Some one wrote in the following question:

How would you respond to a someone who (in Zen like fashion) states that anger is always counterproductive? Is anger always a sin?

The simple answer is “No, anger is not always a sin.” In fact, in some situations anger is the appropriate response. If anger were always a sin, the Jesus never got the memo since he displays quite a lot of anger in the Gospels. We’ll look at that in a moment.

To being with, some distinctions are in order.

  1. We ought first to distinguish between the internal experience or feeling of anger and the external manifestation of it.The internal expereince of anger as a passionate response to some external stimulus is not sinful since we cannot usually and immediately control the arising of feelings or passions. Anger usually arises out of some sense of threat. It signals us that something is wrong, threatening or inappropriate as we understand or interpret the data. Sometimes our perceptions are incorrect but often they are not. Anger, in this sense, is not only sinless, but necessary as it alerts us to the need to respond to something that is a threat or unjust and it gives us the energy to address it. In this sense, it is not sinful. It is a passion and an energy to set things right or to address a threatening situation.
  2. Now it is possible that our anger can arise from less than holy reasons. Some of the things we fear, we should not fear. Some of our fears are rooted in pride, and an inordinate need for status and affirmation. Some of our fears come from misplaced priorities. For example we may be excessively concerned with money, property, popularity or material things. And this concern triggers inordinate fears about things that should not matter so much. And this fear gives rise to feeling easily threatened at loss or diminishment. This in turn triggers anger, since we sense that something is wrong or threatening. But we ought not be so concerned with such things since they are rooted in pride, vanity and materialism. In this case the anger may have a sinful dimension but the sin is more rooted in the inordinate and sinful drives than merely the anger itself. This is because, even when anger arises from poor motives or objects, it is still not something all that voluntary.
  3. Now external manifestations of anger can and do sometimes have a sinful dimension when they are beyond what is reasonable. If I am experiencing anger there may be little or no sin in that. However if I express that anger by hurling insults, or physically attacking someone I may well have sinned by a sinful expression of my anger. Even here there can be exceptions. It may be appropriate at times to physically defend myself. I can think of no exception to the rule against hurling insults and personal attacks. However, it remains true that we live in thin-skinned times and people often take personal offense when they should not. We will see in a moment that Jesus did not often hesitate to describe his opponents’ in rather vivid ways.
  4. Hence, of itself, anger is not a sin.The Scriptures say, Be angry but sin not (Ps 4:4) So anger is not the sin. However, the expression of anger may become sinful. Further, it is possible that some of our anger springs from less than holy sources.

When is the external manifestation of anger an appropriate response? Most simply put, anger is appropriate when its object is appropriate and reasonable.

For example, it is appropriate to experience anger when we see or experience injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. harnessed appropriate anger of Americans toward the injustice of racism. He elicited it, and focused its energy in productive ways. Notice that he was very careful to teach against violence and revenge. Anger did not to give the Civil Rights Protesters the right to hate. What Dr. King did was to elicit a just anger on the part of many Americans. This anger in turn gave them the motivation to act creatively and energetically to resist injustice and effect change through non-violence. This sort of angry response was appropriate, reasonable and even holy. The tradition of non-violent resistance to injustice remains strong in those who protest abortion, and other sins, crimes and social injustices. It is the anger that motivates the desire to speak and the zeal to take action to rectify injustice.

Anger is also appropriate and even necessary in some forms of fraternal correction. To fail to manifest some level of anger may lead to the false conclusion that the offense in question is not really all that significant. For example if a child belts his brother in the mouth and knocks out a tooth a parent ought to manifest an appropriate amount of anger to make it very clear that this sort of behavior is intolerable. To gently correct a child in a smooth and dispassionate way with no inflection in the voice can lead to the impression that this really isn’t so bad. Proper anger has a way of bringing the point home and making a lasting impression. Again, note that the anger in question should be at a proper level, not excessive, and not too weak. This of course requires a good bit of self-mastery.

Meekness- And this leads us to an important beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit which helps us to master anger: Meekness. In modern English, meekness has lost its original vigor and tends to signify a person who is a bit of a pushover and easily taken advantage of. But, in its original meaning, meekness describes the vigorous virtue wherein one gains authority over their anger. Aristotle defined meekness (πραΰτης ) as the mean between being too angry, and not being angry enough. As we have noted, there is a place and a need for anger. The meek person has authority over their anger. They are able to summon its energy but control its extremes. Hence the meek are far from weak. They are the string ones who have gained authority over their anger. St. John Chrysostom says in this regard: He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices. (Homily 11). St Thomas Aquinas says: Consequently, lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, [for it is] a lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason (II, IIae 158.8).

What of Jesus? One the one hand Jesus seems to have taught very strongly against anger:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, 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 5:21-22)

On the face of it it would seem that Jesus condemns anger without exception. However, if that is the case then Jesus broke his own rule for he exhibited a lot of anger in the Gospels. What Jesus DOES clearly condemn here is unrighteous and wrathful anger. Notice that he give two examples of the kind of anger he means. The first example is to use the term of contempt: Raca. This term is hard to translate so it is simply rendered in the Aramaic. Essentially what it means to do is to strip a person of any dignity and to regard them with utter contempt. Notice that Jesus links this kind of anger to murder since, by it, the other person is so stripped of any human dignity that to murder them is no different than killing an ox or mule. This sort of anger depersonalizes the other and disregards them as a child of God. The term fool; has a similar, though less egregious, purpose. Hence, it would seem that the Lord is not condemning all anger her but rather the anger of contempt and depersonalization. To absolutize Jesus’ teaching here to include any anger would seem unreasonable given what we have said above and it would also call into question Jesus’ own example which includes not a little anger.

Most people are familiar with Jesus’ anger in the cleansing of the temple. But there are other places as well where he manifest not a little anger:

Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 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 23:29-33)

Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire! He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God!” ( John 8:44-47)

Passages like these do not exhibit the “Mr Rogers” kind of Jesus common in the modern imagination. Jesus was no “Caspar Milquetoast.” His vigorous anger is also on display in the video below.

What to make of these angry displays?

  1. Not sinful – Clearly they are not sinful displays of anger since the scriptures assure us that Jesus never sinned (e.g. Heb 4:15).
  2. There may be an important cultural dimension to remember here. In the culture of the ancient Jews there seems to have been a wider acceptance of the expression of anger than in our own American setting. Even in America there is a wide variance in the acceptance of anger. I once dated an Italian girl in college and she and her mom could really set to it: lots of loud shouting in Italian! And then in a moment it was over and they were on to the next topic. In their family anger was a more accepted expression than in the typical American setting. The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was also an expression more acceptable than our culture would usually permit. Turning over the tables etc. was a “prophetic action.” Prophets did things like this. In that culture it was more acceptable than perhaps in ours. But even we find a place for civil disobedience. We may not always like it, but we respect that it has a place in our culture.
  3. Yet Jesus clearly is angry. He is grieved at the hard heartedness of his opponents and his strong tone is an authoritative summons to repent. A lowered and lyrical voice might not convey the urgency of the situation. These are hardened men and there is a need for pointed and passionate denunciation. This is righteous anger.
  4. We ought to be careful before simply taking up Jesus angry tone for two reasons. First, he was able to see into their hearts and properly conclude as to the proper tactics necessary. We may not always be able to do this. Secondly, the wider Western culture in which many of us live may not be as prepared to accept such an angry tone. It may be a less effective tactic in our setting and prudential judgment is a necessary precursor to using such tactics.

But in the end, anger is not, ipso facto, sinful or wrong. It is sometimes the proper and necessary response. We do well to be careful with our anger, for it is an unruly passion. We ought to see above all the fruit of the Spirit which is meekness and ask to Lord ot give us authority over our anger and a prudence as to its effective use.

This video shows Jesus’ anger:

One of the great human inadequacies is rendering proper and adequate thanks to God. Perhaps the biggest problem is that we don’t even know 90% of what he does for us. It is hid from our eyes.

A further problem is that we tend, in our fallen condition, to be wired to magnify our distresses and problems and minimize or discount the enormous blessings of each moment. God sustains every fiber of our being and every atom of creation, his hidden blessings  are countless. But we get angry if our iPod is malfunctioning or if one or two out of the trillion blessings he gives is withdrawn.

But in the end an old gospel song says it well:

 I’ve got so much to thank God for; So many wonderful blessings  and so many open doors. A brand new mercy along with each new day. That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise. For waking me up this morning , For starting me on my way, For letting me see the sunshine, of a brand new day. That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise. So many times You´ve met my needs, So many times You rescued me. That’s why I praise You.

For every mountain You brought me over  For every trial you’ve seen me through.  For every blessing, For this I give You praise

Fundamental Question – So here is the question at the heart of today’s Gospel. It is best asked in the Book of Psalms: What return shall I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The same psalm goes on to answer the question in this way: The cup of salvation I will take up and call on the name of the Lord. (Psalm 116:12)

The Mass is signified – Yes indeed, how can I possibly thank the Lord for all the good he has done for me? Notice that the psalm points to the Eucharist in saying, The cup of salvation I will take up….”  As you know the word “Eucharist” is a Greek  word which means, “thanksgiving.” We cannot thank God the Father adequately, but Jesus can. And in every Mass we join our meager thanksgiving to his perfect thanksgiving. Jesus takes up the cup of salvation and shows it to us at every Mass through the priest. This is the perfect and superabundant thanks that only Jesus can offer the Father. And he joins us to his perfect sacrifice of thanks in every Mass. This is how we give thanks in a way commensurate with the manifold blessings we have received.

Hidden Mass! – Now the Gospel for today makes this point, that the Mass is the perfect offering of thanks to the Father, in a remarkable and almost hidden way. But for Catholics it is right there for us to see if we have eyes to see it. For the Gospel today contains all the essential elements of Holy Mass. In so doing, this Gospel about giving thanks reminds us once again that it is the Mass which is the perfect thanksgiving, the perfect  “Eucharist.” Let’s look and see how it is a Mass:

  1. Gathering – Notice first that there is a gathering. Ten lepers (us) have gathered and Jesus comes near as he passes on his way. We do this in every Mass, we gather and the Lord draws near. Indeed, in the person of the priest, who is the sacrament, the sign of his presence, Jesus walks the aisle of our Church just like he walked those ancient roads.
  2. Kyrie – Next they cry out for mercy just like we do at every Mass: Lord have mercy! Jesus, Master, have pity on us!
  3. Liturgy of the Word – Next Jesus quotes Scripture and then applies it to their life  just like he does for us at every Mass. In saying, “Go show yourselves to the priests”  Jesus is referencing Leviticus 14 which gives detailed instructions on how the priests of old were to diagnose leprosy and also its having been cured. Jesus quotes this scripture and applies it to their life. This is what we do at every Mass wherein God’s Word is proclaimed and then the Lord Jesus, speaking through the priest or deacon, applies the text(s) to our life.
  4. Liturgy of the Eucharist – Next, the text says that one of them: fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. This is what we do during the Eucharistic prayer, we kneel and thank Jesus, and also, with Jesus,  give thanks to the Father. As we have noted, the word “Eucharist”  comes from Greek and means “to give thanks.” Here is the perfect thanks rendered to the Father. To those who say they can stay home and give adequate thanks to God, there should only be the rebuke that they are prideful. Only Jesus can give perfect thanks to the Father. And we can only give adequate thanks to Jesus by following his command to “do this in memory of me.” We have to be at Mass.
  5. Ite Missa est – Finally, Jesus sends him on his way, saying  Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.  We too are sent forth by Jesus at the end of every Mass when He speaks through the priest or deacon: “The Mass is ended, God in peace.”

So, there it is. In this Gospel that very clearly instructs us to give thanks to God is the very structure of the Mass. If you want to give proper thanks to God and you made it to Mass this morning, you’re in the right place. Only here is perfect and proper thanks given to God.

It was all prefigured in the psalm long ago:  What return shall I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?  The cup of salvation I will take up and call on the name of the Lord (Psalm 116:12).  It is the very cup of salvation, the chalice containing Christ’s blood that is held up at every Mass. It is the perfect sacrifice of thanks. It is the prescribed sacrifice of praise. It is the proper sacrifice of praise.

This video is of the Song I quoted above:

Well, I’m at it again. I saw the State Farm commercial in the video below and something said to me, “Pay attention this is a parable about the Kingdom.” And upon further reflection, Indeed it is. You will call me crazy, but please add that I was crazy for Christ. I am also aware that I am reading into the commercial what the creators did not likely intend. But there’s just something about the way biblical archetypes still find their way into our culture. Let’s look more closely at this commercial.

Perhaps we do well to look at it by analyzing the dramatis personae (cast of characters) and weaving in the plot.

As the scene opens there are three women who come upon a car belonging to one of them. The car has been damaged. The three women may be likened to three different kinds of Christian and there is also a Christ figure who makes appearance:

  1. There is the sensible Christian, the woman in the center. She owns the car and, upon seeing the damage, is unfazed. She knows exactly what to do. She summons her State Farm agent who appears as if out of nowhere. She trusts him to handle everything and even encourages her friends to call on him.
  2. Her State Farm agent is a Christ figure. He wears a red tie, reminding us of the blood that was shed for us. He has a book in his hand, wherein everything is recorded. He arrives not only to bring help, but also to make a judgement, and thus he consults his book and goes to work (cf Rev 20:12ff). His name is “Rich” (cf 2 Cor 8:9). Later, in the ad, he will rebuke the darkness.
  3. A second woman to the left is a worldly Christian. Though the Christ figure stands in her midst, she ignores him and wants to see if she can come up with her own State Farm agent, an agent of her own making. For, it would seem the one standing there does not please her. She wants one who is cute and more “warm and sensitive.” Creature comforts, and an unchallenging agent, is what she wants, one who will be more soothing and surely not one who is dressed in a business suit (as is the Christ figure with the red tie, for he means business).
  4. A third woman to the right is a carnal Christian. She is lustful, impetuous, daring and wants a man who is the same. She hardly makes notice of the Christ figure, except to powerfully reject him with a sneer. She calls for her “agent” and he appears. He is rouge, a thug really, lustful, arrogant, irresponsible, and immature. He is the perfect projection of her carnal, lustful and fallen nature, and you can see it in the glint of her eye. She calls him “Darkside.” If she is Christian at all, it is in name only.

In the background the Christ figure just keeps working as if to say, My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working (Jn 5:17).

But now the carnal thug is sitting on the car, sitting on the kingdom if you will. And so the Christ figure says to him: Hey Darkside! Get your feet off the car! As if to say, Begone, Satan.

Yes, there it is, the Light rebuking the darkness, scattering it. Scripture says of Jesus:

  1. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:5)
  2. I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (Jn 8:12)
  3. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:16-21)

In this parable, who are you: The Worldly Christian, the Carnal Christian or the Sensible Christian?

I, perhaps like you, have to see folks I love and care about through some difficult periods in their life. One neighbor and parishioner just lost her eight year old daughter to cancer. A number of parishioners are seeking work and praying daily for it, but no work offers seem forth-coming. Still others cry out for the alleviation of any number of different crosses. I too have lots of things for which I pray, and sometimes I get discouraged or even angry when God seems to say, “no” or, “wait.”
One thing I have surely learned about true prayer, and that it is, I have to be humble, very humble. The Scriptures say, we do not know how to pray as we ought (Romans 8:26). Many other translations of this text say even more emphatically: We do not know what we ought to pray for. Yes, it is true, and yet we are often so sure of what is best for us, or best for others. But what we find the desirable outcome is not necessarily the best outcome. And this insight requires of us great humility. We see so little and understand even less. When we ask for some outcome, and it is not wrong to do so, we need to ask humbly. God alone knows the best answer and when to answer. This is humility.
There is an old teaching that basically goes: Many think of prayer as trying to get God to do your will. But true prayer is trying to understand what God’s will is and do it. I heard and African American preacher put it this way:
You got a lotta people that talk about naming and claiming, and calling and hauling…But there’s just something about saying, “THY will be done!” that we’ve forgot.
It’s not wrong to ask. The Book of James says, You have not because you ask not (James 4:2). But we do need to ask with great humility because, truth be told, we don’t really know what is best. James and John came to Jesus one day seeking high positions in the new administration (Kingdom). Jesus said to them, You don’t know what you are asking (Mk 10:38). And the truth is, we don’t.
So ask, but ask humbly.
St. Augustine writes beautifully on this matter in his letter to Proba:
Paul himself was not exempt from such ignorance….To prevent him from becoming puffed-up over the greatness of the revelations that had been given to him, he was given….a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, he asked the Lord three times to take it away from him…..even such a great saint’s prayer had to be refused: My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness. (2 Cor 12:9)
So when we are suffering afflictions that might be doing us either good or harm, [we ought to remember that] we do not to know how to pray as we ought. [B]ecause they are hard to endure and painful, because they are contrary to our nature (which is weak) we, like all mankind, pray to have our afflictions taken from us. [But], we owe this much respect to the Lord our God, that if he does not take our afflictions away, we should not consider ourselves ignored and neglected. But [rather, we] should hope to gain some greater good through the patient acceptance of suffering. For my power is at its best in weakness.
These words are written so that we should not be proud of ourselves…. when we ask for something it would be better for us not to get; and also that we should not become utterly dejected if we are not given what we ask for, despairing of God’s mercy towards us. [I]t might be that what we have been asking for could have brought us some still greater affliction, or it could completely ruin us through the corrupting influence of prosperity. In such cases, it is clear that we cannot know how to pray as we ought.
Hence if anything happens contrary to our prayer [request], we ought to bear the disappointment patiently, give thanks to God, and be sure that it was better for God’s will to be done than our own.
The Mediator himself has given us an example of this. When he had prayed, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by, he transformed the human will that was in him because he had assumed human nature and added: Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it. Thus, truly, By the obedience of one man many have been made righteous. (St Augustine Letter to Proba (Ep 130 14.25ff)
This song reminds us that the answer to our prayers is often caught up in the paradox of the cross:

The Genesis accounts of creation provide a rich field for controversy and discussion. I have posted before focusing on the question of the genre of the Genesis texts. In this post I would like to ponder another point for discussion: The theory of evolution’s relationship to the Genesis text. I have also discussed elsewhere the  question of polygensism (the theory that Adam was not one historical man but, rather, a euphemism for “mankind”).

Disclaimer- I do not intend to answer all the questions about evolution and Genesis here. This is a blog, not a theological or scientific journal. I am not a dogmatic theologian, neither do I have an advanced degree in Scripture. Neither am I a trained biologist. My MA is in moral theology. What I intend to do here is open a discussion. I would like to suggest some parameters to the topic which Catholicism requires of us. But in the end, I am going to depend on the comments section to broaden the discussion, make distinctions, suggest further limits, or clarify and quote other sources. Many of the commenters on this blog are theologically skilled and provide a valuable service to the rest of us. Likewise there are some with a scientific background who read here and can help clarify on the topic of evolution. I would only ask that all of us not rush to use words like heresy etc. and that the science folks not treat me or the rest of us like a bunch of ignoramuses. The Genesis accounts are very prototypical and archetypal. It is a true fact that the Church gives us guidance on how to interpret them but there is also some freedom to differ with each other as well. So let me set the table and then open the comments.

Sobriety about Evolutionary Theory – It is common to experience a rather simplistic notion among Catholics that the Theory of Evolution can be reconciled easily with the Biblical accounts and with our faith. Many will say something like this: “I have no problem with God setting things up so that we started as one-celled organisms and slowly evolved into being human beings. God could do this and perhaps the Genesis account is just simplifying evolution and telling us the same thing as what Evolution does.”

There are elements of the truth in this sort of a statement. Surely God could have set things up to evolve and directed the process so that human beings evolved and then, at some time he gave us souls. God could have done that.

The problem with the statement above is less theological than scientific because there is a word in that sentence that is “obnoxious” to evolutionary theory: “God.” The fact is that most Catholics who speak like this over-simplify evolutionary theory and hold a version of it that most Evolutionary Theorists do not hold. They accept the Theory of Evolution uncritically.

But, at the heart of evolutionary theory are the concepts of natural selection and genetic mutation. Notice the word “natural” and notice the word “mutation.” Generally speaking, evolutionary theory sees these processes as random, (though influenced by the environment). It sees them as chance mutations that happen to survive because they confer some benefit. But the process is natural, random and not directed by any outside intelligence with a design or purpose in mind.

Mutations in DNA are random, and in natural selection, the environment determines the probability of reproductive success. The end products of natural selection are organisms that are adapted to their present environments. Natural selection does not involve progress towards an ultimate goal. Evolution does not necessarily strive for more advanced, more intelligent, or more sophisticated life forms. Organisms are merely the outcome of variations that succeed or fail, dependent upon the environmental conditions at the time.[1]

Now what this means is that God is excluded as a cause by an unqualified evolutionary theory. It would be fine if evolutionists (as natural scientists) were either silent on the question of God. Or, perhaps if they simply stated that things may be acted upon by an outside force or intelligence but that is beyond the scope of their discipline. But that is not what is being said by many proponents of classical evolutionary theory. They are saying that biodiversity results MERELY from natural selection and random (i.e. non intended or non-purposeful) genetic mutations. They are saying that observable effects of biodiversity are wholly caused by something natural, random and without any ultimate goal or plan.

But a Catholic cannot accept all of this. Even if a Catholic wants to accept that things have evolved in some way (whether through macro or microevolution) a Catholic cannot say that this process is simply random, chance, blind, or with no purpose. We believe that God alone created all things, and that he sustains all things. Neither do we confess some sort of “deist” God who merely started things off and then lets them take their own course. Rather, God sustains and carries out every detail.

The Book of Genesis depicts God as being personally involved in every stage of creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1). The text says further “God made the wild animals, each, according to their kinds (Gen 1:25). In other words, God specifically created each animal and person that is in an intentional way. The text of Genesis, while not scientific, states a truth that we cannot set aside: That God created (and sustains) all that we see. That what is, cannot MERELY be explained (as most evolutionists state) by blind, random natural selection. The Genesis text is clear to state that God alone creates and in doing so he is present at every stage, is personal, purposeful and acts with intelligence and goal in mind. He creates everything according to its kind.

This is our faith and so we cannot simply accept evolutionary theory without some distinctions. Evolutionary theory at least as classically proposed, presents itself as a complete and closed explanation for the biodiversity of this planet. Catholics ought to be sober about who and what we are dealing with here. This theory sets aside important things we believe about creation and God, which are described in Genesis and believed by the Church. The theory sets aside God. Things are not the result of a rational, orderly and directed processes, they result from a process that is merely random, blind and tending to no purpose or end. We cannot accept such a theory merely on these terms. If we accept aspects of the theory, such as that things gradually evolved, we have to carefully distinguish this from mainstream evolutionary theory. But a simple, uncritical acceptance of evolutionary theory is for a Catholic problematic in terms of faith.

This does not mean that Catholics therefore run to the creationist school of thought.  There are important insights of science in the matter of creation and the material world that Catholics are free to accept and wise to accept. The Catechism stakes out a middle ground wherein a Catholic may be able to accept certain aspects of evolutionary theory in terms of secondary causality. But this must always be balanced with a deep reverence for God as the first cause of all that is:

God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan…..The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Far from diminishing the creature’s dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God’s power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for “without a Creator the creature vanishes.” Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God’s grace. (CCC 306-309).

Hence, a Catholic ought to be careful to avoid  acceptance of the Theory of Evolution without disttinctions.  An old maxim comes to mind: Seldom Affirm, never deny, always distinguish. Not a bad approach when it comes to this great debate about Evolution, the Bible and faith.

OK Have at it. I know much needs to be added. But that’s the point of a blog. To start a discussion, not end it.

Some time ago I read an article in First Things by Sally Thomas entitled: The Killer Instinct. The article ponders the modern aversion to the male psyche. Young boys are full of zealous energy, full of spit and vinegar, and have a a proclivity to rough and even violent play. Many modern parents and educators seem troubled by this and often attempt to soften boys, make them behave more like girls. Sadly there is even an attempt by some to diagnosis typically rough-house and energetic boys as having ADHD and they are put on medicines to suppress what is in the end a normal male energy. I do not deny that there can be a true ADHD diagnosis in some cases, but it may also be a symptom of an increasingly feminized culture that finds normal male behavior to be violent and a diagnosable “disorder.” What I have said here may here may be “controversial” but in the finest male tradition, remember, we can always “spar” in the comments section!

I’d like to present excerpts of the article here and then add some of m own comments in red. You can read the whole article by clicking on the title above.

The default mode of many parents is to be as alarmed by [the] proclivity in their sons [to shoot and stab at things and be aggressive]…..An obvious fascination with shooting things might seem like one of those warning signals we all read about…It used to be that parents waited for Johnny to start torturing the cat before they worried. My generation of parents seems to worry that owning a rubber-band shooter will make Johnny want to torture the cat. A friend of mine told me that he and his wife had decided not to give their boys guns for toys. What they discovered was that without the toy everything became a gun: sticks, brooms, scissors, their fingers. In the end, they “made peace” with the fact that boys love guns and swords and stopped worrying about latent tendencies to violence. Somehow it was in a boy’s nature and they couldn’t “nurture” it away.

As a toddler, one of my sons liked to stand behind his baby sister’s chair and pull her head back as far as it would go, to watch it spring up again like a punching bag on its stem….and then she screamed….From my son’s point of view, it was altogether a gratifying exercise. My intervention was always swift and decisive…I implored my son, “Don’t be rough. Be gentle.” …I am struck, now, by the strangeness of what I said to him. We don’t tell someone struggling with lust simply not to want sex; we don’t tell a glutton that his problem will be solved if he stops being hungry. Yet, I might as well have said, “Stop being a boy.”…. What I think I have come to understand about boys is that a desire to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil. It’s a mistake for parents to presume that a fascination with the idea of blowing something away is, in itself, a disgusting habit, like nose-picking, that can and should be eradicated. The problem is not that the boy’s hand itches for a sword. The problem lies in not telling him what [the sword and itch] are for, that they are for something. If I had told my aggressive little son not, “Be gentle,” but, rather, “Protect your sister,” I might, I think, have had the right end of the stick.(This is a very brilliant insight. It is essential that we not try to destroy the innate gifts that God gives us in order to “control” them. We must learn to harness them and sublimate them so that they achieve the end to which they are intended).

Anne Roche Muggeridge, who reared four boys in the 1970s and 1980s, observes that

prevailing society now thoroughly regards young men as social invalids. . . . The fashion in education for the past three decades has been to try to make boys more like girls: to forbid them their toy guns and rough play, to engage them in exercises of “cooperation and sharing,” …to denounce any boyish roughness as “aggressive” and “sexist.”

Muggeridge writes of a visit to a doctor who urged on her a prescription for Ritalin, saying that a child as constantly active as her two-year-old son must be disturbed. “He’s not disturbed,” she responded. “He’s disturbing.” It is to realize, as Anne Roche Muggeridge did while watching her sons take turns throwing each other into a brick wall, that what you have in your house is not a human like you but a human unlike you. In short, as Muggeridge puts it, you are bringing up an “alien.” Yes, it has been very frustrating to be a man in the modern age let alone have to grow up under the tutelage of social scientists and education bureaucrats who scorn and suspect your very nature. Boys are aggressive. That is natural and good. They must be taught to master it and focus the energy of their aggression on the right object, but they should not be scorned for who and what they are. Such scorning has become for too many a sense that they are socially “enlightened.” It is time to see this attitude as a the type of bigotry and sexism that it too often is. To many women (and some feminized men) a boy in his raw state may in fact seem like an alien, but even aliens deserve respect :-)

[There is an] initiation rite, devised and performed by our parish’s young priest twice a year in the church. This rite involves a series of solemn vows to be “a man of the Church,” “a man of prayer,” and so forth. It includes induction into the Order of the Brown Scapular, the bestowing of a decidedly manly red-and-black knot rosary, and the awarding of a red sash. What the boys look forward to, though, with much teasing of soon-to-be inductees about sharpened blades and close shaves…is the moment when a new boy kneels before Father and is whacked smartly on each shoulder with a large, impressive, and thoroughly real sword. Great idea. I’m going to work in my parish about initiating something like this.

These Holy Crusaders are, after all, ordinary boys—sweaty and goofy and physical. For them to take the Cross seriously requires something like a sword. For them to take the sword, knowing what it’s for, requires the Cross. …A boy’s natural drive to stab and shoot and smash can be shaped, in his imagination, to the image of sacrifice, of laying down his life for his friends. In the meantime, this is the key to what brings these boys to church. It’s not their mothers’ church or their sisters’ church; it is theirs, to serve and defend. Yes, yes! Amen. Greater love hath no man that to lay down his life for his friends. Christian manhood needs to be rediscovered in some segments of the Church. Too many men stay away from Church because it seems feminine to them. Sermons about duty, courage and fighting the good fight have given way to a steady diet of compassion, kindness, being nice, getting along, self actualizing and, did I mention being nice? These are not wrong virtues but they must be balanced by virtues that call us to stand up and speak out with courage, accepting our duties and fighting the good fight of faith, if necessary unto death. Men respond to the call when it is given in a way that respects their manhood. Balance is needed in the preaching and teaching of the Church and it seems that in recent decades we may have lost this in many settings, IMHO. If you think I’m crazy, remember this is a conversation. Hit the comment button and have it.

Sally Thomas, a contributing writer for FIRST THINGS, is a poet and homeschooling mother in North Carolina.

Here’s a video summoning boys unto manhood:

In daily Mass these next few days we are reading from the Book of the Prophet Jonah. Of all the prophets Jonah is perhaps the most reluctant, and his struggle with sin is not hidden. In the passage from Monday’s reading we see something of a portrait on sin and also the love of God for sinners. Lets look at the passage and allow its teachings to reach us.

I. Defiance - This is the word of the LORD that came to Jonah, son of Amittai: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the LORD.

To defy, means to openly and boldly resist what one is told to do. It also indicates a lack of faith since it comes from the Latin “dis “against” + fidere “believe”. Hence, Jonah is not just insubordinate, he is unbelieving, he lacks trust.

His scoffing and defiant attitude likely results from hatred, or excessive nationalism. Nineveh was the capital of the Syria, the mortal enemies of Israel. Jonah instinctively knows that if they repent of their sinfulness, they will grow stronger. Rather than trust God, he brazenly disobeys and foolishly thinks he can outrun God.

II. Distance - He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD.

Tarshish is widely held to refer to the coastline along modern-day Spain. Thus, in order to avoid going 500 miles into God’s will, Jonah flees some 1500 miles out of God’s will. It’s always a longer journey when you disobey God.

Note that he also puts down good money to try and accomplish the fleeing. Indeed, many people spend lots of money, and go miles out of their way to stay in sin. Yes, sin is usually very expensive, and many seem quite willing to pay.

The simplicity of holiness is often far less onerous, and costly. But yet, like Jonah, many line up to pay the price and take the long painful journey deeper into defiance and sin.

How much of our trouble comes from our sin? Probably about 80%, if not more. So much suffering, so much cost, so much extra mileage could be avoided if we just obeyed God. Bottom line; pardon the financial pun, sinful choices are usually costly.

III. Disturbance - The LORD, however, hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose the ship was on the point of breaking up. Then the mariners became frightened and each one cried to his god. To lighten the ship for themselves, they threw its cargo into the sea.

Jonah’s defiance puts him and others headlong into a storm that, as we will see, grows ever deeper and involves others. Here too, the teaching is clear: persistent and unrepentant sin brings storms, disturbances and troubles. And as our defiance deepens, the headwinds become ever stronger and the destructive forces more powerful.

It will be noted how Jonah’s defiance also endangers others. This is another important teaching that in our sin, in our defiance, we often bring storms not only into our own life, but into the lives of others we know and love. What we do, or fail to do affects others.

The Mariners fearing for their life, also lose wealth, and suffer great losses throwing the cargo overboard, on account of Jonah sinfulness.

And so too in our own culture, how much pain is caused, how much loss is experienced from the defiant, selfish, and bad behavior of many. On account of selfishness, and sexual misbehavior, so many of our families are in the shredder, there is abortion, disease, teenage pregnancy, children with no fathers, and all the grief and pain that comes from broken families or malformed families. It is of course the children who, above all, feel the pain and injustice of so much bad adult behavior.

To all this pain can be added many other sufferings besides, caused by our greed, addiction our lack of forgiveness, our pride, impatience, lack of charity, and so forth. These and many other sins unleash storms that affect not only us, but others around us.

No one is merely an individual, we are members of the Body, members of the community, whether we want to admit it or not.

Jonah is a danger and the cause of grief to others around him. So too can we become when we defiantly indulge sinfulness

IV. Delirium - Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship, and lay there fast asleep.

And yet, while all these storms (caused by him) are raging about him, Jonah is asleep. Often the last one to know or admit the damage he does is the sinner himself. Too many wander around in a kind of delirium, a kind of moral sleep, blissfully talking about their rights and that what they do is “nobody else’s business” etc. And yet all the while, the storm winds buffet, and others suffer from what they do, and so easily they remain morally asleep, unaware, inconsiderate, and locked in self-deception and rationalizations.

Many people today talk about “victimless sins” where supposedly nobone gets hurt. Those who are morally alert do not say these sorts of things; those who are in the darkness of delirium, in a moral sleep, say them. Meanwhile, the gales grow stronger and civilization continues to crumble, and all the while they mutter on in a immoral sleep about their right to do what they please.

V. Dressing Down - The captain came to him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God! Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish.” Then they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots to find out on whose account we have met with this misfortune.” So they cast lots, and thus singled out Jonah. “Tell us,” they said, “what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country, and to what people do you belong?” Jonah answered them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Now the men were seized with great fear and said to him, “How could you do such a thing!– They knew that he was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them.

In a remarkable turn in the story, those who are not believers in the God of Israel dress down Jonah, who is to be God’s prophet unto repentance! It’s a pretty bad day for the prophet, when those he is supposed to address, must turn and call him to conversion. They seem to fear God more than he does!

First there comes a pointed question, “What are you doing asleep?!” Yes, what are you doing? Do you have any idea how your behavior, your sins, are affecting the rest of us? Wake up from your illusions and yourself justifying slogans, and have a look at what’s really going on. Wake up!

Next they say to him, “pray!” In other words, get back in touch with God from whom you’re running. If you won’t do it for your own sake, then do it for ours, but call on the Lord!

This is what every sinner whether outside the Church or inside, needs to hear: wake up, look at what you’re doing, see how you’re affecting yourself and all of us, and turn back to God, less we all perish!

VI. Despair - They asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more turbulent. Jonah said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, that it may quiet down for you; since I know it is because of me that this violent storm has come upon you.

Jonah having been dressed down, is beginning to come to his senses, but not with godly sorrow, more of a worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Cor 7:10) And thus, Jonah, somewhat like Judas, and many other sinners do not repent to the Lord but are merely ashamed of themselves.

In effect, he says to them “Kill me, I do not deserve to live.” But this is not repentance, it is despair.

VII. Dignity – still the men rowed hard to regain the land, but they could not, for the sea grew ever more turbulent.

And yet, surprisingly, the men are not willing to kill him, at least as a first recourse. Despite his sin, Jonah, or any sinner, does not lose his dignity. Even the fallen, deserve our love, and respect as fellow human beings. It is too easy for us to wish to destroy those who have harmed us, perhaps to return crime for crime, sin for sin.

But God would have us reach out to the sinner, to try to correct in love.

It is true, however, that not everyone is willing or able to be corrected. Some things must ultimately be left to God. The first instinct, should always be to respect the dignity of even great sinners, to strive to bring them to the Lord with loving correction.

VIII. Deliverance - Then they cried to the LORD: “We beseech you, O LORD, let us not perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have done as you saw fit. ”Then they took Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea’s raging abated. Struck with great fear of the LORD, the men offered sacrifice and made vows to him. But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.

In the end, the men must hand Jonah over to the Lord, sensing somehow His just verdict, yet fearing their own judgment in this regard, and asking mercy.

It used to be that, in the average American courtroom when someone did finally have to be sentenced to prison or worse, the judge would often say, “May God have mercy on your soul.” And thus, even in the said situations where we can do little but remove people from their ability to harm others, usually through incarceration, we ought to do so with a sober appreciation of their need for God’s mercy as well as our own.

And God does deliver Jonah. After his whale of a ride, in which Jonah must experience the full depths and acidic truth of his sinfulness, God finally delivers him right back to the shore of Joppa, where it all began.

IX. Determination - Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. (Jonah 3:1-3)

Yes, God works with the sinner, drawing him back. He’s the God of the second chance. Thank you Lord for your grace and your mercy. And he remembers our sins no more. In effect God says to Jonah, ” Now where were we?”

Here’s the Peccavimus from the Oratorio “Jonas” by Carissimi

I am leading about twenty parishioners to Guadalupe Mexico for the next seven days. As I leave, the following thoughts go with me, some personal, some Ecclesial as well.

1. Elevation. Mexico city and its environs are at or near 5,000 feet. For this human being, the highest point in DC is my former parish (St Ann’s) at 410 feet! Surely, even with recent weight loss, I am in for some breathless climbs. Thus, I am expecting some humility lessons! I think I am strong, but the earth is bigger, and God is infinitely more glorious.

Thank you Lord, teach me humility through elevation and a few steep climbs. I left my asthma inhaler behind when I lost weight. One of the good bishops here in DC told me to bring it anyway, the air is thin. So, I bring it.

2. Evangelization - Our Lady’s appearance at Guadalupe to Juan Diego was a major break-through. Many attempts had been made by the Missionaries of that time toward  the indigenous peoples of Mexico. But the results were discouraging. A combination of fear, rooted in the bloody human sacrifice of the Aztec religion, plus the counter-sign of Spanish Conquerors which made the Christian religion seem no less cruel,. All of this combined to make converts to the Catholic faith a rare thing.

Enter our Lady and the supply of the miraculous Tilma, and within ten years nine to ten million Mexicans became Catholic. That’s 3000 converts a day, a Pentecost every day for ten years!

Yes, Our Lady is Evangelizer in Chief, she’s a Momma on the move, the Mother of many! For all the sermons preached, all the apologetical conferences held, in any give time or realm, just let our Lady show up, and deal is sealed!

Mary, Mother of Christians, pray for us!

3. Equanimity - Mary appeared in Mexico just at the time of the Protestant revolt in Europe. And, just as 2-3 million walked out of the Church in Europe in those dark days of the 16th Century, nine million entered in Mexico in a kind of son-rise (sic) of the faith.

Too easily we focus on only one area or aspect of the Catholic Church. But we are worldwide, “catholic.” And even when things shrink in one area, they often grow in others. In our day as the light of faith seems to be going our in Europe and North America, there has been a 7,000% increase in African in the number of Catholics. And indeed, bloody martyrdom is often the seed of the faith there.

The Church is heading south and is looking browner. It is well! The Church has never been merely the European reality she was seen to be in the last centuries. Her original cradle was North Africa. That region of over 500 bishops and dioceses  was wiped out by invading Muslim armies in the 7th Century.

Tragic, but barbarian backwoods Europe, vacated by the retreating Roman Empire,  then lit up as the Church shifted north as a remarkable Christian civilization took root. Usher in the Cathedrals, Universities, hospitals and the diocesan footprint. The High Middle Ages were on the way.

It is ever thus, a kind of waxing and waning in certain areas, but always the Church, in her spousal glory. The Lord will never forsake her utterly, and she will grow when and where least expected.

4. Explain this! - The miraculous tilma of Juan Diego stands in humble yet profound testimony to the modern and scientific age. Like the Shroud of Turin, it is a scientific anomaly. No one really knows how the image was made, or how the rough burlap-like material has survived to this day.

The more it is studied, the more it stymies. As scientists  set to work studying it in the 1950s, discoveries were made by peering into our Lady’s eyes with ocular instruments. They showed  nearly perfect ocular properties and showed several people including the Bishop, Juan Diego and an African Woman servant, all reflected in her eyes.

With every attempt to explain the tilma, the mysteries only deepen. The image, though physical, is metaphysical in that science cannot explain it. It is beyond (meta) science.

5. Eruption - Imagine the awful death cults of Old Mexico, the blood bath demand by the Aztec “gods.” And suddenly, life!

God can do that, and we, in the decadent, bloody, and fallen West ought not forget this. God can turn things on a dime. Too easily were presume the steady decline of the West is bound to continue. But not so fast! Our Lady, ushering in our Lord’s grace brought Mexico from near zero to ten million converts in ten years.

She, by God’s grace brought them from death to life, from the blood of human sacrifice to to the Blood of Jesus. And why not now? Why not ask? Why not expect?

6. Evidence - In our pilgrimage we will spend almost two days looking at Aztec ruins. Call me politically incorrect, but for the record God’s holy Church endures. The bloody gibbets and pyramids of the Aztecs are ruins and memories of something long gone. The Catholic priests of Mexico still offer Mass. The beading and horrifying human sacrifices of the Aztec “priests” are long since suppressed. Evil has its day, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

7. Exclamation – Viva Christo Rey! Mexico’s journey of faith was not sinless or without suffering. In the 1920s a terrible and anti-Catholic “Calles” government sought to violently suppress the Catholic faith in Mexico. Priests and religious were killed, churches closed and burned, many lay-faithful were martyred.

In our pilgrimage we will honor their struggle for religious liberty and see the sites where their blood was shed. But through the terrible years of the Calles government, the cry went up, Viva Christo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!).

Today, things are not perfect, but the faith endures, and pilgrims flock to the Guadalupe shrine of our Lady, (La Morena - The Dark skinned one) in numbers approaching 22 million a year. Christ our King does reign and he vanquishes his foes!

Just a few thoughts going forth to Guadalupe, and to the Church in Mexico. Pray for this pilgrim and 22 others from the parish I will lead.

Blog posts are set for the week, please continue to visit. Some are re-posts, but old enough that you may never have seen them. Others are new. I’ll stay in touch as best as I am able in the combox.

Mean time, Stay Calm and Viva Christo Rey!

The readings for today’s Mass provide a rich fare in describing some essential qualities of faith. Each of these amounts to a fundamental for firm faith. There are five fundamentals that can be seen:

1. Wanting The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5-6). There’s an old saying, “What you want, you get.” It is true that many doubt this and think that they have wanted many things that they did not get. But it is likely they didn’t want it enough. Precluding physical impossibilities and other impossible things, when we really want something enough we usually get it. That’s because we work at it and have a passion for it.

Many people who say they cannot find time to pray or go to Church, still find time to golf, watch TV and eat. They find the time because they want to do these things. They do not find time to pray or go to Mass because they do not want to do these things enough.

Hence, the apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. In effect they ask for a deeper desire to know the Lord. Too often we miss a step in our prayer. We might ask the Lord to help us to pray when what we really should ask for is that the Lord give us a desire to pray. For, when we want to pray, we will pray. When we want to be holy, we will naturally strive for holy practices. It is about what we desire, what we want. Ask the Lord to help you want Him and his kingdom. Ask the Lord for a new heart that has proper wants and desires. Ask the Lord for a new mind that has proper priorities and that prefers to think on what is good, true and beautiful. What you want, you get.

2. Waiting – The first reading speaks of our need to await the Lord’s action -How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity (Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4) –

Waiting is one of the great mysteries of the Christian life. Why God often makes us wait is not always clear. Perhaps He is trying to strengthen our faith. Perhaps he is helping us clarify or confirm our desires. But, truth be told, waiting on the Lord has a lot of mystery about it. Nevertheless it is consistently told us in scripture that we must learn to wait on the Lord and that there are blessings for those who do. For example:

  1. Ps 37:8 Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil….those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.
  2. Is 49:23 those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.
  3. Lam 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
  4. Is 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

And so, waiting is a fundamental of firm faith. Gospel music is replete with waiting themes. One song says , You can’t Hurry God, you just have to wait, trust and never doubt him, no matter how long it takes. He may not come when you want him but he’s always right on time. Another song says, Weeping may endure for a night but joy will come with the morning light. Other songs counsel that we must hold on and hold out:

  1. I promised the Lord that I would hold out, he said he’d meet me in Galilee
  2. Hold on just a little while longer, every thing’s gonna be alright
  3. Keep your hand on the plow…Hold on
  4. Lord help me to hold out, until my change comes!

The reading from Habakkuk above warns that the rash man has no integrity. That is another way of saying that waiting is integral to the Christian life. It is a fundamental of faith. To have integrity means to have all the necessary pieces and parts which make up the whole. To lack patience then is to lack integrity, to lack an essential fundamental of the Christian faith.

3. Withstanding -  And here the second reading counsels usGod did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim 1:6-8)

This quote from today’s second reading tells us that life has its difficulties and challenges. Things do not always get easier by becoming a Christian. In fact, they often get harder since we must endure the hatred and ridicule of the world. Thus a fundamental of the Christian Faith is that we be able to withstand such things with courage.

Notice that this courage, power and love come from God, not from us. Hence it is grace that is being described here. This is not a moralism or a slogan. Withstanding means that God is “standing with” us, and we with God. Such withstanding is only possible by the relationship with God that comes by faith. In this way we discover the power, the capacity to withstand, to courageously live the Christian faith in a hostile world.

4. Working - And here the Gospel teaches: Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.‘” (Luke 17:6-10)

This saying of the Lord in today’s Gospel can tend to irritate us and even seem hurtful if we misunderstand grace and seek to understand this text by the flesh. Our flesh is self-centered and thinks we deserve praise and good things from God for the good things we do. The flesh expects, yes, it demands, rewards. But the fact is that we can never have God in debt to us, never. If we have good works, they are not our gift to God, they are His gift to us.

All our works of charity and faith which our flesh wants credit for, they are all God’s work and God’s gift. The letter to the Ephesians makes this clear:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God– not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)

Hence if I think that I did something deserving of praise and reward I am thinking in terms of the flesh, not the Spirit. All I can really say to God is “Thank You” when I have done something good like caring for the poor or keeping the commandments. His grace alone permitted me to work them. God may speak elsewhere of rewarding us but that is His business. He is not in debt to us in anyway. When we have done everything we ought our one disposition should be gratitude. We are useless servants in the sense that we can do nothing without God’s grace. We can only do what we are told and what He enables us to do.

That said, it is clear, work is a pillar of faith. The text from today’s gospel and the text from Ephesians just above both make clear that work is something God has for us. James 2:17 says, So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Likewise, Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me. It was I who chose you that you should go and bear fruit that will last”(Jn 15:16) Work is a fundamental of faith.

5. Winning – And we conclude with a reference back to the First Reading:  For the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint. It will surely come, it will not be late.(Hab 2:3)

See what the end shall be! Yes, it is true that we must want, wait, withstand and work. But we do not do this to no purpose. We have a cross to carry. But if we carry it with the Lord, we carry it to glory. The end of today’s first reading makes this clear. There is an old Gospel song that says,

Harder yet may be the fight, Right may often yield to might, Wickedness awhile may reign, Satan’s cause may seem to gain, There is a God that rules above, With hand of power and heart of love, If I am right, He’ll fight my battle, I shall have peace some day. I do not know how long ’twill be, Nor what the future holds for me, But this I know, if Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day.

This is what Habakkuk describes, that we will win with Jesus. He describes a victory that is

  1. Future – the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment
  2. Fantastic – and it will not disappoint
  3. Firm – It will surely come
  4. Fixed – it will not be late

For all those who walk with Jesus on the way of the Cross, there is victory up ahead. Even here we already enjoy the fruits of crosses past. Our withstanding of the past has given us strength for today. Our waitings of the past have had their fulfillment and are the hope that our current waiting too will have its fruit. Our work by God’s grace has already granted benefits to ourselves and others.

But these are but a small foretaste of a greater glory to come, which waits for us in heaven. Yes, if we want, and wait, withstand and work, we will win! I promise it to you in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Refrain of this song says, I do not know how long t’will be nor what the future holds for me. But this I know, If Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day. (I am not wild about falsetto singing (women or boys should sing soprano…But the song is magnificent).

I spent the evening blessing animals on this, the Feast of St. Francis. There were a number of cats, for which I have an affinity, being a cat owner. But most were dogs. And dogs are magnificent animals, full of zest and loyal to a fault.

I figured I had to blog on dogs this eve of the St. Francis feast. Fridays are usually also when I blog on a video or commercial of some sort. And thus tonight’s offering.

Somehow I thought of being a priest when I saw the commercial below.

In this commercial there is a little dog named “Wego” who, when his name is called, runs and fetches a spirited drink (aka Bud Light) for those who call his name. Yes, you might see Wego as a kind of “Domini canis” (a dog of the Lord), who fetches something of the “spirit” for those who ask. While some say this Latin expression is where Dominicans get their name, that is not so, they are named after St. Dominic. Yet many priests, Dominican and other, proudly wear the title Domini canis as well!

Yes, I’d just like to say that “Wego” represents every priest who is called to be a Domini canis (a dog of the Lord).

Now Wego is also called a “rescue dog” which is another good title for a priest. For, rescuing souls from darkness and drawing them to the life of the Spirit, by God’s grace, is surely a central role of the priest. And we should be willing to work like dogs to do it.

In fact, I have it on the best of authority (my own imagination) that the dog’s name WEGO is short for Willing Energetic God Offerer. Which is also what every priest should be.

Now Wego the Dog brings a “spiritual” beverage to to each person in need. I pray you will allow for the humor of considering beer a symbol of thing spiritual. I beg your patience on two counts.

  1. First Scripture also plays on “spirited” drinks and the Holy Spirit. For when the Holy Spirit descended on them in the upper room and the crowds marveled at their joy we read: Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine” (Acts 2:13). Yes, some in the crowd confused the effects of the Holy Spirit with an ordinary spirited drink! But joy is hard to hide. They are indeed filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. In second defense I offer the oft disputed quote of Ben Franklin who (may have) said, Beer is a sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Whoever said it, I largely believe it’s true, if the beer is consumed in moderation. :-)

With these two witnesses in my favor please allow the spirited beverage (aka the Beer) to represent the Holy Spirit and things spiritual.

And one final thing to note about Wego the “dog of the Lord” is that he adapts himself to the needs of each person or group. As St. Paul says,

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor 9:19-23)

Thus note how Wego the dog assesses each situation differently and responds. But note too, he always brings the same spirited beverage. Thus, though his approach is different, the “truth” of what he offers remains unchanged. Many priests have to do this as well, adapting themselves to many different situations while never compromising the Gospel, the Word of God or the teachings of the Church.

In this short video you’ll see a number of aspects of priestly ministry that Wego exhibits analogously:

  1. There is Men’s Ministry
  2. There is Women’s Ministry
  3. There are pre-Cana instructions
  4. There is a baptism
  5. There is Theology on Tap

See if you can find them all in the video. At the end is a call to prayer, for rescue dogs. But perhaps you might also see Wego asking you to pray for priests, the rescue dogs in your own life.

Wego, Dog of the Lord!

There has been in the past decades a tendency to try and couch evangelization efforts in pleasantries and to use glossy paged flyers showing smiling members “looking normal” and happy in a worldly sort of way. Of itself this is not wrong. Sour faced saints are a disgrace (literally “dis” = contrary to + “grace”). But the joy of the saints is not obtained on worldly terms. And thus we risk trying to appeal to the world by becoming the world and adopting its ways and thoughts, which is a huge disgrace (literally).

In the Gospel of Luke, which we are reading at daily Mass, there is a familiar story the Lord sending forth 72 disciples (read it here: Luke 10). He sent them to prepare the towns and villages that he intended to visit, they were like heralds who went before him to prepare his way. We sometimes get the notion that the Lord just ambled about, going from town to town in a random sort of way. But that is not what the Gospel says, he was quite intentional and followed the plan. He knew where he was going, and sent others to prepare each town he intended to visit.

But is what is most remarkable about the sending texts like these is the urgency and sobriety that is built into them. In this they act as a kind of remedy for our modern tendency to be soft and go too far in meeting the world on its terms. There is, to be sure, a need to meet people personally and walk with them in respect, with patience and kindness. But when it comes to “the world” (understood as the array of powers, philosophies and priorities at odds with God’s Kingdom) there must be a firm and clear delineation.

There are three keywords that help us to understand the sort of urgency and clarity that the Lord announces: Sobriety, Simplicity, and the Sword.

I. As regards Sobriety -  The Lord speaks to the hostility that any evangelizer  will inevitably encounter teaching: Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves (Lk 10:3). For we live in a world that is hostile to the things of God. In our own times secularism is not just pervasive, it is becoming increasingly militant, and we can expect even greater hostility to our proclamation of the faith in the years to come.

Whatever strategies we develop in engaging the world, the compromise of the faith cannot be one of them. Observe, that a wolf has no plans to compromise with the lamb. For the Lamb to stand a chance, the wolf must be changed. And thus, as we go forth we cannot engage the wolf on its own terms. We must hold up to the wolf its need to be transformed and converted by the Lamb of God.

Too many Christians have thought the compromise with the world, a kind of serving of two masters, is the way to go. But the Lord says elsewhere that serving two masters is not possible. One will be favored, one will win the day. When the sheep compromises with the wolf, the sheep ends up dead.  Thus, the wolf must be changed or the sheep will be dinner.

Hence, in our stance with the world we cannot simply seek a via media We must be willing to announce the kingdom of God, which is clearly contrasted with the kingdom of this world as light is contrasted with darkness.

And we ought to do this with serene confidence, for Scripture says the Light has already won: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:5). Yet, as Jesus notes elsewhere though darkness is already conquered, many prefer the darkness because their deeds are wicked (cf Jn 3:19).

Hence, our task is urgent, and we must be sober that as we go forth, the conversion of hearts, is not an easy task.

II. Regarding Simplicity -  the Lord therefore counsels us that we shed anything which  gets in the way of fulfilling our task as disciples and evangelizers: Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road (Luke 10:4). And thus if anything or anyone can prevent us from this task, it has too much power, it has to go.

In effect, the Lord counsels us to travel light. Too many attachments to this world hinder our freedom to live and preach the kingdom.  The command he gives the disciples to leave behind purses, bags and money is a solemn reminder to us that our wealth and possessions get in the way, they hinder us from radical dedication to making disciples. Whatever gets in the way has to go.

When the Lord tells them, “greet no one” along the way, He is not calling us to be unkind, but rather, reminding us that no human interaction or relationship should take priority over the mission that he is given us.

For too many Christians, other human beings have more authority and power in life than does the Lord. This must end. Obsession with popularity and intrigue about what famous and glamorous people think, must give way to the Lord’s teaching and the Lord himself. If necessary, we must be willing to be declared a fool for Christ sake.

The simplicity to be embraced here is that we serve one Lord and Master, not 10,000 human beings. The simplicity is that we fear the Lord, and thereby fear no one else.

Another aspect of simplicity of the Lord says for this that we find one place and stay there: When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. (Luke 10:5-7)

In other words, our job is to do what the Lord told us, and not 100 other things besides. He sent the 72 to particular towns,  not all over God’s green acre. They were to go there, get there, and stay there, doing what he said. Too many Christians have not learned to listen and discern with the Lord, the town to which he sent them, and what “house” what he expects them to dwell in.

Thus, an  important aspect of simplicity in our lives is to find out what the Lord has told us to do, based on our gifts and state in life. And having discovered our task, to do that in preference to anything else. We need to find out where home is and stay there. We need to find our part in the vineyard and work it, and as we work it, we ought not wonder what the next vineyard over might be like. Simplicity:  Go there, get there, and stay there, doing what he said.

And what are we to do? Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Lk 10:9). That is, we are to announce the Kingdom of God, proclaiming its truth, and thereby bring healing. Everything we do is to be focused on this. But again, too often we get sidetracked into secondary things, or even worse, worldly things.

Keep it simple: we are to be healing heralds, drawing people to Jesus and the truth of his Kingdom.

III. As regards the sword - The Lord says, when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Lk 10:10-12)

We are reminded in a text like this that regarding Jesus, Simeon said, This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.  (Lk 2:34). And hence the Lord says elsewhere, that he has come to bring the sword (Mt 10:32), that he will divide out the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31ff), and that those who believe are saved,  and those who do not believed are condemned (Jn 3:18).

In this particular gospel, the Lord warns that for those who reject the proclamation of the Gospel, it will be better for the citizens of Sodom, than for them on the day of judgment.

We don’t like to think this way today. We prefer to think that everything is basically nice, everyone means well, and that everything will turn out just fine. These pleasant thoughts are indeed pleasant, but that does not mean they are real or realistic.

Jesus, who loves us wants to save us, and even died to save us, is far more sober, and He warns of judgment and Hell, and sadly observes that many are on a wide road leading to destruction.

None of this is meant to depress us, rather it is to motivate us with a sense of the urgency of evangelizing. We have largely lost this urgency today with drunken notions of universal salvation. Perdition is a very deep mystery in the light of God’s love, but it is taught. Surely it is also caught up in the mystery of human freedom and the sad tendency of our hearts to be rebellious and obtuse.

But note this, the Lord is clear, it’s decision time. The gospel is going forth, and everyone will be judged by it. It is like a sharp sword that judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (cf Heb 4:12). People either choose the Kingdom, or not. This is the dividing line, this is the sword that divides, separating the sheep from the goats.

All the more reason for us to be urgent and evangelize, first our own heart, and then the hearts of others. And thus the Lord, in this very familiar Gospel,  councils and commands that we be sober, simple, and  remember the sword that will inevitably divide the sheep from the goats. Choose sides.

We all have certain phrases that annoy us. There are also oddities that creep into the language that can use comment or correction. To that end, I propose a short list of ten annoying words and expressions. Sometimes words are misused, sometimes expressions exist that come to irritate.

Please accept this list in the humorous vein it is intended. I am playing the role of an irritated curmudgeon, but its just the shtick. Have some fun with me as I complain and add to my list.

So, can we talk? He’s my list of annoyances.

1. “With all due respect….” What this phrase usually means, is that the recipient isn’t going to get any respect. When you open an e-mail and it begins, “With all due respect Mr Jones..…’ Don’t you just wince and know that this message is going to be really bad? In a way, the expression is a form of lip service, as if to say,  “I want to dispense with the silly tradition of having to accord some modicum of respect to you, given your title or position, and get on to what was really on my mind, namely, that you’re all wrong, and probably clueless as well. And of course, be assured  I say this with all due respect…” :-)

2. Decimate - Most people use this word today as meaning, “to utterly destroy.”  So one might say, “Our culture has really been decimated by no-fault divorce.” But decimate does not mean “to utterly destroy.” Decimate means to reduce something by a tenth (Deci = ten). The word comes from the Roman practice wherein, after conquering a town that was guilty of some sort of uprising or rebellion, the Romans would line up all the men of that town in the public square, and kill every tenth man. In effect, the message was, “You mess with the Romans and this is what you get. It’ll be worse next time… Alas, trying to recover the original meaning of this word may be a lost cause at this point. The word may be destined to go the way of other Latin-based words such as “manufacture” which means literally in Latin “hand-made” (manu = hand, facere = to make). But now it means just the opposite. Other English based words have also reversed meanings, so that we drive in parkways and park on driveways. But, for the record, “decimate” does NOT mean totally destroy, it means to reduce something by a tenth.

3. Service -  There is a tendency, especially from government officials, to take the noun “service,” and turn it into a verb. And so it is common to hear someone say, “We service our clients.”  or,  “We serviced 50 people last month.” No! People are served, not serviced. Perhaps you may speak of  a car as being serviced, but people are served. It’s hard to know where this manner speaking came from, but I sadly suspect it crept in from the world of prostitution, where prostitutes often speak of “servicing” their “Johns” (i.e. clients). But for the record, we do not “service” people, we serve them, people are not “serviced” they are served.

4. Not unlike -  This strange expression, in a way, cancels itself out as a double negative. For example, someone may say, “This car is not unlike that car.”  Trying to figure out exactly what the sentence means may very well make your head explode. In fact, it strains the meaning of the word “sentence”  which refers to a string of words which makes sense.  Perhaps, in the sentence above, the person means to say this car is not like that car? Or maybe they mean just the opposite, since not + un means “is” doesn’t it?  (negative + negative = positive).  Then perhaps the sentence means this car is like that car? Like I say, it can make your head explode. To try to avoid making heads explode by not using the expression,  “not unlike.”

5. Proactive -  Another strange word that has crept into our vocabulary. How is “proactive” so different than active? One might argue that there’s a temporal dimension here. Hence one who is “proactive” is one who is actually ahead of his time. But usually we use the prefix “pre” in temporal references, as in “preemptive” or “prediction.” To be honest, in the sentence, “He is a proactive person” I’m not exactly sure what is really meant here. I think the speaker intends to indicate something positive, such that the person is sort of “ahead of the curve” or something. But honestly is just not all that clear what the word “proactive” means,  at least to me. But, maybe I’m just being reactive.

6. Utilize - Why not just say “use”? This oddity is  beginning to diminish, and none too soon. I live for the day when we no longer use “utilize.”

7. Intellectually dishonest  - how is being “intellectually dishonest,” different from being just plain dishonest? Is not honesty or dishonesty always rooted in the intellect and manifest in speech? If there are some other types of dishonesty,  such as say emotional dishonesty, or physical dishonesty, or verbal dishonesty,  I have never heard such qualifiers attached. So if someone says,  “You are being intellectually dishonest”, it seems to me that is just a highfalutin way of saying you’re being dishonest.

8. Dialog - Why not just say “discuss” or “discussion?” Thus when someone says, “I’m having a dialogue with someone”, why not just say,  I’m having a discussion with someone” ?? An even more egregious form of abusing this word is to turn dialogue into a verb; so someone might say, “We are dialoguing about this problem.” But why not just say, “We are discussing this problem?”  Turning nouns into verbs or verbal forms generally produces strange results. To quote a classic line from Calvin and Hobbes, “Your verbing is weirding  me out. So, let’s talk, let’s have a discussion,  but let’s limit the use of the word dialogue, and certainly avoid the strange construction dialoguing.

9. Using “so” as an interjection -  This tendency is especially manifest in academic settings. It tends to be placed at the beginning of the answer to a question. And thus a question may be asked at an academic seminar such as, “What does the data show in relation to this problem?”  And the scientist responds, “So… The data seems to say that things are going to get worse.” Interjections are sometimes used as delaying tactics as a person formulates an answer. But in this case, I’m suspicious that it tends to come more from the more from the relativistic climate of academic settings. And thus the interjection “So…” expressed gently and slowly, makes the person seem thoughtful and somehow not arrogantly certain of what they are about to say.   So… I don’t want to come off is too nasty, but would you please stop saying “so” all the time?

10. “Are you suggesting…? ” This is a common expression that prefaces a question usually by members of the main-stream media. Thus a member of the media may ask someone such as me, “Are you suggesting that people who don’t follow the teachings of the Church are in error?  There’s a part of me that wants to answer,  “I am not suggesting anything,  I’m saying it outright!” But here too the phrase seems to serve a relativist climate where people “suggest” rather than say, or claim. But let me be clear, as one NOT influenced by relativism to a large decree, when I am asked a question, I state an answer. I do not suggest an answer, and neither should you, at least when it comes to faith or morals.  Do not suggest the faith, Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

OK, can we talk?? Here’s my short list of annoying lexicon. What do you want to add?