Disclaimer:In a heated political time of a nearing election I find it necessary to say that this post is not a commentary on the current election or the candidates. I wrote this post some time ago and it has been sitting in my draft folder, long-forgotten. It is not about the current moment, it is about human patterns that transcend this or that time.
Over the years, in meeting especially with teenagers in Sunday School, I have used an old Jim Croce song to instruct them that worldly norms, and worldly leaders come and go. What is “hip” and cool today is considered silly and out of date tomorrow. My advice to them was to stay close to the Scriptures and teachings of the Church which are time-tested and do not change. I have often warned the young people not to admire those in the culture who exult fornication, disrespect for women, homosexual acts and all sorts of violence and evil in music and movies. A line from psalm 37 comes to mind:
I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again; and he was gone. I searched; he was nowhere to be found. (Psalm 37:35-36).
To the young people and to all of us, comes this admonition from the same psalm:
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not envy those who do evil, for they wither quickly like grass and fade like the green of the fields. (Psalm 37:1-2)
In the lyrics to the Jim Croce song that follows, there is described a man named Jim who is the uncontested towering leader and king of 42nd Street. He’s a pool hustler, among other things, and drives a “drop-top” Cadillac. But one day he hustles the wrong guy, a man named Willie McCoy, (also known as “Slim.”) who comes to settle accounts. Big Jim is taken out. Meet the new King of 42nd Street: Slim!
Here are the lyrics to the song and its story.
Uptown got it’s hustlers
The bowery got it’s bums
42nd street got big Jim walker
He’s a pool shootin’ son of a gun
Yeah, he big and dumb as a man can come
But he stronger than a country hoss
And when the bad folks all get together at night
You know they all call big Jim boss, just because
And they say
You don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim
Well outta south Alabama came a country boy
He say I’m lookin’ for a man named Jim
I am a pool shootin’ boy
My name is Willie McCoy
But down home they call me Slim
Yeah I’m lookin’ for the king of 42nd street
He drivin’ a drop-top Cadillac
Last week he took all my money
And it may sound funny
But I come to get my money back!
And everybody say “Jack don’t you know
You don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim
Well a hush fell over the pool room
Jimmy come boppin’ in off the street
And when the cuttin’ were done
The only part that wasn’t bloody
Was the soles of the big man’s feet
Yeah he were cut in in bout a hundred places
And he were shot in a couple more
And you better believe
They sung a different kind of story
When big Jim hit the floor.
Now they say
You don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger
And you don’t mess around with Slim!
Yeah, big Jim got his hat
Find out where it’s at
And it’s not hustlin’ people strange to you
Even if you do got a two piece custom-made pool cue
Yeah you don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off the old lone ranger
And you don’t mess around with Slim!
And thus we see that Jim gives way to Slim; there’s a new king of 42nd street (for now). We might wish that some good king replaced a bad one, but that’s only one way change comes. Sometimes Satan turns on his own. Perhaps they are no longer useful to him, or perhaps he’s got them so “in the bag” that he no longer needs to hold them with worldly gains and glory. But the point remains, the wicked and the worldly cannot stand their ground for long. The world is often a series of one bad idea or personality after another. They come and go, but the Gospel remains.
Yes! The Gospel remains. And it’s true for more than just individuals. In a wider sense, leaders, movements, trends and even nations, cultures and States, come and go over time. In the past 2,000 years the Church, which perdures, has seen empires come and go, nations rise and fall. In addition, philosophies, conflicts, movements, heresies and whatever else you can imagine emerge, have their influence, and ultimately fail as impractical or destructive. And here we are, the Church, still proclaiming the same Gospel that Christ delivered to us.
It doesn’t matter how big and bad, how well-funded and influential, what is wicked cannot forever endure. This too shall pass. There is only one Noah’s Ark in the flood waters of change and the vicissitudes of this world and that is the Church. In spite of the creaking boards of our weaknesses and the stench our sins, the Church perdures. This is not by our accomplishment that we should glory in it. This is the promise and work of Christ who said, The heavens and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mat 24:35).
There are only two teams on the field; there are no sidelines or people permitted in the stands. Choose sides. But here’s the awesome thing: we already know that Team Jesus is going to win no matter how flashy and cool the uniforms and tactics of the other team are. Choose well and forget the glamor of evil, for:
I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again; and he was gone. I searched; he was nowhere to be found. (Psalm 37:35-36).
If asked “How do you know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?” most would answer, “Because it says so in the Bible.” While this is true, there is a much better answer: “We know that Jesus is risen from the dead because the Apostles said so.” They were eyewitnesses. Jesus Himself attested to this when He said,
Thus it is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:46-48).
And we read in Acts:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8).
The Apostles also said of themselves,
We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32).
And again, from Acts,
God raised Him up on the third day and caused Him to be seen—not by all the people, but by the witnesses God had chosen beforehand, by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One appointed by God to judge the living and the dead … (Acts 10:40-42).
So, it is the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles on which our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is founded. Surely, too, the Holy Spirit assists us who have Faith to assent and cling to this truth.
Some may ask, “How can we know that what the Apostles, and later wrote, is true? What if they made the whole thing up or were delusional? What if, by Resurrection, they merely meant that Jesus lived on in their hearts and in their memory?”
The best reply to such questions was given by St. John Chrysostom and was read by clergy and religious recently in the Breviary:
How could twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise [of spreading the Gospel worldwide]? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or a public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed, he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, they fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him!
How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime could not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, now set forth to do battle with the whole world if Christ was dead – if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “What is this? He could not save himself but now he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead he will extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them?
It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much (Hom. 4,3.4: PG 61,34-36).
Indeed, and not only did they risk so much, they suffered so much! Every one of them except perhaps John died as a martyr. I highly doubt that they would done this for a lie they had concocted or for some vague notion that Jesus lived on in some way in their hearts. Clearly, they were so convicted and moved by the Resurrection that their lives were profoundly changed. In modern slang, “It really rocked their world!” St. Paul, too, saw Christ not only risen but ascended and at the Father’s right hand. He was never the same and devoted his life to the relentless proclamation of the Gospel in spite of beatings, stoning, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and finally martyrdom. Who would do such a thing for a made-up story or a vague hope? The evidence is clear from the response of their lives that the Resurrection was something both real and profoundly animating. They could not help but speak of what they saw and heard:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have gazed upon and touched with our own hands—this is the Word of life. And this is the life that was revealed; we have seen it and testified to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard (1 John 1:1-3).
As for the charge of delusion, it may be possible for one man to be delusional, maybe even two, but twelve men collectively having the same delusion? To believe this would take more faith than simply to believe they were telling the truth. Recall that Thomas at first disbelieved the other Apostles, perhaps thinking them to be lying or even crazy. But then he, too, saw the Risen Lord and was forever changed. He traveled to far off-India to preach Christ and ultimately died for the truth he proclaimed.
It was not a lie nor a fanciful hope nor a delusion—only the actual occurrence of the Resurrection can adequately explain the heroics and tenacity of the Apostles in going forth to proclaim the truth. The Apostles are trustworthy eyewitnesses. Christ is risen indeed!
On one level “human respect” seems like a good thing. After all, we ought to respect, honor and appreciate one another. What then is meant by the “sin of human respect”? It is that sin wherein we fear man more than God; we are more concerned with what people think of us than what God thinks of us. This is an unholy, sinful fear, and is at the root of many of our sins, both of commission and of omission.
Consider some examples:
A man goes up to a group of other men who are talking about the boss and also speaking inappropriately about some women in the office. He knows that their disparaging comments about the boss are unfair or even untrue. He also knows that talking about the women in the office using crude sexual imagery and lustful references is wrong. But because he wants to “fit in,” he joins in the conversation and contributes to what he knows is wrong. He laughs at the off-color jokes and makes no attempt to steer the conversation in a more appropriate direction. He does this because he fears rejection and is more concerned about what his co-workers think of him than what God thinks of him. He fears man more than he does God. That God is displeased with his actions is less important to him than that any of these men should be displeased.
A young woman knows that sex before marriage is wrong and that this displeases God. However, she has dated a number of men now and has slept with most of them. She does this partly because she fears rejection. Perhaps if she does not give in to the desires of the young men she dates they will reject her and she will be alone. She thinks that a woman “has to do this” in order to be popular and desirable. She fears man more than she does God. What human beings think is more important to her than what God thinks. She may well minimize the importance of God’s displeasure by saying to herself, “Oh well, God understands.” But at the same time, she maximizes in her mind the importance of the displeasure of weak and fallible human beings, thinking that displeasing them would lead to catastrophe. She respects—that is, fears—man more than she does God.
A pastor of a parish has a mandate from God and the Church to preach the whole counsel of God but he struggles to preach the “hard” things. After all, teaching on things like abortion, fornication, divorce, contraception, homosexual activity, euthanasia, and capital punishment causes some people to be upset. He fears this anger, fears offending people, fears being misunderstood. Once, when he spoke about abortion (because the Bishop mandated it), a few parishioners came up to him and told him that he should not bring politics into the pulpit. Once, when he had preached about the problem of divorce (the topic of that day’s Gospel), a (divorced) woman approached him after Mass saying that she felt hurt and “excluded.” Experiences like these have led the priest to “play it safe.” He always starts the homily with a joke and the people seem to love him for it. He chooses to preach only in abstractions and generalities. He exhorts people to be a little more kind, a little more generous, but avoids specificity. He does this because he fears man more than he does God. That God might be displeased that His people are not hearing the truth about important moral issues or receiving proper instruction in discipleship is a vague and distant fear to this priest. But one person raising an eyebrow at what he says is enough to ruin his whole week. Thus he goes silent as a prophet and becomes a people-pleaser instead. He respects—fears—man more than he does God.
A mother knows that she is to raise her children in the fear of the Lord and train them in godly way, but oh, the protests when she tells them to do their chores, or go to bed, or do their homework! It’s just such a hassle to endure their anger and disappointment. She also remembers how stern her parents were and how she had vowed she would be nicer to her own children. So, little by little, she lets her authority erode and the children more often than not get their way. Her husband is not a strong disciplinarian and he wants to be thought of as “cool” by his children and their friends. God’s insistence on prayer, discipline, and respect for elders, gives way to what the children want. The oldest, a teenager, doesn’t want to go to Mass anymore. But after all, “You can’t force religion on kids,” they think. Here, too, the parents fear their children more than they do God. They have greater respect for their children than they do for God.
So these are some examples of the “sin of human respect.” It runs very deep in our wounded nature and leads to many other sins as well. Many people are desperate for attention, respect, acceptance, and approval from other human beings. Many of these same individuals, though (even the religiously observant), struggle to be nearly as concerned with what God thinks of them or whether He approves of their behavior.
God has a straightforward solution to this: we should fear Him and no one else. There is an old saying, “If I kneel before God I can stand before any man.” It makes sense that it is a lot easier to fear (respect) one, than many. The more we learn to fear (respect) God, the less concerned we become with what others think. This is not an invitation to become a sociopath who cares not a whit what others think. We are to remain polite, groom ourselves, and not intentionally pick fights. But in the end, we are instructed by the Lord to be freed of all the fearful trepidation of what others think.
Calling this is a straightforward solution refers more to its description than its execution. It is not easy to extract ourselves from this very deep drive; in fact, it takes a life time. But the first step to healing is admitting we have a problem. Then we begin to see it for what it is, understand its moves, and let the Lord steadily free us.
Let us also be clear: the fear of the Lord that is counseled here is not a cowering and servile fear. If this is all one can muster, though, it is better than having no fear at all! But the real goal is to have a filial fear of God, fearing to offend Him because we love Him. This type of fear of the Lord holds Him in awe. It is to have a reverence for Him rooted in deep love and gratitude. Out of this love and gratitude we fear to offend Him more than offending any other.
Perhaps some Scripture quotes that address various aspects of the problem of human respect and the remedy of holy fear will be a fitting conclusion to this reflection:
Through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil (Prov 16:6).
Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD (Prov 23:17).
Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil (Prov 15:16).
The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning (Ex 20:20).
You alone are to be feared O Lord (Psalm 76:7).
God is more awesome than all who surround him (Psalm 89:7).
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side (Psalm 3:4-5).
I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them (Jer 32:39).
The Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth” (Mark 12:14).
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26).
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:26).
And do 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 Gehenna (Matt 10:28).
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19).
It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord (1 Cor 4:3).
From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body (Gal 6:17).
We know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience (2 Cor 5:11).
There is an urgency and clarity about today’s Gospel that is often lacking in modern Christians, including the clergy. In this Gospel, the message is urgent, provocative, and clear: there is a day of judgment coming for every one of us and we simply must be ready. The message is a sobering one for a modern world that is often dismissive of judgment and certainly of Hell. Yet Jesus says clearly that the Kingdom of God can be taken from us for our refusal to accept its fruits in our life.
Parables used by Jesus to teach on judgment and the reality of Hell are often quite vivid, even shocking in their harsh imagery. They are certainly not stories for the easily offended. And they are also difficult to take for those who have tried to refashion Jesus into a pleasant, affirming sort of fellow rather than the uncompromising prophet and Lord that He is.
No one spoke of Hell more often than Jesus did. Attempting to reconcile these bluntly presented teachings with the God who loves us so, points to the deeper mysteries of justice and mercy and their interaction with human freedom. But this point must be clear: no one loves us more than Jesus does and yet no one spoke of Hell and its certainty more often than Jesus did. No one warned us of judgment and its inescapable consequences more often than did Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus speaks of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As one who loves us, He wants none of us to be lost. So He warns us; He speaks the truth in love.
Historically, this parable had meaning for the ancient Jews that had already come to pass. God had established and cared for his vine, Israel. He gave them every blessing, having led them out of slavery and established them in the Promised Land. Yet searching for the fruits of righteousness he found little. Then, sending many prophets to warn and call forth those fruits, the prophets were persecuted, rejected, and even murdered. Finally, God sent His Son, but He too was murdered. There comes forth a sentence: He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times … Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. By 70 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed; the Temple was never to be rebuilt.
The Jewish people are not singled out in the Scriptures, for we all, like them, are a vineyard, and if we are not careful, their story will be our own story. We, like the ancients, have a decision to make. Either we accept the offer of the Kingdom and thereby yield to the Lord’s work and bring forth a harvest, or we face judgment for the fact that we have chosen to reject the offer of the Kingdom. God will not force us to accept His Kingship or His Kingdom. We have a choice to make and that choice will be at the heart of the judgment we will face.
Let’s take a closer look at the Gospel and apply it to the vineyard of our lives.
I. THE SOWING – The text says, There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
Note the care and providence of the landowner (God) who has given each of us life and every kind of grace. The image of the vineyard indicates that we have the capacity to bear fruit. This signifies the many gifts, talents, and abilities that we have been given by God.
The hedge calls to mind the protection of His grace and mercy. Though the world can be a tempting place, God has put a hedge of protection around us that is sufficient to keep us safe from serious sin, if we accept its power.
But note, too, that a hedge implies limits. And thus God’s protective graces, though sufficient, mean that we must live within limits, within the hedge that keeps the wild animals of temptation from devouring the fruits of our vine.
The tower is symbolic of the Church, which stands guard like a watchman warning of dangers to us who live within the boundaries of the hedge. And the tower (the Church) is also standing forth as a sign of contradiction to the hostile world outside, which seeks to devour the fruit of the vineyard.
That the landowner leases the the vineyard is a reminder that we are not our own; we have been purchased at great cost. God and God alone created all these things we call our own. We are but stewards, even of our very lives. We belong to God and must render an account and show forth fruits as we shall next see.
But this point must be emphasized: God has given us great care; He has given us His grace, His mercy, His very self. As the text from Isaiah says, What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? God loves us and does not want us to be lost. He gives us every grace and mercy we need to make it. The Lord says, 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) This must be emphasized before we grumble too quickly about the subsequent judgment that comes. God offers every possible grace to save us. It is up to us to accept or reject the help.
II. THE SEEKING – The text says, When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
There come moments in our lives when God looks for fruits. Remember that He is the owner and the fruits are rightfully His. He has done everything to bring forth the fruit and now deserves to see the produce of His grace in the vineyard of our life, which is His own.
And what fruits does the Lord seek? The values and fruits of the Kingdom: faith, justice, mercy, peace, forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness, generosity, love of the poor, love of one’s family and friends, even love of one’s enemy, kindness, truth, sincerity, courage to speak the truth and witness to the faith, and an evangelical spirit.
Note, too, that the text says he sends servants to obtain the produce. Here also is evidence of God’s mercy. Historically, God’s “servants” were the prophets. And God sent the prophets not only to bring forth the harvest of justice, but also to remind, clarify, and apply God’s Word and warn sinners. God patiently sent many generations of prophets to help Israel.
It is the same for us. God sends us many prophets to remind, clarify, apply, and warn. Perhaps they are priests or religious, parents, catechists, teachers, or role models. But they are all part of God’s plan to warn us to bear fruit and to help call forth and obtain some of those very fruits for God. Each in his own way says, as St. Paul did in today’s second reading, Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (Phil 4:8-9).
Yes, God seeks fruits, and rightfully so. And He sends His servants, the prophets, to help call them forth in us.
III. THE SINNING – The text says, But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Thus, despite all God has done by sending His servants, the prophets, the tenants reject them all, and with increasing vehemence. Their hearts grow harder. The landowner (God) even goes so far to demonstrate his love and his will to save, that he sends his own son. But they drag him outside the vineyard and kill him. Yes, Jesus died outside the city gates, murdered for seeking the fruit of faith from the tenants of the vineyard.
And what of us? There are too many who reject God’s prophets. They do so with growing vehemence and abusive treatment. Many today despise the Church, despise the Scriptures, despise fathers, mothers, friends, and Christians in general who seek to clarify and apply God’s Word and to warn of the need to be ready. It is quite possible that, for any of us, repeated resistance can cause a hardening of the heart to set in. In the end, there are some, in fact many according to Jesus, who effectively kill the life of God within them and utterly reject the Kingdom of God and its values. They do not want to live lives that show forth forgiveness, mercy, love of enemies, chastity, justice, love of the poor, generosity, kindness, and witness to the Lord and the truth.
We ought to be very sober as there are many, many today who are like this. Some have merely drifted away and are indifferent. (Some, we must say, have been hurt or are struggling to believe, but at least they remain open.) Still others are passionate in their hatred for the Church, Scripture, and anything to do with God, and they explicitly reject many, if not most of the kingdom values listed above. We must be urgent to continue in our attempt to reach them, as we shall see.
IV. THE SENTENCING – The text says, What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes? They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.
Here then is the sentence: if you don’t want the Kingdom, you don’t have to have it. At one level, it would seem to us that everyone wants the Kingdom, i.e., everyone who has any faith in God at all wants to go to Heaven. But what is Heaven? It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It is not just a place of our making. It is that place where the will of God, where the Kingdom’s values are in full flower. But as we have seen, there are many who do not want to live chastely, do not want to forgive, do not want to be generous to and love the poor, do not want God or anyone else at the center, do not want to worship God.
Self exclusion – Having rejected the Kingdom’s values, and having rejected the prophets who warned them, many simply exclude themselves from the Kingdom. God will not force the Kingdom on anyone. If you don’t want it, even after God’s grace and mercy and His pleading through the prophets, you don’t have to have it. It will be taken from you and given to those who do want it and appreciate its help.
The existence of Hell is rooted essentially in God’s respect for our freedom, for we have been called to love. But love must be free, not compelled. Hence, Hell has to be. It is the “alternative arrangement” that others make for themselves in their rejection of the Kingdom of God. At some point, God calls the question, and at death our decision is forever fixed.
Yes, Hell and the judgment that precedes it, are clearly taught here and in many other places by Jesus (e.g., Matt 23:33; Lk 16:23; Mk 43:47; Matt 5:29; Matt 10:28; Matt 18:9; Matt 5:22; Matt 11:23; Matt 7:23; Matt 25:41; Mk 9:48; Luke 13:23; Rev 22:15; and many, many more). This is taught by a Lord who loves us and wants to save us, but who is also well aware of our stubborn and stiff-necked ways.
What is a healthy response to this teaching? To work earnestly for the salvation of souls, beginning with our own. Nothing has so destroyed evangelization and missionary activity as the modern notion that everyone goes to Heaven. Nothing has so destroyed any zeal for the moral life or hunger for the Sacraments, prayer, and Scripture. And nothing is so contrary to Scripture as the dismissal of Hell and the notion that all are going to Heaven.
But rather than panic or despair, we ought to get to work and be more urgent in our quest to win souls for Christ. Who is it that the Lord wants you to work with to draw back to Him? Pray and ask Him, “Who, Lord?” The Lord does not want any to be lost. But, as of old, He still sends His prophets (this means you) to draw back anyone who will listen. Will you work for the Lord? Will you work for souls? For there is a day of judgment looming and we must be made ready for it by the Lord. Will you be urgent about it, for yourself and others?
This video features the words of an old spiritual: Sinner please don’t let this harvest pass, and die and lose your soul at last. I made this video more than a year ago and in it there is a picture of Fr. John Corapi preaching. Since I made it long before his recent “troubles,” please do not attribute any implication from me by its inclusion; it is simply indicative of the “age” of the video.
The video below shows Bishop Robert Barron at his best. He is a master at decoding the deeper currents in our culture, and his analysis goes a long way toward showing how things have reached this point. He gives an in-depth review of the ideologies that are behind the rioting and unrest, pointing out the continued influence of the ideas of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault.
The video is fifty minutes long, and some parts of it can be difficult to get through if you’re not schooled in philosophy, but no one can break it down the way Bishop Barron can. (If your time is limited, I’d suggest at least listening to the portion of his talk beginning at 37:05.) The Bishop explains why the assertions of these philosophers that there is no meaning in the external world other than what we humans put there, God has to be removed. The will overturns reason and man asserts his power to ascribe whatever meaning he wishes to all that is. Hence, reality and reason are replaced by raw power. This explains the bizarre assertions of the transgender movement and others who espouse views that deny obvious reality. It also explains the increasing violence we are seeing and the seeming inability to disagree or even converse in a civil manner. It is the tyranny of relativism. Power replaces reason and discourse. Those with the most power do not merely assert their views, they compel others to adopt and approve of them: “Bake me a cake, you bigot, or else we will destroy you.” Nietzsche is walking our streets.
Reality used to be something that we studied, learned from, and whose norms we obeyed. It’s the entire basis of the physical sciences. Beginning with the rise of nominalism in the 14th century, we have increasingly been living in our heads rather than in reality. We do not discover meaning; we project and assert it.
Scripture says,[A bishop] must hold firmly to the word as it was taught, so that he can encourage others by sound teaching and refute those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). Many long for our bishops to do more of this, especially at the deeper level of faith rather than just through policy statements aimed at the political order. I think Bishop Barron is to be commended for his effective teaching that helps people to identify errors, to recognize the hidden trends in our culture, and to celebrate the truth and beauty of Catholicism.
I must, however, also express a lament.
Many traditional Catholics have a tense relationship with Bishop Barron:
1. Traditional Catholics are concerned with what they describe as Barron’s puzzling views on universalism (the idea that most or all will be saved).
Word on Fire (Bishop Barron’s Evangelizing Organization replies: Bishop Barron does not hold to universalism, described here as “the idea that most or all will be saved.” He has explicitly denounced that view, which is heretical, and it’s both unfair and unhelpful to accuse of him holding it. You can read more about position here: https://wordonfire.org/hope
2. Traditional Catholics also lament his recent description of Jesus as a privileged wayrather than the only way to the Father (cf. John 14:6).
Word on Fire replies: Bishop Barron affirms that Jesus is the only way to the Father. He has written and preached endlessly about the uniqueness and centrality of Christ for the salvation of the world. The phrase he used in the Shapiro interview (“privileged way”) was pulled out of context and interpreted in the worst possible way by critics. See what he actually said here, in its full context: https://www.wordonfire.org/hope/#shapiro
3. Traditional Catholics also wonder at his recent project on Vatican II, which though seemingly aimed at traditional Catholics did not address their concerns.
Word on Fire replies: The specific concerns he was addressing were those of extreme, radical traditionalists (not ordinary traditionalists) who claimed that Vatican II taught heresy, was not binding, and should therefore be “dropped and forgotten.” He adequately addressed all those criticisms in several places, including here: https://www.wordonfire.org/vatican-ii-faq
4. Finally they express concerns that requests for direct discussions with Bishop Barron seem, in general, to have gone unanswered. This is unfortunate. The Bishop shows great solicitude for many in our culture who are troubled by Catholic teaching; he’s good at listening and at responding effectively and charitably. This same solicitude seems to be lacking, however, toward some of his own flock who are troubled by certain trends in the Church.
Word on Fire replies: He’s talked with several traditionalist Catholics over the years, both privately and publicly…. Also, he’s an incredibly busy man and this isn’t his fundamental mission. His two main tasks are to shepherd the people of his Santa Barbara region and to evangelize people outside the Church, introducing them to Christ and all the gifts he wants to offer them. That isn’t to say traditionalist Catholic criticisms aren’t important to Bishop Barron, only that he has limited time and that’s not his top priority.
Traditional Catholics and Bishop Barron should be natural allies in the battle for souls and for our culture. Word on Fire claims that “90+%” of traditional Catholics are with them and that only a small vocal minority is concerned. I wouldn’t be so sure about that; I think the numbers are higher than they think and are growing, at least from my interaction and the reactions I get when I quote the good bishop.
The rift is both painful and harmful. I hope that Bishop Barron will become more open to direct discussions with some of the unofficial leaders and commentators from the more traditional wing of the Church. Without this we all tend to caricature and simplify each other’s positions. These discussions could be private at first and have the goal of crafting a strategy to heal the divisions that have set up. If Bishop Barron can sit down with Ben Shapiro, why not with Dr. Peter Kwasniewski or Dr. Ralph Martin?
I understand WOF’s retort about his external mission but I am concerned that ignoring this growing rift may make his external mission more difficult. Bishop Robert Barron is one of the great evangelizers and bridge-builders of our day, and I commend him for this. But it is also time to recognize that the traditionalist part of the Church is growing, and it is ill-advised for anyone to simply wave it off as a fringe movement. There are extremists in every sector of the Church, but there are also many faithful and joyful traditional Catholics who need to be kept close to the bosom of the Church and who deserve thoughtful interactions with our bishops. I and others have sought to initiate such discussions with Bishop Barron; I hope he will consider this.
Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy and learn from what Bishop Barron does and pray for an end to this unfortunate rift. He does so much good; please don’t write him off just yet. Pray for unity and for a healing of the divisions that currently exist but should not.
The ancient Jews had in their possession the Ark of the Covenant. It was a box of acacia wood, three cubits by two cubits (a cubit was the distance from a man’s elbow to the tip of his middle finger, or about 18 inches). In the Ark were the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron, and a jar of the Manna. More important, it carried the presence of God! In some ways it resembles our tabernacles. The wings of the angels carved on its lid were said to form the mercy seat of God. Because the Ark sometimes had to be carried by the priests for long distances in the desert, there were two poles attached to its sides.
There came a moment with the Ark that seems to speak directly to our times—really to any moment of crisis or decision.
Early the next morning Joshua got up and left Shittim with all the Israelites. They went as far as the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, you are to set out from your positions and follow it…so that you can see the way to go, since we have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:1-4).
The instructions were addressed to a people who faced dangers and threats in this crossing. The Jordan River was in flood stage; the current was swift and the waters wide. Second, once in the Promised Land, they faced formidable enemies who were sure to resist their entrance. So terrifying was this threat that forty years earlier most had balked at the idea of going to the Promised Land. Although God had said that they would endure, they did not trust Him. For this lack of faith, God had them remain in the desert for forty years while He purified and strengthened them; during that time that sinful generation largely died out (Numbers 13:25-33, Numbers 14:1-25).
Forty years later, the instruction to follow the Ark was both instructive and reassuring. Most simply, it meant: Follow the Lord and trust His power; trust His promise to vanquish foes and to deliver you to the Promised Land.
Today we find ourselves in a crisis of our own. We are struggling to emerge from a pandemic while many are still crippled with fear. We are experiencing a time of great civil unrest rooted in accusations of racial injustice and sinful reactions of looting, destruction of private and public property, and physical assault. Further, the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice has stirred strong feelings nearly across the board. Add to all this an approaching presidential election whose result is likely to be unknown until well after election day and which may be contested regardless of the result.
Yes, we are heading into difficult waters as were the Israelites of long ago. A “flood” of animosity grips our nation. The divisions are so deep that civil discussions are becoming increasingly rare. It is simple, raw power that seeks to prevail. Nietzsche roams our streets.
Though the events are separated by thousands of years, the instruction is the same: Follow the Ark of the Lord, for we have never been this way before. While there have been riots before, and there have been contested elections, we have never had both of those in addition to an unprecedented lockdown amidst a pandemic. The combination of political, racial, economic and health crises makes this arguably the worst time in this country since the 1860s. There are legitimate concerns expressed for the very future of our nation. In our lifetime, we have truly “never been this way before.”
In times like these, draw near to the Lord through prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, the rosary, and the Divine Mercy chaplet. Pour out your heart to God on behalf of our country. Humbly request His mercy and grace. If you are able, consider fasting and/or abstinence.
Uniting our country, recovering from a pandemic, addressing injustice, and stopping violence may not be things we can do on our own. Going to the Lord in humility, combining our prayers with others, and crying out together “Heal our Land, Lord!” will be our way of keeping our eye on the Ark of the Covenant and following where He leads, for, we have never been this way before. Seek the Lord, then, and follow Him.
As a kind of follow-up from yesterday’s Gospel about the workers in the vineyard, we do we do well to examine. a kind of “mathematics of the Kingdom of God.” As noted yesterday, be very, very careful before you ask God to be fair. If God were fair, were all in big trouble. What we need most from God now is that he be merciful. And, having experienced God’s mercy he calls us to be merciful. Mercy is a very important aspect of the mathematics of the Kingdom of God.
In effect the Lord says to us, “Pay attention! You are going to be judged by the same standard by which you treat and judge others. So do the math, and realize that you were storing up for yourselves a kind of standard by which I will judge you.”
The key principle and text in this “math” comes in Luke’s Gospel wherein the Lord says the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:38). But this statement comes at the end of a long string of statements were in the Lord summons us to be generous, forgiving, merciful, patient, and reluctant to condemn others.
In effect, the Lord says “Do the math, and realize it if you are merciful you’ll be judged with mercy. But if you are harsh and critical you will be judged with a harsh and critical standard. If you have refused to forgive, you will not be forgiven.
Like it or not, this is the mathematics of the Kingdom of God that, while it does not mean we earn salvation, but it does mean that we have a lot of influence over the standard by which we will be judged.
So, if you are going to need mercy and grace on the day of judgment, (and we all are) it is good to do the math of the Kingdom, and store up mercy and grace for that day.
We will all, one day, answer to God. And that day, as Scripture repeatedly teaches, it is a day about which we should be sober. Sadly, there are many who give little thought to this truth, and some who outright scoff at it.
So, again, wecan influence the manner in which God will judge us, the standard he will use! Now here, we speak of the manner of God’s judgment, that is Namely, whether he will judge us strictly, and or severely, or with lenience, and great mercy. On the day of our judgment, God will judge our deeds with pure justice. But part of that Justice is how we have treated others.
Let’s consider a few scripture passages wherein we are taught that we can have some influence over the manner in which God will judge us. Lets look at four related areas that will have influence:
I. Whether we show mercy –
Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). James says something similar, and develops a bit when he says Always speak and act as those were going to be judged under the law of freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. So mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12 – 13). And thus we are taught that by observing mercy, and patience, in our relations with one another, we will influence the manner in which we are judged.
It is a fact that, sometimes in life, it will be required of us, especially if we are parents, or in leadership roles, that we will need to punish, and/or assign consequences for those who transgress moral laws, or legal limits. Hence, texts like these do not mean we should never correct with punitive measures. Such a way of living is unwise, and often confirms people in bad behaviors. But even when corrective or punitive measures are needed, it makes sense that we should seek to be lenient where possible, and use lesser measures before firmer ones are employed.
It is also clear from these biblical texts, that it is highly foolish to go through life with severity toward others, with a lack of compassion, or a harsh unyielding attitude. We are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy at our judgment. Therefore, how misguided, how foolish it is for us to be harsh and unmerciful toward others. For indeed, these text tell us the merciful are blessed, and warn that the unmerciful will be shown no mercy. Can you or I really expect, that we will make it on the day of judgment, without boatloads of Mercy?
Now therefore is the time for us to seek to invoke the promise of the Lord, Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.
II. Whether we have been strict or lenient
In a related text, and as noted above, the Lord Jesus says, The measure that you measure to others, will be measured back to you (Mark 4:24). Here again, if we hope for, and need a merciful judgment, if we want a merciful measure or standard to be used, the Lord makes it clear that he will use the measure or standard that we have used for others. Have we been strict? He will be strict. Have we been merciful? He will be merciful, and so forth. Be very careful before demanding that sinners and others who transgress receive the strongest penalties. There may be a time for penalties, but it is not always true that the most severe punishments be used.
In John 8 the Pharisees wanted to invoke the most severe penalty for a woman caught in adultery (stoning to death). Jesus reasons with them that before they demand he throw the book at her, they might want to recall there are a few things about them that are also written in the book. One by one they drift away, seemingly considering the foolishness of their demands for the most severe penalty. Somehow they realize that the measure they want to measure to her, will be measured back to them.
III. Whether we are generous to the poor –
Luke, relates this text more specifically to our generosity: Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure that you measure to others will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38). And this leads us to a second area which the Scriptures teach us that we can influence the day of our judgment.
Jesus, after rebuking the Scribes Pharisees for their severity, and their extreme legalism, says to them, who obsessed about cleaning the outside of the dish, You fools, did not the one who made the outside of the cup make the inside also? But if you give what is inside the cup as alms to the poor, everything will be made clean for you (Luke 11:40 – 41). It is a daring text, in the light of the theology of Grace, and almost implies that we could somehow “purchase” forgiveness. But of course, it is the Lord himself who says it, and he does not say we can somehow purchase forgiveness. But surely, he does teach that generosity to the poor will in fact influence the day of our judgment.
Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus develops the thought saying,I tell you, use your worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into trouble dwellings (Lk 16:9). It is a complicated text, but Jesus seems to be saying that our generosity to the poor, will surely gain for us advantages at the day of our judgment. Indeed, blessing the poor gives us powerful intercessors, for the Lord hears the cries of the poor. And on the day of our death, and our judgment, the picture that is painted here is of those very poor welcoming us into eternal dwellings.
Scripture elsewhere warns, If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be heard (Proverbs 21:13). So once again, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner, measure or standard that will be used by God at our judgment. To the merciful, mercy will be shown. The generous too will experience that their cries are heard, for they heard the cries of the poor. And the Lord more than implies that those who have been generous to the poor will have powerful advocates praying and interceding for them on the day of judgment. Indeed, a number of the Fathers of the Church remind us that, in this life, the poor need us, but in the life to come, we will need them.
IV. Whether we have been forgiving –
A final area to explore in terms of how we might have influence over the manner of our judgment is the matter of forgiveness. Just after giving us the “Our Father,” the Lord Jesus says the following, For if you forgive others 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 (Matthew 6:14 – 15).
Later in Matthew, Jesus tells a terrifying parable of a man who had huge debt, a debt that was forgiven him. But when he refused to forgive his brother a much smaller debt, the king grew angry and threw him into debtors prison. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35).
So yes, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner in which God will judge us, over the standard he will use. And while it is true, God will judge will judge us by our deeds (cf Romans 2:6), yet the manner in which God judges us, whether with strictness or leniency, does seem to be a matter over which we have influence.
So, do the math and consider well the mathematics of the Kingdom of God! It is a plain fact that we are all going to need lots of grace and mercy, for we will all have much to answer for. All the more reason for us to follow the teachings of the Lord, in his Scripture, and be sure that on the day of our judgment, mercy, and the grace of leniency will prevail. Do we want mercy? Then show mercy. Do we want a gentle standard? Then we must measure out gentleness. Do we want forgiveness? Then we must offer forgiveness. Recruit some good intercessors for the day of judgment, by giving to the poor. They will be the most powerful intercessors for us as we leave this life and go to judgment.
So, God has shown us how we can store up a treasure of mercy, waiting for us in heaven, at the judgment seat of Christ. Some good lessons here to heed.
Here’s a funny video that illustrates that the measure we measure to others will be measured back to us:
The birth of Jesus was prophesied in many and varied places in the Old Testament. The birth of John the Baptist was also prophesied (Malachi 4:5-6; Matt. 11:14). But Mary, the Mother of Jesus our Lord, had her birth and existence prophesied as well. On this her birthday let’s take a look at some of those texts with some commentary from me.
We begin right at the beginning in the Book of Genesis. Original Sin had just been committed by Adam and Eve. Eve said the serpent deceived her. God put Satan under a curse and then pointed forward to a new Eve who would say, “yes” where Eve had said, “no.” God warned Satan:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
God therefore points to Mary and to the unique quality of her motherhood. She alone brought forth our Savior who, by his divine power and human obedience crushed the head of Satan. And, since women are not said to have seed, this unusual phrase attributed to Mary, points to her as being the sole source of Christ’s humanity (by God’s power) and that the Heavenly Father was Jesus’ true Father.
A second prophecy of Mary comes in Isaiah. King Ahaz is resisting Isaiah’s message not to fear Aram and Ephraim who are poised to invade Judah. When King Ahaz is told to ask for a sign he refused. Isaiah impatiently replies thus:
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Many modern Scripture scholars dismiss this as a reference to Mary, arguing it could not be a sign for Ahaz who died hundreds of years before its fulfillment. They also argue that “virgin” could just mean “maiden” (or young wife) and not refer to a true virgin conceiving. But apparently the Holy Spirit and St. Matthew never got the memo since they apply this Prophecy to Mary. (cf Matt, 1:23)
Isaiah also points to Mary in the following text. And while contextually he speaks of Jerusalem allegorically as a Mother giving birth, the details were only fulfilled by Mary.
This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What kind of house will you build for Me? Or where will My place of repose be? Has not My hand made all these things?And so they came into being,” declares the LORD. “This is the one I will esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at My word….Hear the uproar from the city; listen to the voice from the temple! “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before she was in pain, she delivered a boy. Who has heard of such as this? Who has seen such things? (Is 66:1-2; 6-8)
This text is why many of the Church Fathers teach that Mary brought forth Jesus miraculously and without the pain of childbirth. Although the people of Isaiah’s time did not see or hear of such things, those of Jesus’ time have heard and seen it fulfilled.
The Prophet Micah also points to Mary in the following text:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler over Israel—One whose origins are of old, from the days of eternity. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of His brothers will return to the children of Israel. (Micah 5:2-3)
Yes, salvation would wait until Mary was born, said “yes” in the place of Eve’s “no” and, by God’s power, brought forth Jesus our eternal savior and ruler.
The following text is from he Book of Revelation. And, since it was written after the birth and life of Christ on this earth it is not, strictly speaking, a prophecy. However, it is in the form of a meta-history. As such, it poetically and sweepingly writes of the great conflicts between good and evil, God and Satan that raged before Christ and, to a lesser degree after. I have here rearranged the text a bit to unite the heavenly war verses:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and crying out in the pain and agony of giving birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven royal crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars from the sky, tossing them to the earth….Then a war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. And the great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
We see here a kind of heavenly prophecy of Mary in the sign of the Woman clothed with the sun who was pregnant and giving birth. Ancient traditions hold that when God revealed his plans to save humanity by joining them, Lucifer, a high ranking angel balked at the plan and pridefully resisted it. Angels were far more worthy of God’sgifts than the mud doll humans. Lucifer thus led a rebellion and there was war in heaven.
And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, ready to devour her child as soon as she gave birth. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was caught up to God and to His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place for her to be nourished for 1,260 days.
There are many layers here. Historically, the woman can only be Mary since the Son she gives birth to can only be Christ. Allegorically the woman can also represent Israel and the Church. Though Satan sought Christ and searched for him all his earthly life, after an apparent victory at the Cross, the text tells us that Jesus was caught up to heaven where he is enthroned. The woman fleeing into the wilderness may remind us of the flight into Egypt but the 1260 days (three and a half months) is more likely a reference to yet another layer of this text, wherein Mary images the early Church. In 70 AD the early Church in Jerusalem fled to desert to the city of Pella as the Romans laid siege tot he City for three and a half months.
The wrenching depiction of Revelation 12 ends with an ominous note:
And the dragon was enraged at the woman, and went to make war on the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea.
Here too, we can note that the woman is both Mary and the Church. Mary as Mother of Christ is also our Mother since we are members of the Body of Christ. And, if Mary gave birth to the Head of the Church (Christ) she also gave birth to the Body of Christ and all its members. The Church too is mother to us since she is the Bride of Christ as we are born from the chaste union of Christ and his Bride, the Church. And here we see a prophecy that we who are the children of Mary and the Church will suffer persecution in this “paradise lost.” We therefore must cling to our Mother the Church and to Mary. We must also cling to the Lord and his sacraments for we have an enemy, Satan, and he stands on the shore of the sea (the sea was a symbol for chaos) looking for opportunities.
May our Lady hide us in her mantle and may our Lord and his Angels bestow on us every good grace.
May our Blessed Lady be highly venerated on this, her birthday.