Let’s look at a brief excerpt of Archangel Raphael and ponder gratefully the ministry of the angels. Raphael says,
I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner in order to go and bury the dead….
God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” (Tobit 12:14-16)
This passage presents a description of how God interacts with his creation through the ministry of the angels. Notice how Raphael presented the prayers of Tobit and Sarah before God. More than this, the text implies that Raphael presented a record of the prayerfulness of the two and described Tobit’s good deeds. Thus, he stood before God more as a witness of their love and prayerfulness than as a mere conveyor of requests.
Why is this? Is God not omniscient? He is of course and therefore does not need the mediation of the angels, but He does seem to will it. It is common in both Scripture and doctrinal traditions to ascribe to the angels the work of mediation.
Angels in Scripture often speak for God and mediate His presence. At times, such as when Jacob wrestles with God, it is not clear whether it is an angel or God (Genesis 32:22-32); Abram greats three angels but calls them “Lord” (Genesis 18). At other times, it is clearly an angel that people such as Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15), Tobit (Tobit 12), and Mary (Luke 1) encounter. These angles speak for God and mediate His presence but are not God. Throughout the Book of Revelation, angels are sent forth to mediate God’s justice. In many places in Scripture, we are told by the Lord heed the voice of the angels who are sent to guard and guide us.
In the sacred Liturgy the ministry of the angels in connecting our sacrifice to the true altar in heaven is spoken of (Roman canon) and the Book of Revelation describes how the heavenly and earthly liturgy is the work of angels and men. Angels bring the prayers of the saints before God, minister at the altar of incense, and so forth.
There are numerous other passages and teachings that I could present, let it suffice to say that God, though almighty, all-powerful, and omniscient, most often chooses to mediate His presence to creation through the work of the angels.
Perhaps an example may illustrate a likely reason. The laptop computer on which I am typing is not plugged directly into the wall outlet; its delicate circuitry cannot endure the 110-120 V. alternating current; it would blow out. Instead, an adaptor between the laptop and the wall outlet mediates, reducing the voltage to 19 V. direct current. Similarly, direct encounters with God may well be impossible for us on this side of the veil unless God hides His face or mediates His presence through the angels and/or the sacraments.
For us and for all of His creation, the ministry of the angels is a great mercy of God. Doctrinal traditions emphasize the ministry of the angels in mediating all of God’s providence. The highest angels minister in God’s Heaven, other ranks of angels minster the cosmos, and still other ranks minister here on earth. Nations, cities, local churches, and individuals have presiding angels. The Book of Revelation describes angels controlling winds and earthquakes as well as executing God’s justice and authority over history and events. Angels mediate God’s providence and sustenance throughout the whole of creation.
We seldom talk or even think this way today. Let’s look at another modern example. In explaining how a large passenger airplane rises off the runway, a scientist would speak of “lift” and “thrust.” The angle of the wing creates an area of lower air pressure above the wing and higher pressure beneath. Combine this with enough thrust to overcome gravity and you have the lift required for the plane to take off. However, a theologian from the Middle Ages might simply say that “the angels lift the plane.” In a certain sense both explanations are correct. If God sustains all of creation, and if He mediates His actions through the angels, it is not incorrect to say that “the angels lift the plane,” just as they serve God in all His creation. The theologian speaks to the metaphysical while the physicist speaks to the physical/material. The physicist speaks to efficient causality while the theologian speaks to final causality.
Yet there are many today, even among believers, who scoff at ascribing so much (or anything at all) to angels. To them one must point out that physics and mechanics alone cannot fully answer the legitimate questions that arise as we watch the plane take off into the sky. Science is good at answering mechanical questions and quantifying things such as force and lift, but it is not able to answer deeper questions such as why, from what, or for what ultimate reason things exist. Why are things the way they are and not some other way? Where does the order and intelligibility of the material world come from? How is the world sustained in a steady-enough state that we can interact with it reliably and depend upon its laws and order? In fact, why is there anything at all?
There are deeper realities to things than the mere mechanics. And many of the mechanics are not even fully explained or understood. Science, despite the use of numbers and formulas, still has not pierced all the physical mysteries of the plane’s vertical rise.
Perhaps the deepest mystery at the physical level is gravity. We can quantify this force, but its presence in the physical order is mysterious and even counterintuitive. Why do objects attract one another? And how does this attractive force work? Are there invisible strings that pull us toward the earth or other large bodies? What is it about gravity that affects time, as it seems that it does? There are not definitive answers. That gravity exists and can be measured is clear, but precisely what it is and how it works exactly is not clear.
Perhaps one day we will uncover gravity’s secrets, but this still does not satisfy our legitimate metaphysical questions. Simply scoffing at or being dismissive of the ministry and existence of angels (or demons, for that matter) does not do away with our questions. The existence of order, intelligibility, and predictability presents questions that cannot be sidestepped. Who or what ordered creation so that we can discover its order and its laws? If creation can speak to our intelligence by its intelligibility, what intelligence introduced it there to be discovered? If creation moves from simplicity to complexity (in seeming violation of the usual entropy of physical things), how do we explain this?
It will be granted that simply saying “the angels do this” amounts to a kind of “God of the gaps” argument (wherein every unknown thing is simply ascribed to God), but utterly dismissing the role of the angels (and ultimately the role of God) is to fall into the opposite error of scientism, which says that everything can and must be explained as merely the result of physical and mechanical causes. This cannot explain why things exist at all, nor can it speak to metaphysical concepts that are real but nonphysical such as justice, beauty, infinite longing, or our sense of good and evil.
God interacts with his creation. It is revealed to us that He does this most often, if not exclusively, through His angels. This is not to deny that the material order has observed laws and that chains of material causalities that can be measured and observed. The theological world would remind us to reverence all the orders of creation: physical and metaphysical, material and spiritual.
Blessed be God, who created all things through His Word, his Son Jesus, who holds all creation together in Himself (Col 1:17). Blessed, too, be the angels, who mediate God’s interaction with His creation and are His ministers. Blessed also is the created world, all that is in it from the tiniest parts of atoms to the greatest galaxies. Yes, blessed be God, all His angels and saints, and all that He has ordered and sustained. Blessed are we, who by God’s gift of our intellect, can observe and understand the beauty, order, and laws of God’s creation.
May you, O Lord keep us humble, and fill us with wonder and awe. Help us remember that Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor 8:1). Thank you for your angels. Keep us mindful that although they are hidden from our eyes, myriad angels mediate your presence to this world and are at work all about us in your creation and unto your highest heavens. May Raphael and all the angels witness to our prayers and actions before you and may they bring your graces to us swiftly. May the angels one day lead us to paradise.
This is the conclusion of a post that I began yesterday. In the midst of a great storm (described in Acts 27), St. Paul finds himself among desperate and defeated people. Though the storm comes from nature, their problems are of their own doing and are rooted in a foolish refusal to listen to either natural warnings or God. All of this foolishness was described in yesterday’s post. Is there a way out of their situation? With God there is, but only by turning to Him in obedient faith. As long as we live, conversion is possible; things can change. Let’s consider how St. Paul, good pastor that he is, shepherds his doomed shipmates through the storm and to God, who can make a way out of no way. You can read the full text of Acts 27 here.
I. The Problem Described –Paul then came forward among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and should not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.
So much of our trouble comes from our failure to listen to God, to obey Him. Of course God seldom speaks directly. He speaks through His revealed words, in the book of Creation, and most clearly through His Church in her defined teachings and dogmatic proclamations. Managing the weather is not usually among the Church’s dogmatic missions, but allow this storm to represent the moral and ethical storms that face an individual, a society, or a culture, that forsakes God and refuses to listen to His revealed truth.
The word obedience is related to hearing. The etymology of the word is said to be from ob (with or related to) + audire (to hear). Thus to obey is to listen with docility and compliance. Many if not most storms in our lives and in this world can be avoided if we just listen (obey). God laments, Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord, your God, teaching you how to prevail, leading you on the way you should go. If only you would attend to my commandments, your peace would be like a river, your vindication like the waves of the sea, Your descendants like the sand, the offspring of your loins like its grains, Their name never cut off or blotted out from my presence. … But there is no peace for the wicked, says the Lord (Isaiah 48:17-19,22).
II. The Prognosis Declared – I now bid you take heart; for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and lo, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we shall have to run on some island.”
St. Paul bases his prognosis that everything will be all right not on mere wishful thinking, but on the firm experience of God in his life. Paul’s experience has been that while God has not allowed him to be without trials and difficulties, He has always permitted those difficulties only so that a greater good be achieved. St. Paul has learned that God’s power reaches perfection in human weakness; it is able to stand in the gap. God can make a way out of no way and write straight with crooked lines. Paul has been in worse jams than this before! As he says, Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor 11:24-28).
Yet here he stands before them, not speaking as one who has never had trouble, but as one who has experienced being delivered from troubles. In effect, St. Paul is saying, “When you’re finished trying your gods, come and try mine. Stop telling your god how big this storm is and start telling this storm how big my God is.”
St. Paul also speaks based on the firm conviction (which God put in his heart) that he must and will appear before Caesar; therefore, he and his shipmates will make it to Rome.
Having tried everything else, and now chastened by their own foolishness, Paul’s shipmates finally seem to be willing to listen to him. But as it always does so beautifully, Scripture shows how they must go through a process of sorts in order to achieve saving trust. We can’t go from 0 to 100 immediately; we have to go through stages to get there.
III. The Process of Deliverance– Having secured their attention through suffering and their sense of helplessness, God, through the shepherd St. Paul, strengthens their meager faith.
Testing –When the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down the sea of Adria, …
At first nothing seems to happen. The storm keeps blowing, the ship is adrift, the crew and passengers are seasick and unable to eat. What good is this faith to which St. Paul has summoned them? Yet Scripture says, I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14). For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Is 30:15).
Our faith is often tested in waiting. If we persevere, it grows stronger. Faith becomes the basis of truer and deeper healing than would just having a particular situation worked out.
Trying –… about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they sounded and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they sounded again and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let out four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come.
At midnight, when the night was perhaps darkest, there comes the sense that land is near. Having tried God, they now sense a change. The water is getting shallower; surely land is nearby. It is still too dark to see, but the evidence of a coming deliverance is beginning to mount.
We, too, start to get what we call “signal graces” in our journey of faith. Perhaps we see God rescuing someone else. Perhaps we hear the testimony of someone’s deliverance. It is like Jairus, who was on his way to ask Jesus to raise his daughter from deathly illness when he saw a woman healed merely by touching the hem of His garment. Perhaps some smaller blessings come our way. It is as if the Lord is saying, “Do you see what a little trust can do? Keep growing in trust and you will see greater things. Try me in this; prove me in this!”
Trusting – And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat, and let it go.
Ah, but some of the sailors—the ones most responsible for this mess—are stealthily trying to escape in a lifeboat that is just big enough for them. What cowards! St. Paul confronts them for their lack of faith and warns them that they and others with them will be lost. Faith is not just personal; it is also communal. Even if individuals in a dying culture have faith, it will not usually be enough. Faith has to grow in us all. If our very leaders exempt themselves from the sufferings that some of their own decisions have caused, they will surely be lost, and many of us along with them. Paul gives them a stern rebuke and warns of the consequences. Thanks be to God that his rebuke had the desired effect and they instead stayed at their posts.
So must we, especially the leaders among us such as priests and parents. Escape is appealing, but it shows cowardice. Although escape may win the moment, it seldom wins the day.
Toughening –As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore, I urge you to take some food; it will give you strength, since not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said this, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all two hundred and seventy-six persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.
They had found it difficult to eat and many were seasick, but they were going to need strength to get to shore.
So do we. We need food for the journey. The Lord gives it to us in the Holy Eucharist and in His Word. If we do not eat we will not be strong. Jesus reminded the Jewish people that God fed their ancestors in the desert and that if they had not eaten that food they would not have made it to the Promised Land. He said to them (and to us), This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me (John 6:50-55).
These people in the storm needed strength to make it to the shore and so do we. The Eucharist is our viaticum (a Latin conflation meaning “I am with you on the way” = via+te+cum), our food for the journey.
Tenacity – Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to bring the ship ashore. So they cast off the anchors and committed themselves to the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders; then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. And striking a shoal they ran the vessel aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was broken up by the surf. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their purpose. He ordered those who could swim to throw themselves overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship.
So here it comes. It’s all or nothing, but they’ve been getting ready for this! The text says that by casting off the anchors and anything that might hinder them (even though they were depending on it), they commit themselves to the sea and the wind. It’s all in God’s hands now, and the God of wind and sea drives the ship ashore. Some final courage is still necessary, however, as they must swim or float the final distance. We, too, must finally cast aside all that we are depending upon in this world and commit ourselves wholly to God; surely for our final journey, but even now in increasing degrees. Only God can save us from our foolish storms and from this hellish world with which we have compromised. Increasingly, we learn to cast everything aside and to lean on and trust Him entirely. This dying to self and the world can be frightening as we close the final distance and swim ashore.
Triumph –And so it was that all escaped to land.
Yes, here is the end of the story for all who respond to the call of faith: all escape the storm to land. Consider the foolishness that brought them into this storm, and then consider the wisdom and faith that brought them out.
A little lesson for us as individuals, for the Church, and for our soul-sick culture.
With yesterday’s feast of Pentecost, our reading of Acts suddenly ends and hence we miss some important stories of Paul’s journey to Rome. This is perhaps another reason to restore the Pentecost Octave, which was dropped in 1970. Doing so would give us eight more days in which to savor the Acts of the Apostles. Among the stories we miss is that of the storm and subsequent shipwreck of St. Paul, who was under armed guard while on the way to Rome. To make up for the loss to the lectionary, let’s consider the story here and learn its lessons. It is beefy enough to take two days to savor. Because this reflection is long, I’ve created a PDF of it (here) for you to print out and read later. I know that reading long posts on the screen can weary the eyes!
It is interesting that St. Luke devotes an entire chapter (27) of Acts to describing the storm at sea that St. Paul endured. The level of detail is high, signaling to us that such details are important. The Holy Spirit has something to teach us here about how we get into trouble and how we can get out of it.
Storms in life are often beyond our control. Perhaps they come from nature and the sudden vicissitudes of this world. Sometimes God permits storms in order to test and strengthen us. Sometimes, too, others drag us into storms and we suffer on account of their poor decisions. Some storms come from our own foolishness and poor choices.
In the story we are about to examine, St. Paul is dragged into a storm by the stupidity and poor choices of a military official and a ship’s crew. Paul was under arrest and being sent to Rome for trial before Caesar. Therefore, he was in the custody of a military officer. Of all the people in this storm, St. Paul is the only one who is innocent of the foolishness that made them endure it. In the end, only he can show the proper way out. The storm we are about to study shows in great detail what can happen to us as individuals and as an overall culture when we defiantly and proudly resist God’s will and common sense. This is a storm that has a lot to teach us about ourselves. Let’s look at a storm that Scripture calls a Euroclydon (a Nor’easter). You can read the full text of Acts 27 here.
I. The Coming Danger– God sends many warnings: from the natural order, from the Church, and in our own consciences. Note how often these are systematically ignored.
Whys and Wherefores– And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for.
St. Paul was under arrest and had appealed his case to Rome. He was put in the custody of a Roman centurion named Julius, who seemed a decent enough man but was a poor judge of both weather and the professional qualities of a ship’s captain. This appeal to Rome was Paul’s right as a Roman citizen. God had told him that he would testify in Rome and to have courage. Such words would be necessary for Paul to cling to, for he was about to be dragged into a very foolish journey by those who simply would not see the danger despite repeated warnings. This probably sounds familiar because it is of course part of our human condition to act foolishly and recklessly and refuse to recognize danger. It is also an unfortunate characteristic of our Western culture, which has steered us into a great oncoming storm.
Warnings – And putting to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy, and put us on board.
So here are the initial signals of danger: the wind against them and a poor time of year to sail, chancy conditions at best. It was common in the winter months to stay off the Mediterranean and remain at port and to make longer journeys by land. The sea was very dangerous at this time of year and whatever sailing did take place was done very near the coast. Despite the danger signals, the centurion does not appear to be alarmed; he is determined to get the task done.
Worsening – We sailed slowly for a number of days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go on, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.
More danger signals! Now the centurion’s determination becomes defiance. This is typical of many a sinner. He sees the warnings but decides that he will not be just another statistic; he will be able to escape the dangers. Cultures think this way too. Defiance is the sad result of hearts that are growing hard and wills that are growing stubborn. With necks of iron and foreheads of brass, sinners sally forth and cultures set out on campaigns of self-destruction.
II. The Continued Defiance – In the verses that follow, there is quite the list of the elements of a poor and rash decision. Let’s see what Scripture teaches us about the diagnosis of a bad decision. Together, these elements contribute to a foolish defiance and a failure to heed warnings. There are five elements:
Precipitousness– As much time had been lost, and the voyage was already dangerous because the fast had already gone by.
In other words, they are at a critical time. The window for safe sailing, if it even still exists, is closing fast. It’s now or never! But hasty decisions—made more out of concern for time than what is wise or right—are usually poor ones. This is rampant in our culture today. Urgency seems to permeate most things. News crews love to create a sense of crisis and urgency. Suddenly everyone has opinions on what must be done … and quickly! Sob stories and other emblematic but highly selective crisis situations are put before us by the media and politically savvy organizations. Swift and draconian decisions are often demanded. Sometimes unhappy mobs protest and legislators respond by making hasty fixes to what are complex problems. Careful deliberation is underappreciated. There is a failure to recognize that rushing often leads to the development of poor “solutions.” But in our culture, most people follow the priority of the urgent more so than that of the important.
Preferring worldly wisdom –Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But the centurion paid more attention to the captain and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said.
Yes, what does this religious zealot know about sailing or weather? Never mind that Paul had sailed before and had known rough seas and shipwreck. What does this preacher have to offer? The captain and the owner of the ship are the experts. Today, many say that the Church has nothing to offer, that priests cannot speak to marriage, family life, or sexuality; only scientists, doctors, and other professionals can really have anything valuable to offer. To be sure, all these experts do have much to offer, but it is dangerous to rely on them alone to set a course for this world. Worldly wisdom can still, at best, procure for us a worldly grave. True wisdom pierces the heavens and seeks the voice of God, who alone can save us. Disregarding the voice of faith is perilous indeed.
Passions Preferred– And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in …
Now here is a serious issue as well. Too often we allow our passions to trump our better judgment. They want to risk the storm to get to a “nicer” port. They want to spend the winter in comfort and so they take foolish risks. Here, too, in an age dominated by an excessive need for comfort, many are willing to take terrible risks, make foolish decisions, go into debt, risk disease, and even act illegally. Some are willing to steal, use drugs, enter dangerous relationships, and the like. All for the hope of the comfort that such things might—just might—provide. Yes, our passions, individually and collectively, inspire a lot of bad decisions and lock us in defiant attitudes that refuse to recognize the obvious.
Populism – … the majority advised to put to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, looking northeast and southeast, and winter there.
Yet another common problem is thinking that the results of a poll will always lead to the right decision; it will not. It will tell you what is popular but not necessarily what is right. Very often the crowds are wrong; they are not pooling their wisdom but their ignorance. Jesus warns, “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for thus their fathers treated the false prophets.” Today there is almost a religious demand that polls should direct all things. Many are practically indignant that the Catholic Church’s teachings do not reflect the views of the “most” Roman Catholics. But the Church does not exist to reflect the views of her members. She exists to reflect the views of her head and founder, Jesus Christ. At the end of the day, what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular. Polls and votes are usually poor ways to discover what is right. And as we shall see, it is certainly not a good way to predict the weather!
Presumption – And when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close inshore.
Very often, because there are not immediate negative consequences to a bad choice, people leap to the conclusion that they have decided well. In this instance, despite repeated warnings (from St. Paul) and the difficulties of sailing at a bad time of year (e.g., contrary winds and little progress possible), one breeze from the south causes them to presume that there will be no consequences. Presumption is a sin against hope. Hope is the confident expectation of God’s help in attaining eternal life. Presumption is taking something up ahead of time (pre (before) + sumere (to take up)). But who hopes for what he already has? Hence presumption tosses hope away on the pretext that one can get what one wants now, on one’s own terms. Those guilty of presumption think that no harm will ever befall them. The speeding teenager thinks he will never crash but then wakes up paralyzed. The drunk driver thinks he will never be caught but then sees the red flashing lights in his rearview mirror. The sexually promiscuous person boasts of having “safe-sex” but then contracts an STD. Just because consequences do not always happen immediately doesn’t mean that presumption is a good idea.
III. The Cost of Disobedience – Sin and disobedience are very costly. Satan promises ease, comfort, and pleasure today, but the bill comes due tomorrow! Let’s see what this storm teaches about the cost of sin. Five descriptions of the cost are given:
Control Lost – But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land; and when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven.
St. Augustine famously taught regarding sin, For out of the perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity (Conf 8.5). Habitual sin leads to bondage, to a loss of control, to being driven. The first cost of sin and disobedience is the increasing loss of control, the increasing loss of freedom.
Crushing Labors – And running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the boat; they took measures to pass ropes under the ship to hold it together; then, fearing that they should run on the Syrtis (sands of North Africa), they lowered the anchor, but were still driven.
We see that their defiant pride has now humbled them with heavy work, not just the work of sailing, but of even holding the boat together. Sin leads to heavy burdens. Consider the man who has been promiscuous and now sees his income drained by child support paid out to several different women. Consider the glutton who has gained 100 pounds and must now work for months, even years, to lose the weight. Consider the spendthrift who has run up the balance on his credit card and must now work for years to pay it off. Sin makes for crushing, burdensome work.
Compounding Losses – As we were violently storm-tossed, they began next day to throw the cargo overboard; and the third day they cast out with their own hands the tackle of the ship.
As already stated, sin and disobedience inevitably lead to dissipation. So now they are throwing their precious cargo overboard. Suddenly the riches of the world are not enough; they are now even part of the problem! Perhaps with us it is our money that is dissipated, or maybe our strength, or our health, or our family. But when you stay in sin and disobedience, you can expect the losses to compound.
Ceding Lights – And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many a day, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. … And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let out four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come.
The ancients steered by the stars and the sun. This self-inflicted storm has darkened the lights. All the navigation points are lost, and the way back (out of sin) is difficult to find. Sin clouds our intellect and makes it difficult to see our errors, let alone the way back. Many people are in such darkness that they actually celebrate what God calls sin. How do some of us become so blind and confused? Yet another cost of sin and disobedience is a darkened intellect. St. Paul says, they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish minds were darkened (Romans 1:21).
Cowardly Leaping – And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”
So much for all the expert sailors, the captain, and the centurion, all of whom ignored Paul and the obvious warnings of a coming storm! Now they are seeking to jump ship, to escape in lifeboats and leave the passengers behind. Do it is with many sinners today who seek to escape the consequences of their acts. Some escape to drugs and alcohol; some just hide or blame others. Rarer are the sinners who admit their fault and take responsibility for what they have chosen and done. In a therapeutic culture it is easier to blame others: “It’s not my fault; my mother dropped me on my head when I was two … I’m not depraved. I’m deprived.” A lot of this amounts to escaping in a lifeboat and leaving the others to experience the disaster. Where are the “experts” who gave us such awful advice during the sexual and cultural revolution? Most of them headed for the lifeboats and left the rest of us (who were foolish enough to listen to them) to go down with the ship.
Yes, the cost of sin and disobedience is high.
This storm really has a lot to teach us. It shows how easily we ignore the coming dangers and continue, in defiance, to make poor decisions. Then, it shows the costs of foolishness. Life really is a lot easier when we obey God!
But the storm is not done teaching us yet; God uses it to instruct us and to call us to discipleship. More on what St. Paul teaches tomorrow …
The first reading from today’s Mass is Paul’s farewell speech to the presbyters (priests) of the early Church. Here is a skilled bishop and pastor exhorting others who have pastoral roles within the Church. Let’s take a look at this text and apply its wisdom to bishops and priests as well as to parents and other leaders in the Church.
Paul’s Farewell Sermon – The scene is Miletus, a town in Asia Minor on the coast not far from Ephesus. Paul, who is about to depart for Jerusalem, summons the presbyters of the early Church at Ephesus. Paul has ministered there for three years and now summons the priests for this final exhortation. In the sermon, St. Paul cites his own example of having been a zealous teacher of the faith who did not fail to preach the “whole counsel of God.” He did not merely preach what suited him or made him popular; he preached it all. To these early priests, Paul leaves this legacy and would have them follow in his footsteps. Let’s look at excerpts from this final exhortation.
From Miletus Paul had the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus summoned. When they came to him, he addressed them, “You know how I lived among you the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia. I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me … and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus … But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem … But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God (Acts 20:1-38, selected).
Here, then, is the prescription for every bishop, priest, deacon, catechist, parent, and Catholic: preach the whole counsel (the entire plan) of God. It is too easy for us to emphasize only that which pleases us, or makes sense to us, or fits in with our world view. There are some who eagerly receive the Lord’s sermons on love, but cannot abide His teachings on death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Some love to discuss liturgy and ceremony, but not the care of the poor. Others point to the Lord’s compassion, but neglect His call to repentance. Some love the way He dispatches the Pharisees and other leaders of the day, but suddenly become deaf when the Lord warns against fornication or insists that we love our spouse, neighbor, and enemy. Some love to focus inwardly and debate doctrine, but neglect the outward focus of true evangelization to which we are commanded (cf Mat 28:19).
As a whole, we in the Church today too easily divide out rather predictably along certain lines: life issues here, social justice concerns over there; strong moral preaching here, compassionate inclusiveness over there. When one side speaks, the other side says, “There they go again!”
Like St. Paul, we must be able to say that we did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. While this is especially incumbent on the clergy, it must also be true for parents and all who attain any leadership in the Church. All of the issues above are important and must have their proper places in the preaching and witness of every Catholic, both clergy and lay. While we may have gifts to work in certain areas, we should learn to appreciate that others in the Church may be needed to balance and complete our work. We must exclude notions that stray from revealed doctrine, but within doctrine’s protective walls, it is necessary that we not shrink from proclaiming and appreciating the whole counsel of God.
Make no mistake about it: if we do this we will suffer. Paul speaks above of tears and trials. In preaching the whole counsel of God (not just your favorite passages or politically correct, “safe” themes), expect to suffer. Understand that you will not quite fit in with people’s expectations. Jesus got into trouble with just about everyone. He didn’t offend just the elite and powerful. For example, even His own disciples puzzled over His teachings on divorce saying, If that is the case of man not being able to divorce his wife it is better never to marry! (Matt 19) In the case of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, many left Him and would no longer walk in His company (John 6). When Jesus spoke of His divine origins, many took up stones with which to stone Him, but He passed through their midst (Jn 8). In addition, Jesus spoke of taking up crosses, forgiving your enemies, and preferring nothing to Him. He forbade even lustful thoughts, let alone fornication, and insisted that we must learn to curb our unrighteous anger. Yes, preaching the whole counsel of God is guaranteed to earn us the wrath of many.
Over my years as a priest, I have had to bid a sad farewell to several congregations. This farewell speech of Paul’s is one I use to examine my ministry. Did I preach even the difficult teachings? Was I willing to suffer for the truth? Did my people hear from me the whole counsel of God, or just the parts that were “safe”?
How about you? Have you proclaimed the whole counsel of God? If you are a member of the clergy, when you move on; if you are a parent, when your child leaves for college; if you are a catechist, when the young people are ready to be confirmed; if you teach in RCIA, when the time comes for Easter sacraments. Can you say that you preached it all? God warned Ezekiel that if he failed to warn the sinner, the sinner would surely die for his sins but Ezekiel himself would be responsible for this death (Ez 3:17 ff). Paul is able to say that he is not responsible for the death (the blood) of any of them, because he did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.
We must proclaim the whole counsel of God; not just the safe parts, not just the popular teachings, not just the parts that agree with my views and those of my friends. The whole counsel, even the things that are ridiculed—The Whole Counsel of God.
Lest the Easter Season slip away and I miss the chance, I would like to look back on a reading from the Easter Vigil.
There is indeed an astonishing verse in the Exodus account, which was read at the Easter Vigil. The Lord has parted the waters of the Red Sea by a strong eastern wind and the Israelites have just made the crossing with the Egyptians in hot pursuit.
And in the morning watch, the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud, cast a glance on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic (Ex 14:24).
Just one look … that’s all it took! One can imagine many other ways that God could have despoiled them: lightning, angelic forces, etc. Instead, the Lord merely “cast a glance.”
Was it an angry glance? The text does not say. I would propose, based purely on speculation, that it was a look of love. For if God is love, then how could it have been anything else?
Why, then, the panic among the Egyptian forces? Perhaps it was like the reaction of those accustomed to the darkness, who wince in pain when beautiful light shines. Love confronts and drives out hate the way light drives out darkness. Love is what it is; it cannot be something else. To those held bound by hatred, though, love is like kryptonite. Thus the Egyptian army falls at the glance of God, panics at the weakness it experiences. Yes, love can be like kryptonite.
I propose that despite the panicked result, God’s glance was one of love. God does not change. Even when we speak of His wrath or anger, we are speaking more of our experience than of what is in God. God is love and so He looks with love. That we experience something other than love is a problem in us, not in God.
Indeed, sometimes we see the look but miss the love. In the Gospel of Mark is told the story of a rich young man who sought perfection, but somewhat on his own terms. Jesus looked at him with love and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). The young man saw the look and heard the words, but missed the love. As a result, he went away saddened.
And lest we reduce God’s look of love to one of mere sentimentality, we ought to recall that God’s look of love can also convict us and move us to repentance. Peter’s denial of the Lord is recounted in all four of the Gospels. Simon Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest warming himself by the fire; he had just denied knowing the Lord for the third time when the cock crowed. The Gospel of Luke recounts, The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly (Lk 22:61-62). Here was a look of love that caused pain, but it was a healing pain that led to repentance.
For those of us with deeper faith, we learn to count on the look, the glance of God, to save us. An old hymn says, “Though billows roll, He keeps my soul. My heav’nly Father watches over me.” Another says, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”
Yes, the glance of God may make you feel sad, or mad, or glad; but it is the look of love, always seeking to console or to set us right and bring about healing.
I have a large icon of Christ in my room. In my opinion, what icons from the Eastern tradition do best is to capture “the look.” No matter where I move in the room, it seems that Christ is looking right at me. His look is intense, though not severe. In the Eastern spirituality, icons are windows into Heaven. Hence this icon is no mere portrait that reminds one of Christ; it is an image that mediates His presence. When I look upon Him, I experience that He knows me. He is looking at me with a knowing, comprehensive look.
The Book of Hebrews says of Jesus,No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Heb 4:13). Christ’s look in the icon in my room is not fearsome; it is serene and confident.
Particularly in Mark’s Gospel, there is great emphasis on the eyes and the look of Jesus. The following expression, or one like it, appears more than 25 times in the Gospel of Mark: And looking at them He said, …
Looking on Christ and allowing Him to look on you is a powerful moment of conversion. Jesus Himself said, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (Jn 6:40). And in the First Letter of John we read, What we shall later be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2).
Keep looking to the Lord during this Easter season, through the art that most moves you and especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Look at Him and let Him look at you. Be not dismayed like the Egyptians of old. God is love and therefore His look is always one of love, no matter how we experience it.
The Lord is casting a glance at you right now. What do you see?
This video is a collection of clips from the movie The Passion of the Christ, set to music. It shows many of the looks of Jesus as well as some that come from us. Look for the “looks.”
There is a line from Scripture that says, Woe to the solitary man. If he falls he has no one to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
Scripture also says, And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:24-25). The teaching is clear: we must come together each week for Mass and learn to live in deep communion with one another. We are not meant to make this journey alone. We need encouragement and exhortation, food for the journey, and companionship and protection.
In the days of Jesus, it was almost unthinkable for a person to make a lengthy journey alone. Once a person left the relative safety of the town, the journey got dangerous. There were robbers lying in wait along the roads just looking for vulnerable targets. For this reason, people almost always made journeys in groups.
This is a good image for the spiritual journey we all must make. Alone, we are easy targets. We are vulnerable and without help when spiritual demons attack.
Yet another insight says, “Feuding brothers reconcile when there is a maniac at the door.”
Somehow I thought of all this when I saw these two videos. They are clever and make the point of partner or perish, love or lose, hang together or hang separately. Yes, woe to the solitary man. How necessary the protection of the flock! How necessary it is to stay together!
Many people today put Hell in opposition to the love of God, but Jesus combines them. Here is an important truth: No one loves you more than Jesus Christ, yet no one spoke of or taught on Hell and Judgment more than He did. He gave warning after warning and told parable after parable, practically shouting about judgment and the reality of Hell.
No “heresy” of our day is more widespread or pernicious than the denial of hell, its existence, and its sad frequency. I use quotes around the word only because I, as a simple priest, do not have the power to declare formal heresy. However, “heresy” in a broader, more descriptive sense simply means picking and choosing among revealed truth. Confronted with truths that are in some tension (such as God’s justice vs. His mercy or human freedom vs. God’s sovereignty) the “heretic” chooses one and throws out the other in order to resolve the tension. Orthodoxy says “both” but “heresy” picks one and discards the other.
With respect to the teaching on Hell and judgment, the “heretic” cannot reconcile God’s love and mercy with the reality of Hell and eternal separation from Him.
Yet the Lord of Love, Jesus, spoke of these more than did anyone else. The problem is in us, not in Jesus and not in the Father.
We simply refuse to obey what is taught and to accept that because we have free will, the choices we make ultimately matter. We have been bewitched by the fairy tale ending that everyone “lived happily ever after.” We deny that the sum of our choices constitute our character, and that our character ushers in our chosen destiny. We refuse to take responsibility for the fact that we make choices that build over time and which we will one day never be able to renounce. Instead we blame God and call Him (who sent His own Son to save us) the bad one; we say that He is responsible for whether we go to Hell or not.
Meanwhile God is pleading, “Come to me. Come to me before it is finally time to rise and close the door!”
Bottom line: either God is love and we are free to choose Him or not in our own act of love, or God is a slave driver and no matter what we go to His Heaven and live with Him forever. In other words, freedom means choice and choice permits us to say “no” to God. Therefore, there is Hell.
We need to be sober about this; Jesus certainly was. He warned and warned and warned; He pleaded and pleaded and pleaded. He knows whereof we are made; He knows how stubborn and stiff-necked we are, that we don’t like being told what to do. Yes, Jesus sadly observed that many—indeed “most”—prefer Hell to serving in Heaven (cf Matt 7:13 inter al).
We must overcome our smug presumption that salvation is a done deal and hear the pleading of our Messiah and Lord, Jesus. We must allow Him to warn us in love, we must allow Him to ignite in us a holy, even servile, fear in order to sober us and draw us to be serious about the work necessary to save us.
In service of this plea, I’d like to present a collection of “warning texts” as a sort of antidote to this “heresy” of modern times. Note that these are only some of the passages I could have used. Please feel free to use the comments section to add to my list. I will publish a final version once I’ve finished collecting any input. As I hope this compilation will show, those who deny Hell or its possibility must reject a huge number of biblical texts in order to do so.
Let us all realize this basic truth: No one loves you more than Jesus does, yet no one warned of Judgment and Hell more than He did, no one. Allow the Lord to wed these ideas in your mind. Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling, O Sinner, come home! Do not buy into the modern “heresy” of universal salvation. Jesus did not teach this; neither did the Apostles, His appointed spokesmen and successors in ministry. Do not try to overrule or correct Jesus. Just accept what He taught and listen in love and faith. Hell is real. We need a savior, but He needs our “yes.”
Here then are many texts that warn of Hell; most of them are right from the mouth of Jesus. These quotes are available in PDF format here: Texts on Hell and Judgment.
Texts on Hell and Judgment
The first two passages are from the Old Testament, and exemplify the prophetic tradition into which Jesus will draw.
Is 35:8And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.
Is 66:24And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.
Matt 3:12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.John the Baptist speaks here.
Matt 5:22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. 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. Even unrighteous anger, unrepented of, can bring forth Hell. We tend to justify our anger; God does not. He warns that we cannot cling to it and still walk into Heaven.
Matt 5:29If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.We make light of sin, but the Lord does not. He is not saying that we should mutilate ourselves, but rather that it is more serious to sin than to lose our eye, foot, or hand. We do not think this way, but God does. He warns us that our most serious problem is not our physical health or finances or any other passing problem; our most serious problem is our sin.
Matt 6:14-15For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.This is a pretty clear warning that we must allow God to give us the gift of mercy and forgiveness or else we cannot enter Heaven. Blessed are the merciful, for (only) they will obtain mercy.
Matt 7: 13Jesus said, “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.”Do you understand this? More are lost than are saved. This is a mysterious text in terms of its sweeping quality. Why would God permit this? But it is a text whose meaning is clear: most are lost. Hear Jesus’ pleading and be sober about how stubborn and stiff-necked we can be.
Matt 10:28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.Jesus is talking about Himself and calling us to a holy fear.
Matt 11:23And you, Capernaum! You won’t be lifted up to heaven, will you? You’ll go down to Hell! Because if the miracles that happened in you had taken place in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.Don’t think that just because you’re a member of “the club,” you’ve got it made, you’re in. Indeed, for those who have heard and seen, more is required, not less.
Matt 12:36But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. Yes, we will have to give an account even for the gossip we make light of. Lord, have mercy!
Matt 13: 24-30Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters, ‘First, collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”So there is a day of judgment; not now, but it will come.
Matt 22:1-14 (Parable of the Wedding Banquet)Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”It is the shocking parable of a king who, in the end, accepts the “no” of the invited guests. As for the wedding garment, remember that it is provided by God (cf Rev 19:8). The refusal to wear the robe of righteousness is on us, not on God.
Matt 23:33You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
Matt 24:36-51 (The Day and Hour Unknown)But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 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. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, “My master is staying away a long time,” and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Beware of presumption and making light of sin!
Matt 25:1-13 (Parable of the Ten Virgins)At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out, “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” But while they were on their way to buy the oil, 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.The groom delays, but not forever!
Matt 25:26-30 (Parable of the Talents (conclusion))His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”We will have to reckon for what we have done and what we have failed to do with our gifts.
Matt 25:41-46 (Sheep and Goats (conclusion))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, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.Reward or loss, you decide.
Mark 9:42–48 (Giving Scandal)If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.”Those who lead others to sin are going to have to answer to Jesus for what they have done. Do not doubt this. Pray that all repent prior to the day of reckoning!
Luke 8:17For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. You cannot hide from God.
Luke 12:42 (The Day and Hour Unknown)Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, “My master is taking a long time in coming,” and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. This is a warning against presumption.
Luke 13:22-30Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed, there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”Hell and exclusion are quite real. Jesus is pointing to fear here. Some call fear “unhealthy,” but Jesus is willing to use it if it will bring forth repentance.
Luke 16:19-31 (Lazarus and Dives)There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” “No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”Contempt and indifference toward the poor is a damnable sin. Note, too, that the rich man does not change after death. He is locked into his patterns. He does not ask to come to Heaven; he wants Lazarus sent to Hell. He still does not recognize Lazarus’ dignity; he still sees him as an errand boy. After death, the rich man is miserable, but he cannot and will not change. This teaching on our fixed character after death explains why Hell is eternal: because we will never change.
John 12:48-50If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. In effect, we bring judgment upon ourselves. We might wish to blame God, but at the end of the day, we show by our own disposition that we are not fit for heaven and would not be happy there because it is the full realization of many things we either detest or scoff at (e.g., love of the poor, forgiveness of our enemies, chastity, worship of God).
Rev 22:12-16“Look, I am coming soon!” says the Lord. “My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 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.” Jesus speaks here in vivid terms of sinners as dogs and cowards. Pay attention: the “Mister Rogers” version of Jesus is not the Jesus of Scripture.
Jesus commissioned the Apostles to preach, teach, govern, and sanctify in His name. Therefore, in hearing them in the following texts, we hear the voice of Jesus.
Heb 12:14Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.Only those open to God making them holy can endure the bright lights of the Kingdom of God.
Heb 13:4Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.Pay attention, modern age, which has shredded marriage at every turn.
James 2:12-13Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Help us to show mercy, Lord, for the measure we measure to others will be measured back to us.
Romans 2:3-11Do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.We are judged by deeds, not by prerogatives or by being “better” than someone else.
1 Cor 6:9Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men. Although the modern world makes light of sexual sins, God does not. He warns that these sins render us incapable of enduring the bright lights of Heaven because we “prefer the darkness” (cf John 3:18).
1 Cor 9: 26-27Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. If even Paul realized he had to be sober, why not us?
Phil 2:12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Some call fear unhealthy, but God is willing to appeal to it.
Gal 5:19-21The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Not inheriting Heaven means going to Hell.
Eph 5:3-7But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them. Once again, God says that sexual sin excludes us from the Kingdom of God. We go to Hell if we die unrepentant, because it shows that we prefer the darkness and cannot stand the light.
As part of our recent examinations of the current culture, today’s post considers the culture of death that we have increasingly become. We use as our interpretive key a text from the Book of Wisdom that prophetically interprets the overall times in which we are living. Over the thirty years that I have been reading this text in the Breviary, I have found that the pieces of its prophecy are continually falling into place. In my earlier years, I though the threats of persecution were overstated for the times; that is changing now and slowly I am seeing each element become more clear.
The passages that follow are from the first and second chapters of the Book of Wisdom. (The uninterrupted text can be read here.) My commentary appears in red.
But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering it a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with death, they deserve to be in its possession. Thinking not aright …
Pope St. John Paul and Pope Benedict both spoke often of the culture of death. What is the culture of death? It is a culture in which death or the nonexistence of human beings is proposed as a solution to human problems.
Some express concern about overpopulation, pollution, and the straining of resources. Their solution?Death—in this case, the existence of fewer human beings through contraception. Is a child in the womb inconvenient or unwanted? Kill him. Is a child in the womb possessed of possible birth defects or likely to be born into poverty? Kill her. Is someone in the advanced stages of a disease, or old, or depressed, or suffering? Kill him or help him to kill himself. Has a heinous crime been committed? Find the offender and kill him. Even entertainment is saturated with violent and death-oriented solutions. In the typical adventure movie, the hero resolves the problem after 90 minutes of car crashes, blowing up buildings, and killing people; finally killing his opponent and marching off victoriously with the girl on his arm as the city burns in the background and the credits roll.
This is the culture of death: a culture in which death is proposed as a solution to problems.
And thus as the text says here, many today summoned death; considering it a friend. They champion contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. They call these things “friends” or “rights” and associate these deathly things with dignity and freedom.
The text also says that they think not aright. Indeed, after many decades of bloody wars throughout the world in the first half of the 20th century, and after aborting and contracepting in even greater numbers in the second half, many parts of the decadent West are beginning to experience the first waves of population decline. We are discovering that declining populations often cannot perform basic functions such as caring for the elderly and growing the economy. Declining populations lead to declining markets and a declining ability to supply many services.
Thus the text says, summoning death, they deserve to be in its possession. God’s judgment on the culture of death is to hand us over to it. Unless we repent soon we are doomed to become the death we summon, celebrate, and call a solution. The final solution will be exacted upon us.
Where did all this death-directed thinking come from? The text says simply that those who engage in it are “ungodly.” Life loses its meaning without reference to the life-giver, who is God. Suffering is also meaningless without reference to God; many today prefer death to even modest suffering.
We cannot separate the culture of death from the secularism and atheism that have largely produced and coexisted with it. Modern atheists are forever decrying all the deaths from religious wars. But the truth is that the death toll from secular and atheistic systems is far higher than the (admittedly disgraceful) death toll from religious conflicts. It is hard to overestimate just how bloody the 20th century was. The most conservative estimates put the number at 100 million deaths resulting from ideological and political motives. And this does not even count the dead due to abortion or those who never lived because of contraception. Faith, whatever its shortcomings, puts a limit on human schemes and solutions. Without God, man moves himself to the center and is a terrifying and despotic ruler, one who increasingly knows no limits and thinks himself unaccountable.
They said among themselves: Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot.
And here is described the philosophy of hedonism, which sees pleasure as the chief purpose of human existence. The Greek word hedone means pleasure. Casting aside moderation (an important key to true happiness) and indulging every excess, our modern world knows few limits.
Most people today see happiness and pleasure not only as goals but as rights. As the text says, they believe that this is our portion, and this our lot. Even among the religiously observant there is often a strident rejection of the cross. Many dismiss the demands of faith by invoking God himself! “After all,” they say, “God wants me to be happy.” Almost any call to moderation or to the cross for some higher purpose (such as holiness) is dismissed as practically immoral. “How dare you interfere with my pleasure and happiness!”
The hedonistic cry of indignation goes up against every Church teaching that interferes with the indulgence of passing pleasures: “This is our portion! This is our lot!”
Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow.
In our time, social justice is “in.” However, the “social justice” that is extolled is a big-government solution that often actually oppresses the poor. Our intrusive government solutions break the normal bonds of family; many of the recipients of government welfare are single mothers. Under current welfare rules, it is often the case that a woman is better off financially without a husband.
In such a system, men among the poor are worse than useless—they are downright harmful. As such, they withdraw to the margins and are often pulled into joining gangs, engaging in criminal activity, or descending into addiction. However well-intentioned, our welfare programs often oppress rather than help, and there seems to be little ability or will to reform their worst and most oppressive aspects.
Nor do they regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.
Disrespect for the wisdom of age and the experience of tradition has become rampant in modern times. Even in the Church, we threw overboard the wisdom of centuries during the 1960s and 1970s. The Church is always in need of reform, but severing our ties with the tested wisdom of previous generations was foolhardy.
Today, youth culture predominates: old=bad, young =good. Parents, especially fathers, are portrayed as buffoons and fools. Children are all-wise, hip, and clued-in.
Adults are too often obsessed with having young people like them. Many adults try to be like youths. They obsess about being youthfully thin and indulge in all sorts of fleeting fads. The power and vigor of youth is esteemed rather that the wisdom and mature reflection of age.
Then enter the euthanasia movement, which seek to help the aged by killing them. This false compassion brings into full light the culture of death’s notion of death as therapy, of killing as medicine.
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.
I have written at some length on the stages of persecution (Stages of Religious Persecution). For the purposes of this post, however, let us merely note the recent attempts by government officials to compel Americans to support same-sex unions. Some Christian bakers and photographers have been forced to either supply services to such “weddings” or to face penalties. Some ministers are being threatened with legal action for refusing to perform these “weddings.” The sermons of some Houston clergymen were subpoenaed by city attorneys. (More is available here: Threats to Religious Liberty.)
This will only grow as more and more people find our existence as Catholics and committed Christians to be “inconvenient.” They will not “tolerate” (to use their word) our (reasonable) stance that much of what they propose is sinful and contrary to natural law. It is becoming increasingly possible for them to actively persecute us and legally punish us. Little by little, they are setting aside all pretense of “tolerance.”
This text is being fulfilled before our very eyes, even here in America where we thought we had constitutional rights. The steady erosion of religious liberty may soon lead to a major breach in the dam holding back the flood waters of more open and explicit oppression. For indeed, as the text says, the very sight of us is a burden to them.
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls; for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.
Yes, they are deceived and have been led astray; sin darkens the intellect. As St. Paul wrote, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (Rom 1:21-22).
Pay attention, fellow Christians, the presumption that we are dealing with reasonable people is set aside by this text; it describes them as blinded by wickedness. While it is not for us to attribute wickedness to every person who opposes us (and it would be uncharitable to do so), nevertheless we must be sober that the collective reality with which we deal is no longer rooted in reason; it is rooted in dark passions and sins.