Our Lady of Fatima – Her Prophecies and Warnings Remain as Essential as Ever!

fatimaThis week on October 13 and 14th I am in Fatima. Such a profound apparition occurred there, and so accurately prophetic of our times!

Our Lady’s warnings of the consequences if we did not pray and convert have proven to be sadly accurate. She warned of another, more terrible war (World War II). She spoke of great lights in the sky that would serve as a final warning before the terrible war. (They appeared all over Europe just before Hitler invaded Poland, in the form of a stunning display of the Aurora Borealis.) She said that Russia would spread her errors, that the Church would have much to suffer, and she warned of a pope who would be struck down.

A final and belated prophecy from Fatima seems to have come in the form of a letter written by Sister Lucia to Cardinal Carlo Caffara. He had written to her asking for her prayers as he had been commissioned by Pope John Paul II to establish the Pontifical Institute for the Studies on Marriage and the Family. The year was 1981. According to Cardinal Caffara, she wrote back with the following:

[T]he final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, she added, because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. And then she concluded: however, Our Lady has already crushed its head. [*]

Thus, from Fatima comes one accurate prophecy after another. Here we are today, locked in a terrible battle over the most basic units of any civilization: families and the marriages that form them. Fatima, the great prophecy of our time and a summons to sobriety and prayer!

Something else that has always intrigued me about Fatima is the name of the town itself. Fatima is a town bearing the name of the daughter of Mohammed; this is so stunning! Why of all places would Mary appear there? Is it just coincidence? If you think so, you have not pondered that everything about the apparition of Fatima is prophetic.

The great Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book The World’s First Love, reflected on its significance and posed a few questions. Please note that the book was written in 1952 and therefore some of the spellings are not the modern ones. Here are some excerpts:

The Koran, which is the Bible of the Moslems, has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception, and also, in her Virgin Birth … The Koran also has verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. Angels are pictured as accompanying the Blessed Mother and saying, Oh Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth. In the 19th chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. There is such a strong defense of the virginity of Mary here that the Koran in the fourth book, attributes the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary.

Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatima is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary.

This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too.

Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

Missionaries, in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ himself is born. In any apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which the people already accept. Because the Moslems have devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and develop that devotion, with the full realization that our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a “traitor,” in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, bit will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son.

A beautiful reflection by Archbishop Sheen and one we can surely hope will come to pass! Relations are much tenser between Christians and Muslims today than in 1952. But Fatima is the apparition that just keeps prophesying.

It is nothing less than astonishing that Mary should appear in a town with the name of Fatima. Surely this is no mere coincidence. As Sheen points out, Heaven does nothing without purpose. It is very clear to me that we are not to pass over this detail. “Our Lady of Fatima” has a different ring to it when we consider that Fatima is more than a place; Fatima is the daughter of Muhammad and the greatest woman in Islam. “Our Lady of Fatima” sounds and feels so different when it is heard in this context of person rather than place. It is hugely significant.

It seems clear that Mary will play an important role in the years ahead as the Muslim/Christian conflict likely grows sharper. Perhaps, as Sheen notes, she will be the bridge that connects two vastly different cultures; the common mother who keeps her children talking. Right now this connection seems little pursued, even (as far as I can tell) by the Vatican.

The Guadalupe connection – I wonder, too, if the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe presents some historical parallels to our current struggle with the Muslim world. In the early 16th Century in Mexico, missionaries had made only meager progress in bringing the Aztec people to Christ. This was a combination of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the indigenous people by the Spanish soldiers, and also of the fearful superstition surrounding the Aztec gods. The people were locked in with the fear that unless they fed these gods with horrific human sacrifices, their greatest god, the sun, would no longer shine.

Into this fearful and suspicious setting entered Mother Mary. The miraculous image she left in 1531 was richly symbolic. Her face is that of a mother: gentle and compassionate, unlike the appearance of the frightening Aztec gods, who wore fierce masks. Her features seem to be both Aztec and European, two cultures combined in kindness and peace. Her attitude is one of humble prayer, so she is clearly not a god(dess). She is a merciful mother who consoles and prays for us. She is to be honored but not adored. The black band around her waist means that she is with child and offers Jesus to the people. Her message is about Him. The sun was the greatest of the Aztec gods, so by standing in front of it, Mary shows that she is greater than even their greatest god. To the Aztecs, the moon represented the god of darkness and death. That Mary is standing on the moon is a sign that these powers, too, are defeated by the Son she bears.

Mary brought the breakthrough. Within ten years, over twelve million Mexicans came to Christ and entered the Catholic Church.

This history is paralleled in many ways today in the current tensions with the Muslim World. In many Muslim lands today, conversions are few. Part of the reason for this is a strong aversion to the Western culture from which Catholicism comes. Many Muslims also hold grievances due to alleged American and Western “mistreatment.” Finally, a large factor is fear. In many parts of the Muslim world, leaving the Muslim faith is likely to get one killed. So, it is a combination of a wide cultural gulf, grievances, and fear that keep conversions low. All of this is not unlike the situation in 16th century Mexico.

Is Mary key to this? It took Mary to bridge all these similar gaps between the Aztecs and the Christian missionaries. Might Mary also be that bridge today when similar gaps divide people? Time will tell, but one of her greatest modern titles is “Our Lady of Fatima.” And then there is the crescent moon, upon which Mary stands in the image of Guadalupe. In modern times the crescent moon is the symbol of Islam. By God’s grace, and with love and humility, Mother Mary of Guadalupe was victorious in overcoming the false religion of the Aztecs.

Might this crescent moon on which Our Lady of Guadalupe stands also point to our times and the crescent moon of Islam? Might it indicate that her victories, by God’s grace, are not at an end? Perhaps we can hope that what our Lady of Guadalupe was to the Aztec people of Mexico, Our Lady of Fatima will be to the Muslim people of the world.

As always, I invite your comments and answers to my questions.

Here is “Immaculate Mary,” sung in Arabic:

On Being the Adult in the Room

Happy dancing people silhouettes

In the Letter to the Ephesians, St, Paul has this to say:

And [Christ] gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ (Eph 4:11-15).

Coming to maturity is a basic task in the Christian walk. We are expected grow and come to an adult faith. The Letter to the Hebrews has something very similar to say:

You are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:11-14).

However, we live in times and in a culture in which maturity is often significantly delayed. In fact there are many in our culture who never grow up. I have argued elsewhere that one of the defining characteristics of our culture is its fixation on the teenage years. In psychological terms, a person with a fixation is one who has not successfully navigated one of the stages of childhood and thus remains stuck to some degree in the thinking and patterns of that stage. Our culture’s fixation on teenage issues and attitudes is manifest in some of the following:

  1. Irrational aversion to authority
  2. Refusal to use legitimately use the authority one has
  3. Titillation and irresponsibility regarding sexuality
  4. General irresponsibility and a lack of personal accountability
  5. Demanding all of one’s rights while avoiding most of one’s responsibilities
  6. Blaming others for one’s own personal failings
  7. Being dominated by one’s emotions and carried away easily by the passions
  8. Obsession with fairness, evidenced by the frequent cry, “It’s not fair!”
  9. Expecting others (including government agencies) to do for me what I should do for myself
  10. Aversion to instruction
  11. Irrational rejection of the wisdom of elders and tradition
  12. Obsession with being and looking young, aversion to becoming or appearing old
  13. Lack of respect for elders
  14. Obsession with having thin, young-looking bodies
  15. Glorification of irresponsible teenage idols
  16. Inordinate delay of marriage and widespread preference for the single life

Now it is true that some of the items in the list above have proper adult versions. For example, the “obsession with fairness” can mature and become a commitment to work for justice; aversion to authority can mature to a healthy and respectful insistence that those in authority be accountable to those whom they serve. You may take issue with one of more of the above and may wish to add some distinctions. It is also true that not every teenager has all of the issues listed above. All that is fine, but the point here is that the culture in which we live seems stuck on a lot of teenage attitudes and maturity is significantly delayed on account of it.

Some may also allege a kind of arrogance in my description of our culture as “teenage.” I accept that it is a less-than-flattering portrait of our culture and welcome your discussion of it. But if you reject my categorization then how would you describe our culture? Do you think that we live in a healthy and mature culture?

The call to maturity and the role of the Church – In the midst of all this is God’s expectation (through His Scriptures) that we grow up, that we come to maturity, to the fullness of adult faith. Further, the Church is expected, as an essential part of her ministry, to bring this about in us through God’s grace. Notice that the Ephesians text says that Christ has given Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, to equip the holy ones unto this. The Church is thus expected to be “the adult in the room.” She is to summon us to live responsible, mature lives. She summons us to be accountable before others, to be sober, serious, and deeply respectful of God’s authority over us by living lives that are obedient to the faith. She teaches us, by God’s grace, to master our emotions and gain authority over our passions. She holds forth for us the wisdom of tradition and the teachings of the Scriptures, insisting on reverence for these. She insists on correct doctrine and (as the text from Ephesians says) that we no longer be infants, tossed by the waves of the latest fads and stinking thinking, and that we not be swept along by every wind of false teaching arising from human illusions. We are to be stable and mature in our faith and judge the world by it.

Yes, the Church has the rather unpleasant, but necessary, task of being the adult in the room when the world is mired in things teenage, often exhibiting aversion to authority and rules, and crying out that orthodox teaching is “unfair” or “old-fashioned.”

But here we encounter something of an internal problem. The Church has faced the grave temptation to “put on jeans” and adopt the teenage fixations. Sadly, not all leaders in the Church have taken seriously their obligation to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry … until we all attain to the unity of faith and … to mature manhood and the … full stature of Christ.” Preferring popularity to the negative cries that our teachings are “unfair,” many teachers and pastors have succumbed to the temptation to water down the faith and to tolerate grave immaturity on the part of fellow Catholics. Although it would seem that things are improving, we have a long way to go in terms of vigorously reasserting the call to maturity within the Church. Corruptio optimi pessima (the corruption of the best is the worst). Clergy and other Church leaders, catechists, and teachers must insist on their own personal maturity and hold one other accountable in attaining it. We must fulfill our role of equipping the faithful unto mature faith by first journeying to an adult faith ourselves.

The Church is not composed only of clergy and religious. Lay people must also take up their proper role as mature, adult Christians, active in renewing the temporal order. Many already have done this magnificently. But more must follow and be formed in this way. Our culture is in dire need of well-formed Christians to restore greater maturity, sobriety, and responsibility to our culture.

By God’s grace, we are called to be the adult in the room.

I realize that this post may cause controversy. But remember, this is a discussion. I am not pontificating (even though my name is Pope). I am expressing my opinion and trying to initiate a discussion based on a text from Scripture. What do you think?

Here’s a video (from a more mature time) on one aspect of maturity: proper self-reliance. It’s a little corny, but it does model something that is often lacking in families and in youth formation today. We should not usually do for others what they can and should do for themselves. Learning consequences as well as the value and need for hard work is part of maturing. And while there is an appropriate reliance to have on others and a complete reliance to have in God, there is also a proper self-reliance in coming to maturity.

Beware the Strangest Idol of All – A Reflection on How Even Works of Charity Cannot Eclipse Obedience to Christ

052515There is a passage in the gospels that breaks conventions and cuts to the core of what has come to be called the “Social Gospel.”  Before looking at the passage we need to define “Social Gospel.” The phrase “Social Gospel” emerged in the Protestant denominations but has also come to be used in Catholic circles as well. The Social Gospel is an intellectual movement that was most prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement applied Christian ethics to societal problems, especially injustice, inequality, alcoholism, crime, racial tension, poverty, child labor, labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war.  Basically stated, if faith was to be real it must address these issues and be relevant to those who suffer these maladies.

So far, all true. But then comes this very troubling gospel passage. It breaks the conventional wisdom that the service of the poor is the first priority of the Church. It obnoxiously states that there is something more important than serving the poor. To be sure, serving the poor is essential, but this gospel says that something else is even more important. How can this be so? Who said such a thing? And that brings us to the text:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”  (Matt 26:6-14)

The other gospels contain this account as well (Mark 1 and John 12). John attributes the objection only to Judas and reckons that it is on account of his greed. Mark and Matthew attribute the objection to all the disciples present. Even more interesting, all three gospels link this to Judas’ decision to hand Jesus over. It obviously shocked the disciples—especially Judas—to hear Jesus speak this way.

There is simply no other way to describe this gospel than “earthshaking.” The reader surely expects Jesus to agree that extravagance toward Him should be jettisoned in favor of serving the poor. Had He not said that judgment would be based on what we did for the “least of my brethren” (cf Matt 25:41ff)? Why does Jesus not rebuke the extravagance and demand the perfume be sold and the money given to the poor? It is a shocking gospel, an earthshaking declaration: “The poor you shall always have.”  But there it is, glaring at us like some sort of unexpected visitor.

What is the Lord saying? Many things to be sure, but let me suggest this essential teaching: Nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the service of the poor, takes precedence over the worship, honor, and obedience due to God. Nothing. If the service of the poor takes precedence over this, then it becomes an idol—an idol in sheep’s clothing—but an idol nonetheless.

A seminary professor of mine, now deceased, told me many years ago, “Beware the poverty of Judas.” What does this mean? Fundamentally it means that the care of the poor can sometimes be used in an attempt to water down Christian doctrine and the priority of worship. The Social Gospel, if we are not careful, can demand that we compromise Christian dogma and the priority of proclaiming the gospel.

Let me be clear, the Social Gospel is not wrong per se. But like anything else, it can be used by the world and the evil one to draw us into compromise and to the suppression of the truth. The reasons for this suppression are always presented as having a good effect, but in the end we are asked to suppress the truth in some way. Thus the Social Gospel is hijacked; it is used to compel us to suppress the truth of the gospel and to not mention Jesus.

Perhaps some examples will help. Let me state at the outset that I am supplying generic examples here. Although they are based on real-world examples, I am not mentioning names and places because it is not the purpose of this blog to engage in personal attacks of other people’s struggles to uphold the gospel. I cannot and will not supply specifics. This is about you and me, not merely other people. It is easy for us to condemn others for their faults and fail to look at ourselves. Hence I offer these examples in humility, realizing that I also struggle.

  1. A large diocese in the United States is offered the opportunity to serve drug addicts. The price of admission is that the diocese coordinate a “needle exchange program,” which helps addicts shoot up without contracting AIDS. The government funding is substantial and may enable treatment programs for poor addicts, which may lead to their sobriety. The only downside to such a program is that some other addicts may be enabled in their self-destructive behavior and encouraged by the clean needles to shoot up. Church teaching does not permit us to do wrong even if good may possibly come from it. Nevertheless, the diocese accepts the money, handing out clean needles to addicts, but using the money to serve others. The poor are being served! Shouldn’t we look the other way? Is serving the poor an absolute good or do we owe God obedience first? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even poor drug addicts? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  2. A bishop from a moderately large diocese is confronted with the fact that he has not rebuked the local senator for his votes to fund abortion for the poor using federal money. The bishop responds, “But he is with us on important social legislation and we cannot afford to alienate him.” The senator in  question does surely support substantial funding of programs that the Church supports, programs such as housing for the poor, aid to families with dependent children, drug treatment programs, affordable housing initiatives, etc. The senator is a great advocate for these issues that the Church supports. The only problem is that he thinks it’s OK to fund the killing of babies in their mother’s womb. The bishop reasons that it is not good to alienate this senator, who “is with us on so many issues.” He fails to rebuke the Catholic senator and urge him to repent. “The Church would lose too much; the price is too high. We would not be able to serve the poor as well without his support. The senator might not vote for the bills that fund programs we support. We need to compromise here; the poor are depending on us. Surely Jesus will understand.” And thus Church teaching yields to the need to serve the poor. Surely it is good to serve the poor. But at what price? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the poor?  Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  3. In several large cities, Catholic Charities runs adoption programs. Lately, city and state governments have begun to demand that Catholic Charities treat “gay” couples on the same basis as heterosexual couples. In order to receive government funds that help Catholic Charities carry on its work of service to poor children looking for a stable family, Catholic Charities will have to agree to set aside Church and Scriptural doctrine that homosexual unions are not only less-than-ideal for children, but sinful as well. If Catholic Charities wants to continue to serve these poor children at all, it must deny the teachings of Christ and His Church. Is this too high a price to pay in order to be able to serve the poor? What do you think? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  4. Many Catholic hospitals receive government funds to treat the poor. But lately the government is demanding, in certain jurisdictions, that Catholic hospitals dispense contraceptives, provide abortion referrals, and cooperate in euthanasia. Remember now, the poor are served with these monies. Should the hospital compromise and take the money? Should it say that these are OK, thus enabling it to continue serving the poor? What is more important, the poor or Jesus and what He teaches? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the poor who come to hospitals for service? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  5. Catholic Charities is offered the possibility of getting a large amount of money to serve the homeless. But there is a requirement that Jesus never be mentioned. Catholic Charities must remove all crucifixes, Bibles, and any references to Catholic teaching. Now remember, the poor will be served with this money! It’s a lot of  money to walk away from! What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the homeless? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?

In the end, we are left with these questions:

  1. How far do we go in serving the poor?
  2. The service of the poor and addressing the issues they face are essential works of the Church, but do they trump worship and doctrine?
  3. Should Church teaching bend to the demands of the government in order to serve the poor?
  4. What does Jesus mean in the gospel above when He teaches that anointing Him is more important than serving the poor?
  5. What is the Church’s truest priority? Is it the truth of the gospel or is it serving the poor?
  6. What if these two things are in conflict? Which is chosen over the other?
  7. Given the gospel above, what would Jesus have us choose as our first priority?
  8. When large amounts of money are made available to the Church to serve the poor, but at the price of compromising or hiding the truth of gospel, what should the Church should do?
  9. Why?

The Social Gospel is essential. It cannot merely be set aside. But the Social Gospel cannot eclipse the Full Gospel. A part, even if essential, cannot demand full resources and full obedience—not at the expense of the whole or the more important!

Money and resources to serve the poor are essential, but they are still money and it remains stunningly true that we cannot serve both God and money. In the end, even serving the poor can become a kind of idol to which God has to yield. It is the strangest idol of all, for it comes in very soft sheep’s clothing, the finest wool!  But if God and His Revealed truth must yield to it, it is an idol—the strangest idol of all.

 While I do not agree with everything in this video from a few years back, it presents well the temptations that Catholic Charities faces:

What Does the Arrest of St. Paul at Philippi Teach a Sometimes-Timid Church?

“Saint Paul imprisoned at Philippi” oil on canvas by Leonaert Bramer Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

In daily Mass we are following the missionary journeys of St. Paul. Yesterday we heard of his going over to Macedonia and of the baptism of the first “European” converts: Lydia of Thyatira and her family.

Unfortunately, in today’s reading (Tuesday of the 6th Week of Easter) important lines are cut out that describe why Sts. Paul and Silas were in jail. The whole story serves as a metaphor for the radical nature of true Christianity and explains why it so perturbs many in this world. The Christian faith, its message, and the transformation it can effect can be very unsettling to a world that literally and figuratively “banks on” sin. Let’s consider this lesser-known story of Paul and see what it ought to mean for us if we take the Christian faith seriously and do not try to “tame” it. We pick up the story just after the baptism of Lydia, when Sts. Paul and Silas encounter a possessed slave girl, whom tradition sometimes calls “Pythonissa the Soothsayer.”

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks (Acts 16:16-24).

Note the heart of the problem: St. Paul, in setting the slave girl free of her demon, has deprived her “owners” of the income they were deriving from her sad state. They were banking on her sad condition and profiting from her trouble. In the name and power of Jesus Christ, St. Paul sets her free. His action draws deep anger from the “owners.” He has rocked their world and touched their pocketbooks. They see the Christian message as revolutionary, disconcerting, threatening, and deeply unsettling.

It is a threat not only to profit but to power. In having Paul arrested, they stir up the hatred and fear of others as well, indicating that Paul is not merely preaching some “strange new religion” but is advocating customs forbidden to Romans. The word “customs” here in Greek is ἐθη (ethe) and refers to “religious rites or forms of worship.” Cicero, in De Legibus ii. 8,  wrote, “No person shall have any separate gods, or new ones; nor shall he privately worship any strange gods, unless they be publicly allowed.” While the Romans often overlooked the private worship of unapproved gods, they were strictly forbidden from publicly proclaiming new and unapproved deities, as this provided an occasion for dissension and controversy.

And, frankly, the charges against Paul and Silas were true enough. In the healing they brought about, they hindered profit. Further, they were openly proclaiming that Jesus was Lord. To our ears that is a religious proclamation, but to Roman ears it was a provocative and revolutionary statement. It was directly contrary to their proclamation that Caesar was Lord. Yes, Paul, Silas, Luke, and the others were shaking the ground in Philippi. While they were not advocating the overthrow of any government, they were announcing a power greater than Caesar, a higher King who demanded first loyalty: Jesus!

This is not the tame and domesticated proclamation of the faith that is so common today. This is not the faith that is trimmed to fit into worldly categories and to be tucked under political, philosophical, and moral preferences. This is the faith that shakes the world and brings a revolutionary challenge to the world’s priorities. Yes, Paul and Silas were a serious threat.

And what of us today? We have gone through a long period during which the faith could be lived quietly and generally fit quite well into the world in which we lived. Harmony and “getting along” were highly prized. Particularly here in America, Catholics wanted to reassure the general populace that our faith in no way hindered us from being full participants in the American scene and that we could fit right in and be just like everyone else. With the election of the first Catholic president back in 1960, we could say that we had finally made it and had been fully accepted. Finally we fit in.

Of course the culture was not in such disrepair in those days and there was a fairly wide moral consensus rooted in the Judeo-Christian vision. Now that we have finally “made it,” the fire of our distinctively Catholic culture seems to have faded away. At the same time, Western culture has also largely died. (Is it a coincidence?)

In recent years, so-called Catholic universities and other institutions have been caving in to pressure. They are affording marriage benefits to same-sex bedfellows and succumbing to the HHS mandates to provide contraceptives and abortifacients. This is sad, pathetic, wrong, and cowardly—hardly the revolutionary faith that got Paul arrested.

And now we are coming full circle. We must rediscover how revolutionary our Catholic faith truly is to this world gone mad. And as we proclaim healing and profess an allegiance to something other than this world, we will become increasingly repugnant to the world around us.

Let’s consider more thoroughly the two offenses for which Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned:

1. They ate into profits. Paul drove a terrible demon out of a slave girl, a demon that afflicted her but profited her “owners.” In this world today there is a lot of trafficking in sin and addiction. Terrible demons afflict many people in the areas of sexuality, drugs,  and alcohol. But there’s a lot of money to be made. Sex sells. Hollywood movie producers, pornographers, purveyors of contraceptives, pimps, escort services, abortionists, and even traffickers in the sex-slave industry feed at the trough. Drugs and alcohol are big money-makers as well. Huge numbers of products are sold using the demon of fear that says things like, “You’re not pretty enough,” “You’re not healthy enough,” “You’re getting old,” “You don’t drive the right car,” “You haven’t impressed your friends enough,” “You need to buy our product right away so you’re not so pathetic.” And thus the demon of fear and low self-esteem is exploited along with the demon of greed.

But what would happen if the Church were to start preaching unabridged Christianity effectively? You don’t need to be afraid of your health, your age, or what people think of you. You can find serenity in Christ so that you won’t need all that extra alcohol and those drugs. You can be set free from your enslavement to sex. You can take authority over your passions and discover the beauty of traditional marriage. What if we got back in the business of driving out demons?

Of course the answer is that we, like Paul, would be (and are) under attack. We are especially hated by the sex industry and the abortionists since those are hot-button issues these days. To them we are public enemy number one. We threaten the vision, the addiction, and the despair that fills their coffers. If we are too successful (and for now our successes are meager) their profits may go away. Yes, we must be dealt with.

But we will only be effective if we preach the unabridged faith, not the faith that is tailored and tucked under worldly priorities, not the faith that insists on being “realistic,” not the faith that makes endless apologies to the inevitable objections of the world no matter how much we water things down. The true faith is revolutionary in the freedom it offers from sin and demons.

Paul and Silas didn’t end up in prison by preaching a watered-down, tamed moral vision. They unabashedly drove out a demon that was afflicting a girl and in so doing they engaged in a revolutionary threat to a world that profits from sin.

2. They threatened power. Calling Jesus, “Lord,” was a revolutionary threat to incumbent power, which demands full loyalty. And thus today, many strive to make Catholics fit into neat little political categories. Both Republicans and Democrats want the Church to fit into their narrow little categories and to march in lockstep with their party platform. Even many Catholics want the Church to conform. Many Catholics in fact are more loyal to their party than to the Church and are more passionate about their political views than their faith. If there is a conflict between a Church teaching and the party line, guess which one usually gives way!

But in the end, the Church will not fit into some neat and tidy political category. The true faith is too revolutionary to fit into some worldly box.

And thus there is a lot of hatred and anger directed at the Church. Republicans say we’re too liberal; Democrats say we’re too conservative. More and more we are being kicked to the curb; our very right to religious liberty is being threatened. Religious exemptions to increasingly pernicious laws are slowly being removed and the number of lawsuits against Catholic institutions is increasing. And it will surely get worse as secular systems demand increasing loyalty. The Church must refuse that loyalty.

Jesus is Lord; the government is not. Jesus is not Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. He is God, and the faith He announces cannot be watered down or compromised to fit into a friendship with the world.

Tame, domesticated Christianity will not threaten or change this world. When Paul preached, the people rioted. Modern preaching too often incites only yawns and indifference.

What should we learn from St. Paul’s arrest at Philippi? That the true faith is revolutionary and hits the world right where it hurts: in the profit and power centers. As the world becomes increasingly secular, the revolutionary aspect of the faith will become more evident.

Are you ready?

Photo Credit: The Bible in Pictures

In this video Fr. Barron comments on the movie “The Matrix,” which depicts an interesting Christian motif. The Matrix is a machine from which people need liberation. The solution can only happen when someone from outside the Matrix (Neo) enters in and announces liberty, dies, rises, and defeats the Matrix.

An Image of Grace and the Church in a Paul Simon Song

Newborn babyI’ve got my Gospel Glasses on, and my Holy Hearing Aids, and I’m seeing and hearing God in strange places. There are several Paul Simon songs that register holy thoughts to me, even if he didn’t mean them that way. One them is this one (followed by commentary from me) :

When I was a little boy,
And the devil would call my name
I’d say “Now who do you think you’re fooling?”
I’m a consecrated boy
I’m a singer in a Sunday choir

Refrain: Oh, my mama loves, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Like she loves me like a rock
She rocks me like the rock of ages
And loves me
She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me

When I was grown to be a man
And the devil would call my name
I’d say “Now who do you think you’re fooling?”
I’m a consummated man
I can snatch a little purity

And if I was president
and the congress call my name
I’d say “Who do you think you’re fooling?”
I’ve got the presidential seal
I’m up on the presidential podium

Commentary wearing my Gospel glasses and holy hearing aids:

When I was a little boy, and the devil would call my name. For we we live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, with fallen natures. And even the youngest find it the thrice fallen forces reach them. Scriptures are clear to say that the devil is prowling through the world like a roaring lion seeking souls to devour. We are to resist him, solid in our faith (cf 1 Peter 5:8) And thus the next line reads

I’d say “Now who do you think you’re fooling?” And thus there is a power within the soul to refuse Satan’s voice. Where does this power come from? It comes, first from our freedom, form our will. It also comes from the voice of our conscience, the voice of God that echoes in the depths of our soul saying, This is the way walk in it (Is 30:21). Yes, even the youngest children know basic right and wrong. It is not hard to appeal even to the youngest children to understand what they’ve done wrong. But because of the weakness of our human nature and our tendency toward selfishness and to justifying sin, we need additional help. And thus, the song goes on to say.

I’m a consecrated boy; I’m a singer in a Sunday choir – This describes a young man who has been consecrated in baptism and is walking within the life and Sacraments of the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism, and the life of the Church give additional insight to understand that the voice of the devil seeking to fool, to deceive us. But human soul and intellect illumined by the consecration of Baptism and strengthened by the fellowship of the Church, with other Sacraments of the Church, further strengthen us to be able to say to the devil:

“Who are you fooling? I have been consecrated, and I’m living my life in the light of God’s truth as expressed in the Church. I see your darkness for what it is, and I am not fooled.  It is error, it is deception, is darkness, it is not the light! I am no fool because, consecrated in baptism, the wisdom of God is reached me.”

Oh, my mama loves, she loves me. She get down on her knees and hug me, oh she loves me like a rock. She rocks me like the rock of ages,  And loves me. She loves me, loves me, loves me, loves me  – And this mama is Mother Church, who loves us as a mother. She is our mother because we have come forth from her womb, the baptismal font, having been conceived by the chaste union with her beloved Spouse, Jesus.

She is Mother Church, Christ’s bride, and Oh how She loves us. Down on her knees in prayer for us, she reaches out and embraces us. Yes, she loves us!

It will be noted, that the word “love” occurs seven times in this refrain from the song. She loves us sevenfold. Is it the seven sacraments? Is it the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is it the seven corporal works of mercy? Is it the seven spiritual works of mercy? Yes! And more besides. It is love in all its perfection.

And in her sevenfold, prayerful love that embraces us, she loves us like a rock. This is the rock of Peter upon whom Christ, the Rock of ages builds his Church.

The song goes on to say in the second verse:

When I was grown to be a man – And thus, all of us are called the maturity of Christ where in Scripture says:

  • We [must] all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So may we no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of erroneous doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph 4:13-14)
  • Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Cor 14:20)

Hence, our Mother Church raises us to be mature in the fullness of Christ’s truth.

And the devil would call my name – But still the devil calls, he does not give up, and thus we must remain ever vigilant so the text still says: “I say now, who do you think you’re fooling?”

I’m a consummated man. Yes, we are called to full maturity in Christ, as stated above.

I can snatch a little purity And yet again, the strength to resist the devil comes from the maturity and purity that come to us in our walk with Christ and by the ministry of his Bride and our Mother the Church. The purity, and maturity of our faith, help us to see even more deeply how the devil tries to fool us and we can reject him in strength, certainty, and clarity.

Note the text says a “little” purity, for purity is not granted us merely to fight the devil, but also for our own sake.

Oh, my mama loves, she loves me  Yes she does! The Church just keeps on loving us. Sadly, many walk away from the Church in young adulthood. But for those who come to maturity in Christ, a capacity to refuse the devil who’s ever stronger requires a even stronger capacity to say “Who do you think you’re fooling?” This comes through our maturity wrought in us by our Mother the Church who raises us up in the faith to be strong and mature, who teaches us the Word of God, bestows His sacraments, and gives us Holy Teaching. Thank you, Mother Church, for loving me like a rock!

The last first gets a little strange, and we must interpret it allegorically, not politically.

And thus the text says:

And if I was president  In other words, even if I should rise to the highest worldly power, even should I become a great leader…

And the congress call my name – While to modern American ears this refers to the people gathered in Washington in Congress,  for better or worse,  the word “congress,” of itself comes from two Latin roots:  con (with) + gradi (to go). Thus “congress”  means “to be together with,” or more literally,  “to go out with.”

The Scripture often warns of those who gather against us and that they are often gathered by Satan himself. Jesus warns of the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 3:9; 2:9), and “synagogue” is just the Hebrew word which means gathering or “congress,”  The book of Psalms also warns of those who gather against us:

Rise up Lord against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.Let the assembled peoples (Synagogus) gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high.Let the Lord judge these people. (Psalm 7:7-8)

Hence, in life, the devil often calls our name through pressure groups, and temptations to popularity, or those together against us tempting us to do wrong. And thus this song verse reminds, that even should I rise to the highest places, and many gather about me pressuring me to do wrong, or trying to intimidate me with fear, yet still will I say to the devil: “Who do you think you’re fooling?!”

I got the presidential seal – That is, I have the highest seal, the seal of the Holy Spirit!

I’m up on the presidential podium  That is, I have the office of prophet, the highest office, I am one who speaks for God by this office! And despite the hatred of the world that comes from proclaiming God’s Word, and the gathering of my enemies round about, yet still will I proclaim God’s word as God’s prophet!

Yes, and through whatever hatred comes from those who gather against me:  My mama loves me she loves me like a rock Yes, I have the love of my Mother the Church, and my Lord Jesus Christ,  Who is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.

Well,  you say, this is all a bit much! And your interpretation is surely far from what the author probably ever intended. Fair enough, but with my gospel glasses I see Christ everywhere. With my holy hearing aids I hear Jesus all the time!

In the Midst of Much Blood God extended a Rose. A Meditation on Guadalupe and Mother Mary

121313-PopeReflecting on this evening of the great feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, I am mindful of the first reading we had today from the book of Revelation the 12th chapter.

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed.” (Rev 12:1-10)

I. DRAMA – And in this great passage, there is a kind of a pulling back of the veil,  a disclosure of what is really going on: A great and cosmic battle is set up that reaches up and outward, across the generations, across the nations and empires of this world.  and also down into the close quarters of every human heart. It is the great battle between the darkness and light, between the great Red Dragon and the Lord of Glory.

And in the midst of this great battle,  there is a great sign in the heavens. There stands a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars about her head. She brings forth a Son, destined to rule the nations with the rod of iron; destined to crush the Dragon, with the heel of his foot.

Many seek to localize the descriptions of the book of Revelation either in the First Century or the end of time. But they are fulfilled both then and now. For this great struggle was then, is now, and will continue until Christ shall come again in glory to definitively apply the victory he is already won.

This great cosmic battle and drama explains most of the struggles you see about you and within you. It explains the insanity of war, retribution, violence, unchastity, abortion, and every threatening evil afflicting our young people today. It explains our greed, and our unreasonable fears and suspicions, our cynicism and the fact that so often we are just plain mean.

But this drama in Revelation also shows the the woman clothed with the sun, Mary, and her child Jesus. And thus, this drama also explains our love, our thirst for justice, our appreciation of beauty and truth, our capacity to care, to forgive, to live chastely and uprightly.

There is a beautiful movie, released last year that describes this great drama and its title is The Blood and the Rose. I had wanted to show this movie to my parish, but the company charges too much for the license.  But the title describes beautifully how in the midst of a bloody and violent world, the Lord often extends a rose, His mother.

There she is at the beginning  at at the foot of the Cross, with all it blood. There she was at the turning back of Muslim invaders at Lepanto. There she is at Guadalupe in the face of bloodthirsty Aztec gods. There she is at Fatima between two horrible wars.

But in the midst of all the blood, all the drama the Lord extends a rose, his mother.  Her message is never complex, it is simply the Gospel: repent and believe the good news. Yes, do whatever my Son tells you. Repent, forsake your evil ways, come to a new mind, and begin to live in the kingdom that is now available to you. As a good mother she warns, and says pray, pray, pray. In the midst of the blood of conflict and the dramatic battle between light and darkness, a rose: mother Mary.

II. Dramatis personae. The second thing that occurs to me is the cast of characters and the simplicity of the setting of the great drama. To whom does God extend the rose of his love at the beginning, to whom does Mary trust her message?

The pattern began with the incarnation itself. For God sent Gabriel not to a powerful queen of this world, not to a woman of great access, power or money. Rather to a humble maiden in a town so small that there was no road that even went to it. Nazareth, a town of 300, accessible only via footpath, that is where Gabriel was sent,  to a woman few had ever heard of, to Mary of Nazareth. Some have described this is as a daring raid, conducted secretly behind enemy lines.

And down through the centuries, the pattern is continued. Mary herself most often goes to the humblest and most hidden and humble of people; Juan Diego,  a humble and simple working man. Bernadette Soubirous , a humble peasant girl,  the three children of Fatima. No scholars any of these, not great theologians, not bishops, not kings or queens,  princes or powerful businessman, but the poor, and often children. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. ( 1 Cor 1:27-29)

We tend to think that solutions come through the great and powerful; through the “big cheeses” of this age.  But as is so often the case, the pride of this world will be conquered with humility, and heaven reaches out to the merest children. In the midst of the blood, and horrible roar of war, the rose is extended quietly; to the humble  its message goes forth.

III. Directions- finally an matter, to reflect on this Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe is the direction where it points. And frankly, it points South. The center of the Church has shifted south, and her complexion has become browner.

As the lights go in the West and developed world many other lights are coming on in Africa, Brazil, Korea, and elsewhere.  In Africa especially there has been a  7000% increase the number of Catholics in the past 50 years.

Guadalupe  somewhat signaled this all the way back in the 16th century. For at the very time when Martin Luther was leading a revolution in a revolt against the Church, at the very time when some two million Germans walked out of the church, nine  million Mexicans walked in, in Mexico. In the midst of the bloody Aztec meltdown, in the midst of the blood feuds of Europe,  Our Lady extended a rose in Mexico and the faith lit up in Mexico and Central and South America even as its death-throws began in Europe.

In Europe, in 1917, The Lord, through Our Lady extended a rose. She warned three young Children of a coming war that would be far worse than any every known before. She warned that if people did not repent and pay Russia would spread errors far and wide. But Europe, unlike 16th Century Mexico did not heed her offer and disaster ensued. A disaster that continues to unfold.

But as said, for now, the direction seems south and the Church grows more brown. Mary, whom many Mexicans call La Morena (the dark skinned Lady) extended her rose at Guadalupe.

Surely Africa, and Central and South America are not without their problems. Protestant errors have infected too many and in Africa especially there is a great martyrdom being endured by many Catholics there at the hands of Muslims. There are still problems with corruption in governments, and a lack of resources, but the blood of martyrs the seed for the Church, it is always been, it will continue to be so until Christ comes.

But yes, in the midst of all the blood, in the midst of many difficulties God extends a rose to the poor and humble, the Rose of his Mother Mary.

Happy Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe. For some of you who at times feel discouraged, remember, the beautiful image of the blood in the Rose. Stay calm and Viva Christo Rey!

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed.”

Here is an old song based on an even older text that points to Mary at Guadalupe whom many of the Mexicans call “La Morena” the dark skinned lady. The text translated says,

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
It is said that darkness,
is caused by sin,
but sin was never found in me nor it will ever be.

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
I am the thornless rose,
about whom Salomon rhapsodized:
I am black, and beautiful and for me they will sing.

I am the little dark girl, I’m the dark girl.
I am the flaming bush,
that burns but is not consumed,
nor am I touched by that fire that will touch the others.

A Meditation on Love and Lament for the Church

111813As a priest and pastor I work very closely with others, both clergy, religious and laity, who work for the Church and also volunteer. And of course all of us work for the Church, often for lower salaries than we could command elsewhere, because we love the Church and her people.

But along with that love comes, at times a disappointment, hurt or even disillusionment. Perhaps it is just the local problems of parish that are found in any gathering of human beings: gossip, hurtful actions, hypocrisy, power struggles, wrongful priorities, favoritism, injustice and so forth.

And while these things happen everywhere, many somehow hope there will be less of it in the Church. So who have come to work for the Church began by thinking, “What a wonderful thing, to work for a church (instead of in the cut-throat business world etc). Perhaps they envisioned a place where people prayed together and supported each other more, perhaps a place where there was less competition, and strife.

Alas, such hopes are usually set aside early for any who work for the Church. We are after all running a hospital of sorts. And just like hospitals tend to attract sick people, so the Church attracts sinners and those who struggle. Jesus was found in strange company, such that the Pharisees, were scandalized. He rebuked them saying People who are well do not need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous. (Mk 2:17)

And thus idealistic notions of working in and for the Church often give way quickly when the phone rings with an impatient parishioner on the line, or when two group leaders argue over who gets to use the hall, or when the pastor is irritable and disorganized, or when the maintenance engineer is is found to be drinking on the job, or certain members of the choir are making anything but harmony, or when some parishioners who are favorites get attention and access from the old guard leaders, and newcomers are resisted.

And then, of course there are the more serious and wider issues such as the betrayal of clergy sexual abuse; or the deep disappointments that sometimes come from a lack of courage and leadership from bishops and priests; the scandal of dissent in the highest levels such as universities, seminaries and so forth; the acceptance of money from questionable sources; questionable partnerships with anti-life and and anti-Catholic organizations; the breakdown of discipline; the strange severity over some infractions, and the almost total laxity toward other problems. The list could on.

In all these sorts of situations, be they mere irritation, disappointment or deep disillusionment, I keep a little prayer card near my desk, that I sometimes read for my own benefit, and sometimes to share with those who feel discouraged at what happens (or does not happen) in the Church. At critical moments, I slide the card out and read it to myself or to others, especially those who love the Church and work closely with her.

It is a beautiful mediation for it recalls how great love often generates the deepest disappointments. But in the end, love still abides.

I realize that many who read here have great love for mother Church, and also deep disappointments. And I apologize that I cannot post all your comments in this regard. But I do understand, great love can also provoke great shock and anger. But, at the end of the day, this is a blog that seeks to instill greater love for the Church and for faith, not to further inflame anger.

That said, we all know that people disappoint, and thus the Church, filled with people, disappoints too. I DO understand even if I cannot always grant the forum desired to vent those concerns.

Consider however the following words. They are perhaps overstated in places. But love has its excesses. Take these words as a kind of elixir that, even if excessive, will hopefully speak to the pain that love sometimes causes. But in the end, love is what remains. Here are the words I often share with those freshly hurt:

How baffling you are, Oh Church,
and yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer,
and yet how much I owe you!
I would like to see you destroyed,
and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal
and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.
I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity,
more compromised, more false,
and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,
and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you,
because I am you, though not completely.
And besides, where would I go?

Would I establish another?
I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,
for they are the same faults I carry in me.
And if I did establish another,
it would be my Church,
not the Church of Christ. – Carlo Carretto in “The God Who Comes”

Yes, where else would I go?

A Word of Encouragement in one of Jesus’ Stranger Sayings

110313It’s one of the stranger dialogs that occurs in the Gospel. We read it last week in daily Mass and it is difficult not to rejoice in the aplomb of Jesus has he says it.

Some Pharisees, likely disingenuous in their motives, approach Jesus  to warn him that he needs to leave immediately: Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you. Jesus, more likely speaking to them, rather than Herod, says the following:

Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. (Lk 13:32)

Surely Jesus has more in mind here than the next three days on the calendar. He’s obviously speaking of the Paschal mystery, of his passion, death and Resurrection. He is saying in effect, to any who would threaten to kill him, that in so doing, they only serve to undermine their own wickedness and power, and to cause him to fulfill his own purposes.

For nailing him to a cross, he will be on that cross casting out demons and bringing healing. The next day he will descend to Sheol to awaken the dead, summon them to righteousness, and bring healing in life. And on the third day, he arises fully accomplishing his purpose and casting off death like a garment.

There is no way that Herod, or the Pharisees, or Satan himself can win, for in “winning,” they lose.

So also for all who would align themselves with the darkness rather than the Light. For no matter how deep the darkness, the dawn inevitably comes and scatters the darkness, the darkness cannot win. Scripture says The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:5)

And in this strange and provocative saying of Jesus, comes important perspective for all of us. The perspective is this, that evil, no matter how powerful it seems, cannot stand, it will ultimately self-destruct and be overcome by the Light. No matter how awful Good Friday seemed to those first disciples, Jesus, by his own description, was casting out demons and bring healing in that very act of suffering. And his apparent disappearance into death, and down into the place of the dead, was only for the purposes of turning out the Devil’s trophy room, and bringing life into the place of the dead, and healing to the deep wounds caused by sin.

And while Resurrection Sunday manifest an obvious triumph of Jesus, even Good Friday and Holy Saturday were already manifesting his great victory.

In this saying of Jesus, and in the facts of the Paschal Mystery two things are taught to us about evil: one, that we should never glamorize evil, and two, that we should not utterly fear it.

As for glamorizing evil, we love our movies and other things in culture which often glorify evil, whether it is series like “The Untouchables,” “The Godfather,” “Good Fellas,” or perhaps other movies that simply and in a general kind of away exult wrongdoing and equated it with power and glory.

But this is illusion, for evil has its day, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. One of the Psalms says,

I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again; he was gone. I searched; he was nowhere to be found. (Psalm 37:35-36)

And therefore neither should we glamorize evil, nor should we inordinately fear its passing power. Yes, we should soberly confront it, and resist its evil demands, but we should not fear it.

No, evil cannot stand. To glorify evil or fear it inordinately, is to miss both Scripture’s lesson and history’s lesson. At the end of the day, evil does not last.

What does last, is God’s holy Word and his Church. Despite repeated attempts to persecute, diminish and destroy the Church she has outlived every one of her opponents. And her history extends back even more than 2000 years into the heritage of God’s people, the Jews. For his word to Abraham persists, and God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and gave his Word on Mount Sinai. And despite every attempt to ridicule, reduce and redefine God’s Word, his promise to Abraham, his Word from Sinai or His Word from The Sermon the Mount, all these persist and ring through to this day.

This is what lasts, this is what persists, God’s Word, and the Church he founded. This is verifiable by the study of history. Empires have come and gone, wicked philosophies risen and diminished, scoffers and persecutors arrived and departed, all in the age of the Church. And here we are,  and they have gone. And those who claim power now, and laugh at us and say our day is done, when they are gone, we will still be here.

I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again; he was gone. I searched; he was nowhere to be found. (Psalm 37:35-36)

Evil and error, pride and perversion, do not last. But God does, and so does his Word and the Church to which he has entrusted his Word.

And thus Jesus, when threatened by the Pharisees and indirectly by Herod,  simply says:

Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. (Lk 13:32)

In other words, neither you nor Herod can thwart my plans. In killing me you merely assist me to accomplish my plan. In killing me I will break the the back of your power. And when you persecute my disciples, or shed the blood of my Church members, you are sowing seeds for the Church by the very blood of the martyrs you spill. Whatever victory you claim, it is hollow, for it is really my victory.

Yes, Go tell that fox, I accomplish my purpose. And by these words the Lord decodes history for us. I doesn’t matter how we might wish to obsess over this loss or that apparent defeat, it doesn’t matter how the world and devil might wish to gloat over an apparent victory, in the end, the Lord holds the cards, and the house, his House, always wins.

It is true, read history. Do not admire evil or fear its apparent ascendance. Jesus has won, and his victory is shown time and time again. Don’t let the Devil fake you out, do not be deceived evil cannot stand. The devil is a liar.

Indeed, in the name and power of Jesus, Go and tell that fox [the devil], ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. (Lk 13:32)