Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Love And Death

Watched the movie The Fault In Our Stars. It was quite refreshing. Modern romances almost never show a couple falling in love without introducing a love triangle. There is always another guy or another girl. It immediately changes the story from two people getting to know and trust each other to a competition. My guess is most people's experience with love is not a competition. People date and decide whether or not to give themselves to this person totally and forever.

This couple actually talks about things. The talk matters. That is it is not just fodder for the relationship. It drives the plot as well as the character development. Like real life. It works so well they don't even need a sex scene. Of course, this is Hollywood, they do have one. Yet it is clear the movie would be better without it and their relationship would be better without it.

Still it gets very close to a Catholic understanding of what a sexual relationship should be. The concept of "Until death do us part" is very much present. They are both dealing with cancer and not really up for anything frivolous. They want to know if the other person is truly willing to walk through some serious pain with them. In fact, Disneyland is mocked as a hopelessly unserious thing.

It reminded my of Angela's Ashes where Frank McCourt falls in love with a woman who was not expected to live long. There is sex and they are not married but you wonder. They are giving themselves for as long as they both shall live. He says he never loved any woman as much. You wonder if the church should expedite marriages like that. People wanting to walk through such suffering together maybe don't need the normal marriage prep course.

This clip from Fr Barron goes into some details about the presentation of Christianity and nihilism in the movie. I agree with him that both are there and the movie tilts towards nihilism but refuses to embrace it. It wants to believe that love is stronger than death but wonders if that is really the truth. Can we still accept Jesus' claim that this is so despite the existence of modern science? It seems to want to say Yes but ultimately indicates the truth is No. That is the fault line in the title. We want love to win but in the end death actually wins. So we deny it.

Jesus does not just say love is stronger. He proves it. He died and rose again to show us exactly that. The other thing is Jesus does not just say it as a matter of fact. He says we need to believe it. We need to have faith in God and believe in the resurrection and live a life of love in the face of death and suffering. This movie does not go there. Christianity is not just an academic exercise in figuring out what is true but a challenge to embrace Jesus as the Truth.

So it is not really a conflict between nihilism and Christianity but rather between nihilism and a pseudo-Christian romanticism. It does not really consider the fullness of Christianity. It is a bit like Moral Therapeutic Deism but not quite. They have suffered to much to believe the therapeutic part. So do they believe any of it? That is all that remains. Embracing all of it is not even really on the table.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sheep And Goats

This week's gospel is one of the more famous passages of scripture. Jesus' description of the final judgement. It is sometimes called a parable. The passage does not indicate that. It reads more like Jesus just telling us how He will judge us. Like a teacher who wants his students to pass the final exam. He gives then the questions and indicates the most common mistakes. 
Jesus said to his disciples:"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,and all the angels with him,he will sit upon his glorious throne,and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me,ill and you cared for me,in prison and you visited me.’Then the righteous will answer him and say,'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’And the king will say to them in reply,'Amen, I say to you, whatever you didfor one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’Then he will say to those on his left,'Depart from me, you accursed,into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me no food,I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,a stranger and you gave me no welcome,naked and you gave me no clothing,ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’Then they will answer and say,'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirstyor a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,and not minister to your needs?’He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you,what you did not do for one of these least ones,you did not do for me.’And these will go off to eternal punishment,but the righteous to eternal life."
Abp. Chaput once preached on this and said the message is simple. If you ignore the poor you go to hell. Any questions? There is a lot to be said for that but there is much more depth in this text. It goes to the vary basis of how the grace of God transforms us. We need to cooperate with that grace so it helps to know just how it works.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Boredom of Secularism

I was watching something by CBC on the Berlin Wall. A few comments on it struck me. They talked about how satisfying it was 25 years ago to fight for freedom and to win. Then they said there was nothing today that had anywhere near the same gravity. Women's rights? The chancellor of Germany is a woman. Gay rights? The mayor of Berlin is gay? German's antinuclear movement was a cause for a while but they won very quickly. What great good was there to fight for?

This is a problem with modern secularism. It's highest goal is tolerance. Guess what? Tolerance is pretty easy. All you are doing is ignoring other people and letting them do their own thing. That is setting your goals pretty low. When people try and be all that a human person is meant to be you offer them exactly nothing. No wisdom. No leadership. No vision. Nothing like that might offend anyone. What you offer them is your indifference. 

John Paul II called indifference the opposite of love. Love is willing to good of the other. Hate is willing the ill of the other. He said that is not really the opposite because you are still engaged with the other. Indifference is the opposite. You might still interact with that person but only to use them for your own ends. You remain indifferent to whether they experience good or ill. 

Tolerance is like that. We don't care to give our fellowman good information about right and wrong. We don't care if he is ruining his life. That is his business. All we care about is consent. If nobody is being forced to do anything then we just wash our hands of the whole thing.

Christianity expects more. God has give us the gospel by sending His Son Jesus. So we are obligated to propose to anyone who will listen that this gospel is true. Whether they listen or not we are obligated to care if they get hurt even if they do it to themselves. Consent matters very little. What matter is what is right. 

Tolerance fails for any number of reasons. Yet one that is underrated is expressed here. That is tolerance can leave us with nothing to do. We are to address intolerance but in a social democratic state like Germany most of that is done. These young people were expressing that. There is no major victim group left out there. Humans have a desire to pursue the good and they know they have not achieved it. Yet they are essentially being told there is nothing to do. 

So what happens? People go in different directions. Some respond with societal suicide. White Europe has basically stopped having children. If people are not energized about building a better tomorrow then they will not have much energy about populating the world of tomorrow. 

Some people are reacting by rejecting tolerance. That is by saying one theory of the good is right and should be embraced while all others should be rejected. Unfortunately one of the most popular choices for this one theory is Islam. People see something wrong with the West. Islam can explain what is wrong. They ask people to fight for what is true and right and good. Humans are wired to want to do this. So Islam is appealing. At the very least they know it is not their parents religion. 

Catholicism is gaining some appeal this way to. There is a hidden group that has embraced the Catholic faith as the true and good and right thing to fight for. Yet they are hard to find. The established Catholic church in many ways hides the faithful remnant. Many Europeans don't distinguish between secularism and mainstream Christianity. They see the watered down Catholicism that dominates the scene right now and assume that is all the church has to offer. In the case of Catholicism they need to be convinced you are not just proposing the same religion as their parents warmed over.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Well Done, My Good And Faithful Servant

This weeks gospel is a very famous parable. The parable of the talents. It is so much a part of our culture that the word "talent" actually came into our language this way. A talent is an amount of money. Yet contemplating this parable caused it to mean a natural ability or an aptitude. That meaning has become so pervasive that many don't even associate the word with money at all. Here it is:
Jesus told his disciples this parable:"A man going on a journeycalled in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,and made another five.Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the groundand buried his master's money.
After a long timethe master of those servants came backand settled accounts with them.The one who had received five talents came forwardbringing the additional five.
He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.’His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.’Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,'Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.'His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,I will give you great responsibilities.Come, share your master's joy.’Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
'Master, I knew you were a demanding person,harvesting where you did not plantand gathering where you did not scatter;so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.'His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant!So you knew that I harvest where I did not plantand gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then have put my money in the bankso that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,more will be given and he will grow rich;but from the one who has not,even what he has will be taken away.And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"
Jesus is telling us about the final judgement. Matthew 24 has the apocalyptic discourse where He talks about the tribulation and false prophets and all that. Then in Matthew 25 he gives us 3 pictures of the last judgement. The 5 wise virgins and 5 foolish virgins, this parable of the talents and finally the picture of the Jesus separating the sheep and the goats based on "As you did it to the least of these you did it unto Me." 

None of these pictures lines up very well with the protestant notion of Sola Fide. That is salvation by faith alone. All of them clearly refer to salvation yet none of them mention faith. None of them mention sacraments or mortal sin either so the typical Catholic way of talking about salvation is not really affirmed. Jesus says the divine life has to change our behavior in certain ways. If it does not we should really wonder if we have it.  

Jesus wants us to know how we will be judged. It is an exam. He want us to pass. So he gives us the questions. For the parable of the talents the question is simple. What did you do with what you were given? Exactly what is Jesus talking about? Is He saying we should be venture capitalists and buy and sell and trade? Is He concerned that we develop our skills and abilities and use them to the fullest? Yes, but that is not the essence of it. Remember how this ends. This is a matter of salvation. It is not a matter of prudence. So what is it?

What does God give us? Money? Yes. Ability? Sure. Most of all God gives us love. Unconditional, self sacrificing love. Do we all experience it with the same intensity? Not really. Yet we all receive a huge amount. Remember even one talent is a lot of money. We all receive forgiveness. We all are given graces to help us transform our lives and become holy. What do we do with them? We give them away. If we are really living the faith and letting God transform us we don't want to simply receive God's grace we want to become a giver. What do we give? Money? Yes. Time and talent? Sure. Yet we give more. We give it all. We start to really love. 

How do we know if we are doing this right? We know because we grow. If we are constantly building others up and being a blessing to those around us then somehow we end up with more. More people to love and more people to give yourself to. You become like the 5 loaves and 2 fish. You just let Jesus break you and give you away and somehow there is more and more that you are able to give. Fr Baron calls it spiritual physics. When you give it away you end up with more. 

Jesus' point is that you need to be having this dynamic happening. You need to be seeing your love and your circle of influence growing. If you don't you are missing it. You are not really embracing God's grace. You have made God's gifts an idol. Whatever they are you are not using them to experience divine life but rather you are living in fear of losing it. 

The fear of losing God's favor can be good when it motivates us to act. What is happening here is the fear is paralyzing. People become so concerned with doing something bad that they never do anything good. What is behind it? It is an inaccurate image of God. He sees God as someone just waiting to catch him in a mistake. What need to be more concerned with what we can do right. Sure there are some things we need to avoid yet all the things we say No to are to allow us to say Yes to something else. We need to say Yes to our abilities and Yes to the people in our lives and Yes to many opportunities and on and on. 

That is what the life of the 5 talent man looks like. He is not winning 5 more talents at other people's expense. He is living the free, total, faithful and fruitful love. That love will overflow and create an abundance of blessing for you and everyone around you. That is what the grace of God is meant to do to us. That is what it will do if we cooperate. Then the Father will look at us and say:
Well done, my good and faithful servant.Since you were faithful in small matters,I will give you great responsibilities.Come, share your master's joy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bodies And Temples

In this weeks gospel Jesus gets angry. He gets violent. He scares people. For many it is the most confusing thing Jesus does. Why does he do it?
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,Jesus went up to Jerusalem.He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,as well as the money-changers seated there.He made a whip out of cordsand drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,and spilled the coins of the money-changersand overturned their tables,and to those who sold doves he said,“Take these out of here,and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,Zeal for your house will consume me.At this the Jews answered and said to him,“What sign can you show us for doing this?”Jesus answered and said to them,“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”The Jews said,“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,and you will raise it up in three days?”But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,his disciples remembered that he had said this,and they came to believe the Scriptureand the word Jesus had spoken.
Why does he do it? Because he is consumed with zeal for the house of God. It is around the time of the Passover. In the other gospels this story is places right near the crucifixion. It is almost like Jesus is asserting His authority to get the Jews to kill him. John tells us the story from a different angle. He focuses on Jesus love for the temple, His Father's house. Yet there are two temples. Herod's temple that existed in Jesus day and the temple of Jesus's body. The temple, especially at Passover, was a place where God's presence would come to earth. It was the holiest place of earth. In fact one room in it was called the Holy of Holies. 

John is saying Jesus' body is the new temple. That He is the presence of God on earth. He predicts not just His death at the hands of the Jews and His resurrection on the 3rd day but that this would make the temple and the Passover obsolete. 

Today the temple also points to two things. First of all it points to the church. A physical temple is no longer needed. The sacrifice of the mass can be offered anywhere at anytime. It offers us a much more powerful ability to connect with God because it is Jesus' body. If the Eucharist was only a symbol this would not make any sense because a symbolic Lord's Supper cannot replace the Holy of Holies. For Jesus body to make the temple obsolete it has to remain present to us and it has to be holier than the Old Testament temple. Only the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist makes that true.

The other thing the bible compares to the temple is our bodies. Jesus' body is the presence of God on earth. We become that when we are baptized and receive the divine life. Then it becomes important that our bodies be a house of prayer and not a marketplace. 

Marketplaces in Jesus' day were much like they are today in the middle east. They were loud. A lot of confusion. A lot of negotiation. Really just a free for all. The temple was different. There was a center. The Holy of Holies. One man was allowed into that sacred space. That event informed everything else that went on inside the temple. 

St Paul makes the connection with our sexuality. Is our sex life a free for all? Is there negotiations and confusion and really no center? What we need is the Holy of Holies. That is our vocation of marriage or religious life. That needs to dictate what we do with our sacred places but that in turn needs to inform everything else in our lives.     

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Last Things

This Sunday is All Souls Day. It is a day in which we pray for the dead. All Saints Day is Nov 1st and is focused on those in heaven. All Souls Day is focused on those in purgatory. The tricky part is we don't actually know who is in heaven and who is in purgatory so we typically just pray for the dead. 

November 2nd is also my mother's birthday. The reason that this connects is because my mother's health has not been that good. She is turning 81 and suffering from serious dementia. In some ways it feels like she is already in purgatory. Purgatory is a place of purging. A place where our remaining flaws are removed. It is not pleasant but it is necessary for us to enter heaven. I can see that in my mother. A woman who has had serious control issues for much of her life has become completely dependent on others. It is very hard for her. Yet it will allow her to arrive in heaven with a better heart. 

Purgatory is just that same process completed after we die. Really we all should be in that process now. We should be embracing suffering to grow in holiness. Christianity is all about cooperating with grace. God gives us a road to holiness but not an easy road. We need to want it. After we die all that changes is the choice. During this life we keep choosing between hell and purgatory every day. Our choice at our death is our final answer. If we choose purgatory we will get to heaven. 

If Purgatory always leads us to heaven then why doesn't God just zap us and make us perfect quickly and painlessly? One reason is that God knows us. St Augustine prayed, "Give me chastity but not yet!"  We are all prove to do that. We want holiness but we find reasons to wait. God lets us know that waiting until we die is not going to mean a quick and painless transformation. It is going to be more difficult than it would be if we stepped up the the challenge during our lifetime. That is not the only reason to pursue holiness now but God knows that adding that incentive will cause us to make better choices. Fear is not the best motivator. Love is better. Yet God will use fear.

So why have a day about it? Partly to remember where we are headed. November is the time when we contemplate the last things. They are Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. It is good to contemplate them because we will face them and we don't want to be unprepared. It is easy to go through life without really considering our mortality. We have been blessed with strong survival instincts. We don't like to think about the fact that nobody actually survives. Yet we need to think about it. So it is good that the church gives us an occasion to do so.

The other thing it does is it encourages communion. We are not in this alone. We are to pray for the dead. The dead are to pray for us. We can do penance on their behalf. We are all part of the body of Christ and we are to help each other even if we are separated by death. It is the most natural thing. People we knew and loved while they were alive we continue to love after they have died. Death does not have the victory. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Main Thing

Mat 22:34-40:
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,they gathered together, and one of them,a scholar of the law tested him by asking,"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him,"You shall love the Lord, your God,with all your heart,with all your soul,and with all your mind.This is the greatest and the first commandment.The second is like it:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
There is an old saying that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. There is a lot of wisdom to that. People start to get lost in details and lose track of what really matters. For Christians what really matters is love. The Pharisees were big on commandments. They took great pride in how well they observed them. So when they asked Jesus this question they expected to get an answer that made them look pretty good. Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. Could he possible answer with any law they did not keep better than those people?

There is an interesting spiritual physics in this reply. Jesus starts with the notion that God should get everything we have. All of our hopes and dreams, all of our opinions, all of our possessions, all of our emotional and physical energy, everything goes to God alone. Unconditional love. Nothing is held back. 

It begs the question about the second commandment. If God gets everything then how can we be talking about loving our neighbor or loving our self? You just gave everything to God. You have nothing left. What gives?

Loving God does not imply hating everything else. Loving God implies loving the things God loves and hating the things God hates. So we love ourselves but only in that way. That is we only see ourselves as good because God created us and God loves us. We don't love ourselves in an egotistical way at all. That is why our love for ourselves is the same as our love for our neighbor. Our neighbor is created by God and loved by God just as much as we are. So we love them not only just as much as we love ourselves but for the same reason. It is all part of our love for God. 

Modern Christians tend to see love of God and love of neighbor as competing. You get the so-called progressive Christians who have liturgies that really focus on community and celebrating our dignity as children of God. They try and love their neighbor by focusing less on loving God. The result is sentimentalism. They get a lot of things right but when God's word does not line up with what feels right for their neighbor or even themselves then they have trouble. They end up creating an image of God that matches their feelings. The trouble is that image does not match scripture or tradition or the magisterium. It does not match their personal experience either. Their theology becomes a mess.

The conservatives can have problems to. They can fall into the same trap as the Pharisees. Get the doctrine right. Get the commandments right. Live them as best you can. Yet that is all. Don't give your heart. You can believe that God loves the poor but still not love them yourself. You can even believe God loves you and not love yourself. 

Then Jesus says the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. What He means is the whole Old Testament. The law refers to the first 5 books. The law and the prophets refers to the whole thing. The point is that all of the Christian religious life has to be lived out of love for God or it is going to lose its value. If we learn about God, if we sacrifice, if we make moral choices, if we worship, if we serve the poor, whatever we do if we do it without that agape love for God we fail. St Paul's beautiful writing from 1 Cor 13 comes to mind.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.