Jesus’ Qualities as Preacher and Teacher

As a priest I am called to preach and teach, and I must look to Jesus Christ as my model. In this I refer to the real Jesus, the Jesus of Scripture. He clearly loved God’s people, and because of that he could not abide a limited notion of salvation for them. Jesus zealously insisted that they receive the whole counsel of God. He insisted on a dignity for them that was nothing less than the perfection of God Himself (cf. Matthew 5:41).

As a teacher, Jesus often operated in the mode of the prophets. Prophets have a way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Yet despite Jesus’ often fiery and provocative stances, the Scriptures speak of the eagerness with which many flocked to hear Him.

      • And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28).
      • Sent to arrest Jesus, the temple guard returned empty-handed saying, No one ever spoke like that man (Jn 7:46).
      • And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words, which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22).
      • And the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).

Jesus was a complex preacher and teacher. Let’s consider some of His qualities and ponder the sort of balance that He manifests.

I. His authority – The Scriptures often speak of the “authority” with which Jesus taught. The Greek word translated as “authority” is exousia, which means teaching out of (one’s own) substance, speaking to the substance of what is taught. Jesus would often say, “You have heard that is was said … But I say to you …” (cf Mat 5 inter al). Jesus spoke from His experience of knowing His Father and of knowing and cherishing the Law and its truth in His own life. He brought a personal weight to what He said. He knew of what He spoke; He did not merely know about it.

This personal authority was compelling; even today, those with this gift stand apart from those who merely preach and teach the “safe” maxims of others without adding their own experience. Jesus personally bore witness in His own life to the truth He proclaimed—and people noticed the difference.

How about you? You and I are called to speak out of the experience of the Lord in our own life and to be able to say with authority, “Everything that the Lord and His Body, the Church, have declared is true because, in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested it and come to experience it as true and transformative.”

II. His witness – A witness recounts what he has seen and heard with his own eyes and ears, what he himself knows and has experienced. Jesus could say to the Jews of his time, If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him, and I keep his word (Jn 8:55). He attests to what He personally knows; He is not just repeating what others have said.

While we cannot witness immediately to all that Jesus could, for He had lived with the Father from all eternity, as we make our walk we can speak to what the Lord has done in our own life and how we have come to know Him in conformity with His revealed Word.

III. His respect for others – The Latin root of the word “respect” gives it the meaning “look again” (re (again) + spectare (to look)). Frequently in Scripture, especially in Mark’s Gospel, there appears the phrase, “Jesus looked at them and said …”

In other words, Jesus was not merely issuing dictates to an unknown, faceless crowd. He looked at them, and He looks at us. It is a personal look, a look that seeks to engage us in a very personal way. He is speaking to us. His teaching is not merely for an ancient crowd; it is for us. He looks to us, and He looks again. Are we looking? Are we listening?

Do you look with respect to those whom you are called to teach or to the children you are called to raise? Do you engage them by your look of respect and love?

IV. His love and patience for sinners – Jesus could be very tough, even exhibiting impatience, but He is willing to stay with us in a long conversation. One text says, When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them at great length (Mk 6:34). Yes, He teaches us at great length; He stays in long conversations with us. He knows that we are dull of mind and hard of heart, so He persistently and consistently teaches.

Do we do that? Or do we quickly write people off? Jesus had a long conversation with a Samaritan woman who, frankly, was quite rude to Him at first (John 4). He had a long conversation with Nicodemus, who was also at times resistant and argumentative (Jn 3). He had a long conversation with His Apostles, who were often slow and inept.

V. His capacity to both afflict and console – Jesus said, “Blessed are you,” but just as often said “Woe to you.” Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. All of us fall into both categories. We need comfort but are often too comfortable in our sins. A true prophet fears no man and speaks to the truth of God.

A true prophet has no permanent allies to please and no permanent enemies to oppose. The determination of every moment is based on conformity or lack of conformity to the truth of God. Jesus said to Peter, Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah. (Mat 16:17), and He gave him the keys to the Kingdom and the power to bind and loose. But in the very next passage, Jesus says to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! (Mat 16:23)

VI. His parables – Stories are an important way to teach. A story that registers with us will rarely be forgotten. It is said that Jesus used more than 45 parables; some are full stories while others are just brief images. He used parables to link His sometimes-complex teaching to everyday life and to plant a seed of truth for our further reflection.

Parables are also like riddles. They admit of various interpretations. A good parable leaves its listener wanting more, seeking a definitive interpretation.

Parables are powerful for variety of reasons. Learn stories and learn to share them!

VII. His questions – Jesus asked well over a hundred questions in the gospel. Here are just a few: “What did you go out to the desert to see? “Why do you trouble the woman?” “How many loaves do you have?” “Do you say this of me on your own or have others told you of me?”

Good teachers ask questions and do not rush to answer every question. A question is pregnant with meaning; it invites a search. The Socratic method uses questions to get to the truth, especially on a personal level: “Why do you ask that? “What do you mean by this?” “Do you think there are any distinctions needed in your claim?”

Here is a list of one hundred questions that Jesus asked: 100 Questions Jesus Asked  Read them; they will make you think—a lot, I hope!

VIII. His use of “focal instances” – Jesus does not propose to cover every moral situation or every doctrinal truth in one afternoon. He uses “focal instances,” through which He illustrates principles.

A good example of can be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), where, to illustrate the principle that we are to fulfill the law and not merely keep its minimal requirements, Jesus uses several examples or focal instances; He speaks to anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of enemies, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In Mathew 25:31ff, the Lord uses the corporal works of mercy to illustrate the whole of the Law.

These are not an exhaustive treatment of the moral life. Through the use of illustrations, the Lord asks us to learn the principle of fulfillment and then apply it to other situations.

Good teachers teach principles because they cannot possibly envision or address every scenario. Having instructed their students in first principles, they can trust that their students will make solid decisions when faced with a new situation.

IX. His use of hyperbole – Jesus uses hyperbole frequently: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven (Mk 10:25). If your eye scandalizes you, gouge it out (Mat 5:29). There was a man who owed ten thousand talents (over a hundred thousand years’ wages) (Mat 18:24). It would be better for you to be cast into the sea with a great millstone about your neck than to scandalize one of my little ones (Mat 18:6).

It’s hard to forget effective hyperbole. Who of us can forget Jesus’ parable about the man with a 2×4 coming out of his eye who rebukes his neighbor for the splinter in his? I often tell my congregation, “Go to Mass, or go to Hell,” which is my way of saying that missing Mass is a mortal sin.

Good teachers use hyperbole at the right moments.

X. His use of servile fear – Jesus often used fear-based arguments. He warned of Hell, of unquenchable fire, and of the worm that does not die. His parables feature of a lot of summary judgments at which people are found unprepared, are excluded from Heaven, or are cast into darkness. Jesus warns of the wailing and grinding of teeth. He also warns of a permanent abyss between Heaven and Hell that no one will be able to cross.

Many today are dismissive of fear-based arguments, but Jesus used them; He used them a lot. I guess Jesus never got the memo that this is a poor way to teach! For the spiritually mature, love can and does replace the need for fear-based arguments, but, frankly, many are not that mature, and a healthy dose of fear and the threat of unending regret is often necessary.

To teach as Jesus did is to include warning of judgment and of Hell.

XI. His anger and zeal – Jesus does not hesitate to express His anger and grief at the hardness and stubbornness of many. One day He said, You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? (Matt 17:17) And in Mark’s Gospel we read, And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was furious and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them” (Mk 10: 13-14).

Yes, Jesus memorably cleansed the temple and drove out iniquity there. He engaged in heated debates with the Jewish leaders and with unbelievers. He did not hesitate to call them hypocrites, vipers, liars, and the sons of those who murdered the prophets.

A parent who never reacts with anger risks misleading his child into making light of or not being serious enough about wrongdoing, disrespect, or stubborn unrepentance.

We must be careful of our anger, however. We do not have the kind of control over it that Jesus did; neither are we as able to see into people’s hearts as He was. There is a place for anger and Jesus uses it—a lot, actually. Anger signals an important teaching and rebukes a lighthearted response.

XII. His refusal to compromise – There was in Jesus very little compromise about the serious teachings of doctrine or issues related to our salvation. He said that either we would believe in Him or we would die in our sins (Jn 8). Jesus also said that He was the only way to the Father and that no one would come to the Father except through Him. He declared that no one who set his hand to the plow and looked back was fit for the reign of God. Jesus said that no one who would not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him was worthy of Him. We are told to count the cost and decide now, and we are warned that delay might be deadly.

Much of this is countercultural in today’s world. Many insist on a softer Christianity, in which we can love the world and also love God. Sorry, no can do. A friend of the world is an enemy to God.

Jesus teaches His fundamental truths in an uncompromising way. This is because they are truths for our salvation. Following these truths vaguely or inconsistently will not win the day. Some disciplines need to be followed precisely. To teach as Jesus did involves insisting that the fundamental doctrines of our faith be accepted fully and wholeheartedly.

XIII. His forgiveness – Forgiveness may not at first seem to be an obvious way of teaching, but consider that teachers often have to accept that students don’t get everything right the first time. Teaching requires a patient persistence as students first acquire skills and then master them.

While setting high standards, Jesus offers forgiveness, not as a way of denying perfection but as a way to facilitate our advancement by grace and trust.

XIV. His equipping and authorizing of others – Good teachers train new ones.

Jesus trained the Twelve and, by extension, other disciples as well. He led and inspired them. He also prepared them for the day when He would hand on the role of teacher to them. We who would teach need to train our successors and inspire new and greater insights.

Teach me, Lord, by your example, to teach as you taught and to preach as you would have me preach.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Jesus’ Qualities as Preacher and Teacher

Sober and Serious about Salvation—Homily Notes for the 21st Sunday of the Year

In the readings this Sunday, the Lord describes a danger: our tendency to make light of judgment and not be sober that one day we must account for our actions. In the first reading (from Isaiah), the Lord sets forth His desire to save us, but we must understand that our will, our assent, is essential to our salvation. In the second reading (from the Letter to the Hebrews), God sets forth a plan whereby, having accepting Jesus, we can make a daily walk with Him in a kind of delivering discipline. Let’s take a detailed look at the readings, hear their urgent warnings, and soberly lay hold of the solutions offered.

I. The Danger that is Described“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Lk 13:22-30).

There is a similar text in Matthew’s Gospel, in which the Lord says, Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mat 7:13-14).

The Gospel is a call to sobriety and away from an unbiblical way of thinking (that is antithetical to the long testimony of sacred tradition). Many people today assume a kind of universalism that presumes that most, if not the vast majority, will go to Heaven. However, as we have reviewed many times on this blog before, that is not what Scripture says. In fact, it says quite the opposite.

While no percentages given, no exact numbers, we ought not to interpret the text such that Jesus’ words “many” and “few” come to mean nothing or even their opposites. Jesus is teaching us a sober truth: given the tendency of the human heart toward hardness, stubbornness, and obtuseness, many are on a path that rejects His offer of a saving relationship, His offer of the Kingdom and its values.

Although many today consider the teaching on judgment and the existence of eternal Hell untenable, this is largely due to the tendency to refashion God and the faith according to modern preferences rather than to cling to what is true and has been revealed.

In doing so, they reduce God to an affirmer, an enricher, a facilitator, or merely one who takes care of us. (These are all accurate descriptions, but they only partially describe Him.) Absent from these representations is the true essence of God as absolutely holy, just, pure, and undefiled; and as the one who must ultimately purify His faithful, with their consent, to reflect His utter purity and glory. Those who attempt to “refashion” God into something or someone more palatable are the ones to whom He says, “I do not know where you are from.”

Those who set aside Hell also attempt to refashion human freedom, which God has given us as our dignity so that we can freely love Him and what He values in a covenantal relationship, rather than serving Him as slaves. I have written more on this topic here: Hell Has to Be.

For now, let it be said that the reality of Hell is taught clearly and consistently in Scripture. It is taught to us in love as an urgent warning about the seriousness of our choices, which build to a final decision. No one loves you more than does Jesus Christ, yet no one spoke of judgment and Hell more than He did.

Some today also object to any “fear-based” argument related to the faith. This is not a reasonable posture to adopt when dealing with human beings, because each of us responds to different types of appeals. While an appeal to fear may not be rooted in the highest goals, it remains an important approach rooted in well-ordered self-love.

Jesus certainly saw fit to appeal to the fear of punishment, loss, and Hell. In fact, one could argue that this was His primary approach and that one would struggle to find many texts in which Jesus appealed more to perfect contrition and a purely holy fear rooted in love alone. In dozens of passages and parables, Jesus warns of punishment and exclusion from the Kingdom for unrepented sin and for the refusal to be ready. Here are several examples:

        • Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matt 7:13-14).
        • The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Mat 13:41-42).
        • Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!” (Mk 13:35-37)
        • And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with carousing, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come on you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:34-36).
        • But about that day or hour no one knows …. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. … Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matt 24:36-39; 42-44).
        • The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 24:51).
        • Then the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour (Matt 25:10-13).
        • Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat …” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt 24:41-42, 46).
        • Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell (Matt 5:28-29).
        • Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:22).
        • And if your foot offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched (Mk 9:45-46).
        • Friend, how came you in here not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen (Matt 22:12-14).
        • Then said Jesus again to them, “I go my way, and you shall seek me, but you shall die in your sins: where I go, you cannot come. … I have told you that you will die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:21, 24).
        • So by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that said to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? And in your name have cast out devils? And in your name done many wonderful works?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers” (Matt 7:20-23).
        • He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
        • He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day (John 12:48).
        • Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev 22:14-16).

The goal in all these appeals, fear-based or not, is not to make us scared per se, but to encourage us to be sober, to develop a sense of urgency in following the call of God, and to summon others to saving faith. “Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass and die and lose your soul at last.”

The text says that salvation is not attained by everyone, that some are not “strong enough,” that many are on a road that does not lead to glory. We are urged to be awake, sober, and urgent in securing salvation for everyone we meet.

Many today think of Hell as a place only for the extremely wicked (e.g., serial murderers, genocidal maniacs), but Scripture teaches that there are many other paths that lead away from Heaven (and toward Hell): lack of forgiveness, preoccupation with cares of the world, and sexual sins such as fornication, homosexual acts, and adultery. Wealth also creates difficulties that make it hard to enter the kingdom. Some people cannot and will not endure persecution, trials, or setbacks related to the faith and instead choose to deny Christ before others.

The fact of the matter is, many people just aren’t all that interested in Heaven; they reject many of its values such as forgiveness, chastity, and generosity. They aren’t strong in their desire. They aren’t “strong enough” to make the journey.

II. The Divine Desire The first reading (from Isaiah) assures us that God wants to save us all. If there is resistance to Heaven and being in relationship with God forever, it comes us, not God. I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. … that have never heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. … Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD (Is 66:18-21).

Other texts in Scripture also speak of God’s desire to save us all and of His extending the offer of saving love to all:

        • “As surely as I live,” says the LORD, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11)
        • God our Savior … wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. … And for this purpose, I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles (1 Tim 2:3-7).
        • The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:9-10).
        • Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7).

God is not our adversary in salvation; He is our only way. He wants to save us, but He respects our choice.

III. The Discipline that Delivers – If, then, we are stubborn and stiff-necked (and we are), and yet God still wants to save us, how is this to be accomplished? The first step, of course, is to accept the Lord’s offer of His Son Jesus, who alone can save us. We do this through faith and baptism as well as through the daily renewal of our yes, by God’s grace.

The second reading (from Hebrews) also spells out for us a way in which God, by His grace, works to draw us deeper into His saving love and path:

My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it (Heb 12:5-7).

In this passage is a kind of “five-point plan” for remaining in God’s saving love:

(1)  Respect God’s RegimenMy son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord … The Greek word translated here as disdain is ὀλιγώρει (oligorei), which means more literally to care too little for something or to fail to accord it proper respect. The word translated as discipline is παιδείας (paideias), which refers to the training and education of children so as to bring them to proper maturity. Hence, the text is telling us that God’s discipline for us is not punitive per se but is developmental and necessary for us; we ought not to make light of our need for this sort of training and discipline. While we may like to think of ourselves as “mature” in the face of God and His wisdom, we are really little children in great need of growing up into the fullness of Christ.

(2)  Reconsider When Reproved… or lose heart when reproved by him. Here, too, analysis of the Greek text is helpful. The word translated here as reproved is ἐλεγχόμενος (elenchomenos), which more fully means to be convinced with compelling evidence that one is wrong or to be compelled to make a correction in one’s thinking. Although we may bristle or feel discouraged when corrected, we ought to remember that God is all-wise, and we must remain open to being convicted by the truth He brings to us. The truth may at first challenge us, but it ultimately sets us free.

(3)  Remember His Regard… for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. … God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? God does not discipline us for His own sake, to show power or to demonstrate who is in charge. He disciplines us because He loves us and wants to save us. He is our Father, not our taskmaster. We are His children. We ought to remember the regard, the love, He has for us and be mindful that He does not punish for the sake of His ego, but for the sake of us, His sons and daughters.

(4)  Remain Resolved Endure your trials as “discipline.” Our flesh wants to rebel and our fragile ego bristles easily, but we must endure; we must be resolved; we must persevere and remain on the path God sets out for us.

(5)  Receive the RewardAt the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.

This Sunday we have a sober teaching from the Lord, who describes a danger about which we must be sober. And while the readings also describe His divine desire to save us, there is also a need for a discipline that delivers us.

We ought to be sober about what the Lord teaches. There are too many people today who are not sober about the fact that many are going to be lost. Because of this, they often do not attend to their own souls let alone the souls of others.

If your children or grandchildren are away from the Church, not praying, not receiving the sacraments, awash in sinful habits, locked in serious and unrepented mortal sin, do not take this lightly. The Lord warns and warns and warns. Do not brush it off or take refuge in false, unbiblical notions that presume nearly universal salvation.

The Lord demands from us a sober and biblical zeal for souls, rooted in the comprehension that we humans tend to stray and that we mysteriously do not seem to want what God offers. Being sober helps us to be urgent, and urgency makes us evangelical enough to go to those we love and say to them, “Sinner don’t let this harvest pass and die and lose your soul at last!”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Sober and Serious about Salvation—Homily Notes for the 21st Sunday of the Year

Life Takes Softness and Strength, as Noted in a Commercial

The commercial below focuses on a mother and daughter as the youngster gets ready for the day. There is the mother’s soft presence and support during the morning routine, but there is also her strength, as she makes sure that her daughter is ready for school on time, remembers her backpack, and promises to call (for some unknown reason). Love is not merely about softness; it is also about demands.

I am grateful that Georgia-Pacific (the manufacturer of Angel Soft) has chosen to feature a young girl with Down syndrome in its advertisement. As we all too sadly know, the overwhelming majority of parents (67 percent to over 90 percent, depending on the study/estimate) whose unborn baby is diagnosed with Down syndrome choose to abort the child. This is tragic. Everyone deserves to live. Life takes softness, but it also takes strength. Parents who have children with special needs deserve the softness of our encouraging love and the strength of our supportive love.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Life Takes Softness and Strength, as Noted in a Commercial

Some Advice from Mother Church

Given our brief sampling of the Book of Ruth in daily Mass, perhaps a reflection is in order.

The detailed background to the text is too lengthy to go into here, but a few points will help. The story features three main characters: Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi. Boaz is clearly a picture (or “type”) of Christ. He was born and lives in Bethlehem; he ultimately acts as Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” by rescuing her from poverty and paying the price so as to cancel her debt. This, of course, is just what Christ does for us: He redeems us by His blood, canceling our poverty and debt. Ruth is a picture of the individual soul in need of Christ’s redemption and mercy. Naomi plays several roles in the book, but in the passage we will consider here she is a picture of the Church; she advises Ruth in what to do and draws her to Boaz, her redeemer.

Consider the following text and then let us see how Naomi symbolizes the Church.

Naomi said to Ruth, “Is not Boaz … a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered (Ruth 3:2-5).

The advice that Naomi gives to Ruth is very much in line with the instruction that our Mother the Church gives us. In our poverty and under the debt of our sin, we are exhorted by the Church to seek our “Boaz,” who is Christ. (I am indebted to Rev. Adrian Rogers for supplying the alliterative headings below. They are his; the rest of the text is mine).

Be Firmly Convinced – Naomi says, Is not Boaz … a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Ruth knows her poverty, her pain, and her debt; so does Naomi. She exhorts Ruth to seek Boaz because he is near and can help. Boaz is wealthy and thus has the power to save Ruth, to draw her out of her overwhelming poverty; he has the capacity to cancel Ruth’s debt. She is to seek him at the threshing floor, where he is preparing and providing the bread that will sustain her. She must go, firmly convinced that Boaz will love her and save her.

So, too, does the Church exhort us: Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Is. 55:6). Yes, there is one among us, a near kinsman, who is not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb 2:11); His name is Jesus. As God, He has the power to save us and to cancel our debt. Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus is at the threshing floor of His Church, preparing a banquet for you in the sight of your foe (Psalm 23:5). The grain He is winnowing is the Eucharistic Bread of His own flesh. Yes, says the Church, come to Jesus, firmly convinced of His love and His power to save.

Be Freshly Cleansed – Next, Naomi simply says, “Wash.” In other words, the first step in finding help from Boaz is to be freshly cleansed.

So, too, does the Church draw us to Christ with the exhortation to wash. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Yes, the love of God will be poured forth on us and the cancellation of our debt will take place as we are cleansed of our sins.

Here are some other texts in which the Church—our Naomi, our Mother—exhorts us to be washed:

● Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8).
● Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Cor 7:1).
● Wash and make yourselves clean (Is 1:15).
● Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the LORD (Is 52:11).
● And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name (Acts 22:16).
● Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:22).

Be Fragrantly Consecrated – Naomi says to Ruth, “and perfume yourself.” In other words, make yourself nice to be near; Come with an aroma that is sweet and pure.

So, too, does the Church, our Naomi, exhort us to be fragrantly consecrated. The fragrance we are called to is that of a holy life, which we receive in baptism. Our life in God should be like a sweet incense or perfume. Consider some of the following texts that the Church gives us:

● Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).
● For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Cor 2:15).
● [The groom (Christ) speaks to his beloved:] You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain. Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices (Song 4:12).
● Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps (Ex 30:7).

Be Fitly Clothed – Naomi says to Ruth, “and put on your best clothes.”

Our Mother the Church also advises us to be fitly clothed. For a Christian, this means to be adorned in the righteousness that comes to us in Christ by baptism. In the baptismal liturgy, the Church says to the newly baptized of the white garment that he or she wears, You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. Receive this baptismal garment, and bring it unstained to the Judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may have everlasting life.

In other words, be fitly clothed. Wear well the garment of righteousness that Christ died to give you. Scripture, too, speaks of the garment in which we are to be fitly clothed:

● I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Is 61:10).
● Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7).

Be Fully Committed – Naomi continues, Then go down to the threshing floor, … until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down.

In other words, she is telling Ruth to place herself at the feet of her redeemer. This action of Ruth’s was a way of saying to Boaz, I put myself under your protection; I am fully committed to you.

The Church bids us to do the same: go to the threshing floor, to that place where the threshed and winnowed bread becomes the Eucharist.

Beneath or near every Catholic altar is the cross; on that cross are the uncovered feet of Jesus Christ.

The most sacred place on earth is at the feet of Jesus Christ. The Church, our Naomi, bids us to gather each Sunday at the altar, beneath the uncovered feet of Christ. The Church says to us just what Naomi said to Ruth: Place yourself at the feet of your Redeemer.

Be Faithfully Compliant – Naomi says to Ruth, confidently and succinctly, He will tell you what to do.

Here, too, the voice of the Church echoes what Mother Mary said long ago regarding her Son: Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5). How can our Naomi, the Church, say anything less or anything else? The Church has one message: Do whatever Christ, your redeemer, tells you.

So Naomi is a picture of the Church, Boaz a picture of Christ, and Ruth a picture of the soul in need of salvation.

How does the story end? I’m tempted to tell you to read it for yourself, but since Boaz is a picture of Christ you already know the ending. Ruth, firmly convinced, freshly cleansed, fragrantly consecrated, and fitly clothed, fully commits herself to Boaz and is at his feet. Boaz, who saw and loved Ruth before she ever saw or loved him (cf Ruth 2:5), arises and takes her as his bride, paying off all her debt and giving her a new life. Sound familiar? It is the story of salvation, if we but have eyes to see it.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Some Advice from Mother Church

A Summons to Courage from St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Those who would preach the gospel of a crucified and risen Messiah must have great courage, for though the gospel that contains consoling messages, it also contains much that is contrary to the directions and desires of popular culture and human sinfulness. This applies not only to clergy but to parents, catechists, and all who are leaders in the Church, family, and community.

If we must have courage it follows that we must be encouraged. To be encouraged means to be summoned to courage by affirmation, good example, and—when necessary—by rebuke and warning.

Yesterday was the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and so it is fitting that we review a magnificent example of exhortation and the summons to courage, taken from one of his sermons. His words are shown in bold, while my comments appear in red. Recall that while his words were directed toward his fellow priests and brothers, who had the task of preaching and teaching, they can just as easily be applied to parents and all who lead in the Church and in the community.

We read in the gospel that when the Lord was teaching his disciples and urged them to share in his passion by the mystery of eating his body, some said: This is a hard saying, and from that time they no longer followed him. When he asked the disciples whether they also wished to go away, they replied: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. I assure you, my brothers, that even to this day it is clear to some that the words which Jesus speaks are spirit and life, and for this reason they follow him. To others these words seem hard, and so they look elsewhere for some pathetic consolation.

Those who reject Jesus’ message do not necessarily do so because they believe it is wrong or even because it is too hard; His words are often rejected on account of worldliness and the desire to be pleased on our own terms. St. Bernard calls this “pathetic consolation.”

Yet wisdom cries out in the streets, in the broad and spacious way that leads to death, to call back those who take this path.

Preachers must persevere with urgency, realizing that many are walking toward Hell. Because we love them, we must risk their wrath—even their revenge—and call them back lest they perish.

Finally, he says: For forty years I have been close to this generation, and I said: They have always been faint-hearted.

Dead bodies float downstream. One must be alive to resist the current, to run without wearying, to be strong and not give way. Too many who preach, teach, and lead are weak and faint of heart. We must be strong and persevere despite opposition, setbacks, misunderstandings, and trials. Even if we err by being too harsh or too weak, or if we stumble along the way, we must not allow this to hinder our godly course to proclaim the gospel with strong hearts. Every day we must draw upon new strength and swim against the current.

You also read in another psalm: God has spoken once. Once, indeed, because forever. His is a single, uninterrupted utterance, because it is continuous and unending.

The Word of God does not change; neither can our doctrines nor our adherence to what God has said once and for all.

He calls upon sinners to return to their true spirit and rebukes them when their hearts have gone astray, for it is in the true heart that he dwells and there he speaks, fulfilling what he taught through the prophet: Speak to the heart of Jerusalem.

We must call to the truth of the gospel those who have strayed. We must speak to their hearts and appeal to their consciences, where God’s voice echoes—whether they admit it or not. Deep down they know God is right.

You see, my brothers, how the prophet admonishes us for our advantage: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. You can read almost the same words in the gospel and in the prophet. For in the gospel the Lord says: My sheep hear my voice. And in the psalm blessed David says: You are his people (meaning, of course, the Lord’s) and the sheep of his pasture. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Hear also the prophet Habakkuk. Far from hiding the Lord’s reprimands, he dwells on them with attentive and anxious care. He says: I will stand upon my watchtower and take up my post on the ramparts, keeping watch to see what he will say to me and what answer I will make to those who try to confute me.

I beg you, my brothers, stand upon our watchtower, for now is the time for battle.

Amen! To your battle stations! Stand up and be a witness for the Lord! Keep watch for the people of God!

Let all our dealings be in the heart, where Christ dwells, in right judgment and wise counsel, but in such a way as to place no confidence in those dealings, nor rely upon our fragile defenses.

The battle is the Lord’s, but we are His soldiers.

Courage!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Summons to Courage from St. Bernard of Clairvaux

The Double Loss of Being Good for Nothing

In the Office of Readings for this past Sunday (20th Sunday of the Year), we read St. John Chrysostom’s meditation on what it means that we are “the salt of the earth.” I would like to ponder his teaching in three stages.

The Dignity

Do not think, he says, that you are destined for easy struggles or unimportant tasks. You are the salt of the earth (Mat 5:13). What do these words imply? Did the disciples restore what had already turned rotten? Not at all. Salt cannot help what is already corrupted. That is not what they did. But what had first been renewed and freed from corruption and then turned over to them, they salted and preserved in the newness the Lord had bestowed. It took the power of Christ to free men from the corruption caused by sin; it was the task of the apostles through strenuous labor to keep that corruption from returning [St. John Chrysostom, Hom. 16:6,7: PG 57, 231-232].

Christ has restored fellow human beings to life, freeing them from corruption, sin, and death, and He has entrusted them to the Church’s care. This is a high honor, a great dignity, but it is also a tremendous responsibility.

Consider well, especially if you are a parent or a pastor, that God has entrusted the care of immortal souls to you. He says that we are to be salt, which is an image of preservation from corruption. How do we do this? By living holy lives for others, preaching the gospel, teaching true doctrine, pointing to Christ, celebrating the sacraments, correcting error, praying, and fasting.

It is a high calling, but it is not easy an easy one. None of us should undertake such tasks lightly or without regard for the sacrifices that will be necessary. We will ultimately be judged by what we do or fail to do in this regard. If we fail, it will be a double loss, because both we and those we are called to preserve will be lost.

The Danger

If others lose their savor, then your ministry will help them regain it. But if you yourselves suffer that loss, you will drag others down with you. Therefore, the greater the undertakings put into your hands, the more zealous you must be. For this reason, he says, But if the salt becomes tasteless, how can its flavor be restored? It is good for nothing now, but to be thrown out and trampled by men’s feet (Mat 5:14-15) [Ibid].

If we lose our savor, it is not that we are merely diminished in our capacity. No, it is worse: we become good for nothing. Bringing souls to Christ through teaching and baptism is our primary job. Fulfilling less-important duties does no good if we are not doing our most important job. Consider that a store manager may have great communication skills and a friendly disposition, but if he isn’t selling product none of it matters. We may be pleasant people, highly competent in our careers, and even generous to the poor—but even pagans can do this. If we’re not advancing the Kingdom and seeking to win souls or ensure their spiritual stability, we are good for nothing. It’s a double danger because we risk not only our own souls but the souls of others.

In our times, we have seen the Church fall into this sort of danger. We put so much effort into promoting ourselves as being welcoming, pleasant, and tolerant, that many of us have compromised the gospel, either by silence or through outright deception. Only salt itself can preserve, not salt substitutes. Only the true gospel can save, not a false or diminished one. Only the real Jesus can save, not some fake one.

The danger is that we who are called to be salt become flat, and we can no longer preserve this world and the people in it from decay and death.

It is a double danger and a double loss because everyone, including us, will be lost.

The Destiny

When [the disciples] hear the words: “When they curse you and persecute you and accuse you of every evil,” they may be afraid to come forward. Therefore, he says [in effect]; “Unless you are prepared for that sort of thing, it is in vain that I have chosen you. Curses shall necessarily be your lot, but they shall not harm you and will simply be a testimony to your constancy. If through fear, however, you fail to show the forcefulness your mission demands, your lot will be much worse, for all will speak evil of you and despise you. That is what being trampled by men’s feet means” [Ibid].

Never presume that the world and the prince of this world, the devil, love you or are pleased with you. You are just a tool for them to use; when you do connive with them, you are not loved or respected but rather regarded with contempt because you are so easily manipulated. Once you are no longer useful, you will be thrown out and trampled underfoot. This is the worst double loss of all: you are useless to God and useless to the world.

It is better to be hated by the world but be with God, in His love and in service to Him. Curses and hatred from the world will be something of our lot here in this passing world, but such things cannot ultimately hurt us; in fact, they testify on our behalf. In the end, the victory will be ours.

Stay salty, my friends. Otherwise expect the double loss of being good for nothing: useless to God and to souls. You will be laughed at and scorned by the world and the devil, who will trample you underfoot in derision.

These are strong words, but they are spoken by none other than the Lord Himself and St. John Chrysostom.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard:  The Double Loss of Being Good for Nothing

Words of Encouragement from the Prophet Micah

In the Office of Readings, we have been reading from the Prophet Micah. The book contains much in the way of both warning and consolation for the ancient Jewish people, who saw great destruction all around them. During Micah’s lifetime, he and his fellow Jews in Judah saw the whole of the northern Kingdom of Israel swept away by the Assyrians. In 721 B.C., ten of Israel’s tribes were destroyed; the survivors were scattered and all but lost. The southern Kingdom of Judah, which was also under attack, barely survived, as if by a miracle.

To be sure, the destruction was largely due to their own sin. In its weakened state, the Jewish people could not withstand their enemies; they collapsed from within as much as from external causes. The destruction was devastating; only a remnant was left.

Much of this is a parable for our own times. We in the Church have experienced enormous losses. Mass attendance has plummeted, churches and schools have closed, and the horrifying scandals up to the highest levels have not yet fully played out. It is a time of great uncertainty; many of the faithful, both clergy and lay, are afraid to teach boldly and live the faith. Some, even among the clergy, openly live and teach error; Church leaders seem to have no willingness or capacity to bring any discipline to bear.

The Lord has permitted a deep chastening to take place in the Church. He has seen fit to severely prune the once-luxuriant vine of the Church, and there seems to be little relief in sight; the cutting away of diseased branches goes on and on. We are certainly suffering for our collective sinfulness and sloth. Few of us or our leaders can arouse anything close to a repentant spirit, and there are few signs of deep conversion. It still seems to be “business as usual.”

The world watches our unraveling with scornful wonder. Perceiving our weakness, many are circling in for the kill. Grand jury investigations are multiplying, and statutes of limitations are being lifted; it is possible that many sectors of the church will lose almost everything—and the worst may be yet to come. While not all of us in the Church are equally to blame, few can claim that they have not contributed to the sins of the Church, even if by omission or silence in terms of preaching and living the gospel.

As Micah surveyed the destruction and severe pruning of ancient Israel, he did the only thing he could do; the same is true for us:

As for me, I will look to the Lord,
I will put my trust in God my savior;
my God will hear me!
(Micah 7:7)

To the scornful world that delighted in Israel’s destruction, Micah wrote these words of warning:

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy!
though I have fallen, I will arise;
though I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light.
The wrath of the Lord I will endure
because I have sinned against him,
Until he takes up my cause,
and establishes my right.
He will bring me forth to the light;
I will see his justice.
When my enemy sees this,
shame shall cover her:
She who said to me,
“Where is the Lord, your God?”
My eyes shall see her downfall;
now shall she be trampled underfoot,
like the mire in the streets
(Micah 7:8-20).

In the Church, this same faith must be recalled. We must say to this world: “We have been humbled on account of our sin, our rejection of discipline and devotion. God will finish with His purifications, and we shall arise by His grace. Our renewal will surely come, and the gospel will continue to go forth.”

Never forget, fellow Catholics, that empires and nations have risen and fallen, many enemies have tried to destroy us, countless heresies and errors have come and gone—all in the age of the Church. Yet here we are today, still preaching the same gospel we received. No weapon can annihilate us; the gates of Hell itself cannot prevail. This strength is surely not of us; it is proof of the divine constitution and indwelling of the Lord with His Bride the Church.

Take to heart Micah’s words. It may get worse before it gets better, but when God is finished purifying the Church, we will again rise, stronger and purer, to lead this collapsing culture away from ruin and destruction.

May it ever be so, O Lord, for as long as this world shall last.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Words of Encouragement from the Prophet Micah

Beware the Hypocrisy of the “Spiritual but Not Religious”

We live in the age of the designer God, when many claim the right to imagine and craft their own version of god. Some of them refer to it as “the god within.” Others call it “the god of my understanding.” Still others speak of “the Jesus I know.” A consistent feature of these manufactured gods is that they just so happen to agree with the “believer” on almost everything. Another common characteristic is that they differ in significant ways from what the true God has given to us through biblical revelation. We used to call inventing and worshiping your own god “idolatry.” Today, the euphemism for this is being “spiritual but not religious.” In labeling themselves this way, people claim the virtue of faith; they speak of themselves in pious terms and even applaud themselves for being tolerant and open-minded, even while being dismissive (i.e., intolerant) of organized religion and the Scriptures.

Jesus spoke rather plainly of those who claim to be religious but are inwardly deceiving themselves and engaging in a game of “Let’s Pretend”:

Jesus began to speak, first to his disciples,
“Beware of the leaven—that is, the hypocrisy—of the Pharisees.
There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops.
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one”
(Luke 12:1-5).

The Greek word that is translated as “hypocrisy” is ὑπόκρισις (hypocrisis). Its nominative form is ὑποκριτής (hypocrites), which most literally means “actor.”

Obviously, an actor is someone who plays a role. An actor who portrays Julius Caesar is not in fact Julius Caesar. In a certain sense, he is “pretending” to be Julius Caesar.

It is certainly fine for an actor to pretend for a time, to be someone he is not, but in the spiritual sense, it is not good to act or pretend. When Jesus warns of hypocrisy, He is warning against pretending to be someone that we are not; or pretending to live in a world, in a time, or under a set of circumstances that is not in fact real.

When the Lord warns us not to engage in hypocrisy, He is cautioning us against pretending, engaging in fantasy, or living in a make-believe world. This serves as the opening framework of all that is to follow.

And what does follow? Fundamentally, the Lord says that the pretend world denies the reality of judgment. He goes on to warn that there is nothing that is concealed that will not one day be revealed, that there is nothing that is secret that will not be made known, that what we have said in the darkness will be heard in the light.

He then further cautions us not to be afraid of those who only have the ability to kill the body, but rather of the one who after killing, has the power to cast into Gehenna.

Most people today live in a fantasy world in that they deny or discount the reality that there will be a day of judgment, a day of reckoning. They simply gloss over the notion that they will have to render an account for every idle word (Mt 12:36), that they will have to stand before Him who judges the intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12), and that nothing will lay hidden from Him (Heb 4:13). In effect, they pretend. Pretending is acting; it is a form of hypocrisy.

Creating a designer god, a spiritual but not religious god is likewise a form of hypocrisy. A pretend god cannot save us; a designer god is of no use when going to meet the real God. If one has not allowed the true God to purify and ready him, he will be incapable of enduring the bright light of His glory and the searing insight of His truth. In fact, such a person will likely reject Him as hateful and harsh. To those who hate the truth, the truth seems hateful; to those who prefer the darkness, the light seems obnoxious.

This is why only the true God can ready us for beholding Him. Only He can accustom us to the brightness of His truth and the heat of His glory and love.

A second quality of the “spiritual but not religious,” those who claim the right to design their own god, is a subtle self-righteousness. They feel they are somehow above all this “organized religion stuff.” They don’t need doctrines or Bibles or Churches to tell them what to do; they have a direct connection of their own to the god of their (superior?) understanding. It is a kind of rehashing of tired old Gnosticism.

When Jesus warned of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, He was referring to their sense of self-righteousness. They thought that they had nothing to worry about because they were “good people”—unlike others around them. They said their prayers, fasted on Wednesdays, and paid their tithes. On the Day of Judgment, they figured that they would just walk right on into Heaven.

Too many people today have this attitude of self-righteousness. They may invoke God’s grace and mercy, but they are not really willing to consider the fact that they may, by their own sinfulness, disqualify themselves. Emphasizing certain aspects of God while discounting others, they rework Him into their own god. This is acting; it is hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

Too many people brush aside the idea that they will one day have to render an account to the true Lord. “Oh yeah, I know there’s a day of judgment, but God is love so everything will be just fine. The god I know would never permit anyone to go to Hell.” Never mind that this is in direct contradiction to the whole of Scripture! Most today live in outright heresy on this topic. (Sadly, there are those who hold the opposite, extreme attitude: one of despair.)

The Lord says that we should beware of hypocrisy, careful that we’re not living in a pretend world. None but the pure in heart can walk into Heaven. We should not be so quick to presume that we have the necessary purity of heart. The real and true God is all holy, and Heaven is a place of the souls of just men made perfect (Heb 12:23). Jesus says, you must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mat 5:48). This is reality, but hypocrites like to pretend, to play act.

A contrived “god-within” of your “own understanding” cannot save you. Stop pretending; stop reciting lines like some actor (hypocrite). Get off the stage and down on your knees; call on the true God and savior, Jesus, the One described in Scripture, not the “Jesus” of your preferences. Yes, call on the true Lord, God, and Savior, who alone can save you.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Beware the Hypocrisy of the “Spiritual but Not Religious”