Mass today, we commemorate St. John Chrysostom. He lived his long and hard life with, as the Collect puts it, “invincible patience.” His eloquent preaching gained him a wide following. And it led to his bitter exile from the realm. He bore it all patiently.

How did he manage to do that? Bear it all with invincible patience? The good Lord gave John Chrysostom some of His own divine patience.

The Most High is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. As Christ also said, the heavenly Father makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike. All the plants grow together until harvest time, weeds as well as wheat. As St. Peter put it, the Lord’s patience is directed to our salvation.

To every living human being, the Most High kindly gives the greatest of all possible gifts. He gives us right here, right now. Right here, right now: the perfect venue for us to express our gratitude to Him and love Him like good little children.

As long as we have a right here right now, we can be grateful and good. He gives and gives and gives us moments in which to repent of all our many evils. He keeps us all alive a great deal longer than we deserve. If the door shuts in our faces when everything is said and done, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Even the damned in hell have to admit that the mercy of the Lord endures forever. Let’s not waste a precious second that the Lord patiently gives us. Every last one of them makes for a perfect opportunity for us to love Him.

Loving Oneself in Nineveh

Twenty years since Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints got a Grammy nomination. One-hundred fifty since Grant and the Union occupied Nashville, Tennessee. Multiple millennia since Jonah preached in Nineveh…

The people of Nineveh repented. (Luke 11:32)

The people of Nineveh repented. What sins had they committed?

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Small Jonah, Big God

Today at Mass we read the conclusion of the prophet Jonah’s adventure. The Lord had ordered him to go to Nineveh, to call the huge city to repentance.

But like his Hebrew brethren, Jonah hated the Ninevites, because they were godless pagans. So Jonah did not go east as commanded, but booked passage on a boat heading in the opposite direction.

God, however, holds the cards. A storm arose. The other men on the boat feared for their lives. They discovered that Jonah was to blame. Begging the Lord’s mercy, the sailors cast Jonah overboard in order to save the ship. A whale swallowed him, and then spat him back up on dry land.

Jonah begrudgingly went to Nineveh and preached repentance. The prophet had been angry about the whole business from the beginning, but what happened next made him even angrier than he was before: The people of Nineveh promptly repented and begged God for mercy. Even the cows were dressed in sackcloth to show the Lord that the whole city, from the king on down—everyone was sorry for their sins.

So God spared the Ninevites, and did not carry out his wrathful punishment.

This really burned Jonah to the quick.

So: Jonah, even though he was a consecrated prophet of God, carried on like an unreasonable, petulant, demanding child from beginning to end. Somehow the Lord managed to turn his mission into an enormous success anyway.

Often, when the disciples would ask the Lord Jesus a question, He would not give an immediate, straightforward answer. This was because many of the disciples’ questions proceeded from their obtuse incomprehension of basic facts.

But when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus was pleased. They were acknowledging that they did not know about the most important thing. What could be more important than prayer? And yet, left to our own devices, we will make a mess of it.

Lord, teach us to pray. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Forgive us our petulant, unreasonable, self-indulgent sins. Spare us from the really difficult trials, because we are too weak to handle them. We can barely handle easy trials.

We trust that you know how to make the big things work out. Please just keep us fed, and we will do our best with the little things.

Sinners and Fruits

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.

He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?

“By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

“Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?

“By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:1-5)

We all have some idea of how much the people of Haiti have gone through since the terrible earthquake on January 12th.

Do we think, because the Haitians have suffered, that they are greater sinners than all the other people in the northern hemisphere?

By no means!

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Basics from the Baptist

The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10)

The people came to St. John the Baptist, asking for basic moral guidance.

St. John gave specific answers to the various different kinds of people who asked. In each case, he outlined the basic form of an upright life.

Are you wealthy? Keep only what you need, and give the rest to those who have less. Are you in business or government? Then make sure all your dealings are fair and lawful in every way. Put in an honest day’s work, and be satisfied with what you are paid—no bribes, no schemes. Do you carry a weapon in the name of public peace and security? Then carry it peaceably. Only draw it against real bad guys.

Clear, basic moral guidance. St. John was directing people how to live reasonable, sober, honest lives in this world. We need this above all: To know how to live in a way that pleases God.

If anyone takes this knowledge for granted, so much the better. When the rich young man asked the Lord Jesus, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” the Lord spelled out the Ten Commandments. The young man was perhaps amused at so basic an answer, and he said, “Master, I have followed all these from my youth.” –If you can say the same, praise God! The Lord loved the young man for being able to say it.

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Words of St. John the Baptist

st-john-baptist-grecoThe mission of St. John the Baptist is to call us to repent of our sins so that we will be ready to welcome Christ.

This is what St. John said, as recorded in the New Testament:

Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:2-3)

Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:8-10/Luke 3:7-9)

To King Herod: It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife. (Matthew 14:4, Luke 6:18)

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