On The Truest Source of our Dignity

One of our deeper wounds is that we tend to doubt our dignity, especially in times of trouble. We look to human being who are fickle for a sense of honor and prestige in our life. But St. Peter Chrysologus reminds us of the true source of our dignity, and that of others, in a homily in last week’s office:

A virgin conceived, bore a son, and yet remained a virgin….for [God] is the cause, and not nature….Christ’s birth was not necessity, but an expression of omnipotence, a sacrament of piety for the redemption of men….That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonor to him who made him.

Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made? Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling? It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for your sake was the night regulated and the day measured, and for you were the heavens embellished with the varying brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvelous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God’s new creation. And the Creator still works to devise things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might in your person make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative. Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in man. – St Peter Chrysologus From a Homily on the Nativity of Christ.

Yes, God is the true source of our honor. Before we were ever formed in our mother’s womb God thought about us and prepared for us and did what ever was necessary to bringing us into being (Jer 1:5). He knit us together in our mother’s womb and we are wonderfully fearfully made and every one of our days was known to him before one of them ever came to be. (cf Ps 139) Yes, God knowing all about us, our foibles and sins, our gifts and blessings, created us as a free act of love. Human life and the human person are sacred since they are this free and loving act of God who bestows life upon us, not of necessity but simply out of love. And thus Chrysologus asks, “Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him?”

And for all of us together comes this additional dignity, that this whole universe and world was made for us! Modern environmental extremists see man as an interloper in this world, or even worse like some plague of locusts that must be destroyed. But the Scriptures and the Christian vison see that whole universe exists just as it does in a delicate and perfect balance so that on this rare earth, life as we know it, and indeed our very life would be able to exist. God carefully, and in stages guided the emergence of life here, culminating with the Human Person. The second story of creation has God creating Adam first and then designing everything around him and for him, and later for Eve. And thus, speaking from this tradition Peter Chrysologus says, “Was not this entire visible universe made for your dwelling? It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for your sake was the night regulated and the day measured, and for you were the heavens embellished with the varying brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, groves and fruit; and the constant marvelous variety of lovely living things was created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest sad solitude destroy the joy of God’s new creation.”

And finally, our greatest dignity of all was that our Savior and very Lord chose to become one of us though his Incarnation, humbling himself to elevate us.

Can you really doubt your dignity and worth? Why do we look to lesser sources to assess our worth. Money, popularity, power, and so forth come and go and cannot be valid or lasting sources of our dignity. Look to God, and never forget the efforts and stages he carefully went about to make you. Dwell in his love for you.

It is Easier to Wear Slippers than to Carpet the Whole of the Earth. A Meditation on the Gospel for the 18th Sunday of the Year

We have today the very familiar miracle of the loaves and fishes. One is tempted to say, “Oh that one…and tune out.” But, if we allow it, the gospel today contains a very personal appeal from the Lord’s lips to your (my) ears: “There is no need to dismiss the crowds, give them some food yourself.”

Immediately all the objections swim through our minds, but be still, and let us allow the Lord to instruct us and apply this Gospel in five stages.

I. THE IMAGE THAT IS EXTOLLED – The text says, When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.  When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.

The text begins with a very sad note of the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. We should not simply dismiss the kind of human grief he must have experienced, and the text says he wants to go apart for a while, presumably to pray and grieve. It would seem, at the pinnacle of his public ministry, he could only get apart by going out on a boat, and so he does. The text is unclear how long he was out on the water, but it implies a short time.

Approaching the opposite shore Jesus sees a large crowd, and is moved with pity. He teaches them at great length and heals the sick. And here is the image that is extolled. If Jesus has allowed himself this moment of grief, he also shows that the way out of it is love and concern for others. For it is too easy for us, in our own grief, anger, sorrow, or anxiety to retreat, to hide away. As an immediate reaction this is understandable. But it is not a disposition we ought to maintain for long. For others have need, and even in our grief and our limits, we are still called to reach out. And that very reaching out, often contains our own healing too.

That we have needs, does not mean others stop having them. Jesus shows the courage and the love to still recognize the needs of others, even in his own grief. So he goes ashore and shares love with others.

II. THE ISSUE THAT IS EVADED – The text says, When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

There is a human tendency, that when people are needy, we want them to go away, to disappear. Hence, the apostles, noticing the needy crowd, a crowd about to have a hunger problem, they want the crowd to go away before they become a problem.

We too, both individually and collectively, often desire the needy and poor to just disappear. If we see a beggar, we may cross the street, or refuse to look at him. If our caller ID indicates a troubled family member who may ask for money or want to talk a long time, we let the call go to voice mail. In society we tend to segregate the poor and needy. The “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) syndrome seeks to segregate the poor, the mentally handicapped and others to certain marginal sections of the city largely out of sight, and out of mind. The sick and the dying too are often relegated to nursing homes. Perhaps this is necessary for proper care, but the thought of an elderly relative living and dying in our homes is too much for many, even when it is possible. So, generally people go away to die.

Notice the threefold basis of the disciples evasion:

  1. They are DESPAIRING – for they say, this is a deserted place and it is already late.
  2. They are DISMISSIVE –  for they want Jesus to dismiss the crowd, to send them away.
  3. They are DETACHED – for instead of wanting to help, they want the crowd to go away and get food for themselves.

Yes, it is a sad human tendency to want to be rid of people who have problems. And so the disciples beg Jesus to send the increasingly troublesome crowd away. The Issue is evaded, rather than accepted as a shared problem to be solved together.

III. THE INSTRUCTION THAT ENSUESJesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”

Uh oh! This is starting to get personal. Jesus is not willing to keep this merely as a problem “they” have, he wants me to do something!

Yes, he rejects their premise by saying there is no need for them to go away. And he redirects plan by saying, give them something to eat yourselves.

Refusing to accept the presence of the poor and needy, is simply not a viable option for Jesus, or for us who would be his disciples. He wants and expects us to get started with a solution, a solution that includes both “them” and us. It looks like we are our brother’s keeper.

This is the instruction that ensues when the apostles, or when we, try to evade the issue.

IV. THE INSUFFICIENCY THAT IS EXPRESSED the text says, But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”

But we can’t possibly pull this thing off, the needs are far too great! The Lord is not interested in our excuses, he just says, “Let’s get started.”

Observe two things about the five loaves and two fishes.

  1. First, as John’s Gospel notes, (6:9), the loaves and fishes came from among the poor themselves. Hence this is not mere do-goodism. The teaching here is not to be a “limousine liberal” who rolls down the window and throws money to the poor, then goes back to his mansion. Neither is it a “we’re from the government and we’re here to help you” solution. For we should not do for others what they can reasonably do for themselves. Rather we ought to work with the poor, engaging them in what they do have, in the talents and leadership they do possess, and solve problems with them, rather than merely for them. There are loaves and fishes among even the poor, there are talents and resources to be included in the solution.
  2. Secondly, wherever the loaves and fishes come from, they are not nothing, and the Lord expects all of us to be part of the solution. Simply telling God or, (these days), the government, to go and do something, is not a full or authentic Christian response.

Hence our complaints about meager resources do not impress the Lord who says, simply, bring them to me. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. And thus we go to the principle point.

V.  THE IMMENSITY THAT IS EXPERIENCED – the text says, Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.  They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full.  Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

Now this story is so familiar that you and I are not shocked by the outcome. But no matter how many times we hear it, we still do not really accept it’s astonishing truth:

  1. I can do all things in God who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)
  2. All things are possible to him who believes (Mk 9:23)
  3. For man it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God (Mk 10:27)
  4. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Cor 9:10)

Now take special note of that last quote, for this gospel is about more than caring for the poor, (and it is about that). But this Gospel is also about taking this world back for Christ.

We all know that this world is in an increasingly bad state: rampant secularism, moral relativism, and a Church with many self-inflicted wounds.  This has all led to the fact that we have a real mess on our hands. And the problems are overwhelming: sexual confusion, the culture of death, the breakdown of marriage, compulsive sin, compulsive overspending, greed, insensitivity to the poor, deep and widespread addiction to pornography, drugs, and alcohol, abortion, widespread promiscuity, adultery, corruption, cynicism, low mass attendance and on an on.

The problems seem overwhelming and our resources seem so limited to turn back the tide. What will we ever do with only five loaves and two fishes?

Jesus says, bring them to me.

Yet again, the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. The conversion of the whole world, begins with me. As I look the huge problems before me, I (this means you) assess my loaves and fishes:

  1. I work on my own conversion. For a holier world has to start with me. If I get holier, the world get’s holier.
  2. I look to the poor I can serve, maybe with money maybe with talents, like tutoring, counseling etc. Maybe just with the time of listening.
  3. I pick up the phone and call a family member I know is hurting.
  4. I love my spouse and children.
  5. I spend time properly raising my own children to know the Lord and seek his kingdom.
  6. I exhort the weak in my own family, and with love, rebuke sin and encourage righteousness.
  7. If I am a priest or religious, I faithfully live my vocation, and heroically call others to Christ by teaching and proclaiming the gospel without compromise.
  8. If I am a young person I seek to devoutly prepare myself for a vocation to marriage, priesthood or religious life.
  9. If I am older I seek to manifest wisdom and good example to those who are young.
  10. If I am elderly, I seek to devoutly prepare myself for death, and to give good example in this, and to witness the desire for heaven.
  11. I will pray for this world and attend mass faithfully, begging God’s mercy on this sin soaked world.

It is too easy to lament this world’s condition and, like the apostles, feel overwhelmed. Jesus just says, bring me what you have, and let’s get started. The conversion of the whole world will begin with me, with my meager loaves and fishes.

And Jesus will surely multiply them, he will not fail. Already there is renewal evident in the Church, through a faithful remnant willing to bring their loaves fishes, some of the things mentioned above and more besides. They are bringing them to Jesus and he is multiplying them. Renewal is happening, and signs of spring are evident in the Church.

There is an old saying that it is easier to wear slippers that to carpet the whole of the earth. Indeed it is. If it is a converted world you want start with yourself. Bring your loaves and fishes to Jesus, bring your slippers, and let’s get started.  It begins with me.

This song says,

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re traveling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,
If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain
.

Will Our Pets Join Us in Eternity?

Note: Due to health challenges of a serious but not severe nature, blogging will be light this week. Here is one I composed last week: 

Most of you know that I write a column for Our Sunday Visitor entitled “Pastoral Answers.” A few years ago a collection of over 500 questions and answers was complied into a Book called Catholic and Curious. Every now and again, here on the blog I like to feature an interesting question covered there. You see my weekly columns at OSV.COM

So Here is a recent question and my answer:

I am told that pets do have a soul, but not a rational souls as do we. What happens to the souls of pets when they die? Is there any divine consideration?  Paul VanHoudt. Erie CO 

In terms of answering your question, some definitions and distinctions should be made. You are correct in asserting that pets have a soul. The term “soul” technically understood is the animating or life-giving principle of any living thing. Hence animals have souls, even plants do, and clearly, we have souls. When the soul (or animating principle) mysteriously departs the physical aspects of the living thing cease to function and fall into decay and disintegration.  What makes the human soul unique is, as you also point out, we have rational souls. It is that part of our soul we often call our spirit. The spirit is not a third aspect of our being. It is part of our soul. 

Having rational souls distinguishes us dramatically from animals such as mammals and primates. Some today assert that we are not very different at all from the animals. But this is demonstrably untrue. Physically we have many similarities with other mammals: lungs, eyes, heart, limbs, etc. But the similarities stop there. You will know something by its fruits and it is clear that animals lack  a rational soul while we have one. We are highly organized and have made vast technological progress over the centuries. We have governments, universities, libraries, hospitals, courts, cathedrals and endless technologies. We debate justice, hold each other accountable, reward good and punish wrong-doing and mourn our dead. We are innovative and always asking “why?” We have been to the moon and back and search the stars. The list could go on, but animals, even the highest primates do none of this and have shown no progress toward such things. This demonstrates that they do not have rational souls whereas we humans do. 

As to your question, it is revealed to us by God that we have immortal souls and further, that our bodies too will rise in a perfected and glorified state. This is not said of the animals, at least not every individual animal. So the most common and “safe” answer is that when animals die they just cease to exist. 

However, this is not definitively taught and there are indications that animals, at least in some general way will partake of the new creation at the Second Coming. For example, Isaiah described the Messianic age as a time when The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the nest of the cobra… (Isaiah 11:6-9). St Paul also writes that Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21). And finally St. John in his vision of the New Creation saw Christ seated in glory and Christ said to him: “See I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5) 

This does not necessarily mean that every cow or hyena that ever lived will come back to life but only that animals, as a group and in varied species will partake of the New Creation after the Second Coming. 

Therefore I think our pets will, as you state, receive a special  “divine consideration” since they were part of our lives. I cannot know this for certain, but I think the argument can be made. Further, in heaven, we will live in eternity, in the fullness of time. And while we may not experience the comprehensive now that God does, it would seem we do have some access to our past which includes our pets. How we will experience all this is mysterious and so I pose this whole answer as speculative theology. 

There is however, one danger to avoid. We must not reduce heaven’s joys to having earthly things. Heaven is far greater than any thing we can imagine, be it pets or any earthly joy. 

What Is the Hidden Treasure Buried in the Field?

In Sunday’s Gospel we are told of a man who finds a hidden treasure buried in a field and that he goes and sells all he has to buy the filed in order to have that treasure. Why is it hidden and what does that mean for us?

To say that the treasure, an image for the Kingdom of Heaven, is hidden is to indicate that the gift and glory that God has waiting for us is not something we can fathom. Scripture says,

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has ever conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor 2:9)

Yes, what God has prepared for us are joys unspeakable and glories untold; a Kingdom, a place and vision so glorious that it cannot be described or understood by us now. Oh the glory of what waits, the heights and depth of it, and the ecstasy of beholding the beautiful, magnificent and wondrous face of God, He who has made us for Himself. We have an infinite longing in our hearts that this world can never supply, no matter how vast its offerings. One day, if we are faithful, our eyes will close on this world and, having been purged of our last attachments and imperfections they will open to the beautiful face of God and every longing will be filled. We will join the great dance of Love that is the life of the Trinity, that which the Eastern Church calls the perichoresis. And the Communion of saints will be ours as well, a union and intimacy with each other and every person that is unimaginable now. This is what we were made for and this is what God offers.

But now, much of this is hid from our eyes, from our understanding. Some of us get foretastes of it in deep contemplative prayer, but even this is a distant glimpse of the glory that waits.

And this hidden quality of the Kingdom of Heaven, like a buried treasure, is also what most derails us in our pursuit of it. There is an old saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” And this is a way of saying that a pleasure that is currently available to me now is deemed more satisfying than some future pleasure, even if it is far greater than what I have now. The trinkets of the world that are present to us now too easily mesmerize us and make us dismissive of some future glory that we cannot see and must trust God that it is ours if we are faithful.

Hence the parable of a person finding a buried treasure and eagerly selling everything to acquire it seems to present a picture too challenging for us; it is like a gamble. Is God for real? Are my present pleasures really nothing compared to the glory that waits? What if I miss out in the pleasures and my favorite sins, waiting for a glory train that never comes?!

It is true, we must trust God who assures us of joys unspeakable and glories untold. The treasure is hidden in the field of our heart and we must give our hearts wholly to God who alone can satisfy us. Deep down we know that this world cannot satisfy our infinite longing; that its offerings are mere trinkets that give joy for a mere moment and then its off to the yard sale. Deep down we know that the final offering of this world is a stone cold tomb. But it is what we know. Can we trust God that something greater waits for us, something so wonderful that we should forsake anything that hinders us from obtaining it?

In this condition it is clear that our heart lacks two things: faith and proper desire. There is only one solution. We have to fall to our knees and beg the Lord for a new heart and mind. This humility is necessary if we are going to get anywhere. If we try to do this out of our own flesh power our efforts will last ten minutes, max. God has promised this if we will humbly ask:

O my people, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a true heart. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you (Ezekiel 36:26-29)

And thus we should pray:

Heavenly Father, I love you but not enough. Increase my love. I tend to desire worldly trinkets more than what you offer. I desire things that I know are bad for me, in abundance, and I do not desire what I know is good for me. My heart is disordered and I cannot fix it on my own. Please, in your love go to work. My life resembles almost nothing of the one who found a hidden treasure and sold everything for it. Only you can bring this about. I give you permission to go to work. I ask that you be gentle, for I am weak and can only take so much. But, please Lord, do what you need to do, in the way you want to do it. All I ask is your grace and mercy.

Give Me Jesus – A Sermon for the 17th Sunday of the Year

The Gospel today asks a fundamental question: “What is it that you value most?” In other words, He’s asking us what we want most. We tend to answer questions like this the way we think we should, rather than genuinely. When we’re with the doctor (and Jesus is our doctor) our best bet is to answer honestly so that we can begin a true healing process. The fact is, we all need a heart transplant; we need a new heart, one that desires God and the things awaiting us in Heaven more so than any earthly thing.

Let’s take a look at this Gospel, which sets forth in three fundamental movements the picture and price of the Kingdom of God along with a peril that reminds us that we must make a choice.

I. The Picture – The Gospel uses three images for the kingdom, two of which we will look at here (a buried treasure and a pearl), and the third of which (a net) we will examine later. Both the treasure and pearl symbols are used elsewhere in Scripture. Studying those other passages can be helpful in fine-tuning our understanding of the gift of the Kingdom, which Jesus is discussing in today’s Gospel.

Buried Treasure – The concept of treasure (buried in the case of today’s Gospel) is mentioned elsewhere by Jesus:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21).

Although we tend to think of treasure as a bunch of “stuff,” the image of treasure that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel is more a symbol for the heart and for our deepest desires, because our treasure is linked to our heart. One of the greatest gifts that God offers us is the gift a new heart, one that values most what He offers: holiness and Himself. One of the most fundamental prophetic texts of the Old Testament announces what Jesus has fulfilled:

Oh, my people, I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The great treasure of the Kingdom of God gives us a new heart, by choosing it our heart is changed. To have a new heart is to experience our desires changing. We become less focused on passing, worldly things and more interested in the lasting treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven. We begin to love what and whom God loves. We begin to love holiness, justice, chastity, goodness, righteousness, and truth. We begin to love our spouse, family, the poor, and even our enemies the way God loves them. Our heart becomes alive with joy and zeal for the Kingdom of God and an evangelical spirit impels us to speak what we know to be true.

Yes, the buried, hidden treasure of the Kingdom of God unlocks our heart, bringing new life coursing through our veins, through our very soul. In choosing this treasure we get a new heart, for where our treasure is, there also will be our heart.

A Pearl – The second image comes from the Wisdom tradition, in which holy Wisdom is likened to a pearl. Here, too, is described one of the most precious gifts of the Kingdom of God: a new mind through holy Wisdom. What is this new mind? It is one that begins to think more and more as God does, one that shares His priorities and vision, one that sees as He does; it is the mind of Christ (cf 1 Cor 2:16). With this new mind we see through and reject worldly thinking, priorities, and agendas. We come to rejoice in God’s truth and to grasp more deeply its beauty and sensibility. What a precious gift the new mind is, thinking with God and having the mind of Christ!

So here are two precious manifestations of the Kingdom of God: a new heart and a new mind, which is really another way of saying, “a whole new self.” God is offering us a new life, a new self, a complete transformation.

II. The Price – What are these offerings of the Kingdom worth and what do they ultimately cost? The answer is clear in today’s Gospel: they cost, and are worth, everything. Regarding the hidden treasure and the pearl, the text says that both men went and sold all they had for them. They were willing to forsake everything for these precious items.

Be careful not to reduce this Gospel to a moralism. Notice that these men were eager to go and sell, to forsake, everything else. They did this not so much because they had to, but because they wanted to. They wanted to pay the price and did so with eagerness because they were so enamored of the glory they had found. Here is the gift to seek from the Lord: a willing and eager heart for the Kingdom of God, so eager that we are willing to forsake anything and everything for it.

For ultimately the Kingdom of God does cost everything and we will not fully inherit it until we are fully done with this world and its claims on our heart.

The gift to seek from the Lord is not that we forsake the world with sullen faces and depressed spirits, as if we were paying taxes. No! The gift to seek is that we, like these men, be so taken by the glory of God and His kingdom that we are more than willing to set aside anything that gets in our way, that we are so eager for the things of the Kingdom that loss of the world’s intoxicating trinkets means almost nothing.

Do you see? This is the gift: a heart that appreciates the true worth of the Kingdom of God such that no price is too high. Scripture says elsewhere,

  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8).

  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17).

  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).

  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14).

Yes, the Kingdom of God is more than worth any price we must pay, and ultimately we will pay all for it. Pray for an eager and willing spirit that comes from appreciating the unsurpassed worth of the Kingdom!

III. The Peril – The final movement contains a warning about our upcoming judgment. Ultimately, we either want the Kingdom of God or we don’t. Hence the Lord speaks of a net that captures everything (referring to our summons to the judgment). Those who want the Kingdom and have accepted its value and price will be gathered in; those who do not want the Kingdom of God and do not accept its value will be cast aside.

There are clearly some who do not value the Kingdom. They may desire “heaven,” but it is one of their own making, not the real Heaven. The true Heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. The Kingdom of God includes things like forgiveness, mercy, justice, chastity, love of the poor, love of one’s enemies, and the celebration of what is good, true, and beautiful. The Kingdom of God has God, not man, at its center.

Yes, there are many who neither want nor value some or even most of these things. When the net is drawn in, our decision is made final. Though we may wish for a fairy tale ending, one in which opponents of the Kingdom suddenly love it, God quite clearly says that at the judgment one’s decision for or against the Kingdom becomes final; it is fixed forever.

An old song says, “Better choose the Lord today, for tomorrow very well might be too late.” Thus we are warned that the judgment looms and that we ought to be earnest in seeking a heart from the Lord that eagerly desires the Kingdom and appreciates its worth above all people and all things. In the end, we get what we want. Either we will have chosen the Kingdom or not.

Pray for a new heart, one that values the Kingdom of Heaven above all else. We ought to consider ourselves warned.

The Gospel today is about what we truly value, and is presented in three movements.

This song says, “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.”

Does God Harden Human Hearts?


One of the more difficult biblical themes to understand is that of God hardening the hearts and minds of certain people. The most memorable case is that of Pharaoh. Before sending Moses to him, God said that He would “harden Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex 4:21). There are other instances in which biblical texts speak of God hardening the hearts of sinners, even from among His own people.

Jesus hinted at such a theme in Matthew 13, when He said that He spoke in parables (here understood more as riddles) so as to affirm that the hearts of most people “outside the house” were hardened. He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 as He does so. Jesus’ own apostles wondered why He spoke plainly only to them and a close company of disciples, but in riddle-like parables to the crowds outside. In His answer we are left to wonder if Jesus has not perchance written off the crowds and left them in the hardness of their hearts. To be fair, Jesus’ remark is ambiguous and open to interpretation.

What are we to make of texts like these which explicitly or implicitly speak of God hardening the hearts of people? How can God, who does no evil, be the source of a sinful mind or hard heart? Why would God do such a thing when Scripture also says this:

•  As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign 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 men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).

To be sure, these questions involve very deep mysteries, about the interaction between God’s sovereignty and our freedom, about time, and about causality. The question of God hardening hearts cannot be resolved simply. Greater minds than mine have pondered these things and it would be foolish to think that an easy resolution will be found in a blog post.

Some distinctions can and should be made and some context supplied. We do not want to understand the “hardening texts” simplistically or in ways that use one truth to cancel out others that balance it.

I propose that we examine these texts along four lines:

  1. The Context of Connivance
  2. The Mystery of Time
  3. The Mystery of Primary Causality
  4. The Necessity of Humility

To begin, it is important simply to list some of the hardening texts. These will be referred to as we examine each of the four points above. The following are not the only hardening texts, but they provide a wide enough sample to use in our discussion:

•  The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Ex 4:21).

•  Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country (Ex 11:10).

•  Why, O LORD, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your inheritance (Is 63:17).

•  He [God] has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them (Jesus quoting Isaiah 6:9-10, in John 12:40).

•  They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie, so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thess 2:10-12).

•  Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. … Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done (Rom 1:24, 28).

Point I: The Context of Connivance In properly assessing texts like these we should first consider the contexts in which they were made and written. Generally speaking, most of these declarations that God hardens the heart come after a significant period of disobedience on the part of those whose hearts were hardened. In a way, God “cements the deal” and gives them what they really want. Seeing that they have hardened their own hearts to Him, God determines that their disposition is to be a permanent one. In a sovereign exercise of His will (for nothing can happen without God’s allowance), He declares and permits their hearts to be hardened in a definitive kind of way. In this sense there is a judgment of God upon the individual that recognizes the person’s definitive decision against Him. Hence this hardening can be understood as voluntary on the part of the one hardened, for God hardens in such a way that He uses the person’s own will for the executing of His judgment. God accepts that the individual’s will against Him is definitive.

In the case of Pharaoh, although God indicated to Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, the actual working out of this is a bit more complicated. We see in the first five plagues that it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart (Ex 7:13; 7:22; 8:11; 8:28; 9:7). It is only after this repeated hardening by Pharaoh of his own heart that the Exodus text speaks of God as the one who hardens (Ex 9:12; 9:34; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27). Hence the hardening here is not without Pharaoh’s repeated demonstration of his own hardness. God does this as a kind of sovereign judgment on Pharaoh.

The Isaiah texts (many in number) that speak of a hardening being visited upon Israel by God (e.g., #3 and #4 above) are also the culmination of a long testimony by Isaiah of Israel’s hardness. At the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, God describes (through Isaiah) Israel’s hardness as being of their own doing: For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him (Is 1:2-4). There follows a long list of their crimes, their hardness, and their refusal to repent.

St. John Chrysostom: Of the numerous texts later in Isaiah (and also referenced by Jesus (e.g., Jn 12:40)) that speak of Israel as being hardened by God (and having their eyes shut by Him), St. John Chrysostom wrote, That the saying of Isaiah might be fulfilled: that here is expressive not of the cause, but of the event. They did not disbelieve because Isaiah said they would; but because they would disbelieve, Isaiah said they would … For He does not leave us, except we wish Him … Whereby it is plain that we begin to forsake first, and are the cause of our own perdition. For as it is not the fault of the sun, that it hurts weak eyes, so neither is God to blame for punishing those who do not attend to His words (on a gloss of Is. 6:9-10 at Jn 12:40, quoted in the Catena Aurea).

St Augustine: This is not said to be the devil’s doing, but God’s. Yet if any ask why they could not believe, I answer, because they would not … But the Prophet, you say, mentions another cause, not their will; but that God had blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart. But I answer, that they well deserved this. For God hardens and blinds a man, by forsaking and not supporting him; and this He makes by a secret sentence, for by an unjust one He cannot (quoted in the Catena Aurea at Jn 12:40).

In the passage from 2 Thessalonians, while the text speaks of God as having sent the delusion, the verses before and after make clear the sinful role of the punished.

Of this text St. Augustine wrote, From a hidden judgment of God comes perversity of heart, so that the refusal to hear the truth leads to the commission of sin, and this sin is itself a punishment for the preceding sin [of refusing to hear the truth] (Against Julian 5.3.12).

St. John Damascus: [God does this] so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (The Orthodox Faith 4.26).

The passages from Romans speak of God handing them over only after they have suppressed the truth (1:18), persevered in their wickedness (1:18), and preferred idolatry (1:23). Hence, as a just judgment, God hands them over to sexual confusion (homosexuality) and countless other destructive drives. So although it is said that God hands them over, it is really not that simple. They do not want to serve Him and so He, knowing their definitive decision, gives them what they want.

Thus our first point of distinction in understanding the hardening texts is that the context of connivance is important in assessing them. Scripture does not assert that God takes a reasonably righteous man and, out of the blue, hardens his heart, confuses his mind, or causes him (against his will) to become obstinate. The texts are usually presented as a kind of prevenient judgment by God, that the state of the person’s hardness has now become permanent. They refuse and so God “causes” them to walk in their own sinful ways since they have insisted on doing so.

Point II: The Mystery of Time In understanding these hardening texts (which we have seen are akin to judgment texts) we must recall that God does not live in time in the same way that we do. Scripture speaks often of God’s knowledge and vision of time as being comprehensive rather than speculative or serial (e.g., Ex 3:14; Ps 90:2-4; Ps 93:2; Is 43:13; Ps 139; 2 Peter 3:8; James 1:17).

To say that God is eternal and lives in eternity is to say that He lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, present, and future are all the same. God is not wondering what I will do tomorrow; neither is He waiting for it to happen. For Him, my tomorrow has always been present. All of my days were written in His book before one of them ever came to be (Ps 139:16). Whether and how long I live has always been known to Him. Before He ever formed me in my mother’s womb He knew me (Jer 1:4). My final destiny is already known and present to Him.

Hence, when we strive to understand God’s judgments in the form of hardening the hearts of certain people, we must be careful not to think He lives in time the way we do. It is not as though God is watching my life like a movie. He already knows the choices I will make. Thus, when God hardens the hearts of some, it is not as though He is trying to negatively influence the outcome and trip certain people up. He already knows the outcome and has always known it; He knows the destiny that they have chosen.

Be very careful with this insight, for it is a mystery to us. We cannot really know what it is like to live in eternity, in the fullness of time, where the future is just as present as the past. Even if you think you know, you really don’t. What is essential for us to realize is that God does not live in time the way we do. If we try too hard to solve the mystery (rather than merely accepting and respecting it) we risk falling into the denial of human freedom, double predestination, or other misguided notions that sacrifice one truth for another rather than holding them in balance. That God knows what I will do tomorrow does not destroy my freedom to actually do it. How this all works out is mysterious, but we are free and God holds us accountable for our choices. Further, even though God knows our destiny already, this does not mean that He is revealing anything about that to us, so that we should look for signs and seek to call ourselves saved or lost. We ought to work out our salvation in reverential fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

The key point here is mystery. How, why, and when God hardens the heart of anyone is caught up in the mysterious fact that He lives outside of time and knows all things before they happen. Thus He acts with comprehensive knowledge of all outcomes.

Point III: The Mystery of Causality One of the major differences between the ancient and the modern world is that the ancient world was much more comfortable dealing with something known as primary causality.

Up until the Renaissance, God was at the center of all things and people instinctively saw the hand of God in everything, even terrible things. Job said, The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised … if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil? (Job 1:21; 2:10) The ancients would commonly attribute everything as coming from the hand of God, for He was the first cause of everything that happened. This is what is meant by primary causality. The ancients were thus much more comfortable attributing things to God, even things that we are not. In speaking like this, they were not engaging in superstitious or primitive thinking; rather, they were emphasizing that God was sovereign, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and that nothing happened apart from His sovereign will. God is the primary cause of all that is.

Of this ancient and scriptural way of thinking the Catechism says, And so we see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes [e.g., human or natural]. This is not a “primitive mode of speech,” but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him (CCC # 304).

The key point here is understanding that the ancient biblical texts, while often speaking of God as hardening the hearts of sinners, did not mean to say that man had no role, no responsibility. Neither did the texts mean to say that God acted in a merely arbitrary way. Rather, the emphasis was on God’s sovereign power as the first cause of all that is. Hence, He is often called the cause of all things and His hand is seen in everything. We moderns are uncomfortable speaking in this way.

After the Renaissance, man moved himself to the center and God was gradually relegated to the periphery. Man’s manner of thinking and speaking began to shift to secondary causes (causes related to man and nature). If something happens we look to natural causes, or in human situations, to the humans who caused it. These are secondary causes because I cannot cause something to happen unless God causes me. Yet increasingly the modern mind struggles to maintain a balance between the two mysteries: our freedom and responsibility, and God’s sovereignty and omnipotence.

In effect primary causality has largely been thrown overboard as a category. Even modern believers unconsciously do this and thus exhibit three related issues:

1. We fail to maintain the proper balance between two mysteries: God’s sovereignty and our freedom.

2. We exhibit shock at things like the “hardening texts” of the Bible because we understand them poorly.

3. We try to resolve the shock by favoring one truth over the other. Maybe we just brush aside the ancient biblical texts as a “primitive mode of speech,” inappropriately concluding that God didn’t have anything to do with this or that. Or we go to the other extreme and become fatalistic, denying human freedom, denying secondary causality (our part), and accusing God of everything (as if He were the only cause and shouldered the sole blame for everything). We either read the hardening texts with a clumsy literalism or we dismiss them as misguided notions from an immature, primitive, pre-scientific age.

The point here is that we have to balance the mysteries of primary and secondary causality. We cannot fully understand how they interrelate, but they do. Both mysteries need to be held. The ancients were more sophisticated than we are in holding these mysteries in the proper balance. We handle causality very clumsily and do not appreciate the distinctions between primary causality (God’s part) and secondary causality (our own and nature’s part). We try to resolve the mystery rather than holding it in balance and speaking to both realities. In doing so, we become poor interpreters of the hardening texts.

Point IV: The Necessity of Humility By now it is clear that we are dealing with the mysterious interrelationship between God and Man, between God’s sovereignty and our freedom, between primary and secondary causality. In the face of such mysteries we have to be very humble. We ought not to think more of the details than is proper, because they are largely hidden from us. Too many moderns either dismiss the hardening texts or accept them and then sit in harsh judgment over God (as if we could do such a thing). Neither approach bespeaks humility. Consider a shocking but very humbling text in which Paul warns us in this very matter:

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore, God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:14-20)

None of us can demand an absolute account from God for what He does. Even if He were to tell us, could our small and worldly minds ever really comprehend it? My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways, says the Lord (Is 55:8).

SUMMARY – In this (rather too long) post, we have considered the “hardening texts,” in which it seems that God hardens the hearts of certain people and groups—and so He does. But texts like these must be approached carefully, humbly, and with proper understanding of the scriptural and historical context. At work here are profound mysteries: God’s sovereignty, our freedom, His mercy, and His justice.

We should be careful to admit the limits of our knowledge when it comes to such texts. As the Catechism so beautifully states, when it comes to texts like these they are to be appreciated as a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him (CCC # 304).

The Probability of You Existing at All is Almost NON-Existent. A Brief Reflection on the Contingency of our Being and the Glory of God, Based on a Recent Math Article.

I was alerted to a fascinating article by Ali Binazir who sets forth mathematically the odds of you or I existing, just as we are genetically. It turns out that, when taking into consideration the astonishing number of possibilities of parents meeting, grandparents before them and on and on going back the generations, and adding also the vast numbers of sperm and ova in possible combination over a the lifetime of the marital acts, of all those generations, it would seem that the odds of me existing just as I do, are 1 in 102,685,000. That’s a number so huge it hurts to think about it.

To say that we are contingent beings, is a vast understatement. To say that some one or something is contingent is to say that the existence of same is not inevitable, but can only come about based on any number of previous things being true in a chain of being or causality. Hence I would not exist if my parents had not existed and met. Further, they would not exist if the parents had not existed and met, the chain going back many generations. Thus, my existence depends on a vast number of “meetings” going just right, or I am not here.

Consider some of the contingencies and requirements for your existence as set forth by Mr Binazir. Some of the numbers are based on hunches, but generally those numbers are on the conservative side. I am only publishing a small amount of his musings here. You can read his full article here: What are the Chances of You Being Born? and see how he comes up with these numbers.

So here are listed some of the probabilities of required events for you to be born:

  1. Probability of boy meeting girl: 1 in 20,000.
  2. Now let’s say the chances of them actually talking to one another is one in 10.
  3. And the chances of that turning into another meeting is about one in 10 also.
  4. And the chances of that turning into a long-term relationship is also one in 10.
  5. And the chances of that lasting long enough to result in offspring is one in 2.
  6. So the probability of your parents’ chance meeting resulting in marriage and kids is about 1 in 2000
  7. So the combined probability is already around 1 in 40 million
  8. Now things start getting interesting.  Why?  Because we’re about to deal with eggs and sperm, which come in large numbers. Each sperm and each egg is genetically unique because of the process of meiosis; you are the result of the fusion of one particular egg with one particular sperm.  A fertile woman has 100,000 viable eggs on average.  A man will produce about 12 trillion sperm over the course of his reproductive lifetime.
  9. Let’s say a third of those (4 trillion) are relevant to our calculation, since the sperm created after your mom hits menopause don’t count.  So the probability of that one sperm with half your name on it hitting that one egg with the other half of your name on it is 1/(100,000)(4 trillion)= 1/(105)(4×1012)= 1 in 4 x 1017, or one in 400 quadrillion.
  10. But because the existence of you here now on planet earth presupposes another supremely unlikely and utterly undeniable chain of events.  Namely, that every one of your ancestors lived to reproductive age we must also go further presuming 150,000 generations going back to man’s origin.
  11. Well then, that would be one in 2150,000 , which is about 1 in 1045,000– a number so staggeringly large that my head hurts just writing it down.
  12. But let’s think about this some more.  Remember the sperm-meeting-egg argument for the creation of you, since each gamete is unique?
  13. Well, the right sperm also had to meet the right egg to create your grandparents.  Otherwise they’d be different people, and so would their children, who would then have had children who were similar to you but not quite you.
  14. This is also true of your grandparents’ parents, and their grandparents, and so on till the beginning of human time.  If even once the wrong sperm met the wrong egg, you would not be sitting here noodling online reading fascinating articles like this one.  It would be your cousin Jethro, and you never really liked him anyway.
  15. That means in every step of your lineage, the probability of the right sperm meeting the right egg such that the exact right ancestor would be created that would end up creating you is one in 1200 trillion, which we’ll round down to 1000 trillion, or one quadrillion.
  16. So now we must account for that for 150,000 generations by raising 400 quadrillion to the 150,000th power: That’s a ten followed by 2,640,000 zeroes, which would fill 11 volumes of a 250 page book with zeroes.
  17. For the sake of completeness: (102,640,000)(1045,000)(2000)(20,000) = 4x 102,685,007 ≈ 102,685,000
  18. Probability of your existing at all: 1 in 102,685,000

Now, there are some assumptions you may quibble with. I would certainly add in (sadly) some probabilities related to being aborted, or miscarried. But even a simpler analysis yields astonishing numbers. One of my brothers made his own calculation regarding one of Binazir’s numbers:

My numbers are more simplistic.  But assuming 100,000 eggs/woman & 12T sperm/man, that creates 1.2 x 10^18 combinations for every man/woman pairing (i.e., signficantly more combos than 400T or 4 x 10^14 mentioned in the article).  If you assume 3B women on earth & 3B man, that means 3 x 10^14 eggs and 3.6 x 10^22 sperm currently on the planet, for a total combination of 1.1 x 10^37 pairings.  If you assume current population is 1% of the history of humanity, total combos go to 1.1 x 10^39.

Not only are you and I contingent, we are very improbable! Yet here we are! Mirabile visu! (wondrous to behold).

Theologically of course we are no accident or happenstance. God has always known us, intended us, loved us and planned for us. Scripture says,

  1. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer 1:5).
  2. Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, in the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Matt 25:34)
  3. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Yes, you’re here alright, and math can barely account for your existence, so tiny are the odds. But God has overseen every detail and knew you long before you were born. In fact he has been preparing a place for us in the kingdom, from before the creation of the world. Not only has he always known us, but he has known everything we would do, for every one of our days have been written in his book before one of them ever came to be.

The great mystery of our existence stretches back in time into the very heart and mind of God who has always known and loved us, has prepared for us and made a way for us. You are wonderfully and fearfully made and God has done a marvelous thing. You’re not just one in a million, you’re one in a 102,685,000

Photo Credit: Portland Glass

This video makes a moving point, but attributes our existence to luck. But you are not here by luck, you are here by the grace and will of God.

Saint or Ain’t? A Homily for the 16th Sunday of the Year

We live in difficult times for the Church; from many sectors the very legitimate cry for reform goes up frequently. Beyond the sexual abuse scandal there are also deep concerns regarding the uncertain trumpet of Catholic preaching, lukewarm and nominal Catholics, an overall lack of self-discipline among Catholics, and a lack of disciplining by the bishops and clergy of those Catholics (lay and clergy) who cause scandal. The list of concerns is long, and in general I have been sympathetic on this blog to the need for reform and greater zeal in the Church.

The Gospel this Sunday, however, featuring the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, cautions against overzealousness in the attempt to root out sin and sinners from the Church. The Lord’s warning to the farmhands who wanted to tear out the weeds was that they might harm the wheat as well. He wants them to wait until the harvest. There will come a day of reckoning, but it is not now.

This does not mean that we are never to take notice of sin or to rebuke a sinner. There is certainly the need for discipline in the Church; other texts call for it as well. But today’s Gospel is meant to warn against a scouring that is too thorough, a puritanical clean sweep that overrules God’s patience and seeks to turn the Church from a hospital for sinners into a germ-free (and hence people-free) zone.

We are going to need to depend on God’s patience and mercy if any of us are to stand a chance. People who summon the wrath of God upon (other) sinners may end up destroying themselves as well. We all have a journey to make from being an “ain’t” to being a saint.

Let’s allow today’s Gospel to give us some guidance in finding the right balance between the summons to reform and the summons to patience. The guidance comes in four steps.

I.  WAKE UP. Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.”

Notice that everyone was sleeping when the enemy sowed weeds. It is a great mystery as to why God allowed Satan to do this in the first place, but there is far less mystery as to why Satan has been so successful in our times. The weeds are numerous and are vigorously growing. Part of the reason for this is that we in the Church have been sleeping while Satan has been steadily sowing his weeds among us.

Don’t just blame the Church leadership (although we certainly share plenty of the blame). Many throughout the Church have been in a deep moral slumber. Too many Catholics will watch anything, listen to anything, and expose themselves to anything. We just “go with the flow,” living unreflective, sleepy lives. We also allow our children to be exposed to almost anything. Too many parents don’t know enough about what their children are doing: what they watch, what they listen to, where they are surfing on the Internet, and who their friends are. We rarely think of God or His plan for our lives. On the whole, our priorities are more worldly than spiritual. We are not awake and wary of sin and its incursions; we are not outraged. We take little action other than to shrug. We seem to be more concerned with fitting in than in living as a sign of contradiction to the ways of the world.

Church leadership, too, has been inwardly focused. While the culture was melting down beginning in the late 1960s, we were tuning guitars, moving the furniture in the sanctuaries, debating about Church authority, engaging in gender wars, and having seemingly endless internal squabbles about every facet of Church life. I do not deny that there were right and wrong answers in these debates and that rebellious trends had to be addressed, but while all this was going on Satan was sowing seeds and we lost the culture.

We are just now emerging from 50 years in a cocoon to find a world gone mad. We who lead the Church (clergy and lay) have to admit that this happened on our watch.

It is long past time to wake up to the reality that Satan has been working while we’ve been bickering and singing songs to ourselves.

Blaming one side of the Church or the other, faulting this kind of liturgy or that, is not very helpful because the focus is still inward.

It’s time to wake up and go out. There is work to be done in reclaiming the culture for Christ and in re-proposing the Gospel to a world that has lost it.

Step one in finding a balance between the need for reform and the need for patience is to wake up.

II.  WISE UP. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.”

Part of the sobriety we have to regain is the understanding that we have an enemy who hates us—Satan. He is responsible for much of the spiritual, moral, and even physical ruin we see around us. We have been dismissive of his presence for far too long, as though he were a fairy tale. While we cannot blame everything on him, for we connive with him and also suffer from weakness of the flesh and susceptibility to the bad influence of the world, Satan is real; he is an enemy and he hates us. He hates our children. He hates the Church. He hates anything and anyone holy or even on the path to holiness.

We have to wise up and ask the Lord for an anointing. We need not utterly fear the devil, but we do need to understand that he is at work. We need to learn his moves, designs, tactics, and tools. Once we can recognize him, we need the grace to rebuke him at every turn.

Now be careful here. To wise up means to learn and understand Satan’s tactics, but it does not mean to imitate them in retaliation. Upon waking up and wising up, some want to go right to battle—but in worldly ways. The Lord often proposes paradoxical tactics that are rooted in the wisdom of the cross, not the world. Wising up to Satan and his tactics does not typically mean to engage in a full frontal assault. Often the Lord counsels humility to battle against pride, love to conquer hate, and accepted weakness to overcome strength.

To wise up means to come to the wisdom of the cross, not the world. The Lord is not nearly as warlike in His response to His enemy as some reformers propose to be. It is fine to be appropriately zealous for reform and to want to usher in change rapidly, but be very careful what wisdom you are appealing to. Scripture says, Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight (1 Cor 3:19-20).

Step two in a finding a balance between the need for reform and the need for patience is to wise up.

III.  WAIT UP. His slaves said to him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” He replied, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest …”

We have already laid the groundwork for the Lord’s rebuke to these overly zealous reformers. Today in the Church we are well aware of the need for reform; so is the Lord. He says, clearly, an enemy has done this. Yet to those who want to go through the Church rooting out every sinner, ne’er-do-well, and bad theologian (and there are many), and who call for a severe clampdown by bishops across the board, the Lord presents a balancing notion.

There is need for discipline in the Church and even for punitive measures from time to time. The Lord himself proposes excommunication in certain instances (e.g., Matt 18:17); St Paul does, too (e.g., 1 Cor 5:5). Yet these texts need to be balanced by texts such as today’s Gospel. Fraternal correction is an essential work of charity but it must be conducted with patience and love.

The Lord is patient. In today’s Gospel, He directs us to be prepared to wait, and to not be overly anxious to pull out weeds lest we harm the wheat. Remarkably, the Lord says, let them grow together. Notice that now is the time to grow; the harvest comes later. In certain (rare) instances the harm may be so egregious that the Church must act to remove the sinner or to discipline him or her more severely, but there is also a place for waiting and allowing the wheat and tares to grow together. After all, sinners may repent; the Lord wants to give people the time they need to do that. Scripture says, God’s patience is directed to our salvation (2 Peter 3:9).

So while there is sometimes a need for strong discipline in the Church, there is also this directive to balance such notions. Leave it be; wait. Place this in the hands of God. Give the sinner time to repent. Keep working and praying for that but do not act precipitously.

We have had many discussions here on the blog about whether and how bishops should discipline Catholic politicians who, by their bad example and reprehensible voting patterns, undermine the Gospel and even cost lives through their support of abortion and euthanasia.

While I am sympathetic to the need for them to be disciplined, it remains a judgment for the bishop to make as to who, how, and when.

There are Scriptures that balance one another. In the end, we cannot simply make a one-size-fits-all norm. There are prudential aspects to the decision and the Lord Himself speaks to different situations in different ways.

In today’s Gospel the Lord says that we should wait. Generally, this is good advice to follow. After all, how do we know that we don’t or won’t need more time? Before we ask God to lower the boom on sinners we ought to remember that we are going to need His patience and mercy too. Scripture says, The measure that you measure to others will be measured back to you (Matt 7:2; Luke 6:38). Be very careful before summoning God’s wrath, for who may endure the Day of his coming? (Mal 3:2)

Step three in a finding a balance between the need for reform and the need for patience is to “wait up” and balance zeal with patience.

IV.  WASH UP. Then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”

So you see there is a harvest. Those who have sinned or led others to sin, and have not repented, are going to have to answer to the Lord for it.

The Lord is no pushover; He does not make light of sin. In telling us to wait, He does not mean to say that judgment will never come, but His general advice is to leave it to Him. To us He says, in effect, “As for you, wash up, get ready, and help others to get ready as well. Judgment day is surely coming and every knee will bend to me; everyone will have to render an account.”

That’s it. Wash up! You’re either going to be a saint or an “ain’t.” For now, the wheat and tares grow together. But later the tares and all the weeds will be gathered and cast into the fire.

Step four in a finding a balance between the need for reform and the need for patience is to “wash up,” to get ready.

So here’s the balance: God is patient, but there is ultimately a harvest. By God’s grace we have to get ready for it. To the overly zealous God says, “Wait,” but to the complacent He says, “Wake up, wise up, and wash up.”