Men Are More Disinclined to Marry Than Ever – A Reflection on a Serious Problem

A 2012 report on men and marriage by the Pew Research Center shows statistically what many of us have noticed anecdotally: men are finding marriage less desirable than in the past and are now marrying later, if at all.

In today’s post I want to present some excerpts from a hard-hitting article that appeared at Lifesite News in 2013, commenting on the Pew study. The full article can be read here: Men Giving Up on Marriage.

As usual, I present the text from the original article in bold, black italics, while my own poor commentary is in plain red text.

Fewer young men in the US want to get married than ever. … The number of young adult men saying that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things dropped from 35 percent to 29 percent [since 1997].

The latest census data showed “barely half” of all adults in the United States are currently married, a “record low.” Since 1960, the number of married adults has decreased from 72 percent to 51 [percent] today and the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by five percent between 2009 and 2010.

Moreover, the median age at first marriage continues to rise, with women getting married the first time at 26.5 years and men at 28.7 [years]. The declines in marriage are “most dramatic” among young adults. Just 20 percent of those aged 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960.

In my mere 26 years of priesthood, I have seen the number of weddings I perform each year decrease from 35 to 5, and the average age of engaged couples increase from 24 to 31. These are startling changes, and they largely match those experienced by other priests with whom I have discussed the matter.

29 percent of young adult men desiring marriage is an amazingly low figure. The article notes that the things that once motivated men to marry in the past are largely in eclipse now. Men once enjoyed the esteem they garnered by marrying, and were motivated by the challenge of being breadwinners. Getting married was once a proper and approved way of attaining status, and legitimately enjoying sexual intimacy. It was part of the passage to manhood.

But today, many (if not most) women don’t need (or don’t think they need) men to provide for them economically. It’s goodbye to any notion of the esteem of being a provider.

Further, in an age of promiscuity, most men don’t need marriage to open the door to sexual encounters. Only a few “old-fashioned” Catholic priests and traditionalist Catholics raise any eyebrows at men’s “playing the field.” And women as a group (with certain notable exceptions) seem less insistent on expecting men to connect sexual intimacy and marriage.

Add to this the financial bondage introduced by the racket that college education has become. Many young people graduate from college with six-figure debt. And when undergraduate degrees no longer open doors, advanced degrees became necessary, bringing on even more debt.

And finally, add one more thing: pornography. It is more available than ever before. And though it is theoretically more privately accessible than previously, I would point out that there is nothing private about the Internet; Internet service providers know every site you have ever visited.

Sadly, many young men honestly admit that they prefer pornography to real women. Pornography doesn’t talk back or have preferences or moods. Real relationships are complex and require navigation and negotiation. Pornography, it would seem, is a narcissistic paradise. Click through to your current preference; it’s all about you and what you want. And at the end, the object of your fantasy disappears and does not have issues or attitudes with which you must deal.

The overall image is of a cauldron, filled with a witch’s brew or a satanic stew. That men and women marry at all today is increasingly miraculous. I always make a point of congratulating and thanking engaged couples that get to my rectory door for beating the odds and having the gumption to swim upstream.

Pew’s findings have caught the attention of one US writer who maintains that feminism, deeply entrenched in every segment of the culture, has created an environment in which young men find it more beneficial to simply opt out of [marriage] entirely

Suzanne Venker [in her] article, “The War on Men,” … points out that for the first time in U.S. history, the number of women in the workforce has surpassed the number of men, while more women than men are acquiring university degrees. …

With feminism pushing them out of their traditional role of breadwinner, protector, and provider—and divorce laws increasingly creating a dangerously precarious financial prospect for the men cut loose from marriage—men are simply no longer finding any benefit in it. …

“When I ask [men] why, the answer is always the same: women aren’t women anymore.” Feminism, which teaches women to think of men as the enemy, has made women “angry” and “defensive, though often unknowingly.” 

“Men are tired,” Venker wrote. “Tired of being told there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. Tired of being told that if women aren’t happy, it’s men’s fault.”

Most men I know perceive that they are often considered by the wider culture as deficient, even depraved. The “men are stupid” commercials and sitcoms abound. Men are often presented as buffoons, who need women and children to “set them straight” on the simplest of things.

Schools, dominated by feminist ideology, have made a pathology of the normal behavior of boys, which includes competition and roughhousing. They seek to feminize boys, going even so far as to encourage medication for them. Most of these boys merely have the spit and vinegar that was once considered normal, needing to be curbed somewhat rather than suppressed with drugs.

It is little wonder that fewer young men make it to college and are falling behind young women in almost every category. Being told (even indirectly) on a regular basis that you are fundamentally flawed has a significant effect over time.

The article says that feminism has emboldened many women to direct suspicious anger toward men and generally presume that they have bad or evil motives. But it has also caused a lot of men to draw back from the healthy confidence that once bolstered them to go out and seek a wife and to take a leadership role in the community, the Church, and the family.

A feminist culture in effect shames these desires as being “patriarchal.”

This is a situation that should not be celebrated by feminists, Venker says. “It’s the women who lose. Not only are they saddled with the consequences of sex … The fact is, women need men’s linear career goals … in order to live the balanced life they seek.”

Yes, in the end it’s usually the biology that kicks in. Truth be told, men and women are meant to be complementary not competitive. Our very body bespeaks a difference that requires the opposite sex to complement it. The design of women’s bodies speaks to bearing children and nurturing them.

A woman who wants to have and raise children well needs time and flexibility. The 9-to-5 career world does not facilitate that. Thus her husband complements her need by taking up the linear and less-flexible career world, leaving her freer to nurture the children.

This used to be obvious to us. But ideology is often disinterested in the obvious. It may be true that we were once too restrictive, limiting certain jobs and careers to men. But for most women, the freedom to work has become the duty to work, even in the childbearing years. It’s a raw deal for everyone: women, men, and especially children.

The bottom line is, it’s never good for anyone, or for civilization as a whole, when huge numbers opt out of or find no access to our most fundamental building block: the traditional family. We must save traditional marriage if we stand any chance of saving our dying civilization.

For further reading, consider Men and Marriage by George Guilder and Eggs are Expensive, Sperm is Cheap by Greg Krehbiel.

“God Wants Me to Be Happy” – A Reflection on a Deeply Flawed Moral Stance

One of the questionable, and unfortunately common, forms of moral reasoning today is the rather narcissistic notion that God wants each of us to be happy. Sometimes it is put in the form of a rhetorical question: God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He?

And this sort of reasoning (if you want to call it that) is used to justify just about anything. Thus, in pondering divorce, a spouse might point to his or her misery and conclude that God would approve of the split because God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He? Many seek to justify so-called same-sex marriage, and other illicit sexual notions in the same way.

Further, other responsibilities are often blithely set aside as too demanding, under the pretext that God would not make difficult demands because, after all, He wants me to be happy. Since getting to Mass is difficult for me, God will understand if I don’t go; He wants me to be happy, not burdened. Forgiving someone is hard and God does not ask hard things of us; He wants me to be happy. Refusing to cooperate with some evil at work would risk my income; surely God would not demand that I withstand it since He wants me to be happy, content, and financially secure.

The notion that God wants me to be happy thus becomes a kind of trump card, some sort of definitive declaration that obviates the need for any further moral reflection. Practically speaking, this means that I am now free to do as I please. Since I am happy, God is happy, and this is His will … or so the thinking goes.

There are, of course, multiple problems with the “God wants me to be happy” moral stance. In the first place, happiness is a complex matter that admits of many subjective criteria including personal development, temporal dimensions, and worldview. For example, a spiritually mature person can find happiness simply in knowing that he is pleasing God by follow His Commandments. On an interpersonal level, many are happy to make sacrifices for the people they love. To others who are less mature, even the smallest sacrifice can seem obnoxious and bring on unhappiness; pleasing God is not even on their radar, let alone something that would make them happy.

Happiness is also temporally variable. Most of us are well aware that happiness tomorrow is often contingent upon making certain sacrifices today. For example, the happiness one gets in taking a vacation is usually dependent upon having saved up some money beforehand. Making sacrifices today enables happiness tomorrow. If all I do is please myself in the moment, insist on being happy right now, my ability to be happy in the future will likely be seriously compromised. Setting no limits today might mean that I am broke tomorrow, or addicted, or unhealthily overweight, or afflicted with a sexually-transmitted disease. True, lasting, deep happiness in the future often requires some sacrifice today, some capacity to say “No” right now. Without any consideration of the future or of eternal life, “happiness” in the moment is vague, foolish, and meaningless, if not outright destructive. God desires our happiness, all right, but the happiness He wants for us is that of eternal life with Him forever. He has clearly indicated that this will often involve forsaking many of the passing pleasures and the “happiness” of this world.

More troubling still is the self-referential and narcissistic aspect contained in the simple little word “me.” God wants me to be happy.

Those who expresses this “me” notion might be surprised to discover that God has bigger things in mind. God actually cares about other people, too! He also cares about future generations and about the common good. Yes, there’s just a little more on God’s radar than you.

So the divorced man who might say, “God wants me to be happy” should consider that God might actually care about his children too; He might care about the culture that suffers due to rampant divorce; He might care about future generations that would inherit a culture shredded by destroyed families.

Wow, God might actually want others to be happy besides me! Even more shockingly, God might want me to sacrifice my happiness for them! He might actually want me to consider them and even regard them as more important that I am.

As a moral reference point, “me” is remarkably narrow and usually self-serving. And yet many today use this almost reflexively and authoritatively. “God wants me to be happy, so all discussions and further deliberations are over. God has spoken through my desires. He wants me to be happy. Who are you to dispute that? We’re done here; I will not be judged by you.”

“God wants me to be happy” is not a legitimate moral principle. It bespeaks a narcissism that is, sadly, too common today. Call it “Stuart Smalley theology.” You don’t know who Stuart Smalley is? This video shows it plainly enough. The bottom line is, don’t be Stuart Smalley.

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.

The Challenges Are Many but the Charge Remains the Same: Be Authentically Catholic – A Reflection on a Pastoral Letter of Donald Cardinal Wuerl

Being-Catholic-Today-CoverRecently Cardinal Donald Wuerl wrote a pastoral letter to the Archdiocese of Washington setting forth the need to be clear on our Catholic identity. It is entitled Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge.

His essential message is that in an age of conflict and challenge we must be clearly and comfortably Catholic. In the introduction, he states that he does not refer to a merely superficial identity, but rather to an identity that is essential, enduring, and true. We must talk about the identity we receive in Baptism. It cannot be taken away from us.

For indeed there are many who would pressure us to be less than fully Catholic, or bid us to seek our identity in other sources. We cannot do so if we are to remain faithful to the call we have received.

In the context of the pastoral letter, Cardinal Wuerl concisely describes a number of cultural factors today that make our task of living, witnessing, and re-proposing the Gospel more difficult. Naming these factors and coming to know their shape and “moves” helps us to be clear, sober, and strategic as we live in and speak to an increasingly secular world.

In what follows, I list the Cardinal’s descriptions of these challenging factors, though not necessarily in the same order that he presents them (he interweaves the factors creatively with other themes). The summary statements (in bold, black text) are largely mine. The italicized texts are direct quotes from the Cardinal’s pastoral letter. The numbers referenced are the page and paragraph within the document. Because the Cardinal’s purpose was not to fully develop these challenges (but more to list them), I have included a few of my own contextual remarks in plain, red text.

I would encourage you to read the full document, which is available by clicking on the title in the first paragraph above.

Let’s consider the cultural challenges that Cardinal Wuerl lists:

I. Freedom is understood as absolute autonomy

Human freedom—or as sometimes framed in contemporary discourse, “freedom of choice”—when fully and rightly understood, does not mean absolute autonomy to do whatever you want to do. We encounter limits to freedom, some of which are natural and proper, and some of which are wrong. It is in truth, Jesus said, that we are set free (John 8:32). If we do not know or recognize what is true and what is false, then we cannot make an informed and intelligent choice, that is, a free choice. “Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery” (Fides et ratio, 90). If we live a lie, we are not free. Thus, we are free not to do whatever we want to do, but what we ought to do, that is, to do what is true to who we are as God made us to be. Freedom is not exercised in a vacuum. We coexist with others, and so freedom is necessarily a shared freedom. Invariably there will be conflicts of interest and belief (17.4-17.6). Autonomy convinces us that fidelity to faith only restricts us (22.1).

II. Disagreement is equated with discrimination

Disagreement simply cannot be denounced as discrimination. Some commentators see this situation as a uniquely American way to live both freedom and diversity. It rests upon the understanding that diversity is real and disagreement is not discrimination. Such freedom cannot be negated by a newly created definition of discrimination (18.1; 23.2-23.3). Clearly this is a huge problem today. Many expect and even demand approval for behaviors and lifestyles, taking any disagreement with them personally. It is a kind of identity politics wherein some draw their entire identity from a narrow range of behaviors (often related to sexuality). Having done this, they take disagreement very personally, taking offense where none was intended. They then go further to equate disagreement with unjust discrimination that might even demand legal punishment.

III. Secularism

Indifference, de-Christianization, and atheism are found in their most widespread form in secularism. Two generations of secularization have fashioned this time when some do not even know the foundational prayers, or understand the most basic of Catholic devotions. Still others do not sense a value in Mass attendance, fail to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance, and have often lost a sense of mystery (21.2).

IV. Materialism

The Cardinal lists this but does not develop it. Basically, materialism is inordinate concern with that which is physical and material, while that which is spiritual is labeled unreal or even non-existent. It is also related to scientism (the notion that the physical sciences alone are able to account for every reality) (cf. 21.2).

V. Individualism

Individualism demands that we rely on no one but ourselves and our personal needs always take first place (21.2). Individualism is also at the root of relativism, wherein many claim the right to define the world merely as they see it. This view posits that what I think or feel is a sufficient basis for my argument to hold true (at least for me).

VI. Consumerism

Consumerism suggests that our worth is found in the things we accumulate (21.4).

VII. “Sloganism”

Our society prefers to listen in sound bites, rather than in semesters. Slogans replace thoughtful explanations (20.3).

VIII. Indifferentism

Here, too, the Cardinal lists this but does develop it. Indifferentism is a kind of false egalitarianism, which sees one thing as no better than another. It is a notion by which one either refuses to distinguish that which is best from that which is merely good, or even equates that which is bad with that which is good. But if everything is true then nothing is true; if everything is good then nothing is ultimately good (cf 22.1).

IX. Skepticism (Scientism)

Skepticism pressures us to trust only what we can observe and measure, and purports to destroy the classical and time-tested relationship between faith and reason and threatens to reject the basic right to religious liberty and freedom of conscience (21.4).

X. The Sexual Revolution

Sexuality recast as casual and recreational—the attempt to recast human sexuality as casual and entirely recreational has led to an untold weakening of and continued assault on marriage and family life (21.4).

XI. Activism

The popular absorption with constant activity leads us to believe that unless we are always busy and hectic we are behind schedule. In this setting it becomes commonplace to treat the human person as an object to be used and to focus almost exclusively on material gain (22.1).

XII. Entertainment and Popular Culture

The swift decline in standards of entertainment has exposed our youngest children to repeated displays of intense violence (22.1). There is also the tragic robbery of their innocence through pornography and inappropriate sexual content. Added to this are distorted notions of family life and the ridicule of authority and tradition.

XIII. Growing legal pressures to comply

Historically, people have faced many challenges to freely live their religious identity. In many parts of the world, Christians and people of other faith communities simply are not free. For example, in the Middle East, Nigeria, India and elsewhere, churches are being destroyed and Christians are murdered simply because they are Christian. Closer to home, religious freedom is also violated by laws, policies, and practices which seek to restrict us in the exercise of our Catholic ministries. Here in the United States, for example, priests, professors and others on college campuses have already been threatened with disciplinary action for expressing Catholic teaching. Other forms of infringement of religious liberty include government or social demands that we act contrary to our faith (18.3 – 19.1).

XIV. Expansive (intrusive) Government

These contemporary views of life discussed here often seek to bleach out recognition of God and marginalize the Church and limit her freedom and ability to function and live out her Gospel mandate. Added to this are the challenges of direct government interference as well as in some parts of the world, social violence, and persecution (22.2).

XV. Internal Ecclesiological Concerns

When I was a young priest in the 1960s and 1970s, there was much experimentation and confusion in the Church. Teachers and clergy were encouraged by some to communicate an experience of God’s love, but to do it without reference to the Creed, the sacraments, or Church tradition. It did not work very well. Catholics grew up with the impression that their heritage was little more than warm, vaguely positive feelings about God. Those years of experimentation left many Catholics weak, spiritually and intellectually, and unable to withstand the tsunami of secularism that came in recent decades. We lost many people because we failed to teach them about right and wrong, about the common good, about the nature of the human person. This left many no longer able to admit that we are sinners who need Jesus because many no longer know what sin is. This lived experience of people not being fully or correctly presented the truth of the faith illustrates why we are called to the New Evangelization. It also demonstrates why it is so crucial that we reassert and strengthen our Catholic identity, and that our freedom to do so be respected in society and in law (16.1-16.3).

This is a lengthy and vigorous list to be sure, but it is immensely helpful. Our task remains the same, but it is clearer and more necessary than ever before: Teach, preach, and evangelize. Be Catholic—identifiably, authentically, consistently, and comfortably Catholic.

St. Paul gives this charge:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the Word; be prepared to do so in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. But as for you: always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Cardinal Wuerl describes our charge:

We have received something in the Church that is not ours; it is the Lord’s. As his faithful stewards, we are accountable to the Lord, not to the contrary demands of the culture. We need to remain connected to Christ and be true to the mission he has entrusted to us. “Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole,” explains Pope Francis. “Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion” (16.4-16.5).

Be Catholic—wholly, entirely, and integrally. Proclaim the faith Christ has given us. Proclaim it in its entirety, charitably, but without compromise. The world may change, but our charge remains the same: Be Catholic—identifiably, authentically, and completely Catholic.

Only What You Do For Christ Will Last – A Meditation on the Poverty of this World’s Riches

gold-513062_1280In fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel we find the following saying of the Lord:

To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Mk 4:25).

The rich get richer? To one who reads this text from a worldly perspective, it might seem that the Lord is saying, in some fatalistic sense, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But such an interpretation would be incorrect, because it fails to understand that the Lord Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world. Indeed, the fuller context of Mark Chapter 4 is the memorable parable of the seed (of the Word) that falls either on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, or on good soil. Those who have more are those who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold (Mk 4:20).

Thus, the one who has more is the one who has the Kingdom of God, who has faith, who (by faith) has the Lord and the justice of the Lord, and who stands to inherit all of Heaven. He or she is the one who has more.

Note too how the “more” keeps building. To have faith is to have the Lord. To have the Lord is to have saving grace and mercy. To have saving grace and mercy is to grow in holiness and experience greater and greater healing. And to experience this transformation and share in God’s holiness is to be made ready for Heaven.

Yes, those who have the Kingdom are the ones who are rich! They may not have the fancy house, the expensive car, the six-figure salary, the big ego, or the well-coiffed hair. But they are rich in the only way that really matters or lasts: they are rich in the Kingdom.

So who are those who have not? They are the ones who have rejected the Kingdom of God, the Word of God, the grace and mercy of God. They “have not” the Kingdom. And they do not have it not because it hasn’t been offered but because they have rejected it. These are the people who are truly poor, who “have not.”

But notice that the passage says that the “have not” still does have something, for the text says, even what he has will be taken away. Now this means that he has something, but it will not be his for long. For what he has is this world and its vain, passing riches. It is his now, but like sand slipping through his fingers, it will soon be gone. It cannot last no matter how large a fortune he amasses.

Consider carefully what the Lord says here: the world’s riches cannot last. Further, they are all but nothing compared to the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven. The ones who have the Kingdom are those who have and will get more. By comparison, the ones who have this world really have nothing at all, and the little they do have will be taken from them.

Think of a billionaire with numerous homes, corporate jets, luxury yachts, even private islands. He may have amassed a fortune on this planet and own more real estate than even some governments!

But really, what he has is ultimately so little! If you were to go out into space, in fact not all that far into space, you wouldn’t even be able to see Earth. Our billionaire may have amassed a fortune, but it is only a portion of a speck of dust, for Earth is but speck of dust compared to the immensity of everything God has made.

Do you get the point? We tend to get very impressed by what is really very little in the end. And our billionaire possesses this wealth for but a fleeting moment in cosmic time. When his little moment is up, even the little he has will be taken from him.

There is only one way to be truly rich and that is to receive the gift of God and His Kingdom. Only this will last. Only in coming to possess this do we really have something that amounts to anything. Only this will grow until we are truly rich. Only those who have the Kingdom are rich in any true sense of the word. All that others have amounts to very little, and what little they have, since it is of the world, will be taken from them.

This song says, “Only what you do for Christ will last.” Here are some excerpts:

You may build great cathedrals large or small, you can build skyscrapers grand and tall, but only what you do for Christ will last

You may seek earthly power and fame, the world might be impressed by your great name, soon the glories of this life will all be past, but only what you do for Christ will last. 

Remember only what you do for Christ will last.

Only what you do for Him will be counted at the end; only what you do for Christ will last.

To Teach as Jesus Taught – A Reflection on the Qualities of Jesus as Preacher and Teacher

blog.8.31As a priest I am called to preach and teach, and as such I must look to Jesus Christ as my model. In this I refer to the real Jesus of Scripture. Too many people today have refashioned Jesus into a sort of “harmless hippie,” an affable affirmer, a pleasant sort of fellow who healed the sick, blessed the poor, and talked about love but in a very fuzzy and “anything goes” manner. But absent from this image is the prophetic Jesus, who accepted no compromise and called out the hypocrisy in many of His day.

Thus I must look to the real Jesus of Scripture. The real Jesus clearly loved God’s people, but on account of that love could not suffer some limited notion of salvation and healing for them. Rather, He zealously insisted that they receive the whole counsel of God. He insisted that dignity for them that was nothing less than the perfection of God Himself (cf Mat 5:41).

As a teacher, Jesus often operated in the mode of the prophets. Prophets have a way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Truth be told, we are all in both categories. We must be able to accept the Jesus who one moment says, “Blessed are you,” and the next adds, “Woe to you.” Jesus the teacher and prophet will affirm whatever truth there is in us, but, like any good teacher, He will put a large red “X” beside our wrongful answers and thoughts.

Yet despite Jesus’ often fiery and provocative stance, the scriptures speak of his renown as a preacher and the eagerness with which many heard Him.

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28).

Sent to arrest him the temple guard returned empty handed saying: No one ever spoke like that man (Jn 7:46).

And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22).

And the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).

But even Jesus could have a bad day in the pulpit. In Nazareth, they tried to throw him off a cliff for suggesting that Gentiles might have a place in the Kingdom (Lk 4:29). In Capernaum, many left him and would not follow him any longer because of His teaching on the Eucharist (Jn 6:66). In Jerusalem, the crowd said that He had a demon because He called Himself “I AM” (Jn 8:48). And thus Jesus warns all who would teach and preach: Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets (Lk 6:26).

And thus Jesus was a complex preacher and teacher. He was no mere affirmer; He often unsettled and troubled people, even as He consoled and comforted at other times.

Let’s consider some of the qualities of Jesus as a teacher and ponder the sort of balance that He manifests. It is a balance between His love for us, His students, and His zeal to tolerate no lasting imperfection or error in the pupils whom He loves too much to deceive. These qualities of Jesus as a teacher are presented in no particular order. Some are “positive” in the sense of being aspects of His kindness and patience. Others are “negative” in the sense that they illustrate His refusal to accept anything less than final perfection in us.

I. His authority – The Scriptures often speak of the “authority” with which Jesus taught. For example, Scripture says of Jesus, he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Mat 7:29). For indeed the teachers of Jesus’ time played it safe, quoting only reputable authorities in a wooden sort of way. But Jesus taught with authority.

The Greek word translated as “authority” is exousia, meaning to teach out of (one’s own) substance, to speak to the substance of what is taught. Jesus would often say, “You have heard that is was said … But I say to you” (cf Mat 5 inter al). And so Jesus spoke from His experience of knowing His Father and of knowing and cherishing the Law and its truth in His own life. He brought a personal weight to what He said. He “knew” of what He spoke; He did not merely know “about” it.

This personal authority was compelling and, even today, those with this gift stand apart from those who merely preach and teach the “safe” maxims of others but do not add their own experience to the truth that they proclaim. Jesus personally bore witness in His own life to the truth He proclaimed; and people noticed the difference.

How about you? You and I are called to speak out of the experience of the Lord in our own life and to be able to say with authority, “Everything that the Lord and His Body, the Church, have declared is true because, in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested it and come to experience it as true and transformative!”

II. His witness – A witness recounts what he has seen and heard with his own eyes and ears, what he himself knows and has experienced. Jesus could say to the Jews of his time, If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word (Jn 8:55). He thus attests to what he personally knows. He is not just reciting facts that others have said.

In a courtroom, a witness must attest to what he has seen and heard for himself. If he merely recounts what others have said it is “hearsay.” A witness can raise his right hand and say, “It is true, and I will swear to it. I have seen it for myself.”

And thus Jesus could witness to what He had heard and seen, of His Father and of us.

It is true that we cannot witness immediately to all that Jesus could, for He had lived with the Father from all eternity. But, as we make our walk, we can speak to what the Lord has done in our life and how we have come to know Him in conformity with His revealed. Word.

III. His respect for others – The Latin root of the word “respect” gives it the meaning “look again” (re (again) + spectare (to look)). Frequently in Scripture, especially in Mark’s Gospel, there appears the phrase, “Jesus looked at them and said …”

In other words, Jesus was not merely issuing dictates to an unknown, faceless crowd. He looked at them; and He looks at you and me as well. It is a personal look, a look that seeks to engage you and me in a very personal way. He is speaking to you, to me. His teaching in not merely for an ancient crowd; it is for you and for me. He looks to you, and He looks again. Are you looking? Are you listening?

Do you look with respect to those whom you are called to teach, or to the children you are called to raise? Do you engage them by your look of respect and love?

IV. His love and patience for sinners – Jesus could be very tough, even exhibiting impatience. But in the end, He is willing to stay with us in a long conversation. One text says, When Jesus went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them at great length (Mk 6:34). Yes, He teaches us at great length; He stays in long conversations with us. He knows that we are dull of mind and hard of heart, so He persistently and consistently teaches.

Do we do that? Or do we quickly write people off? Jesus had a long conversation with a Samaritan woman who, frankly, was quite rude to Him at first (John 4). He had a long conversation with Nicodemus, who was also at times resistant and argumentative (Jn 3). He had a long conversation with His Apostles, who were slow and inept.

How about us? Are we willing to experience the opposition of sinners, the resistance of the fleshly and worldly? Do we have love and patience for those whom we teach? I have met some great Catholics who were once enemies of the Faith. Someone stayed in a conversation with them. What about us?

V. His capacity to afflict and console – Jesus said, “Blessed are you,” but just as often said “Woe to you.” Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. All of us fall into both categories. We need comfort but are often too comfortable in our sins. A true prophet fears no man and speaks to the truth of God.

Thus for a true prophet (as Jesus was) there are no permanent allies to please and no permanent enemies to oppose. The determination of every moment is based on conformity or lack of conformity to the truth of God. Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah” (Mat 16:17). And He gave him the keys to the Kingdom and the power to bind and loose. But in the very next passage, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mat 16:23)

No true prophet or teacher can say, “Correct,” or “Blessed are you” every moment, because we all fall short of the glory of God! Jesus had absolute integrity when it came to assessing everything by the stand of God’s truth and Word. Do we?

VI. His parables – Stories are an important way to teach. A story that registers with us will rarely be forgotten. It is said that Jesus used more than 45 parables; some are full stories while others are just brief images. He used parables to link His sometimes complex teaching to everyday life and to plant a seed of truth for our further reflection.

What stories and examples do you use? Teachings that consistently fail to make use of these risk being seen as merely abstract and can easily be forgotten.

That said, parables are somewhat like “riddles.” They admit of various understandings and interpretations. A good parable leaves its listener wanting more, seeking a definitive interpretation.

For example, a movie will sometimes have an ambiguous ending, stirring hopes for a sequel that will provide more information. Some stories and parables are compact and definitive. Others are open-ended and ambiguous, craving for an ending.

Consider that the parable of the Prodigal Son is not really finished. It ends with the Father pleading for the second son to enter the feast. Does the son enter, or refuse to do so? This detail is not supplied. That’s because you are the son and you have to supply the answer. Will you enter? Or will you stay outside sulking that if the kingdom of Heaven includes people you don’t like you’d just as soon stay outside.

Parables are powerful, but for various reasons. Learn stories and learn to share them!

VII. His questions – Jesus asked well over a hundred questions in the gospel. Here are just a few: “What did you go out to the dessert to see? “Why do you trouble the woman?” “How many loaves do you have?” “Do you say this of me on your own, or have others told you of me?”

Good teachers ask questions and do not rush to answer every question. A question is pregnant with meaning; it invites a search. The “Socratic method” uses questions to get to the truth, especially on a personal level: “Why do you ask that? “What do you mean by this?” “Do you think there are any distinctions needed in your claim?”

This method makes a person look inward to his attitudes, prejudices, and presumptions. Good teachers ask their students a lot of questions; questions make us think.

Here is a list of one hundred Questions that Jesus asked: 100 Questions Jesus Asked. Read them; they will make you think—a lot!

VIII. His use of “focal instances” – Jesus does not propose to cover every moral situation a person might encounter or teach every doctrinal truth in an afternoon.

For example, many today say that Jesus never mentioned homosexual acts and concludefrom His silence that He must therefore approve of them. Really? He also never mentioned rape. Do you suppose that He approves of rape? Further, He did speak of homosexual acts, through His appointed spokesmen (the Apostles), and thereby condemned them.

But no teacher can cover every possibility, every sin, or every scenario. So Jesus uses “focal instances,” in which He illustrates a principle.

This is most commonly done in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) where, to illustrate the principle that we are to fulfill the law and not merely keep its minimal requirements, He uses six examples or “focal instances.” He speaks to anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of enemies, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And in Mathew 25:31ff, the Lord uses the corporal works of mercy to illustrate the whole of the Law.

These are not an exhaustive treatments. of the moral life. Rather, through the use of illustrations, the Lord asks us to learn the principle of fulfillment and then apply it to other instances.

Good teachers teach principles, since they cannot possibly envision every scenario or situation. Having instructed their students in first principles, they can trust that their students will make solid decisions in many diverse situations.

Good teachers teach students to think for themselves, not in isolation, but in ongoing communion with the principles learned, and through dialogue with authorities when necessary for assistance and accountability.

IX. His use of hyperbole – Jesus uses a lot of hyperbole. It is easier, He tells us, for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven (Mk 10:25). If your eye scandalizes you, gouge it out (Mat 5:29). There was a man who owed ten thousand talents (a trillion dollars) (Mat 18:24). It would be better for you to be cast into the sea with a great millstone about your neck than to scandalize one of my little ones (Mat 18:6).

Hyperbole has memorable effect. It’s hard to forget effective hyperbole. Who of us can forget Jesus’ parable about a man with a 2×4 coming out of his eye who rebukes his neighbor for the splinter in his? I often tell my congregation, “Go to church or go to Hell,” which is my way of saying that missing Mass is a mortal sin.

One of my seminary professors once signaled me that I was giving an incorrect and heretical answer to a complex theological issue. He did this by saying, “Charles, you are on the edge of an abyss.” I stopped immediately and gave the correct and orthodox answer!

Good teachers use hyperbole at the right moments.

X. His use of servile fear – Jesus made frequent use of “fear-based arguments.” He warned of Hell, of unquenchable fire, and of the worm that does not die. His parables feature of a lot of summary judgements wherein people are found unprepared, are excluded from Heaven, or are cast into darkness. One parable ends with a king burning the town of those who failed to accept his invitation to his son’s wedding banquet (Mat 22:7). Another has a king summoning those who rejected him to be slain before his eyes (Lk 19:27). Jesus warns of the wailing and grinding of teeth. He also warns of a permanent abyss between Heaven and Hell that no one will be able to cross.

Many today are dismissive of fear-based arguments. But Jesus used them; He used them a lot. So Jesus never got the memo that this is a poor way to teach. It is true that, for the spiritually mature, love can and does replace the need for fear-based arguments. But, frankly, many are not that mature, and a healthy dose of fear and the threat of unending regret is often necessary.

We ought not to exclude, as many do, the voluminous verses in which Jesus warns in vivid language of the consequences of repeated, un-repented sin. He is not playing games; He is speaking the truth.

To teach as Jesus did is to include warning of judgment and of Hell.

XI. His anger and zeal – Jesus does not hesitate to express His anger and grief at the hardness and stubbornness of many. One day He said, You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? (Matt 17:17) And in Mark’s Gospel we read, And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was furious and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them” (Mk 10: 13-14). Another day, in the synagogue, Jesus was angry at their unbelief: After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored (Mk 3:5).

Yes, Jesus memorably cleansed the temple and drove out iniquity there. He engaged in heated debates with the Jewish leaders and with unbelievers. He did not hesitate to call them hypocrites, vipers, liars, and the sons of those who murdered the prophets.

Here, too, is a teaching moment that renders what is taught memorable and meaningful.A parent who never reacts with anger risks misleading his child into making light of or not being serious enough about wrongdoing, disrespect, or stubborn unrepentance.

We must be careful of our anger. We do not have the kind of sovereignty over it that Jesus did; neither are we as able to see into people’s hearts as He was.

But there is a place for anger, and Jesus uses it—a lot, actually. Anger signals an important teaching and rebukes a lighthearted response.

XII. His refusal to compromise – There was in Jesus very little compromise about the serious teachings of doctrine or those issues related to our salvation. He said that either we would believe in Him or we would die in our sins (Jn 8). Jesus also said that He was the only way to the Father and that no one would come to the Father except through Him. He declared that no one who set his hand to the plow and looked back was fit for the reign of God. Jesus said that no one who would not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him was worthy of Him. We are told to count the cost and decide now, and we are warned that delay may be a deadly thing.

Much of this is countercultural today, a time of uncertainty, in which there is an inappropriate sort of pluralism that thinks that there are many ways to God. Many insist on a softer Christianity, in which we can love the world and also love God. Sorry, no can do. A friend of the world is an enemy to God.

Jesus teaches His fundamental truths in an uncompromising way. This is because they are truths for our salvation. Following these truths vaguely or inconsistently will not win the day. Some disciplines need to be followed precisely.

To teach as Jesus did involves insisting that the fundamental doctrines of our faith be accepted fully and wholeheartedly.

XIII. His forgiveness – Forgiveness may not at first seem to be an obvious way of teaching. But consider that teachers often have to accept that students don’t get everything right the first time. Teaching requires a patient persistence as students first acquire skills and then master them.

A good teacher does not compromise the right method or the correct answer; He assists students who fall short rather than immediately excluding them. In an atmosphere where there is no room for error, very little learning can take place due to fear.

Again, forgiveness does not deny that which is correct; it continues to teach what is correct. Forgiveness facilitates an environment in which learning can thrive and perfection can at last be attained.

Jesus, while setting high standards, offers forgiveness, not as a way of denying perfection but as a way to facilitate our advancement by grace and trust.

XIV. His equipping and authorizing of others – Good teachers train new teachers. Jesus trained the Twelve and, by extension, other disciples as well. He led and inspired them. And He also prepared them for a day when He would hand on the role of teacher to them. We who would teach need to train our successors and inspire new and greater insights.

Teach me, Lord, by your example, to teach as you taught and to preach as you would have me preach.

Biblical Teaching on the Use of Colorful and Harsh Language

blog.8.23In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord warns of using uncivil and/or hateful words such as “Raqa” and “fool.” And yet the same Lord Jesus often used very strong language toward some of His opponents, sometimes calling them names such as vipers and hypocrites.

We live in a world that often insists on the use of gentle language and euphemisms. While doing so is not a bad thing, we also tend to manifest a kind of thin-skinned quality and a political correctness that is too fussy about many things, often taking personally what is not meant personally.

What is the overall teaching of Scripture when it comes to this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Let’s take a look.

The word “civility” dates back to the mid-16th century and has an older meaning that referred to one who possessed the quality of having been schooled in the humanities. In academic settings, debate (at least historically) was governed by a tendency to be nuanced, careful, cautious, formal, and trained in rhetoric. Its rules often included referring to one’s opponents with honorary titles (Doctor, Professor, etc.) and euphemisms such as “my worthy opponent.” Hence as the word has entered into common usage, it has come to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle, and measured.

As one might guess, there are a lot of cultural variances in what is considered to be civil. And this insight is very important when we look at the biblical data on what constituted civil discourse. Frankly, the biblical world was far less dainty about discourse than we have become in 21st-century America. The Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with vigorous discourse. Jesus, for example, really mixes it up with His opponents—even calling them names. We shall see more of this in a moment. But the Scriptures also counsel charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech. In the end, a balance of the scriptural witness to civility must be sought along with an appreciation of the cultural variables at work.

Let’s examine a few of the texts that counsel charity as well as a modern and American notion of civility:

Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips (Eccl 10:12).

The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools (Eccles 9:17).

Anyone who says to his brother, “Raqa” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:22).

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph 4:29).

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (Col 3:21).

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6).

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11).

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Col 3:8).

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Rom 14:19).

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (Gal 6:1).
.

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort [the repentant sinner], so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Cor 2:7).

All these texts counsel a measured, charitable, and edifying discourse. Name-calling and hateful or unnecessary expressions of anger are out of place. And this is a strong biblical tradition, especially in the New Testament.

But there are also strong contrasts to this instruction evident in the Bible. And a lot of it comes from an unlikely source: Jesus. Paul too, who wrote many of the counsels above, often engages in strident denunciations of his opponents and even members of the early Church. Consider some of the passages below, first by Jesus, then by Paul and other Apostles:

Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?” (Matthew 12:34)

And Jesus turned on them and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! … You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. … You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. … And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt 23 varia)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. … You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. … He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:42-47).

Jesus said, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6).

And Jesus answered them, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long must I tolerate you? (Mark 9:19)

Jesus said to the disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)

Jesus said to the crowd, “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts” (Jn 5:41-42).

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15).

Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)

Paul: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth … As for those circumcisers, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 3, 5)

Paul against the false apostles: And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Cor 11:11-14).

Paul on the Cretans: Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith (Titus 1:12-13).

Peter against dissenters: Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings…these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. … They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. … They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! … Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2, varia).

Jude against dissenters: These dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings….these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; … These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. … These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage (Jude 1:varia).

Now most of the passages above would violate modern norms about civil discourse. Are they sinful? They are God’s word! And yet they seem rather shocking to modern ears. Imagine getting into your time machine and going to hear Jesus denounce the crowds and calling them children of the devil. It really blows a 21st-century mind!

I want to suggest to you that these sorts of quotes go a long way toward illustrating the cultural dimension of what it means to be civil. The bottom line is that there is a great deal of variability in what people consider civil discourse. In some cultures there is a greater tolerance for anger. In New York and Boston, edgy comments and passionate interruptive debate are common. But in the upper-Midwest and parts of the Deep South, conversation is more gentle and reserved.

At the time of Jesus, angry discourse was apparently more “normal,” for as we see, Jesus Himself engages in a lot of it, even calling people names like “hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” “liars,” and “wicked.” Yet the same Scriptures that record these facts about Jesus also teach that He never sinned. Hence at that time, the utterance of such terms was not considered sinful.

Careful, now—be careful here. I am not saying it is OK for us to talk like this because Jesus did. We do not live then; we live now; and in our culture such dialogue is almost never acceptable. There ARE cultural norms we have to respect to remain in the realm of Charity. Exactly how to define civility in every instance is not always clear. An old answer to these hard-to-define things is “I know it when I see it.” So perhaps it is more art than science to define civility. But clearly we tend to prefer gentler discourse in this day and age.

On the other hand, as already observed, we also tend to be a little thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive. And the paradoxical result of insisting on greater civility is that we are too easily “outraged” (one of the more overused words in English today). We take offense where none is intended and we presume that the mere act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant, intentionally hurtful, or even hateful. We seem so easily provoked and so quick to be offended. All of this escalates anger further, and charges of hate and intolerance are launched back and forth when there is merely sincere disagreement.

Balance – The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First, that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be “clarity” with “charity,” the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. An old saying comes to mind: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”

Here are two videos that depict the zeal of Jesus and a bit of his anger. The passages are from John 6 and John 8.

Of Hunger and Hallucinations – How the Stages of Starvation Describe the Decaying West

Hunger

blog7-27 - HungerWe often think of physical hunger as a  serious problem. And so it is. We are obliged to assist the starving and malnourished.

But spiritual hunger is also a serious, problem, and far more widespread.  As is the case with physical hunger, the source of spiritual hunger is not God, who has given us abundant grace and truth; it is we who are the source. It is a strange starvation to be sure, for it is largely self-inflicted. Further, it seems to be at an advanced stage.

I am told that as physical starvation advances there comes a time when a kind of lethargy sets in and, though a person knows he is hungry, he lacks the mental acuity to want to do much about it. This seems to be the stage of spiritual starvation at which many Westerners find themselves today. Most people know they are spiritually hungry and long for something. But, through a kind of lethargy and mental boredom, they don’t seem inclined to do much about it.

I’d like to take a look at the progressive stages of physical starvation (gleaned from several medical sources) and then speak of their spiritual equivalents. Please understand that when I use the pronoun “we” I am not necessarily talking about you, but rather about a large number, perhaps even a majority, of people in our culture today.

  1. Weakness – In our time of spiritual starvation, a great moral weakness is evident. Self-control in the realm of sexuality and self-discipline in general seem increasingly lacking in our culture today. Many are too weak to keep the commitments they have made to marriage, religious life, and the priesthood. Addiction is a significant issue as well; addiction to alcohol, drugs, and pornography. In addition, we seem consumed by greed; we are obsessed with accumulating possessions, and the more we have the more we seem unable to live without them. Increasingly, people declare that they are not responsible for what they do and/or cannot help themselves. There is a general attitude that it is unreasonable to expect people to live out ordinary biblical morality, to have to suffer or endure the cross. All of these display weakness and a lack of courage, signaling the onset of spiritual starvation.
  2. Confusion – As spiritual starvation sets in, the mind gets cloudy; thinking becomes murky and distorted. There is thus lots of confusion today about even the most basic moral issues. How could we get so confused as to think that killing pre-born babies is OK? Sexual confusion is also rampant, so that what is contrary to nature (e.g., homosexual acts) is approved and what is destructive to the family (e.g., illicit heterosexual behavior) is widely accepted as well. Confusion is also deep about how to properly and effectively raise, train, discipline, and educate our children.
  3. Irritability – As spiritual starvation progresses, a great deal of anger is directed at the Church whenever she addresses the malaise of our times. In addition, there is growing resistance to lawful authority, and a loss of respect for elders and for tradition. St. Paul describes well the general irritability of a culture that has suppressed the truth about God and is spiritually starving: They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy (Romans 1:29-31). Since we are starved spiritually of the common meal of God’s Word and revealed truth, and have rejected natural law, we have been reduced to shouting matches and power struggles. We no longer agree on the essentials that the “food” of God’s truth provides. Having refused this food, we have become irritable and strident.
  4. Immune deficiency – As our spiritual starvation grows we cannot ward off the increasing attacks of the disease of sin. We more easily give way to temptation. Deeper and deeper bondage is increasingly evident in our sin-soaked culture. Things once thought to be indecent are now done openly and even celebrated. Many consider any suggested resistance to sin to be unreasonable, even impossible. Sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, abortion, the consumption of internet pornography, divorce, and cohabitation are becoming rampant. Like disease, sin spreads because we are less capable of fighting it off.
  5. The body begins to feed on its own muscle tissue (after fat cells are depleted) – In our spiritual starvation, we start to feed on our very own. We kill our children in utero; we use embryos for research. We euthanize our elderly. Young people kill other young people in gang violence. We see strife, power struggles, and wars increase. In tight economic times, we who have depleted the fat cells of public funds and amassed enormous debt, instead of restraining our spending and re-examining our priorities, fight with one another over the scraps that are left and refuse to give up any of our own entitlements. Starving people can be desperate, and desperate people often turn on others. In the end, we as a body are consuming our very self.
  6. Internal organs begin to shut down – In the spiritually starving Western world, many of our institutions are becoming dysfunctional and shutting down. Our families are in the throes of a major crisis. Almost of half of all children today no longer live with both parents. Schools are in serious decline. Most public school systems have been a disgrace for years. America, once at the top of worldwide academic performance, is now way down on the list. Churches and parochial schools also struggle as Mass attendance has dropped in the self-inflicted spiritual starvation of our times. Government, too, is becoming increasingly dysfunctional; strident differences paralyze it, and scandals plague the public sector. Yes, as we go through the stages of starvation, important organs of our culture and our nation are shutting down.
  7. Hallucinations – St. Paul spoke of the spiritually starved Gentiles of his day and said, their thinking became futile and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools … Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:21-22,28). As we in the West spiritually starve, our thinking becomes increasingly bizarre, distorted, fanciful, silly, vain, and often lacking in common sense. Since our soul is starving, we hallucinate.
  8. Convulsions and muscle spasms – Violence and turmoil run through our culture as basic social structures shut down and become dysfunctional. The breakdown of the family leads to many confused, incorrigible, and violent children. And this is not just in the inner cities; Violence, shootings, and gangs are in the suburbs as well. Even non-violent children have short attention spans and are often difficult to control and discipline. Although ADHD may well be over-diagnosed, hyper-stimulated children with short attention spans are a real problem for us today. Adults, too, manifest a lot of convulsive and spasmodic behaviors, short attention spans, and mercurial temperaments. As we reach the advanced stages of spiritual starvation in our culture, convulsive and spasmodic behavior are an increasing problem.
  9. Irregular heartbeat – In the spiritually starving West, it is not as though we lack all goodness. Our heart still beats, but it is irregular and inconsistent. We can manifest great compassion when natural disasters strike, yet still be coarse and insensitive at other times. We seem to have a concern for the poor, but abort our babies and advocate killing our sick elderly. Our starving culture’s heartbeat is irregular and inconsistent, another sign of spiritual starvation.
  10. Sleepy, comatose state – Our starving culture is sleepy and often unreflective. The progress of our terrible fall eludes many, who seem oblivious to the symptoms of our spiritual starvation. St Paul says, So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled (1 Thes 5:6). He also says, And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11). Jesus speaks of the starvation that leads to sleepiness in this way: Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap (Luke 21:34).
  11. Death – Spiritual death is the final result of starvation. We become dead in our sins. Pope Francis recently remarked that the lights going out in Europe. As Europe has forsaken its spiritual heritage and embarked upon a self-imposed spiritual starvation, its birthrates have declined steeply. It is quite possible that, in the lifetime of some of the younger readers of this post, Europe as we have known it will, quite literally, cease to exist. Western liberal democracies that have starved themselves to death will be replaced by Muslim theocratic states. But this is what happens when we starve ourselves: death eventually comes. America’s fate at this time is less obvious. There are many on a spiritual starvation diet, but also many who still believe; there are signs of revival in the Church here. Pray God that the reversal will continue! Pray, too, that it is not too late for Europe.

Thus, while we know little of physical starvation in the affluent West, spiritual starvation and its symptoms are manifest. Mother Teresa once spoke of the West as the poorest part of the world she had encountered. That is because she saw things spiritually, not materially. Some years back, Cassidy Bugos, a student from Christendom College in Virginia, spent a few weeks working among the poor in Mexico with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Recounting a conversation with one of the nuns there, Miss Bugos wrote,

In the East [India], the soul is different. It is stronger, as she put it, and solid. Whether a person is Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist, he is a solid Christian, a solid Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist. He will not lose faith because he is hungry, or because he is well-fed. And in India, if people are hungry, they are still happy. The poorest people on the streets, she said, are the happiest. If they have food today, they are happy; they do not wonder if they will have food tomorrow. Their joy, she insisted, is something unlike anything you see on any face in the West …

Here in the West, she said, it is different. Here most poor people have enough [materially], even though they don’t understand how little “enough” is. But they are unhappy, she said. … They are unhappy, because they have no God. That is the real poverty. The farther North you go in America, she added, the more wealth you see, and the less joy you find. Those people … the depressed, and the sad people “with no God and a great big house”, are the poorest of the poor. That’s what Mother Teresa meant. It is hard, she added with a sigh, to find Christ in them. … We must put Him there. …

More than that, she wanted us to understand whom we were serving, when we served anyone’s spiritual or material needs. We were serving Christ. When one of “the Grandmas,” blind and deaf, cried out from her wheelchair, “Agua, por favor,” on the wall over her head we were bound to see a crucifix and beside it the motto of the Missionaries of Charity, the two words, tengo sed. “I thirst.” [1]

Be well-fed spiritually! Spiritual starvation is an awful thing; it is the worst thing.