An Image for the Church in a Car Commercial

The commercial below says this about the car it is advertising:

    • Three out of four people say this much horsepower is excessive.
    • Three out of four people are wrong.
    • If we were for everyone, we’d be for no one.

We can say something very similar about the Church:

    • Three out of four people say our teachings are excessive, unrealistic (or even impossible), and outdated.
    • Three out of four people are wrong.
    • If we sought to please everyone or agree with everyone, we’d be for no one.

The Church does not exist to reflect the views of her members, to please them, or to satisfy the world. Rather, the Church exists to reflect the teachings of her head and founder, Jesus Christ, and to please Him.

Would that we leaders of the Church were as plain-spoken, confident, and clear as is this commercial.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: An Image for the Church in a Car Commercial

What Was Moses’ Sin?

At Thursday’s daily Mass (Thursday of the 18th week of the year) we read of the sin that excluded Moses from leading the people to the Promised Land. While there are some mysterious elements to it, one thing seems clear: the grumbling of the people got on Moses’ nerves. Indeed, grumbling often affects more than just the one doing the complaining. Through it, infectious negativity can be set loose. Even if only a small number are grousing, it can still incite discontent, anger, and/or fear in others. Yes, the people nearly wore him out. At a particularly low moment, when the people were complaining about the food, Moses lamented to God,

Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,” to the land that you swore to give their fathers? … I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness (Numbers 11:11-12, 14-15).

Moses was so dispirited that he preferred to die rather than continue on in this way. In his weariness, he spoke rashly, and God excluded him from leading the people into the Promised Land:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this wretched place which has neither grain nor figs nor vines nor pomegranates? Here there is not even water to drink!” But Moses and Aaron went way from the assembly to the entrance of the meeting tent, where they fell prostrate.

Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:2-12).

Many have pondered the precise nature of Moses’ sin and why the punishment for it was so severe. A few different explanations have been posited:

    • Moses sinned by not following the Lord’s instruction. The Lord told Moses to take his staff in hand and bid the rock to bring forth water. He was told to speak to the rock, but instead he struck it—twice. The striking of the rock, while not specifically directed according to the passage in Numbers, does not seem particularly egregious; in fact, in another description of this event (see Exodus 17:6) God does tell Moses to strike it. The Fathers of the Church (e.g., St. Jerome) did not view this as sinful, even interpreting the striking of the rock twice as a sign of the two bars of the cross.
    • Moses exhibited sinful pride. Having assembled the people, Moses reviled them, saying, “Hear now, you rebels!” He then continued, perhaps pridefully, “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Neither Moses nor Aaron can bring forth water, however; only God can do that. Some of the Fathers of the Church interpreted this not as pride on Moses’ part but rather as an indication of the wavering of his faith.
    • Moses sinned by speaking harshly and rashly. Psalm 106 seems to favor this interpretation. They angered the Lord at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips (Psalm 106:32-33).

This third explanation leads us back to the heart of our meditation: grumbling causes harm to the ones who grumble and to others who hear it. Moses was worn out by their complaining; as Psalm 106 says, his spirit grew bitter. He spoke rashly and reviled the people; in a flash of anger, he may also have yielded to sinful pride.

Why God punished him so severely is somewhat mysterious. St. Basil the Great used it as an object lesson to us all: “If the just man is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” (Preface on the Judgment of God).

Whatever the reason for the drastic punishment, behold what grumbling does. It fuels discontent and bitterness. Be careful, fellow Christians; we can all succumb to the temptation to draw others into our anger, doubts, dissatisfaction, and fears. After all, misery loves company. Sharing concerns with friends is good and necessary, but this must be tempered by the knowledge that too much can harm them and us. A steady diet of grumbling is not good for anyone.

Grumbling, grousing, and complaining seem to be all around us. In our relative affluence, we often expect or even demand comfort. We are very particular about the way we want things to be, and often expect that it be made so without much if any effort on our part.

Moses was worn down by the constant grumbling of the people. Be cognizant of the toll that such behavior takes on others. Practice gratitude, an important antidote to the poison spread by grumbling.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Was Moses’ Sin?

God’s Warning to the Slothful and Fearful

In daily Mass (Wednesday of the 18th week of the year) we hear of the grumbling that sentenced the ancient Jews to wander in the wilderness for forty years. They forfeited the very blessing they left Egypt to obtain.

God had promised them a land of their own, a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. At the critical moment, when God was ready to give it to them, they balked; they doubted. In their fear, they grumbled that taking the land might be risky or require effort. You would never know that God had just delivered them, parting the Red Sea, feeding them with miraculous food, and supplying them with water. All of this was forgotten, and they doubted that He could deliver on His promise. Let’s recall the incident:

God brought them near the borders of Canaan and through Moses instructed them to survey the land in preparation for taking it.

Moses gathered twelve men, one from each tribe, and said to them,

Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land (Numbers 13:17-20).

They returned with magnificent fruits but gave this discouraging report:

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan” (Numbers 13:27-29).

Only Joshua and Caleb displayed trusting faith.

Caleb said,

“Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).

Joshua said,

“The land which we passed through to spy it out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them (Numbers 14: 8-10).

 

Sadly, the reaction of the group was fearful:

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:1-4).

They want to go back to Egypt? Really? The God who parted the Red Sea can’t deliver the Promised Land? Apparently, they don’t think so. We may be shocked at their unbelief, but we should recognize that we, too, are of little faith despite innumerable blessings and signs of God’s love and will to save us. We worry when challenges beset us, wondering, can God come through? We sing hymns of faith at Mass and recall His deliverances, past and present, but in the face of bad news, we quake with fear and then grumble that God permits any test of us at all.

At this point, God has had enough. He says to Moses,

“How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”(Numbers 14:11-12).

Moses intercedes and God “relents” in the most severe of His plans. However, God tells him, in essence, that the people are not ready to enjoy His promises.

“I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live … none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea” (Numbers 14:20-25).

In effect, God is saying that if you don’t want what He offers, you don’t have to have it. If you consider the cost too high or the effort too great, then don’t bother. Go on living in the desert and fleeing your enemies. If you don’t want my help or what I offer, then enjoy the wilderness; it’s all yours. By the way, I see that the Amalekites and the Canaanites are nearby. You’d better start running. Retreat to the Red Sea!

If we refuse to trust in God, our fears will rule us. The only remedy to the enslaving effects of fear is trust and abandonment to God’s will. Our sinful flesh wants control, not trust. It wants to be confident on its own terms, not God’s.

For many people today, the spiritual warfare necessary to obtain Heaven is altogether too much effort. Perhaps we instinctively know that it will involve giving up some of our favorite sins or confronting our fears and sinful drives. Instead of zeal for the sake of the joy of Heaven before us, we yield to sloth (sorrow at or aversion to the good things that God offers us). The battle seems too difficult, the price too high. We begin to prefer the desert of this world to what God offers. We do this even knowing that this world is a sorrowful exile, a valley of tears. Heaven seems to be just too much trouble and our passions too strong to conquer. Never mind that God promises sufficient grace to win the spiritual battle. In fear, we doubt His power, despite the evidence of countless saints who have overcome.

We often grumble, saying that God is not fair or that He should not demand any effort of us. We claim that our fears are His fault due to the challenges involved rather than our fault because of our lack of trust.

Our grumbling leads to fumbling and to forfeiting our blessings—all because we will not trust God. Scripture warns,

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test though they had seen my works. Forty years I endured that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not know my ways.” Therefore, I swore in my anger, “They shall not enter my rest” (Psalm 95:7-11).

We who would put God to the test are ourselves being tested. Are we cowardly or courageous? Will we engage the battle or make peace with the world? Only the courageous will inherit the Promised Land; the cowards are condemned to die in and with the world they love more than Heaven.

St. Paul warns,

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:1-13).

Do not grumble. Do not fear. Engage the battle! God’s arm is not shortened; His grace is sufficient. Trust Him who is able to save. The choice is yours. If you do not trust Him, your lot will be to live in the desert, always running from your enemies. It is clear: to grumble is to fumble. To be negative is to negate our faith; it is to block our blessings.

Count your blessings, and count on God!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: God’s Warning to the Slothful and Fearful

Discovering the Pattern of Our Life in the Paschal Mystery

We ponder many things on the Feast of the Transfiguration, among them the pattern of our life. Peter, James, and John saw the glory of Christ there, but only after a difficult climb up Mount Tabor. Peter wanted to remain there, but the Lord said, in effect, “No, we must go down this mountain and eventually up another, Calvary, which is the way to true and lasting glory.” We, too, go through this pattern of climbing (the cross) followed by beholding success and glory (the resurrection). This is the Paschal mystery and it is the pattern of our life, gor we are immersed into the life of Christ.

St. Paul speaks often of the Paschal mystery, the Christian life. Let’s consider one brief example on two levels: the individual and the Church.

Level One: The Individual

We are frequently asked, “How are you?” and often respond by saying, “I’m doing OK,” but consider, fellow Christian, the truest answer to this question, which St. Paul supplies:

Always carrying about in our bodies the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).

As Christians, the Paschal mystery is our life. We are immersed in the dying, rising, and ascending of Jesus. At every moment of our life, the great Easter mysteries of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection are at work. With Jesus, we are ascending to the Father.

This cycle may go on several times each day as both good and bad things happen to us or around us. The pattern is also evident in the longer term: there are challenging and difficult years in our life as well as ones that are more serene and joyful. Yes, we die, and we rise with Christ. This is the Paschal mystery; this is our life.

We experience trials, difficulties, disappointments, losses, and even devastation. This is the dying of Christ. That dying, however, leads to new life, and so we rise with Christ. It may take “three days” in the tomb, but if we are faithful, we rise, not just to where we were before, but more alive in Christ Jesus. As the old Adam dies in us, we gradually experience the New Adam, Christ Jesus. The old life that dies is replaced by the fuller life of Christ.

Unless the gain of wheat falls to earth and dies to itself it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it [rises and] produces abundant fruit (Jn 12:24).

Consider how much greater the mighty oak tree is compared to the acorn that fell to earth and “died.” There is hardly a resemblance at all. So it is that the life of the New Adam is incomprehensibly greater than the life it replaces: the dying life of the old Adam.

We are dying, and we are rising, but it is not a simple trade off, for in all of it we are ascending higher and higher with Jesus. The next time someone asks you how you’re doing, surprise him with a paraphrase of St. Paul’s answer: “Always carrying about in my body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in me.” Yes, the Paschal mystery is writ into the life of each one of us.

Level Two: The Church

In the same passage, St. Paul writes on another level, that of the Body of Christ, the Church. Referring to himself and his sufferings, imprisonments, and difficulties, he says,

So death is at work in us, but life in you. … We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; … Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God (2 Cor 4:12, 8-9; 15).

St. Paul views his suffering (and that of others in the apostolic band) as being for the sake of others in the Church. He suffers so that they might have faith and life. Historically this has been the case: The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church (Tertullian). Some in the Church have suffered and died so that others might have faith and life. One of the hard but freeing truths of life is that your life is not about you. The ink of the Creed is the blood of martyrs. We ought never to forget how much others have suffered so that we might have faith.

This is the Paschal mystery writ large: some in the Church are suffering while others are thriving and experiencing growth. The Church, the Body of Christ, is dying and rising. St. Paul says,

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake … (1 Cor 4:9-10).

Indeed! Of the first thirty-three popes, thirty died as martyrs, two died in exile, and only one died in his own bed. Today’s bishops, at least in the United States, typically live a comfortable life, protected and surrounded by layers of staff; yet many of them are cautious in the face of conflict. St. Paul calls bishops and pastors to be willing to suffer for the flock if necessary.

Many in the Church today are suffering, although this is often goes unnoticed by the vast majority of people (to remedy this, read regularly here: Today’s Martyrs). Through their sufferings the Church obtains mercy and continues to grow. The blood of martyrs is still seed for the Church. In the often-decadent West, we should be somewhat embarrassed at how others are willing to suffer loss, imprisonment, and even death for the faith, while we can barely get ourselves out of bed in time to go to Mass on Sunday.

The Lord has designed His Body, the Church, such that some do suffer, do carry the weight, so that others may thrive and grow. We should be grateful for these sacrifices, often hidden from us, though not from God. From them comes life for the rest of us. It is the Paschal mystery writ large!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Discovering the Pattern of Our Life in the Paschal Mystery

Which Do You Prefer: Melons and Leeks, or the Bread of Heaven?

The first reading for daily Mass on Monday (18th week of the year) was taken from the Book of Numbers. It features the Israelites grumbling about the manna in the wilderness:

Would that we had meat for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna (Numbers 11:4-5).

While it is easy to be astonished at their insolence and ingratitude, the scene presented depicts very common human tendencies; it is not unique to these people once in the desert. Their complaints are too easily our own.

Let’s look at some of the issues raised and note that many of us today struggle in the same way.

I.  They prefer the abundance of food and creature comforts that come along with slavery in Egypt, to the freedom of children of God and the chance to journey to the Promised Land. Too easily, this is our struggle as well. Jesus points to the cross, but we prefer the pillow. Heaven is a nice thought, but it is in the future and the journey is a long one.

It is easy for us to prefer our own version of “melons and leeks.” Perhaps it is possessions, or power, or popularity. Never mind that the price we pay for them is a kind of bondage to the world and its demands. When the world grants its blessings, we become enslaved by the fact that we have too much to lose. We are willing to compromise our freedom, which Christ died to purchase for us, and enter into bondage to sin. We will buy into lies, commit any number of sins, or perhaps suppress the truth—all in an attempt to stay popular and well-connected. Why? Because we have become so desperate for the world’s blessings that we will compromise our integrity or hurt other people just to get those things we think we can’t live without.

We don’t like to call it bondage, though. Instead, we call it being “relevant,” “modern,” “tolerant,” and “compassionate.” Yes, as we descend into deeper darkness and greater bondage to sin and our passions, we are pressured to call it “enlightenment,” “choice,” and “freedom.” Although we use different terminology, it is still bondage for the many who are afraid to break free from it.

We are in bondage to Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. We prefer that to the freedom of the desert, with its difficult journey to a Promised Land (Heaven) that we have not yet fully seen. The pleasures of the world, its melons and leeks, are displayed to us in the present and available for immediate enjoyment.

The cry still goes up: Give us melons; give us leeks; give us cucumbers and fleshpots! Away with the desert. Away with the cross. Away with the Promised Land, if it exists at all. It is too far off and too hard to reach. Melons and leeks, please. Give us meat; we are tired of manna!

II. They are bored with the manna. While its exact composition is not known, it would seem that manna could be collected, kneaded like dough, and baked like bread. As such, it was a fairly plain substance, meant more to sustain than to be enjoyed.

Remembering the melons, leeks, and fleshpots of Egypt, they were bored with this plain manna. Never mind that it was miraculously provided every day by God in just the right quantity. Even miracles can seem boring after a while. The Lord may show us miracles today but too easily do we demand even more tomorrow.

We are also somewhat like children who prefer brownies and cupcakes to more wholesome foods. Indeed, the Israelites’ boredom with and even repulsion to the miracle food from Heaven does not sound so different from the complaint of many Catholics today that Mass is boring.

While it is certainly true that we can work to ensure that the liturgy reflects the glory it offers, it is also true that God has a fairly stable and consistent diet for us. He exhorts us to stay faithful to the manna: the wholesome food of prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and stable, faithful fellowship in union with the Church.

In our fickleness, many of us pursue the latest fads and movements. Many Catholics wonder why we can’t we be more like the mega-churches that have all the latest bells and whistles: a Starbucks, contemporary music, and a rock-star-like pastor delivering a sensitive, toned-down, multimedia sermon with many promises and few demands.

As an old spiritual says, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months, they’s all turned out!” Yes, some will leave the Catholic Church and other traditional forms that feature the more routine but stable and steady manner, in favor of the latest and greatest. They often find that within six months they’re bored again.

While the Church is always in need of reform, there is a lot to be said for the slow and steady pace as she journeys through the desert relying on the less glamorous but more stable and sensible food: the manna of the Eucharist, the Word of God, the Sacred Liturgy, prayer, and fellowship.

III. Who feeds you? Beyond these liturgical preferences of many for melons and leeks over manna, there is also a manifest preference for the food of this world. There is a tragic tendency for many Catholics—even regular church-goers—to get most of their food not from the Lord, Scripture, and the Church, but from the Egypt of this world.

Most dine regularly at the banquet table of popular entertainment, secular news media, and talk radio. They seem to eat this food quite uncritically! The manna is complained about, but the melons and leeks are praised without qualification.

While Christians cannot wholly avoid all contact with the world or eschew all its food, when do the melons and leeks ever come up for criticism? When do Christians finally look closely and say, “That is not the mind of God!” When do they ever conclude that this food is inferior to what God offers? When do parents finally walk into the living room, turn off the television, and tell their children that what they have just seen and heard is not the mind of God?

Tragically, this is rare. The food of this world is eaten in amounts far surpassing the consumption of the food of God. The melons and leeks of the world are praised, while the manna of God is put on trial for not being like the food of this world.

For a Christian, of course, this is backwards. The world should be on trial based on the Word of God. Instead, even for most Catholics, the Word of God and the teachings of the Church are put on trial by the standards of the world.

The question is this: who is it that feeds you? Is it the world or the Lord? What proportion of your food comes from the world and what from the Lord? Which is more influential in your daily life and your thinking: the world or the Lord? Who is really feeding you, informing you, and influencing you? Is it the melons and leeks of this world or is it the faithful, stable, even miraculous manna of the Lord and His Church?

These are some probing questions for all of us, drawn from an ancient wilderness. Tired of the manna, God’s people harmed themselves and others. It is easy to blame others for the mess we’re in today, but there are too many Catholics who prefer the melons and leeks of this world and have failed to summon others to the manna given by the Lord.

Have mercy on us, Lord our God. Give us a deep desire for the manna you offer. And having given it to us in abundance, help us to share it as well!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Which Do You Prefer: Melons and Leeks, or the Bread of Heaven?

A Reflection on the El Paso Shooting

As I write this (late Saturday evening), the deadly shooting in El Paso is only hours old and the facts are still being sorted out, but evidence is mounting that this was motivated by hatred for Hispanics and immigrants. Such incidents have become all too common in the United States, and, frankly, the death toll from them in recent years (in the U.S.) has far exceeded that rooted in Muslim extremism. The enemy is within.

In the cauldron of anger that America has become, violent rampages are now weekly occurrences. Overt or barely repressed anger seems to be the new normal in America. Without civil discourse rooted in shared values, it is easy to resort to invective, demonizing, and fearmongering. The sickest among us drink this poison and succumb to it.

Saddest of all, it is doubtful that an event like this will cause us all to stop and seek the way of peace; it is more likely to have the opposite effect. The blame game began on the national news almost immediately after the reports started coming in. Speculation went directly to how this incident will benefit or hurt various national political figures. Major networks were running to presidential candidates to get their reactions. Some of the victims had not even breathed their last before the whole matter had been politicized. Talking heads were being lined up to give “expert analysis” on who is to blame, how this will influence the ongoing gun-control debate, whether this should affect immigration policies, whether the incident demonstrates that America is a racist nation, and/or whether this should be viewed as the solitary action of a lunatic. Many will want to know who should have seen this coming but did not report concerns. There is and will be a lot of heat but very little light.

We are all to blame in some sense. To some degree we all contribute to this bubbling cauldron of hostility, to the rage that is often no longer below the surface. Almost no one will own up to his own role or that of his particular faction, however. It’s the other side; they are the ones to blame: It’s Antifa’s fault; no, it’s the white supremacists who are to blame; no, it’s illegal immigrants; no,  it’s Trump; no, it’s the Democrats; no, it’s the Republicans; no, it’s the NRA.

My fantasy is that the President, congressional leaders of both parties, and other key leaders would all gather and declare a time of prayer, fasting, and cooling off. Imagine each of them saying something like this:

I am partially to blame for this and so is my party. We have contributed to the atmosphere of anger and blame that has driven some individuals beyond the boiling point. I realize that I harbor too much hatred for my opponents. I have failed to listen to them. I have failed to express my disagreement with them in a respectful manner. I have engaged in personal attacks or have repeated those of others. I have demonized my opponents and delighted when others did so. Yes, I and my party have contributed to the epidemic of anger in this country. Admitting my part, I reach out to my political adversaries and ask them to consider theirs; I suggest that we are all to blame. I hereby commit to engage in self-scrutiny and to curb my personal attacks on those with whom I disagree; I ask my opponents to do the same. I would like to participate in a month of national mourning, repentance, and reparation for the damage that has been caused and to which I have contributed. May God have mercy us and grant us a time of peace and change.

I know this is naïve, and perhaps I sound “preachy,” but I can dream, can’t I? Even if none of these public figures will do such a thing, what about us? Is it possible for you and me to watch our words and our behavior? To avoid ascribing the worst of motives to those with whom we disagree? To stop eagerly passing on every rumor and allegation we hear or read? We will never all have the same position on every issue, but can we express our disagreement with respect and charity?

Unfortunately, the more likely outcome of today’s shooting is that the anger and blaming will escalate even further. And then in about a week’s time there will be another shooting, and we’ll go through this all over again. [Update: Before this “went to press” there was another shooting, this time in Dayton, Ohio. Apparently my “in about a week’s time” was too optimistic.]

Things are getting hot in the U.S., but although the “warming” is man-made, it has nothing to do with climate change. Satan thinks the weather in America today is just fine.

Help us, Lord, and may the dead rest in peace, far from this angry, overheated world.

When evil days are upon us and the worker of malice gains power, we must attend to our own souls and seek to know the ways of the Lord. In those times reverential fear and perseverance will sustain our faith, and we will find need of forbearance and self-restraint as well. Provided that we hold fast to these virtues and look to the Lord, then wisdom, understanding, knowledge and insight will make joyous company with them [From the beginning of the Letter attributed to Barnabas (Cap. 1, 1-8; 2:1-5: Funk 1, 3-7)].

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Reflection on the El Paso Shooting

You Can’t Take It with You, but You Can Send It on Ahead! Five Teachings on Wealth

This Sunday’s Gospel is not merely a warning against greed; it is a teaching on income and wealth given by Jesus to help us root out greed. The Gospel begins by presenting the problem of greed and then prescribes the proper perspective on wealth.

I. The Problem that is Portrayed The text begins, Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Notice that Jesus turns to the crowd (to avoid limiting his cautionary advice to just the one man) and warns without ambiguity that we all must guard against greed. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. It is to want possessions inordinately, beyond what is reasonable or necessary.

Greed is often downplayed today; accumulation and the ostentatious display of wealth are often celebrated. Massive houses, fancy cars, and the latest electronic gadgets are shamelessly flaunted.

Greed is at the root of a lot of evils and much suffering. Scripture says,

For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs (1 Tim 6:7-10).

These are strong words indeed. Greed causes us discontent and ungratefulness, both of which are signs of unhappiness. It also leads us into temptations, into snares or traps that set loose harmful desires that seem to expand in ever increasing ways. This inordinate desire for more too easily leads us to personal destruction and to inflicting harm and injustice upon others.

On account of greed we almost never say, “I have enough; I will give away the rest or use it for the benefit of others.” Greed is also a reason that many people wander away from the faith; because wealth is generally tied to this world and its demands, and they feel they have “too much to lose,” they set aside faith in favor of the world; greed overrules God and the demands of the gospel.

II. The Perspective that is Prescribed The Lord does not simply condemn greed; He goes on to relate a parable that illustrates the proper perspective on wealth. Wealth is not evil in itself, but without the proper perspective it is easy to fall into greed. The parable contains five teachings on wealth to help us to keep it in proper perspective and to avoid greed.

1. The INITIATION of wealth The text says, There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.

Notice that it is the land, not the man, that yields the increased harvest. Whatever we have has come from God. Scripture says,

          • But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18).
          • The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).
          • Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17).
          • What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Cor 4:7)

We must never forget that God is the true owner of all things; we are merely the stewards. There’s a 1980s Christian song with these appropriate lyrics: “God and God alone created all these things we call our own. From the mighty to the small the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone.”

God provides the increase and is the initiator of every blessing, but He remains the owner. As stewards, we are expected to use what belongs to God in accord with what He, the true owner, wills. It is easy to forget this and thereby usher in many woes.

What is the will of God regarding our wealth? The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of God’s will in this matter as the “universal destination of goods.”

The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. … “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.” The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family (Catechism 2402, 2404).

If we remember that we are stewards of God’s gifts and that He ultimately intends all to be blessed, we can understand that greed is a form of theft, for it inordinately clings to what should be given to another out of justice. If I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor.

Remembering that the initiation of wealth is God, we can help to avoid greed by using our wealth for the purposes He intends. It is not just for us; it is for all people.

2. The INCONVENIENCE of wealth The parable continues, He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?”

The man is burdened by his wealth because he does not consider generosity an option. “What shall I do?” he asks anxiously. Great wealth does bring comfort, but it is also a source of inconvenience. Consider just a few things that usually go along with wealth: locks, alarms, storage facilities, insurance, worries, fears, maintenance, and repairs. We live in an affluent age, but one in which many are overly stressed. Consider also the loss of more important values as we concentrate on the accumulation of wealth. We have bigger houses but smaller families; our increasingly massive residences are really more houses than homes.

Scripture says,

          • The rest of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep (Eccl 5:12).
          • Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it (Prov 15:16).
          • Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife (Prov 17:1).
          • Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless (Eccl 5:10).

Wealth certainly has its comforts, but it also brings with it many inconveniences that make our lives more stressful and complicated. Better to be free of excessive wealth in accordance with God’s will than to be burdened by it.

3. The ILLUSION of wealth- The parable goes on to say, And [the man] said, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry.’”

Here we are taught that riches easily lead us to an illusion of self-sufficiency. We begin to rely more on our own self and our riches than on God.

Riches can buy us out of temporary troubles, but it cannot help with the central problem we face. No amount of money can postpone our appointment with death and judgment. Riches can get us a first-class cabin on the ship, but on the Titanic of this world those in first class are in no better shape than the people in steerage. In fact, because of the illusion it creates, wealth will more likely hinder us in our final passage, for it is only in trusting in God that we can make it to the other shore. Too much wealth and self-reliance can hinder our capacity to call on the Lord and trust Him. Yes, wealth tends to create an illusion that cripples us from reaching our goal. Scripture says,

          • But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings (Ps 49:12).
          • 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 (1 Tim 6:17).
          • Whoever trusts in his riches will fall (Prov 11:28).
          • For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits (James 1:11).
          • Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God (Prov 30:8).

There’s a gospel song that says, “Well the way may not be easy, but you never said it would be, ’cause when my way gets a little too easy you know I tend to stray from thee.”

The illusion of riches is well illustrated in the modern age. Our wealth has tended to make us less religious, less dependent on God. Deep down we know that all the wealth in the world cannot ultimately save us, but we buy into the illusion anyway. Like the man in the parable, we think, “Now I’ve got it; now I’m all set.” This is an illusion, a set up. Coming to recognize that will help us to avoid greed.

4. The INSUFFICIENCY of wealth But God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

Here we see the illusion give way to the reality of insufficiency. Scripture says,

          • There are men who trust in their wealth and boast of the vastness of their riches. But no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end nor avoid coming to the grave. He knows that wise men and fools must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling place from age to age though their names spread wide through the land. In his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beast that perish (Psalm 49:5).
          • For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? (Mat 16:26)

Money, wealth, power, popularity, and prestige can never get us what we need. We have sought so many saviors in this world, thinking they can somehow save us.

          • SCIENCE, can’t you save me? I can tell you how far it is from the Earth to the Sun. I can tell you how to fly in rocket ships into outer space, but I can’t tell you how to climb to Heaven. No, I can’t save you.
          • PHILOSOPHY, can’t you save me? I can tell you more and more about less and less until you know everything about very little. I can tell you about the thoughts and opinions of the greatest thinkers, but no, I can’t save you.
          • EDUCATION, can’t you save me? I can make you smart, but I can’t make you wise. No, I can’t save you.
          • CULTURE, can’t you save me? I can make the world a more beautiful and entertaining place from which to go to Hell, but no, I can’t save you.
          • ECONOMICS, can’t you save me? I can make you richer, but not rich enough to buy your salvation. No, I can’t save you.
          • POLITICS, can’t you save me? I can give you access to worldly power, but the world as we know it is passing away. No, I can’t save you.

At the end of the day, this world and all of its riches cannot save us; only God can.

5. The INSTRUCTION about wealth The parable concludes, Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.

Again, wealth is not intrinsically evil. It is our greed that is sinful and gets us into trouble. Greed clings to wealth unreasonably and excessively. With greed, we “store up treasure for [ourselves] but are not rich in what matters to God.”

What matters to God? What matters is that we be rich in justice, mercy, love, holiness, and truth; that we be generous sharers of the bounty He bestows. The Lord instructs us to share what we have generously, above what we do not need. Consider the following teachings from Scripture:

          • I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9).
          • Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Mat 6:19).
          • 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 Tim 6:17-19).

It is said that you can’t take it with you, but this is only partially true. The Lord suggests that we can send our wealth on ahead, that we can store it up in Heaven, that we can invest it in eternity. Do we put our gold in a balloon and float it up into the sky? No, we send it up, we send it on ahead, by bestowing it on the poor and the needy. This includes our family members, for charity begins at home, but it does not end there. Our generosity should extend beyond the family.

If we do this, the Lord teaches that the poor will welcome us to Heaven and speak on our behalf before the judgment seat. God says that when we bless the poor our treasure will be great, and it will be safe in Heaven. Further, our generosity and mercy will benefit us greatly on the day of judgment and help us to lay hold of the life that is truly life.

So, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In a single parable we have five teachings on wealth meant to give us perspective so that we can avoid greed.

Trust God! Greed is rooted in fear, but generosity trusts that God will not be outdone. While our greatest rewards remain in Heaven, God sends “interest payments” to the generous even now. Scripture says,

      • One man gives freely yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. A generous man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered (Prov 11:24).
      • Cast your bread upon the waters: after many days it will come back to you (Eccl 11:1).
      • Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38).

Guard against greed by allowing these five teachings on wealth to give you the proper perspective.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: You Can’t Take It with You, but You Can Send It on Ahead! Five Teachings on Wealth

What Not to Do, As Seen in a Commercial

I often post and comment on commercials that seem to hint at the gospel or some virtue, but today I focus on one that shows something wrong.

The commercial features a man who is a new father. Apparently, marriage and fatherhood have caused him to lose his “swagger.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines swagger as follows:

to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; especially: to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence [*]

The word also brings to my mind the life of some young, single men: drinking, partying, and generally irresponsible, boastful behavior. This, is course, is not something to be desired.

While youthful vigor may have its place, life is supposed to move in stages. Once a man is married, and surely once he is a father, youthful swagger is hardly appropriate. It is time to leave the single life behind and accept the calling to be a good husband and father.

As a priest I often help younger couples in making this transition. They cannot and should not go on living as they did when they were single. Marriage is a new reality. Nothing helps you to grow up the way getting married and having children do!

This is a good thing, though. Swagger usually bespeaks frivolity, phoniness, and immaturity. Our modern culture holds up youth as an ideal and seems to want to extend adolescence interminably.

In the commercial, the “friend” who comes to rescue his buddy from the world of marriage and fatherhood and get him back his swagger is not a friend at all; he is more of a tempter. There’s nothing wrong with feeling young, but maturing and accepting responsibilities is a good thing, not something from which to be rescued.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Not to Do, As Seen in a Commercial