In today’s Gospel the Lord is teaching us, by his grace, to break the cycle of retribution and hatred. When someone harms me I may well experience anger. And in my anger I may well seek to get back at the offender. If I do that, then Satan has two victories and brought the anger and retribution to a new level. And most likely the one who originally harmed me will take exception to my retribution and inflict more harm on me. And so the cycle continues and escalates. Satan loves this.
Break the Cycle – But the Lord has dispatched us on to the field to turn the game around and break the cycle of retribution and hatred. In effect the “play” he wants us to execute is the “it ends with me” play.
Don’t Play on Satan’s Team – To simply hate those who hate me and get back at those who harm me is to work for Satan, to play on his team. Why do that?
To advance the ball for Jesus is to break the cycle of retribution and hatred by taking the hit and not returning it. By loving our enemy, we break the cycle of hate. By refusing retribution, we rob Satan of a double victory.
Recall the words of Dr. Martin Luther King:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (From Strength to Love, 1963)
Christ, living in us, wants to break the cycle.
The Necessity of Grace – Recall as well a point made in last Sunday’s reflection that these antitheses are pictures of the transformed human person. Jesus is describing here what happens to a person in whom he has begun to live, through his Holy Spirit. As such the verses that follow are a description before they are prescription. Jesus is not merely saying, “Stop being so thin-skinned, so easily offended, and so retaliatory. Stop hating people.” If that were the case we could easily be discouraged by these verses or merely write them off as some impossible ideal. No, the Lord is doing something far greater than giving us moralisms. He is describing what will increasingly happen to us as his grace transforms us.
With this in mind, let’s look at the particulars in Three Sections.
I. Regarding Retaliation The first of the antitheses reads:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
Behind this text is the gift from the Lord of a generous heart. Ps 118:32 says In the ways of your precepts I run O Lord for you have enlarged my heart. It takes a large heart not retaliate, to go the extra mile, to give alms. The transformed mind and heart which Jesus gives is like this. It is a large heart, able to endure personal slights, and attacks, to refuse to retaliate. A large heart that easily lets go of personal possessions in pursuit of a higher goal. This is the essential vision of this antithesis.
That said, there are surely many questions that arise out of these sayings of Jesus. Most of these questions, however, emerge from seeing the Sermon as legal prescription rather than a descriptive example. Nevertheless, these are important questions.
- What does it mean to offer no resistance to injury?
- Does this mean that there is no place for a criminal justice system?
- Should police forces be banned?
- It there no place for national defense? An Armed Forces?
- Should all punishment be banned?
- Should bad behavior never be rebuked?
- Am I required to let go of anything anyone asks for?
- Do I always have to give away my money to beggars?
- Is it always wise to give someone whatever they ask for?
- Is it wise for me always to agree to help in every task that is asked of me?
To answer some of these questions, we do well to recall that the Lord is speaking to us as individuals. Therefore, the State, which has an obligation to protect the innocent from foes within and without, may be required to use force to repel threats. Further, the State has an obligation to secure basic justice and may therefore be required to assign punishment for crimes committed. This has been the most common Catholic understanding of this text.
Pacifists, however, differ with the traditional approach and see in this antithesis of Jesus a prohibition of all restraint of evil through any physical repulsion. This would preclude, for most of them, any recourse to the use of military and any use of armed police.
In answer to this, it will be noted that Scripture does not condemn military service in any explicit sense. Nor does it deny the right of the State to confer punishment. Consider some of the following New Testament references:
- Luke 3:14 – Soldiers also asked him (John the Baptist), “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” – Note that John does not tell them to leave the military.
- Roman soldiers often interacted with Jesus, New Testament texts often mention them (Mat 8, 27, Mark 15, Luke 7, 23, Acts 10 inter alia ) In no place are they condemned or is their military service called into question by Jesus.
- In John’s gospel Jesus acknowledges Pilate’s authority (even though he exercises it wrongly). Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” (Jn 19:11)
- Paul acknowledges the power and right of the state to punish criminals even with capital punishment: Rom13:1ff – Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
Hence the New Testament does seem to accept that the state does have punitive powers for the common good.
But don’t miss the main point of Jesus – The more likely understanding of this antithesis is that Jesus speaks to us as individuals and testifies that, to the degree that we are transformed, we will not seek to retaliate or avenge personal injuries. Rather, due to our relationship with God the Father we will be content to leave such matters to God. As scripture testifies: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom 12:19) Further and even more importantly, to the degree that Jesus lives in us we will simply be less easily offended at all. This is because our sense of our dignity is rooted in him, not what some mere mortal thinks, says or does.
Jesus goes on to give four examples of what he means by us becoming less vengeful and retaliatory:
1. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. – Being struck with the back of the hand was in ancient times (even now) a sign of disrespect. There is an intended humiliation when one strikes us on the cheek. But take note what Jesus does here! In the ancient world one struck with the left hand and this meant that being struck on one’s right cheek was to be struck with the inside of the hand. But, in turning the other cheek one would then be struck with the outside of the hand of the striker. This was an even worse indignity in the ancient world! But for the Christian in whom Christ is really living: who can really dishonor me? God is the source of my dignity, and no one can take it from me. By this grace I can let it pass since I have not, in fact, been stripped of my dignity. The world did not give me my dignity and the world cannot take it away. From this perspective Jesus is not offering us merely the grace to endure indignity, but the grace not to suffer or experience indignity at all.
2. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. – It was forbidden in ancient times to take the tunic of a person in pledge for a loan. Thus Jesus would seem to be using this example as a symbol for our rights. There are some people who are forever standing on their rights to this or that. They clutch their privileges and will not let them go even if the common good would require it. They will militantly go to law rather than suffer any infringement upon them. The true Christian thinks more of duties than rights, more of responsibilities than privileges. All this personal honor stuff etc. is unimportant when Christ lives in us. There are, to be sure, some rights necessary for the completion of our duties or for meeting our basic needs. It is unlikely Jesus has this in mind to forbid. But, as a general rule, Jesus is indicating that we can be freed of our obsession over “my rights,” “my dignity,” and also “my stuff.” We can be increasingly freed of anger when someone might even think to touch anything that is “mine.” The more we are detached from earthly possessions the less we get anxious or angry when these mere things are somehow threatened or used without our permission, or when our highly refined and dainty sense of our rights are trampled upon.
3. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. - It was legal for a Roman solider to press a person into service for one mile to carry things etc. Here too, some might be bent out of shape over such indignities. Jesus offers us a generous heart that will go the extra mile. Jesus came as the servant of all and as one who came to serve rather than be served. To the degree that he lives in us, we will willingly serve and not feel slighted that someone might have asked us to do something. Neither will we cop the “why me” attitude that commonly afflicts the ungenerous soul. The key gift here is a generous heart even when others do not always justly assign us our work or appreciate our efforts. This is of little concern for us since we work for God.
4. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. – Here too many questions arise related to indiscriminate giving. In some cases it may not be the wise thing to give money simply because someone asks. But don’t miss the main point here. The bottom line is that, when Jesus lives in us, we will be more generous. We will give cheerfully and assist others gladly. We will not be bent out of shape that someone has asked us for help. We may not always be able to help but our generous heart will not begrudge the beggar and we will remain cheerful in his presence and treat him or her with respect.
Here then is a description of a transformation of the mind and heart. We will view things differently. Not be so easily bent out of shape, retaliatory, vengeful. We will be more patient, more generous, less grasping, more giving. This is what happens when we live in a transformative relationship with Jesus.
II. Radical Requirement – to Love one’s enemy:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?
Here is the acid test, the hallmark of a true Christian: the love of one’s enemy. Note that Lord links this to being a true child of God. Why? Because God loves everyone and gives gifts of sun and rain to all. If then we are a “chip off the old block,” we will do the same. Anybody loves those who love them. But a Christian is fulfilling the Law and exceeding it.
If Christ lives in us then we will love even our enemy. Recall that Jesus loved us even when we hated him and killed him: And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) Further: While we were his enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Rom 5:10)
We should be careful not to make love an abstraction. The Lord is talking about a real transformation of our hearts here. Sometimes we say dopey things like, “You don’t have to like everyone but you have to love them.” This turns love into something of an abstraction. God doesn’t just love me, he even likes me. The Lord is talking about a deep love that wills good things for the enemy. And more than willing good things, even works toward them.
We are called to have a compassion, understanding, even affection for those who hate us and will us evil. We may wonder how this can happen in us. How can we have affection for those who hate us?! Yet it can be so when Christ lives his life in us. We will good and do good to them who hate us just as Jesus did.
It is also important not to sentimentalize this love. Jesus loved his enemies (us) but did not coddle us. He spoke the truth to the Scribes and Pharisees of his day often forcefully and uncompromisingly. We are called to a strong love which wants the truth for everyone. Yet this testimony is also given with understanding and true (not false) compassion.
III. Remarkable Recapitulation - Finally the Lord says,
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Here is the fundamental summary, the recapitulation: God-like perfection! Nothing less will do. How could there be anything less when Christ lives his life in us? To the degree that he lives in us and the old Adam dies, we become perfect. This is the state of the Saints in Heaven: they have been made perfect. Christ’s work in them is complete. The Greek word here is τέλειός (Teleios) which means complete or perfect. Thus, the emphasis here is on the completion of a work in us more than a mere excellence in performance. Hence Paul writes to the Philippians: And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)
This sentence also serves as an open-ended conclusion to the antitheses. Almost as if Jesus says, These have only been a few examples I have given you. The point is to be perfect, complete in every way, totally transformed in your mind, heart and behavior.
And thus we return to the original theme, It ends with me. In these final two antitheses the Lord wants to break the cycle of anger, retribution and violence. He wants the downward spiral of hatred and vengeance to end with me. When, on account of his grace I do not retaliate, I break the cycle. When I do not escalate the bitterness or return spite, when I refuse to allow hate to take possession of me, the cycle ends with me. Only God can do this for me.
But He does do it. I promise you in the Lord Jesus Christ that the Lord can deliver usfrom anger, wrath, vengefulness, pettiness and the like. I promise you because he is doing it in me. I do not boast, I am only saying what the Lord has done. I have been largely delivered from my anger which once was a major struggle. It is not any longer. I did not deliver myself. Jesus did. The promise the Lord here is true. Only God can do it. And He has said it, and he will do it, if we let him.
This song says, I Look to you. After all my strength is gone, in you I can be strong. I look to you!
Most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen to us. Why does he not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various sorts, events that cause sadness, setbacks or suffering?
While mysterious, the clearest answer is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing occur. To some degree I have found this so since some of my greatest blessings required that some door slam shut, or that some suffering be endured. And so, if my college sweetheart had not dumped me, I would not likely be priest today, which is a very great blessing. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments in my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. They have helped draw me out and grow me far more than the cozy and familiar places I desired. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my 30s I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do; and I would not have learned important lessons about life and myself.
So, while we understandably fear suffering and dislike it, God does allow some degree of it our lives, for reasons of his own, reasons he knows best.
Yet I wonder if we are really even all that aware of the countless times God did step in to prevent any number of disasters in our life. We tend to focus on the negative things in life and overlook an enormous amount of often hidden blessings: such as every beat of our heart, every proper function of every cell in our body, all the perfect balances necessary in nature and cosmos to sustain us.
Just think of walking and all the possible missteps we might have taken but did not. Think of all the stupid risks we took, especially when we were young, that did not end in disaster. All the poor choices we made, and yet escaped the worst possible consequences.
Yes, we wonder why we suffer and why others suffer and why God allows it. But do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer, why and how we have escaped some awfully stupid and foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion we discount many, many blessings and magnify and resent our sufferings.
One of the expressions I have picked up over the years when people ask me how I am doing is to say, “I’m pretty well blessed for a sinner.” I have heard others say, “I am more blessed than I deserve.” Yes, pretty well blessed indeed!
I thought of all that as I watched the commercial below (from the Superbowl). And while it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, I also think of my guardian angel who has surely preserved me from any number of disasters.
As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many hidden rescues he has executed for you through your Guardian Angel. Thank him too for the hidden blessings, blessings you know nothing of, but he did anyway. And think finally of the wonderful mercy he has shown in often preserving you from the worst of your foolishness.
We are reading from the Book of Proverbs in the Office of Readings just now. In it are many good descriptions, or maxims that state well what we who are believers and seek wisdom are up against. They have a lot to say of the times in which we live.
I’d like to review a few of the sayings that came up Wednesday in the Office. But before doing so it seems necessary to fend off a possible misunderstanding that some times results from the distinction in the Wisdom tradition between the wise one and the “fool.” Without a richer understanding of the term “fool” it is possible for some to think the term a mere ad hominem attack, or dismissal of our opponents through “name calling” and ridicule.
To the modern mind, the term “fool” is demeaning and hurtful. “Fool” tends to refer in modern usage to those are irredeemably stupid, who are buffoons, idiots lacking in any common sense, dumb as rocks and just plain stupid.
However when the Scriptures use the term “fool” is it set in distinction to the wise and to wisdom. As such, it is a more nuanced word, more descriptive of a rejection of wisdom, rather than merely pejorative. There are several Hebrew words in Proverbs and other places that are translated “fool.” Lets look for a moment at two.
The First Hebrew root of “fool” is אֱוִיל (ewil) and is from a root word meaning “to be perverse;” or figuratively, silly and lacking in reflection. More contextually the word means those who:
- despise wisdom & discipline – Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 15:5;
- mock at guilt – Proverbs 14:9;
- are quarrelsome - Proverbs 20:3;
- are licentious – Proverbs 7:22;
- and for whom it is folly & useless to instruct – Proverbs 16:22; Proverbs 27:22; Jeremiah 4:22; Job 5:2,3; Isaiah 19:11; Psalm 107:17.
Another Hebrew root is כְּסִיל (kasal) meaning a stupid fellow, dullard, a fool; – But more contextually the word means one who:
- hates knowledge – Proverbs 1:22;
- delights not in understanding – Proverbs 18:2;
- loves to do mischief – Proverbs 10:23; Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 15:2,
- and feeds on the mischief of others - Proverbs 15:14.
Thus we are dealing with someone who is not stupid per se, but whose stance is against what is reasonable, holy, orderly and wise. Such people may have intelligence and wide knowledge about many things int eh world. Hence they are not stupid per se. Rather, their stance is against Godly Wisdom, they are set against what matters to God and rooted in the passing things of the world that are of darkness and are passing. They base their lives on passing and frivolous things which cannot be the true basis for salvation.
The Latin Vulgate often uses the word insipiens (unwise) to refer to foolishness, i.e. the setting of oneself against wisdom.
Hence simply thinking that fool means “stupid” fails to grasp the nuance of what is said. While it not a flattering attestation, neither is it mere name-calling. Rather it is descriptive. “Fools” are those who set themselves against wisdom, not merely “stupid” people.
With that in mind let’s examine a few of the proverbs read in this week’s office that helps explain what God’s Church and those who seek wisdom are up against. The maxims are all from the 10th Chapter of Proverbs. My comments are in plain red text.
1. Blessings are for the head of the just, but a rod for the back of the fool. (Prov 10:6) -
God’s law is a great blessing for those who love wisdom. His Commandments are not prison walls, they are defending walls. His commands do not limit freedom so much as frame it within necessary limits.
But for the foolish, for those who hate and despise God’s wisdom, for those who hate discipline and any sense of reasonable limits, God’s law, and any stated limits, any authority beyond what “I want to do” is seen as something hateful. It is seen something punishing, like a rod on the back.
And thus many today are not simply indifferent to God’s wisdom as proclaim by the Church and Scripture, even more, they are openly hostile to it!
It is as though people have been sitting in a very dark room are suddenly overwhelmed by bright lights and cry out in protest. They despise the light and protest its presence as something hateful, and hurtful. Jesus lamented them when he said And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil (Jn 3:19).
Yes, to those who despise God’s wisdom, rather then a brilliant and beautiful light, A blessing for the mind to contemplate, it feels like a punishing rod on the back.
2. A wise man heeds commands, but a prating fool will be overthrown. A path to life is his who heeds admonition, but he who disregards reproof goes astray. (Proverbs 10:8, 17) -
The wise listen to instruction and strive to base their life upon it. The wise humbly accept that they do not know all things and must be taught by God.
But fools, those who hate wisdom, talk on and on about their own opinions. They believe anything, simply because they think it.
There is little reasoning with them for although they scoff at religious truth as mere “religion” it is really they who exhibit a far more extreme version of “blind faith” than any Christian believer who sees faith and reason as compatible.
The text says their end is destruction. In the age of the Church any number of political philosophies, erring trends and philosophies, all sorts of newfangled ideas have come and gone. The Church remains, and the wisdom and the Word of the Lord endures forever.
3. He who walks honestly walks securely, but he whose ways are crooked will fare badly (Prov 10:9) -
Evil has its hour. It rises, seems glamorous to many, is praised and paraded about as some sort of new form of liberation.
But evil cannot last, and those who practice it will fare badly. Perhaps it is addiction, disease, or strife, inner conflicts, or any number of resentments rooted in the false hopes promised by evil and not forth-coming, but those who practice it will fare badly.
Only those who walk in the honesty and truth, a time-tested truth, taught by God himself will walk securely. They will have trials, to be sure, but even these will help them reach their goal when they follow what is time-tested wisdom.
4. He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace (Prov 10:10) -
There is great pressure from many sectors today to stay silent about sin, about evil. Those who do speak of sin are called judgmental and intolerant. Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to the pressure and started winking at faults. Nothing but trouble results. The moral cesspool of the modern age shows this.
The correction of faults frankly and with love is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, an act of charity. Error and sin bring war and divisions both inwardly and collectively. But God’s truth, lovingly proclaimed and with clarity brings peace by insisting and what is good, right, true and beautiful.
We live in an age that winks at evil. In other words, it finds evil funny, and often celebrates it in visual entertainment, written media, in music and in other ways. The destructiveness of glamorizing evil is apparent if one simply buys a newspaper or turns on the news for five minutes.
God’s law, is his peace plan for this broken world of ours, it is his wisdom that will bring us peace.
5. A fountain of life is the mouth of the just, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Proverbs 10:11) -
Jesus warned that Satan and those who are evil often masquerade about in sheep’s clothing, but underneath the ravenous wolves (see Mat 7:15). And hence, many in our world today who despise God’s wisdom, conceal their violence in euphemisms such as “pro-choice,” “no-fault divorce,” “reproductive freedom.” “euthanasia,” “death with dignity” and so forth.
Despite the euphemisms and their cloak of pseudo-compassion they ultimately peddle death and division. God’s wisdom on the other hand speaks to the dignity of every human life, hope and promise of life, even with its difficulties.
6. The just man’s recompense leads to life, the gains of the wicked, to sin (Proverbs 10: 16) -
For those who are striving to be just and follow God’s wisdom, the rewards they receive are to be generously shared with others. The gains of the wicked however lead to sin, such as gluttony, greed, hoarding, and many sinful excesses. Rather than share their abundance with others they spend it on the flesh, and place their trust and reliance on the creature, rather than the Creator who is blessed forever amen.
7. Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well (Proverbs 10:19) -
In an age of communication, 24/7 news cycles, and almost endless reportage, the sin of gossip is almost endlessly available. Discretion is lost, and almost everyone thinks they have a right to know everything about everyone. The “people’s right to know,” seems to have no limits.
And in our age of many words, many media, visual, verbal, musical, etc. sin is not wanting on account of this. We talk endlessly about other people’s business and often wholly ignore our own issues. Why stay in our own lane when we can tune in at 11 or go to the latest scandal sheet or website.
Rare indeed are those who “do well” by restraining their lips and covering their ears and eyes to what is sinful or merely intrigue.
8. Crime is the entertainment of the fool; so is wisdom for the man of sense (Proverbs 10:23) -
Too easily our culture celebrates as entertainment the sins of others. On television, in the cinema and many other forms of communication, fornication, adultery and other sexual misconduct are celebrated and normalized.
It is the same with violence. Most of our adventure movies celebrate the use of violence to solve problems. An injustice occurs and our “hero” after 90 minutes of killing people, breaking things and blowing up buildings, has a final showdown with the unambiguously evil enemy, kills him and walks away with the girl in his arm, burning city in the background, roll credits.
We also glorify mobsters and many other forms of crime and violence.
Some will argue that the cinema should reflect life. Fine, but most people are not killing other people, burning cities, crashing cars, blowing up buildings, and mafiosi. Sadly there is fornication and adultery, as well as homosexual acts. But they are not committed without consequences as the movies show.
Where are the movies that depict wisdom, beauty, love, and truth, chastity, strong families, and so forth? They are out there, but too often they are eclipsed by the far more numerous things that celebrate crime, violence, dysfunction and sinfulness.
9. When the tempest passes, the wicked man is no more; but the just man is established forever (Proverbs 10:25) -
The Church alone is indefectible, by the promise of Jesus Christ. although evil movements, political forces, sinful regimes, etc. rise and boast of their power, they eventually fall. As noted, the Church has seen empires rise and fall, philosophies come and go. Evil men have threatened the Church with destruction for thousands of years now and we have read the funeral rites over every one of our enemies.
The truth will out. Evil will not remain, it cannot last. Christ has already won the victory.
The foolish keep resisting; they laugh at God’s wisdom, dismiss the Scriptures, and ridicule the Church. When they are gone, we will still be here proclaiming Christ and him crucified, gloriously resurrected and ascended to glory.
Those who mock this, resist the consistent message of history. Jesus is Lord, and though he permits his enemies time to repent, their days are ultimately numbered, and evil cannot last.
Just a few Proverbs that speak to our times and help decode what God has to say of many modern trends.
Here’s a video with some modern sayings. In posting this I do not affirm every saying, but some make good sense.
We human beings tend to assess our relative status and success based on things like money, possessions, popularity, career and power. If I am wealthy, and well-connected, if I have a large house with the great room, the cathedral ceilings, Granite counter tops, and numerous widescreen TVs, (even in strange places like the bathroom), if I have a glamorous career instead of a “demeaning” job, if I have good looks, (Through big hair,cosmetics and even plastic surgery)… All of this from a worldly perspective, means that I am successful, that my life has reached it’s goal, that I have made it to the top.
But of course none of this really matters to God. Even worse, it may negatively configure us for the day of judgment. Too often, in our worldliness, we amass great riches, but are not rich in what matters to God.
Do we really think that God will be impressed by many of the things that we are impressed by? Does God account success by our standards? Countless Bible verses teach that the answer to this is a definitive no.
Summarizing his inverse stance to all we hold glorious, God says
- For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:8-9).
- Or again, Many who are last shall be first (Matt 19:30).
- Or yet again, (speaking of the Rich man who built bigger barns) Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God. (Luke 12:21)
And thus, on the day of judgment, it does not seem that God will be impressed with some of the following human benchmarks for success:
1. How much money was when your bank account when you died. - Of itself, acquired wealth is not intrinsically evil. The Lord made no universal condemnation of wealth.
However, wealth carries with it a great responsibility. The Lord is not impressed with our six-figure income, our seven-figure income. Rather he is concerned what we did with it.
Were the poor blessed? Were jobs created? Did you use the excess of your wealth, to bless the common-wealth in some way? This need not mean that you indiscriminately threw money about to those who could not reasonably use it well. It might mean to used it to develop new technologies that created new job sectors. It could mean you endowed worthy and holy causes; it could mean any number of things. But the bottom line is that your excess wealth should benefit others, not simply glorify you.
Dying with lots of money in your bank account or portfolio, does not impress the Lord so much as it will cause a responsibility in you who died with it. Whatever excess wealth you have, beyond what you reasonably need, really belongs to others, and should intentionally be applied to the welfare, the goodness, and the growth of others. Wealth carries grave responsibilities. Before we simply boast of it, we ought to remember that those wealth and power will be judge more strictly. Scripture says,
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
2. How much money you left your children as an inheritance. It’s a nice thing to leave a little something for your kids. But inheriting vast amounts of wealth is not necessarily healthy. It creates the illusion that fruitfulness can or should be obtained without labor.
It does not take long to study the lives of the children of the rich and famous to quickly discover that spoilage is a huge issue. Add to this the many warnings about wealth in Scripture and it starts to seem that leaving lots of money to your kids is almost like setting a snare for them. Consider:
- But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim 6:8-10)
- And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”… (Matt 19:23-24)
- The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matt 13:22)
Again, let it be said, money is not intrinsically evil. But if heaven is the goal, and the Lord warns consistently that wealth is dangerous at best, and an obstacle at worse, then loading kids up with wealth and things is problematic and not something that will likely impress the Lord on the day of judgment.
Yet, still knowing that wealth is dangerous and makes it hard for us to inherit heaven, we still want it and go on congratulating ourselves for having it and then saddle our kids with it, congratulating ourselves still further. And if we think the Lord is going to be impressed with all this amassing and bequeathing, we probably have another thing coming to us.
3. What the square footage of your dream home amounted to. Most of us who are over 50, grew up in homes of 1200 - 1500 ft.² And we thought of these spacious compared to the little tenements and row houses of the previous generation.
Many people now think it is reasonable to demand square footage of 5000 ft.² and up. And they further demand many amenities such as great rooms with cathedral ceilings, tray ceilings in the Master suite, an on-suite spa walk in closet the size of the room I shared with my borther, many different television sets, granite countertops, etc.
But the Son of man had nowhere to lay his head. And Jeremiah warns:
Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar paneled walls? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. …I warned you when you felt secure, but you said, ‘I will not listen!’ This has been your way from your youth; you have not obeyed me. You who who are nestled in cedar buildings, how you will groan when pangs come upon you, pain like that of a woman in labor! (Jeremiah 22:15ff)
In other words, it is nice to have a fancy house, but how does it impact our ability to help the poor or to stay focused on spiritual things? Therefore watch out, not only is God unimpressed with your square footage, he is quite worried about it. Our houses are bigger, but emptier. Fewer children, with contraception and abortion, but bigger houses, empty, but bigger, and bigger, bigger still, still more contraception, more abortions, not room in our bigger houses, no room at all! No room for the poor, no room to adopt or raise foster children, no room for children of our own. No room but for our bigger egos.
4. That you provided a paid college education for all your children. – I know, I know, I’ve attacked a major sacred cow. It is almost universally unquestioned that a college education unlocks the future for the recipient of it.
I only seek to point out to major concerns that ought to be considered. First of all, that those who seek to acquire these degrees often are exposed more than four years of a moral cesspool, moral relativism, and many teachings, outright and unambiguously hostile the faith we theoretically hold dear. The majority of young people exposed to this will be years if ever before they return to their faith.
There are valid options available, but most parents give little attention to good Catholic colleges such as the Newman Society recommends if they can get their kid into Harvard or Yale or “once Catholic” colleges like Georgetown. Almost no one counts the moral, psychological and spiritual cost of being educated in these sorts of secular and often pernicious institutions we call higher education.
But even then, one might argue that with a solid grounding in the faith it would be okay. But sadly, while many parents will make incredible sacrifices to send their children to these institutions of so-called higher learning, most lift almost not a finger to teach them the faith that alone can save them. So they make great sacrifices for their children climb the ladder of success, never considering that it is leaning up against the wrong wall. They send them to moral cesspools but seem more concerned for their grades than their moral or spiritual lives.
Hence, on the day of judgment, Lord will be less than impressed that you sent your child to some fancy Ivy League college or even to some State College. What he will wonder and what WILL impress him is if you handed on to them the holy faith he revealed.
Too harsh you say? Forgive me dear reader. If the shoe fits wear it, otherwise, let it pass over you. But for too many, the shoe fits like a glove.
5. Whether you were popular and all spoke well of you at your funeral. – While we are not called to be sociopaths who care not one write what others think, too many of us have turned being nice, being liked and esteemed by men into an idol.
But Jesus was nailed to a cross. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. (Hebrews 13:12-13)
Are you greater than Jesus? He says,
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19)
Jesus will not be impressed that you were esteemed by human beings. He warns, Woe to you when all men speak well of you (Lk 6:26). Rather Jesus will be impressed that you and I were willing to speak the truth in love and be willing to bear insult for the sake of the Kingdom.
On Judgment day, Fare you well! But be sure of this, the Lord will not use the standards we are so obsessed by. We need to come to a new mind to get ready for judgement day! Fare you well.
In the Gospel from Last Sunday the Lord warns of using uncivil and/or hateful words such as (Raqa and fool). And yet the same Lord Jesus often used very strong language toward some of his opponents sometimes calling them names such as vipers, hypocrites and tombs.
We live in a world that often insists on the use of gentle language and euphemisms. While not a bad thing, we also tend to manifest a kind of thin-skinned quality and a political correctness that is too fussy about many things, often taking personally what is not meant personally.
What is the overall teaching on Scripture when it comes this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Lets take a look.
The word “civility” dates back to about the mid 16th century and has an older meaning that referred to one who possessed the quality of having been schooled in the humanities. In academic settings, debate, at least historically, was governed by a tendency to be highly nuanced, careful, cautious, formal and trained in rhetorical skill. It’s rules were also prone to refer to one’s opponents by honorary titles (Doctor, professor etc.) and euphemisms such as “my worthy opponent.” Hence, as the word enters into ordinary usage it comes to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle and measured.
As one might guess, there are a lot of cultural variances in what is considered to be civil. And this insight is very important when we look at the biblical data of what constituted civil discourse. Frankly, the biblical world was far less dainty about discourse than we have become in 21st century America. The scriptures, to include the New Testament, are filled with vigorous discourse. Jesus for example as we have seen, really mixes it up with his opponents and even calls them names. We shall see more of this in a moment. But the scriptures also counsel charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech. In the end a balance of the Scriptural witness to civility must be sought along with an appreciation of the cultural variables at work.
Let’s examine a few of the texts that counsel charity and a modern and American notion of civility:
- Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. (Eccl 10:12)
- The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. (Eccles 9:17)
- Anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matt 5:22)
- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)
- Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (Col 3:21)
- With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10)
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19)
- Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, (Col 4:6)
- Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11)
- But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Col 3:8)
- Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Rom 14:19)
- Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness ( Gal 6:1)
- Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thess 3:15).
- Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort [the repentant sinner], so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Cor 2:7).
So, all these texts counsel a measured, charitable and edifying discourse. Name-calling and hateful or unnecessary expressions of anger are out of place. And this is a strong biblical tradition, especially in the New Testament.
But there are also strong contrasts to this instruction evident in the Biblical data as well. And, a lot of it from an unlikely source, Jesus. Paul too who wrote many of the counsels above often manifests strident denunciations of his opponents and even members of the early Church. Consider some of the passages below, first by Jesus then by Paul and other Apostles:
- Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?” (Matthew 12:34).
- And Jesus turned on them and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides!…..You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. ….You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean….And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt 23 varia).
- Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me….You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire…..He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:42-47)
- Jesus said, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Mark 7:6)
- And Jesus answered them, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long must I tolerate you!? (Mark 9:19)
- Jesus said to the disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)
- Jesus said to the crowd, “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. (Jn 5:41-42)
- So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15)
- Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)
- Paul: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,….As for those circumcisers , I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 3, 5)
- Paul against the false apostles: And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Cor 11:11-14)
- Paul on the Cretans: Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith (Titus 1:12-13)
- [Peter Against Dissenters:] Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings….these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish…..They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done….They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!….Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2, varia)
- [Jude against dissenters] These dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings….these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain;….These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever…..These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (Jude 1:varia)
Now, most of the passages above would violate modern norms about civil discourse. Are they sinful? They are God’s word! And yet, they seem rather shocking to modern ears. Imagine getting into your time machine and going to hear Jesus denounce the crowds and calling them children of the devil. It really blows a 21 Century mind
I want to suggest to you that these sorts of quotes go a long way to illustrate the cultural dimension of what it means to be civil. The bottom line is that there is a great deal of variability in what people consider civil discourse. In some cultures there is a greater tolerance for anger. I remember dating an Italian girl for a brief time back in college. I remember being at her house and how she and her mother could really go at it with a heated debate (usually in Italian – Mama Mia!). But no sooner had they very intensely argued over some particular point, say of preparing the meal, than they were just fine, as if nothing had happened. Angry discourse was more “normal” for them.Even in this country there are regional differences about civility. In New York and Boston, edgy comments and passionate interruptive debate are common. But in the upper Midwest and parts of the Deep South conversation is more gentle and reserved.
At the time of Jesus angry discourse was apparently more “normal” for, as we see, Jesus himself engages in a lot of it, even calling them names like, “Hypocrites.” “Brood of Vipers,” “Liars,” “Wicked” etc. Yet, the same scriptures that record these facts about Jesus also teach that he never sinned. Hence, at that time such terms were not considered sinful to utter.
Jesus also engaged in prophetic actions like overturning the tables in the temple courts. No one said he’d done wrong, they just wondered where he got the authority to do this (cf Mark 11:28). In that culture prophets did things like this. No one liked it, but just like our culture tolerates some degree of civil disobedience, even reveres it, Jesus’ culture expected things like this from prophets.
Careful -Now be careful here. I am not saying it is OK for us to talk like this because Jesus did. We do not live then, we live now, and in our culture such dialogue is almost never acceptable. There ARE cultural norms we have to respect to remain in the realm of Charity. Exactly how to define civility in every instance is not always clear. An old answer to these hard to define things is “I know when I see it.” So perhaps it is more art than science to define civility. But clearly, we tend today, to prefer a gentler discourse.
On the other hand, as already observed we also tend to be a little thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive. And the paradoxical result of insisting on greater civility is that we are so easily “outraged” (one of the more overused words in English today). We take offense where none is intended and we easily presume that the mere act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant, intentionally hurtful or even hateful. We seem so easily provoked and quick to be offended. All of this escalates anger further and charges of hate and intolerance go back and forth where there is simply sincere disagreement.
Balance - The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less hyper-sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be “clarity” with “charity,” the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. Perhaps an old saying comes to mind: Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.
Here are two videos that display the zeal of Jesus and a bit of his anger. The Passages depicted are John 6 and John 8.
There are many references to “the flesh” in New Testament Scripture, especially in the letters of St. Paul. The phrase confuses some who think it synonymous with the physical body, or sometimes with sexual sin.
It is true that there are many times when Scripture uses the word “flesh” to refer to the physical body. However when the definite article “the” is placed before the word “flesh” we are dealing with something else. Only very rarely does the Biblical phrase “the flesh” (ἡ σὰρξ (he sarx), in Greek) refer only to the physical body (eg. John 6:53; Phil 3:2; 1 John 4:2), but almost always the phrase refers to something quite distinct from the physical body.
What then is meant by the term “the flesh” (ἡ σὰρξ)? Perhaps most plainly it refers to that part of us that is alienated from God. It is the rebellious, unruly and obstinate part of our inner self that is operative all the time. It is that part of us that does not want to be told what to do. It is stubborn, refuses correction, and does not want to have a thing to do with God. It bristles at limits and rules. It recoils at anything that might cause me to be diminished or something less than the center of the universe. The flesh hates to be under authority or to have to yield to anything other than its own wishes and desires. The flesh often desires something simply because it is forbidden.
Some modern Scripture translations often call the flesh our “sin nature” (e.g. the NIV) which is not a bad term in summarizing what the flesh is. In Catholic tradition the flesh is where concupiscence sets up shop. Concupiscence refers to the strong inclination to sin that is in us as a result of the wound of Original Sin. If you do not think that your flesh is strong, just try to pray for five minutes and watch how quickly your mind wants to think of anything but God. Just try to fast or be less selfish and watch how your flesh goes to war.
The flesh is in direct conflict with the spirit. The “spirit” here refers not to the Holy Spirit but to the human spirit. The (human) spirit is that part of us which is open to God, which desires him and is drawn to him. It is that part of us which is attracted by goodness, beauty and truth, which yearns for completion in God and to see His face. Without the spirit we would be totally turned in on ourselves and consumed by the flesh. Thankfully our spirit, assisted by the Holy Spirit draws us to desire what is best, what is upright, good and helpful.
Perhaps it is good that we look at just a few texts which reference “the flesh” and thus here learn more of the flesh and its ways. This will help us to be on our guard and to rebuke it by God’s grace and learn not to feed it. I make some comments in red with each quote.
1. The Flesh does not grasp spiritual teachings – [Jesus said] The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)
Having taught on the Eucharist, most of Jesus’ listeners ridicule his teaching and will no longer take Jesus seriously. So Jesus indicates that their hostility to the teaching on the Eucharist is of the flesh. The flesh demands that everything be obvious to it on its own terms. The flesh demands to see physical proof for everything; demands that it be able to “see” using its own unregenerate power. And if it cannot see based on its own limited view, it simply rejects spiritual truth out of hand.
In effect the flesh refuses to believe at all since what it really demands is something that will “force” it to accept something. Inexorable proof which faith demands takes things out of the realm of faith and trust. Faith is no longer necessary when something is “absolutely” proven and plainly visible to the eyes of flesh. The flesh simply refuses to believe and demands proof.
2. The flesh is not willing to depend on anyone or anything outside its own power or control – For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless….I [now] consider this rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Phil 3:3-9 selected)
The flesh wants to be in control rather than to have to trust in God. Hence it sets up its own observance, under its own control. And when it has met its own demands it declares itself to be righteous.
Since the flesh hates being told what to do it takes God’s law and makes it “manageable” based on the flesh’s own terms. So, for example, if I am supposed to love, let me limit it to my family and countrymen but I am “allowed” to hate my enemy. But Jesus says, no, love your enemy.
The flesh recoils at this for unless the law is manageable and within the power of the flesh to accomplish it, the Law cannot be controlled. The flesh trusts only in its own power.
The Pharisees were “self-righteous” That is to say, they believed in a righteousness that they themselves brought about through their flesh power. But the Law and flesh cannot save. Only Jesus Christ can save. The flesh refuses this and wants to control the outcome based on its own power and terms.
3. The Flesh hates to be told what to do – For when we were controlled by the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. (Rom 7:5)
The disobedience and rebelliousness of the flesh roots us in sinful behavior and prideful attitudes. The prideful attitude of the flesh is even more dangerous than the sins that flow from it since pride precludes instruction in holiness and possible repentance that lead to life.
So the flesh does not like to be told what to do. Hence it rejects the testimony of the the Church, the scriptures and the conscience.
Notice, according to the text, the very existence of God’s Law arouses the passions of the flesh. The fact that something is forbidden makes the flesh want it all the more! This strong inclination to sin is in the flesh and comes from pride and indignation at “being told what to do.” The flesh is refuses God’s Law and sets up its own rules. The flesh will not be told what to do.
4. The Flesh is focused on itself and its own desires only - Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the spirit have their minds set on what the spirit desires. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:5-6)
The flesh is intent on things of this world, upon gratifying its own passions and desires. On account of the flesh we are concerned primarily with ourselves and seek to be at the center. The flesh is turned primarily inward. St Augustine describes the human person in the flesh as “curvatus in se” (turned in upon himself).
But the spirit is that part of us that looks outward toward God and opens us the truth and holiness that God offers. Ultimately the flesh is focused on death for it is concerned with what is passing away: the body and the world. The human spirit is focused on life for it focuses on God who is life and light.
5. The Flesh is intrinsically hostile to God – The mind of the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8)
The flesh is hostile to God because it is pridefully hostile to any one more important than itself. Further the flesh does not like being told what to do. Hence it despises authority or anyone who tries to tell it what to do. It cannot please God because it does not want to.
6. The Flesh abuses freedom - You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13)
The flesh turns God given freedom into licentiousness. Licentiousness is to demand freedom without limit. Since the flesh does not want to be told what to do it demands to be able to do what ever it wants.
In effect the flesh says, “I will do what I want to do and I will decide if it is right or wrong.” This is licentiousness and it is an abuse of freedom. It results in indulgence and paradoxically leads to a slavery to the senses and the passions.
7. The Flesh Demands to be fed – So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Gal 5:16-17)
Within the human person is this deep conflict between the flesh and spirit. We must not be mistaken, the flesh is in us and it is strong. It has declared war on our spirit and on the Holy Spirit of God. When the spirit tries to obey, the flesh resists and tries to sabotage the best aspirations of the spirit.
We must be sober about this conflict and understand that this is why we do not do what we most know is right. The flesh has to die and the spirit come more alive.
What you feed grows. If we feed the flesh it will grow. If we feed the spirit it will grow. What are you feeding? Are you sober about the power of the flesh and do you and I therefore feed our spirit well through God’s word and holy communion, through prayer and the healing power of confession. What are you feeding?
8. The Flesh fuels sin - The 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 (Gal 5:19-210)
This catalog of sins for Galatians 5 is not exhaustive but is representative of the offensive and obnoxious behavior that flows from the flesh. Be sober about the flesh, it produces ugly children.
So here is a portrait of “the flesh.” It is ugly. You may say I have exaggerated, that the flesh is not really this bad. Well I am not, just buy a newspaper and see what the flesh is up to.
We may, by God’s grace, see a diminishment in the power of the flesh in our life. That is ultimately what God can and will do for us. He will put the flesh to death in us and bring alive our spirit by the power of his Holy Spirit.
A four step plan -
- But step one is to appreciate what the flesh is and understand its moves.
- Step two is to bring this understanding to God through repentance.
- Step three is, by God’s grace, to stop feeding the flesh and start feeding the spirit on prayer, scripture, Church teaching and Holy Communion.
- Step four is to repeat steps 1-3 for the rest of our lives.
God by his grace will cause the flesh to die and the spirit to live by his grace at work in us through Jesus Christ.
There is no musical better at (humorously) depicting the flesh as Camelot. Here are a few video clips that depict well the flesh
In this first video Sir Lancelot ponders what a great and perfect guy he is. He goes so far as to say that “Had I been made the partner of Eve we’d be Eden still!”
In this clip, the Knights (in the flesh) ridicule goodness and sing “Fie On Goodness!”
One of the great blessings of being a Roman Catholic is to be a member of the church that is over 2000 years old has amassed a vast treasury of holy doctrine, wisdom, knowledge, sacred tradition, an enormous library of the writings and teachings of Saints and Holy Doctors, great movements, spirituals and liturgical traditions. Yes, there are a lot of “moving parts” to our magnificent faith and our Church.
But strengths are often just a few degrees separated from struggles. And thus, with such a rich fair and with many possible facets for discussion (and debate), too often we who are Catholic can get lost in the details and forget the simple basic message that must be effectively proclaimed as a kind of a foundation for the rich things that will follow. If we are not careful those who look to the Catholic Faith can become easily and quickly bewildered as they are drawn into a world where people discuss everything from novenas, to the Stations of the Cross, lives of the Saints, spiritual traditions, contemplative prayer versus meditative prayer, lectio divina, Latin mass versus contemporary mass, debates over authority, who can be ordained, liturgical debates, religious liberty, sacramentals,…
And while all these things are very good, there remains the need for a good solid foundation wherein one meets the Lord, and comes to know his power in their life.
With this foundation, liturgy, scripture and sacraments begin to fall beautifully into place. The joy of knowing Christ and his saving power, and of being deeply grateful for having been saved by him, fuels a zeal to joyfully inquire into the rich tapestry of Church life, both historical and contemporary. The beauty of the Church now reflects the beauty of Christ, and the beauty of faith.
So the foundation, a relationship with Christ rooted in deep gratitude for being saved by him and loved by him must be built. Realizing this, many today have begun to emphasize the need to return to the fundamental root message that is often called the kerygma. It is a Greek word (κήρυγμα) which means “preaching” but refers more technically to the first preaching of the Apostles immediately after Pentecost. Some also translate kerygma as “Message” and thus the word connotes the basic or fundamental message, the foundational proclamation.
But here I’d like to offer just a quick pastoral description of the foundational message we call the kerygma. There are Seven Elements of the Kerygma. of the fundamental and foundation proclamation of the faith. I draw the wording of these largely from Hector Molina over at Catholic Answers with a brief commentary of my own (in red) on each. And while these seven elements to comport exactly with the ancient kerygma, they are modeled on it and serve our times very well.
Here are the Seven Elements of the Kerygma:
1. God loves you and has plan for your life. – Yes, God the Father loves you and seeks you. And that ache in your heart, that longing, that yearning, and that “never satisfied” quality in your desires all point to God and he has written his name in your heart. He wants to turn you away from a passing and unsatisfying world, towards him. He wants to save you and prepare you to live with him for all eternity. He wants to fill the God sized hole in your heart and its infinite longing with his infinite Love.
2. Sin will destroy you. – Nothing is so destructive in your life and this world as sin. It is desire gone wrong, it is rooted in the lie that the creature rather than the Creator can help and save us. Cultivating sin will put you in bondage to desires gone mad that will not ultimately be satisfied. Satan is lying to you and saying that rebellion form the One who made will bring happiness to you. It will not. And you know this already don’t you? Sin and indulgence does not ultimately satisfy. The world cannot satisfy, for it is finite and your desire is infinite. Sin does not ultimately bring happiness, it brings bondage, addiction, dissatisfaction, and ultimately resentment and spiritual death.
3. Christ Jesus died to save you. – Into this mess of our wayward desires and our foolish grasping at worldly trinkets Jesus came. He met the woman at the well (who is us) and told her that every who drinks form this well (the world) will be thirsty again. In other words, the world cannot ultimately satisfy or save us. We must die to this world and rise to God. But our way to God was cut off by sin. Jesus came and reopened the way to the Father by dying to this world, to its lies and false claims. Rising and Ascending he has re-opened the way to the Father, our hearts true desire. Now we can be saved by being led back to the Father by the saving power of Jesus. And dying to this world, we can one day fully be satisfied by God.
4. Repent and believe the Gospel. – To repent means to come to a new mind, to come to understand and accept all that has been stated: that the Lord loves me, is calling me in my desires, and want to save me from the sinful drives that will destroy me. It is time for me to come to beleive in this Love God has form me and accept the promise and salvation of his love: Jesus Christ and the saving truth he proclaims.
5. Be Baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. – And thus in Baptism our sins are washed away, we are incorporated into Christ, we become a member of his body. And having done so, the Holy Spirit, the life, love, serenity, joy and wisdom of God comes to dwell in me and begins a work of transforming me, that includes the other Sacraments as well.
6. Abide in Christ and his body the Church. – Grow in this relationship with Jesus and His Father in the Holy Spirit by living in the life of the Church, which is Jesus presence and Body in this world. Abide there, that is go on dwelling there.
7. Go make disciples. – And so the cycle repeats with the newly Evangelized and more deeply rooted Christian calling others.
Now of course this is the basic proclamation, not the full truth. The Kerygma establishes the foundation on which can be built the higher matters of Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, Liturgy, Sacramental theology, moral theology and the like. The insight is both simple and clear, when you meet Jesus and experience his saving power, you love him and want to grow in everything he teaches and offers. The Kerygma is the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, all the way to Omega can follow. But make sure the Alpha of the Kerygma is firmly in place.
Another basic element of Evangelization is a key summary verse of the Christian life. In one compact line is disclosed a perfect summary of the Christian walk.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
We like to complicate things. But it doesn’t really get more complicated than this. THere are four elements, four pillars of the Christian life:
1. The Apostles’ Teaching - That is the steadfastly went on in the study of Scripture and the sacred teachings of the Faith given them by the apostles
2. Fellowship – They were daily walking with Christ’s Body the Church, frequenting the Liturgy and other communal gatherings.
3. Breaking of the Bread – This is another way of saying that they faithfully received the Eucharist and, by extension, all the Sacraments.
4. Prayers – Both personal and communal prayer.
A simple plan for life for a Christian.
Two basic elements of Evangelization: “The Message” (the kerygma) and the “The Plan” of Acts 2:42. We like to complicate things, but root, we start simply. The foundation is not the building, but it is an essential basis for the building.
This song says:
God is my protection.
God is my all in all.
God is my light in darkness.
God is, He, He is my all in all.
God is my joy in time of sorrow.
God, God is my all in all.
God is my today and tomorrow.
God, My God is, my all in all.
God is the joy and
the strength of my life,
He moves all pain, misery, and strife.
He promised to keep me,
never to leave me.
He’s never ever come short of His word.
I’ve got to fast and pray,
stay in His narrow way,
I’ve got to keep my life clean everyday;
I want to go with Him when He comes back,
I’ve come to far and I’ll never turn back.
God is my all in all.
In the Gospel for this Weekend’s Mass we are well into the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and today we cover a good deal of Chapter 5. In a way the Lord is drawing a picture for us of the transformed human person. He is presenting a kind of slide show of what sanctity really is. In understanding this rather lengthy text we do well to reflect on it in three parts.
I. The Power of New Life in Christ – We have discussed before that an important principle of the Christian moral vision is to understand that it is essentially received, not achieved. Holiness is a work of God. The human being acting out the power of his flesh alone cannot keep, and surely not fulfill, the Law. The experience of God’s people in the Old Testament bears this out. True holiness (and not mere ethical rule keeping) is possible only by and through God’s grace.
In this sense we must understand the moral vision given by Jesus as a description rather than a mere prescription. Notice what the text says here: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill [the Law]. It is Jesus who fulfills the Law. And we, who are more and more in him, and He in us do what He does. It is His work.
Thus, what Jesus is doing here is to describe what a transformed human being is like:
- When Jesus Christ really begins to live his life in us (Gal 2:20),
- When the power of His cross goes to work in us and puts sin to death (Rom 6:2),
- When Jesus increases and we decrease (Jn 3:30),
- When our old self is crucified with him so that sin will no longer master us (Rom 6:6-7),
- When and as all this takes place we are transformed.
This is a work of God, the power is in the Blood and the cross. The power comes to us by grace. It is all a work of God.
Hence, Jesus, in today’s Gospel is not giving us a rigorous set of rules to follow (and they are rigorous) but, is describing what the transformed human person is like. Clearly his description is not some merely impossible ideal, but is set forth as the normal Christian life. The normal Christian is a transformed human person. The normal Christian, to use Jesus description from today’s Gospel, has authority over his anger and sexuality, loves his wife and family and is a man of his word. All this comes to him as the fruit of God’s grace.
It is very important to understand that this is a life offered to us by God. Otherwise we are simply left with moralism here: “Stop being so angry and unchaste, stop getting divorced, and stop lying.” Rather, what is offered here is new life in Christ where, on account of an inner transformation by the power of grace, we see anger abate, unchastity diminish, the love of others increase, and we speak the truth in love. So the power to do this is not from our flesh, but from the Lord, through the power of his cross to put sin to death and bring forth new life in us.
II. The Principle of New Life in Christ – The key word in Jesus’ moral vision is that, by his grace we do not merely keep the Law, but fulfill it. The key word is “fulfill” and to fulfill means to fill something full, to meet more than what is minimally required and to enter into the full vision and meaning of the Law.
Thus, to use Jesus’ examples in today’s Gospel:
- It is not enough to refrain from killing, true life in God means that vengeful hatred is removed from me and I love even my enemy and am reconciled with people I have wrongfully hurt or offended.
- It is not enough merely to avoid adultery, true life in Christ means that I am chaste and pure even in my thoughts, that by God’s grace I have authority over what I am thinking and shun unchaste thoughts.
- It is not enough to merely follow proper divorce law. True life in Christ means I don’t even want to divorce my wife. I actually love her, and my children. I am reconciled to her and accepting that she is not perfect and neither am I.
- It is not enough to simply refrain from swearing false oaths. True life in Christ means speaking the truth in love, being a man of my words. The grace of God keeps me from being duplicitous and deceitful.
In all these ways the law is not merely kept, it is fulfilled. It is filled full in that all this implications are abundantly and joyfully lived as Jesus Christ transforms me. Christ came to fulfill the Law and in Christ, as our union with him grows more perfect we also fulfill the Law. For what Christ does we do, for we are in him and he is in us. As he says, I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
III. The Picture of New Life in Christ. – The Lord then goes on to six pictures of what a transformed human being looks like. In the Gospel for today’s Mass we look at only four. These pictures are often called “antitheses” since they are all formulated as: You have heard that it was said……but I say to you. But the key point is to see then as pictures of what happens to a person in whom Jesus Christ is really living. Let’s look at each.
A. On Anger – The text begins: You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Thus the Lord teaches us that the commandment not to kill has a deeper meaning that must be filled full. For, what leads to murder? Is it not the furnace of anger, retribution, and hatred within us? We may all experience a flash of anger and it passes. Further there is such a thing as righteous anger which is caused by the perception of injustice and sin. The Lord himself exhibited this sort of anger a lot. These sorts of anger are not condemned. Rather the anger that is condemned is the anger that is born on hate and a desire for revenge, an anger that goes so far as to wish the other were dead and to deny that they possess any real human dignity. This is what leads to murder.
That the Lord has this sort of anger in mind is revealed in the examples he uses of the expression of this anger: Raqa and fool. These words express contempt and hatred. Raqa is untranslatable, but seems to have had the same impact as the “N-word” today. It is a very hurtful word expressing deep contempt. Now this has to go. It cannot remain in a person in whom the Lord authentically lives. And it will go, to the degree that we allow Christ to live in us. If that be the case then increasingly we cannot hate others, for the Lord is in us and he died for all out of love. How can I hate someone he loves?
The Lord makes it clear that if this doesn’t go, we are going to jail: Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. Thus, either we allow the Lord to effect this reconciliation in us or we’re off to jail. Whether the jail is hell or purgatory (for it would seem there is release from this jail after the last penny is paid), jail it is. We are not going to heaven until and unless this matter is resolved. Why delay the issue? Let the Lord work it now. Don’t go to jail because of your grudges and stubborn refusal to admit your own offenses.
B. On Lust – The text begins: You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Thus the Lord teaches us that the commandment against adultery has a deeper meaning beyond merely transgressing marriage bounds. To fill this Law full means to be chaste in all matters and in mind and heart.
It is wrong to engage in any illicit sexual union, but if one is looking at pornography, and fanticizing about others, sexually, beyond the bounds of marriage, one is already in adultery. What the Lord is offering us here is a clean mind and pure heart. He is offering us authority over our sexuality and thoughts. To some in the world, such a promise seems impossible. But God is able to do and increasingly for those who are in Christ, self-mastery increases and purity of mind and heart become a greater reality. Our flesh alone cannot do this, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ. It is his work in us to give us these gifts.
The text goes on to say: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. Therefore we have to be serious about these matters. The Lord is using hyperbole, but he is using it to make a firm point. It is to say that it is more serious to sin in this matter than to lose your eyesight, or limbs from your body.
Now, most moderns don’t think this way. They make light of sin, and sexual sin, in particular. But God does not make light of it. Jesus here teaches that it is worse to lose our soul than to lose parts of our body. If we were losing our eyesight or a limb to cancer we would probably be begging the Lord to deliver us. But why do we not think of sin in this way? Why are we not horrified by sexual sin in the same degree? We are clearly skewed in our thinking. Jesus is clear that these sorts of sins can land us in hell (which is here called Gehenna). Lustful thinking, pornography, masturbation, fornication, adultery, contraception and homosexual acts have to go. They are not part of life in Christ who wants to give us freedom and authority over our sexual passions.
Let’s be clear, a lot of people today are in some pretty serious bondage when it comes to sexuality. Jesus stands before us all and says, “Come let me live in you and give you the gift of sexual purity. It will be my gift to you, it will be my work in you to set you free from all disordered passion.”
C. On Divorce – The text says, It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife – unless the marriage is unlawful – causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery – At the time of the Lord Jesus, divorce was permitted in Israel, but a man had to follow the rules. But the Lord says to fulfill marriage law is to love your wife, love your husband. He teaches that when He begins to live his life in us, love for our spouse will grow, love for our children will deepen. The thought of divorce won’t even occur! Who wants to divorce someone they love?
If the Lord can help us to love our enemy he can surely cause us to love our spouse. It is a true fact that some of the deepest hurts can occur in marriage. But the Lord can heal all wounds and help us to forget the painful things of the past.
Here too the Lord is blunt. He simply refuses to recognize all this little pieces of paper people run about with saying that some human judge approved their divorce. God is not impressed with the legal document and may well still consider the person married!
Here too the Lord says, “Come to me, bring me your broken marriage, your broken heart and let me bring healing. It is a true fact that sometimes one has a spouse who simply leaves or refuses to live in peace. Here too the Lord can heal by removing the loneliness and hurt that might drive one to a second marriage where (often) there is more trouble waiting. Let the Lord bring strength, healing and restore unity. He still works miracles, and sometimes that is what it is going to take.
D. On Oaths – The text says, Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one. The people of Jesus’ time had lots of legalism associated with oaths and lots of tricky ways of watering down the truth. The Lord says, just cut it all out, and be a man or a woman of your word. When Jesus begins to live his life in us, we speak the truth in Love. When we make commitments we are faithful to them, we do not lie and we don’t play games with the truth. God is truth, and as he lives in us, we too become the truth, speak the truth and live the truth. This is the gift that Jesus offers us here.
So then, Here are four pictures of a transformed human being. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is filled with promises more than prescriptions, descriptions more than prescriptions. The Lord is promising us here what he can and will do for us.
I am a witness to the transformative power of Jesus’ grace and love. And I promise you brethren, in the Lord Jesus Christ, that everything he offers us here, he will do. It is already happening and taking deep root in my life. How about you? Are you a witness?
This song speaks of the power of Jesus to transform us and of our need for that grace. The text says:
You breathe in me, And you revive feelings in my soul
That I have laid to rest
I’ve never felt so dead within, So breathe in me. Maybe somehow
You can breathe new life in me again
Now I’ve acquired these callouses with the darkness of a cold and jaded heart.
Some years ago in a previous parish assignment, St. Thomas More, in Washington DC, I was accustomed to take a Friday afternoon walk to focus on my homily for Sunday. At the beginning of the walk I’d often stop by the nearby house of an elderly parishioner, Ms. Lillian, and give her communion. She was quite elderly, her mind was beginning to fail and for these reasons it was difficult for her to get to Church.
In mild weather she often be in her wheel chair on the front porch and, as I’d walk up she’d say, “Oh Father! It must be Sunday!” “No, Lillian,” I’d usually say, “It’s actually Friday.” And she’d usually say, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
I was thinking of the calendar most times I answered her, but she she was long past worrying what day the world said it was. And so, Friday after Friday, as I’d stop by she kept asking if it was Sunday. Friday it was, but she kept looking for Sunday. “Is it Sunday, Father?”…. “No Ms. Lillian, today is Friday.”
The world has a saying: “Thank God, it’s Friday.” But in the Church, especially among African Americans whom I serve, there is an older expression: “It may be Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” It is a thoroughly Biblical reflection wherein Friday represents our sufferings, our own “Good Fridays,” and Sunday represents our rising from the dead, our joy and the fulfillment of our hopes.
When Ms. Lillian saw her priest, she thought of Sunday, she thought of Jesus and Holy Communion. So, in a way for her it was Sunday, for a moment. But, to be sure, Lillian was in the Friday of her life. She had all the crippling effects of old age: dementia, arthritis, weakness, hearing and eyesight problems, sugar, and you name it. “I’s gotten ooooold, Father.” Yes, Friday had surely come for Lillian.
At her funeral I could think of no other way to begin the homily than to say, “It’s Sunday Ms. Lillian…It’s Sunday.” And the congregation nodded, some just hummed, others said, “Thank you Jesus.” Lillian had gone to Jesus and Sunday had come. Surely she, like all of us, needed some of the cleansing purgation wherein the Lord wipes away the tears of all who have died (cf Rev 21:4), and lifts the burdens of our sorrows, regrets and sins for the last time. For those who die in the Lord, die in the care of the Lord. The souls of the just are in the hand of God (Wis 3:1).
Yes, Sunday, glorious Sunday, for all those who trust in the Lord. The Fridays of life will come but if we trust, Sunday will surely follow.
“Oh, Father! It must be Sunday!” ….”Yes, Ms. Lillian, it is surely Sunday.”
I thought of Ms. Lillian when I saw this video. I hope you will enjoy a little wisdom from the “Black Church.” Good preaching, good reminders, powerful video.
One of the more irritating experiences of living in the post rational and ideological modern age is that common sense is often overruled by the intransigent and pseudo-religious notions of ideologues. But every now and then some one in the media lets it slip that reality is still out there and has data to offer us.
From Cambridge University comes the astonishing news that men and women are different and that those differences are actually reflected in brain size, structure and function. Here are some excerpts from The Cambridge Article along with some (often) tongue in cheek comments by me in plain red text
After analyzing 23 years [did it really take 23 years?] worth of research a complete picture of how men’s and women’s brain develop differently has been drawn…[and that] men’s brains are bigger overall than women’s – by up to 13 per cent. [Isn't 13 an unlucky number?]
But some individual parts of the female brain are denser…. [Oops did they really say denser? Surely they refer to the number of cells per mass unit rather than "dense" in the sense of unteachable or stubborn? ]
“For the first time we can look across the vast literature and confirm that brain size and structure are different in males and females. [First time? Please. Those who live in the common sense world are saying to the recent scientific arrivals, "When did you get here?" The point being that anyone with common sense has known that male and female brains are different. It was not necessary for us to scan, dissect, weigh or measure brains to know this, since something can also be known by its effects. Men and women think differently, therefore their brains through which this spiritual power manifests must be different. It is nice to have a physical description of this difference but this is not "the first time" we can confirm that the male and female brain are different.
“We should no longer ignore sex in neuroscience research, especially when investigating psychiatric conditions that are more prevalent in either males or females.” (Normal folks haven’t ignored sex…ever. And frankly most psychotherapists with any experience at all know that men and women think differently and are to be treated differently).
“It is important to note that we only investigated sex differences in brain structure, so we cannot infer anything about how this relates to behavior or brain function.
Now gosh darn it, I thought we were heading toward common sense and logic and then comes this “disclaimer.” Honestly cannot someone reintroduce simple logic and philosophical truths to the modern discussion? How about a few simple truths such as agens sequitur esse (acting follows being, or what a thing is). Or how about that material and efficient causality relate to final and formal causality? Of course differences in brain structure relate positively to brain function. The fact that a car has four good wheels is going to say a lot about how it functions. Show me something without four wheels and I’m going to tell you it probably doesn’t function as a car. Maybe its a desk or a storage device. Function and form are obviously related. Do we really need a costly 23 year study to tell us this. And why after 23 years are our analysts still not able to say that the difference in brain structure both reflects and gives rise to a different way of thinking?
Prof Simon Baron-Cohen, who also worked on the study, said: “Although these very clear sex differences in brain structure may reflect an environmental or social factor, from other studies we know that biological influences are also important... The old nature/nurture debate once again. For the meager evidence I have amassed in 52 years, I think that nature has a lot to do with differences, those nurture surely has its influence too.
A few other thoughts from the theological perspective.
1. First a minor point: Size is of little account here. In the computer world, smaller is usually better. But in the theological world smaller is often better too. God often thins his ranks. He tells Gideon his army is too large, Jesus always many to leave him and follow him no more. He teaches that few find the kingdom and many more do not. He teaches us to humble ourselves, to make ourselves smaller, in effect. That men have a larger brain says little here.
2. The soul is the form of the body. And hence a human and feminine soul will give rise to a feminine body with aspects developed for motherhood and intimacy with a husband. Surely too her brain, which it would seem the soul makes great use of for thinking, deliberation and the exercise of other rational faculties, would exhibit differences from men’s brains.
3. There is a feminine genius and a masculine genius which together are meant to complete what it means to be fully human. It is not good for the man to be alone, and I would suppose also that it is not good for the woman to be alone. Indeed, when God wants to make “man” in his image he made them “male and female.” Therefore each sex manifests something of the glory of God that the other cannot. And while God is revealed as Father and uses masculine pronouns to denote Himself, it is not a man alone or a woman alone who best image God, but a man and a woman in fruitful marriage who best image him.
4. In terms of parenthood can we please draw the politically incorrect conclusion that Children need a father and mother to complete their psychological, spiritual, emotional and even physical development? Since men and women actually ARE different does it not follow that a child with only a mother or a father, or God forbid (and he does) two fathers or two mothers…does it not follow that such a child is being unjustly deprived of what he or she reasonably deserves? My father taught me things my mother could not and vice versa. I am the person I am today thanks to both the masculine and personal genius of my father and the feminine and personal genius of my mother. Too many children today are unjustly deprived of what they deserve: a father and a mother. If men and women are different, and we have always known they are, then we ought not go on sanctioning intentionally irregular family structures which deprive children of the masculine and feminine genius exhibited in a stable, heterosexual union known as Holy Matrimony.
5. Difference has nothing to do with dignity or “equality.” Men and women are different, with diverse gifts, but equal in dignity. This is the true meaning of St. Paul’s often misunderstood quote:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:26 -29)
St. Paul is not saying there are no differences for that would be foolish and blind. Rather, he is saying that our greatest dignity is to be in Christ and thereby a child of God. Of course men and women are different and possessed of different gifts, that is obvious. But they are of equal dignity for they are both members of Christ. There is no greater dignity than to be a child of God. What ever our secondary titles or distinctions, and they DO exist, they do not affect our dignity. The Pope has many titles and is head of the Church, you’d better believe it. But he is no more baptized than you or I. Of all his titles, none is greater or higher than his title, “Beloved Child of God.” The same title he shares with you and me. Before God we have equal dignity with him.
Now you know I had to use this video:
and this one too:
Every now and again I am blessed to gather with brother priests to discuss best practices and share pastoral experience. One of my diocesan brothers, Fr. Patrick Smith, Pastor at St. Augustine here in DC, often has memorable advice that tends to turn the tables on conventional wisdom and in effect shift the paradigms we use.
A Paradigm is first defined as an outstandingly clear or typical example of something. But in a more extended sense it is a philosophical or theoretical framework that commonly underlies our thinking or actions. We often adopt these frameworks and assumptions in an unreflective or even unconscious way.
To “shift” a paradigm is to bring it to consciousness, and either adapt it, apply it newly, or sometimes wholly reverse its parameters.
Fr. Smith is an excellent paradigm shifter especially when it comes reversing the parameters of a paradigm or to put it another way, “turn the tables” on common thinking. I’d like to offer two of his paradigm shifts that relate to evangelization and parish life.
Paradigm Shift 1. “We usually pray and ask God to bless what we are doing. Instead we should find out what God is blessing and go do that.” – In other words, we need to learn to follow God’s lead more. Too often we hand God our agenda and ask him to sign off on it. It is astonishing how little we really seek God’s will.
A typical prayer at the beginning of a parish meeting will go something like: “O God we just ask you to bless our efforts, (yes Lord!), bless the car raffle, and our spaghetti dinner and please help us in our effort to replace the Church roof with the money we raise. In JESUS’ Name!”
Its not a bad prayer, nothing evil is being sought. But it is a rather directive prayer that says, “God do this, God do that…” But when do we ever ask, “God what is your will? What are you blessing? What are you saying to us?” Why haven’t we saved enough money over the years to repair our roof? What is your financial plan for your Church? Do we have proper spending priorities? What works in our parish are you blessing? What works and efforts are you letting go fallow? What is growing and what is declining? Are we following your lead as we consider this?
In many parishes and organizations we too easily fall into a “we do this because we’ve always done this” mentality. And often, we ignore mounting evidence that a lot of what we do no longer makes sense or needs to be adjusted. Meanwhile we often resist new outreaches that are often being blessed by God in strange and mysterious ways.
- • Many pastors resisted the home schooling movement for years since it competed with the existing idea of running a Catholic School. Many homeschooling parents were labeled as kooks and troublemakers. Meanwhile God just kept blessing homeschooling.
- • Mother Angelica started a television network in a garage with $200. The Conference of Bishops staffers resisted her because she was competing with their efforts and the millions that had been poured into a television arm of the Conference, and EWTN had a traditional tone the staffers didn’t like. But God just kept blessing EWTN.
- • Many radicalized orders of women have continued down self destructive paths that assure the death of their orders. Meanwhile God just keeps blessing orders that wear habits, have a focused apostolate and live in fidelity to the magisterium.
- • Many pastors have irritation at certain new movements in the Church, be it charismatic movements, Communion and Liberation, Focolare, the Traditional Latin Mass, consecrated virgins, or any number of diverse movements. God is clearly blessing many of these, and while not every parish can or should do all of them, we do well not to discredit what God seems to be blessing.
- • I am a great lover of traditional Catholic music from the Latin years. But I cannot simply deny that God has blessed many contemporary forms of music that have reached many young people.
We need to look more at what God is blessing and follow God’s lead. Discernment is still necessary. The mere fact that something is flourishing is not always a sign of God’s blessing. Nevertheless, it may sometimes surprise us what God blesses.
Do we simply ask God to bless what we are doing? Are we willing to seek what God is blessing and do that?
Paradigm Shift 2. Parish Boundaries used to tell Catholics where they should go to Church. Now Parish boundaries tell the Church where we should go.
It is widely asserted today that parish boundaries are meaningless, people will go to church wherever they please. It is true that almost no Catholic feels obliged to attend the parish within whose boundaries they live.
But parish boundaries still have this significance: the entire world is divided up into parishes and every territorial parish is responsible for every man, woman and child living inside its boundaries.
As a pastor, I am not simply responsible for the Catholics who attend my parish. Neither am I simply responsible for all the Roman Catholics who live inside my parish boundaries. Rather, I am responsible for every man, woman and child, whether Protestant, Catholic, baptized or unbaptized.
And of course the pastor alone does not hold this responsibility, but rather the whole parish with him. As a pastor, I have taught my people that we have an obligation that human person within our boundaries has been invited to know Jesus Christ, to love him, adore him, accept him as their Savior and to live their faith in him in the beautiful Catholic Church that he founded.
Most Catholics do not think this way. Especially in an era commuter Catholicism were many shop around for a parish they like, too many Catholics drive into a parish they have joined, going past many men and women who have never had Christ effectively proclaimed to them. Most Catholics think little of the responsibility they have towards them: “They aren’t my neighbors.” Yes, but they DO live in the territory of the parish you claim as yours. So they ARE your neighbors.
Sadly, most pastors don’t think this way either. They look out the front window, or drive through the streets of their parish boundaries and many never think these are God’s people, and God has assigned me to care for them, and to call them to know him.
Too many parishes are clubhouses rather than lighthouses. People come in and form closed little circles, enjoy each others company, and certain types of liturgy, and then go home. Never mind that Jesus said, “Go make disciples.”
Demographic issues often intensify the problem. In my own parish which is historically Black, and situated in an historically black neighborhood, we have recently experienced rather significant and sudden shift, so that most of our new neighbors are White. In parishes like this where the attendees do not reflect the ethnicity or race of the neighbors the tendency is even stronger to say, “Not our folk…”
To the credit of my parishioners, a few naysayers aside, we have taken up the call to knock on doors, walk the neighborhood and make disciples. Up to forty parishioners walk on designated Saturdays to do sidewalk evangelization and door to door meetings. Most of my parishioners have well internalized our boundaries which I often recite: North to F Street, West to 11th Street, South to Pennsylvania Ave, East to the river. These are our folk, go call them!
Parish boundaries no longer tell Catholics where to go to Church, they tell the Church were to go.
Two paradigm shifts. Do you have any paradigm shifts…any ways of turning the tables on conventional thinking?
There is a danger when we speak of God’s Law, to consider it as we might any secular law. For example, we may well consider secular law merely to be some sort of impersonal code written by some nameless legislators or bureaucrats. We have not met them, we do not know them, or necessarily love or trust them. In effect, they are an abstraction in our mind called “the government” or “the man” or just “they,” as in, “They don’t want you to park here” or “They’ll fine you for that.”
God’s Law is Personal – But when it comes to God’s Law we are dealing with something different, something very personal, if we have faith. For God’s law is not given by someone we do not know, love or trust. If we have faith, God is someone we do in fact know, someone we love and trust. Further, we believe he loves us and wants what is best for us. God’s law is not the equivalent of a no-parking sign hung by some nameless, faceless city government. Rather it is a personal exhortation, instruction and command given by someone we know and who knows and loves us.
Consider an example. Suppose you pull in front of my church to park and you see a no-parking sign. Now suppose you also decide to ignore it. Alright, you have broken a law, not a big one, but a law nonetheless. You’ve chosen to ignore a sign put there by “the government.” But suppose another scenario: I your beloved blogger and the pastor of the Church you are attending or visiting is standing out there, and I say to you, “Please don’t park here.” Now the situation is very different. I, someone you know and love, , am personally requesting that you leave the space open for some reason. When you experience the law this way you are far more likely to follow it, because someone you know and trust is asking and directing you.
But what if, despite this, you still choose to ignore the instruction not to park there. Well then, the situation is quite different in this case, for, in this case, the law is personal. The refusal to follow it now becomes personal as well and there is a far more serious situation we are dealing with.
Scripture: It is a frequent thing when the Law is recited in the Old Testament to see the refrain “I am the Lord” For example:
“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.
“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD. (Lev 19:11-14)
Note how the litanies of the law each end: “I am the Lord.” (These are but two of other litanies). I am the Lord. On the one hand it gives solemnity to the pronouncement. But, at another level what God is saying is, This is Me talking. It is I who speak to you. I who created you, who led you out of slavery, parted the Red Sea, dispatched your enemies, fed you in the desert and gave you drink from the rock. It I, I who love you, I who care for you, I who has given you everything you have, I who want what is best for you, I who have earned your trust. It is I, your Father who speak to you and give you this command.
An ancient Rabbi explained the inclusion “I am the Lord” this way: “It is God’s way of saying to us, ‘Look now. I am the one who fished you out of the mud. Now come over here and listen to me.’”
Yes, God’s law is personal. Do we see and experience it this way? This will happen only if we come to know the Lord personally. Otherwise, the danger becomes that we see the Law of God as merely an impersonal code, an abstract set of rules to follow. They might as well have been issued by the deity, the godhead, or even just the religious leaders of the day.
Hence a gift to pray for in terms of keeping God’s Law is a closer walk with the Lord and an experience of his love for us. Such an experience is a great help in loving the Law of the Lord. For when we love the Lord we love his law and see it not as an imposition, but a personal code of love that is meant to protect us. And when we offend against it either willfully or through weakness, we are more able to repent with a more perfect contrition for we experience that we have offended someone we love and who is deserving of all our love.
This personal relationship brings God’s law alive, makes it personal. And so God says as he reminds of of his Law: I am the Lord. This is me talking – It is I, the one who loves you.
This song says, I Love the Lord. He heard my cry. Long As I live, and troubles rise, I’ll hasten to his throne.” (Sung by Whitney Houston)