In the first reading for Tuesday of this week, St. Paul speaks of the longing of creation to be set free. He almost personifies creation:
For indeed, creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).
Yes, creation itself eagerly awaits the day when God will say (in the words of an old spiritual), “Oh, Preacher, fold your Bible, for the last soul’s converted!” Then creation itself will be set free from its bondage to death and decay and will be gloriously remade into its original harmony and the life-possessing glory that was once paradise.
Isaiah takes up a similar theme we often hear in Advent”
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).
Hence, when Christ from His judgment seat shall finally say, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5), and when with John we see “a new heavens and a new earth” (Rev 21:1), I have little doubt that animals will share in that recreated and renewed kingdom where death shall be no more (Rev 21:4).
In several recent posts I have raised alarms about the anti-human dimensions of much of the environmentalist and climate change agendas. But none of this should be taken to mean that I don’t love the beautiful works of God’s creation. I love the passages above about how creation is longing and yearning.
Call me a bit sentimental but I have often thought that perhaps, in our interaction with our pets, God is giving us a glimpse of the harmony we will one day enjoy with all creation. Perhaps our pets are ambassadors for the rest of creation, a kind of early delegation sent by God to prepare the way and begin to forge the connections of the new and restored creation. Maybe they are urging us on in our task of making the number of the elect complete so that all creation can sooner receive its renewal and be restored to the glory and harmony it once had. Who knows? But I see a kind of urgency in the pets I have had over the years. They are filled with joy, enthusiasm, and the expectation of something great.
They show joyful expectation! Yes, there was a kind of joyful expectation in the dogs of my youth: running in circles around me, dashing to greet me when I arrived home, and jumping for joy when I announced a car ride or a walk. My cats have always sauntered over to meet me at the door with a meow, an arched back, and a rub up against my leg. Somehow our pets manifest the passage above: creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19).
While I realize that we humans often project what we want their behavior to mean, I am still fascinated by the way our pets come to “know” us and set up a kind of communication with us.
Dogs, especially, are very demonstrative, interactive, and able to make knowing responses. Cats are more subtle. My cat, Jewel, knows my patterns. She also knows how to communicate to me that she wants water, food, or just a back rub. She’s a big talker, too, meowing each time I enter the room. Sometimes I wish she could just tell me what she wanted!
Yes, this interaction with our pets is indeed mysterious. I am not suggesting that animals are on a par with humans intellectually or morally; Scripture is unambiguous that animals are given to us by God and that we are sovereign stewards over them. However, animals—especially our pets—are to be appreciated as gifts from Him. Scripture is also clear that animals will be part of the renewed creation that God will bring about when Christ comes again in glory.
They are part of the Kingdom! Without elevating pets (no matter how precious to us) to the full dignity of human beings, it is not wrong to think that they will be part of the Kingdom of God in all its restored harmony and beauty.
One day when Christ comes again, creation, now yearning, will receive the healing for which it longs.
This is the second in a series of three posts on the often-paradoxical characteristics of true freedom.
Another one of the seeming paradoxes of true freedom is that it cannot be had unless it is limited. Absolute freedom leads to an anarchy in which no one is really free to act. Consider that we would not be free to drive if there were no traffic laws. The ensuing chaos would make driving extremely difficult—and dangerous! The freedom to drive, to come and go, depends upon us limiting our freedom to drive however we please; we cooperate through obedience to agreed-upon laws of the road.
I am writing this post in English. I appreciate the freedom we have to communicate and debate. However, my freedom to communicate with you as well as your freedom to comprehend me are contingent upon me limiting myself by obeying the rules of English grammar, syntax, and semantics. Consider these “sentences”:
Horse gravy not trap if said approach acre world existential yet sweater fire.
What, can’t you read? You don’t understand? Clearly, when I exercise absolute freedom neither of us is really free.
So, the paradox of freedom is that we can only experience it by accepting constraints upon it. Without limits, we are hindered from acting freely.
Jesus and freedom – Here, too, is an insight into what Jesus means when he says, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32). Note the use of the word “if” at the beginning. Jesus is saying that if we limit ourselves to holding to His teaching, we will be truly free. Limiting oneself, not merely doing what one pleases, is what unlocks the freedom that Jesus offers.
See how different this is from how many today conceive of freedom; they hold that the announcement of biblical truth threatens freedom! To such libertines, any limit is an attack on freedom. Jesus says just the opposite. The truth is a set of propositions that limits us to some extent. If “A” is true, then “not A” is false. I must accept the truth and base my life on it to enjoy its freeing power. The paradoxical result is that the propositions of the truth of God’s teaching do not limit our freedom so much as enhance it.
Image – Absolute freedom is not really freedom at all. It is a state of chaos in which no one can really move. Every ancient city had walls, but they were not so much prison walls as defending walls. One had to limit oneself to staying within the walls to enjoy their protection, but inside there was great freedom, for one was not constantly fighting off enemies or living in fearful vigilance. People were freed for other pursuits but only within the walls.
Those who claim that the truth of the gospel limits their freedom might consider the result of rejecting those limits. As we discussed in yesterday’s post, the libertine world, which demands to live apart from God’s truth, does not seem very free. Addictions, compulsions, neuroses, and high levels of stress are widespread in the modern West. We have seen the crumbling of the nuclear family due to the seeming inability of so many people to establish and keep a lasting commitment. An adolescent obsession with sex has led to promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, single mothers/absent fathers, and abortion. Greed and addiction to wealth enslave many in a kind of financial bondage; they cannot afford the lifestyle their passions demand, so they are deep in debt and still unsatisfied. The so-called freedom of the modern world apart from the truth of the gospel is far from evident. It looks a lot more like slavery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says rather plainly,
The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin” (CCC # 1733).
In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for absolute freedom lead to bondage.
This creative video features an interview that illustrates how we are free to communicate only within the constraints of grammar and the rules of language.
As Independence Day approaches, we do well to ponder some of the characteristics of true freedom, which is to be distinguished from the false notion of freedom espoused by many today. Today’s post is the first in a series of three on this topic.
Let’s begin by noting that most people in modern times speak of freedom in a detached sense. To them, freedom means the ability to do whatever they please with few if any limits. This libertine, often-licentious notion of freedom more often than not leads to addiction and oppression.
For many in the world, then, freedom is always from something, but for a Christian, freedom is always for something.
The Christian, biblical understanding of freedom is the capacity, the ability, to obey God. Pairing freedom and obedience seems paradoxical to many in the world!
Abusing our freedom by focusing it on sin leads to slavery and addiction to sin. Jesus said, Whoever sins is the slave of sin (Jn 8:34). Indeed, among the great struggles of this modern age is addiction. Freely indulging our desires to excess often leads to them becoming necessities that soon come to possess us.
Indulging sinful desires also facilitates a growing attitude that sin is inevitable and that the call to biblical morality is overly idealistic, even impossible. Yes, expecting people to moderate their passions and desires, to live soberly and chastely, and to uphold marriage vows or to live in perpetual continence if not married—all of which were a short time ago considered normal moral imperatives—is now seen as oppressive, triggering, bigoted, hateful, and sometimes even criminal.
This certainly doesn’t sound like freedom to me. Rather, these false notions put forth seem like they are coming from people who are trapped by their sinful drives. The language used bespeaks incapacity, sloth, and a kind of despair that demands that we define sin and deviancy down. In this way Jesus words are proved true: Whoever sins is a slave of sin (Jn 8:34).
St. Paul adds this:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Despairing and having lost all sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity, with a craving for more. But this is not the way you came to know Christ … Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor (Eph 4:17-19, 25).
This is why the Christian notion of liberty and freedom is so important for us to get right: True freedom is the capacity, the ability, to obey God. In obeying God, we are truly free because each of us becomes the man or woman He created us to be. The very nature He gave us is perfected by the freeing obedience of faith.
What the world calls freedom is actually a licentiousness that approves many sins. It becomes a slavery that says, “I can’t, and I won’t.” It is a false liberty because it implicitly protests its inability to live out even the most ordinary moral norms and truths. It is a wolf in the sheep’s clothing of tolerance, diversity, acceptance, and false compassion. Liberty was not found in the fields of Woodstock or on the streets of Haight-Ashbury. The “Summer of Love” ushered in innumerable crosses: sexually transmitted diseases, single mothers/absent fathers, abortion, the hyper-sexualization of children, and recently the many cries of sexual abuse and harassment from the #MeToo movement. There’s no freedom here, just a lot of out-of-control behavior leading to sorrow, alienation, and even death through the horror of abortion.
Does this sound like freedom? Not to me!
Jesus counsels the remedy:
“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (Jn 8:31-32, 35).
True freedom is found in the paradox of obedience to the Lord, who is Truth. Beware the false freedom that enslaves. Come to Him; obey Him through grace and find the true and glorious freedom of the children of God.
The situation of the man in this commercial reminds me of modern life in general. We talk a lot about freedom, but compulsiveness, addiction, and lack of self-control are more the case with the average person.
We have collectively rejected the “Ten Big Laws of God,” declaring our freedom from being told what to do. But the result has not been that we have fewer laws; rather we now have thousands of “little laws,” imposed upon us through oppressive government, by which we are told what we must do under penalty of law.
Many cultural revolutionaries have marched under the banners of freedom and tolerance, but once having gained a foothold they have tyrannically forced their agenda on others by law. The talk of tolerance and respect for differences turned out to be just that—talk.
The man in this advertisement talks a lot about how important mobility is to him, but the reality of his life is far from his self-description. In fact, he seems quite unaware of his condition. Does he not seem familiar?
One of the biggest reasons why most Christians have difficulty evangelizing effectively is that most lack the requisite freedom and simplicity of life to carry forth the task consistently and coherently. In Sunday’s Gospel, the Lord offers some counsel on what is required for effective evangelization.
As we read a Gospel like this, it is tempting to think that it speaks only of specialists such as missionaries, religious, priests, or deacons, but doing so ignores the fact that everyone is called to evangelize: clergy to people, parents to children, elders to youngsters, siblings to siblings, friends to friends, neighbors to neighbors.
This Gospel is for all of us, and it summons us to a greater freedom that will equip, empower, and enable us to evangelize more effectively. Let’s look at the Lord’s counsels.
I. The Freedom of SUMMONS – The text says, Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
It may not be immediately obvious how a summons is freeing but consider that when we know we are called to do something by someone in authority, we are often more courageous and diligent in doing it, even if it is hard. A commanding officer may have to ask his troops to engage in a difficult battle, but because he knows that his own commanders have ordered it and that it is part of a wider strategy, he tries to rally his troops. He speaks not only with his own authority but that of others, and thus he is courageous, and his words have weight. Even if his troops protest or seem unenthusiastic, he remains strong because he understands his duty and knows that he is doing what is right.
Yes, being under a summons is freeing and empowering. If we know that the Lord has summoned us and sent us to evangelize (and he surely has (cf Matt 28:19)) we can go forth with courage to rally God’s people and summon them to the Lord’s team. Even when people react poorly we need not be discouraged, for we know that we are under the orders of God Himself and that what we speak is right.
As a priest, I am often called upon to speak on topics that some do not want to hear. Yet, to the degree that I know I have been called to speak it, I do so with courage. When the Lord and His Church bid me to address something, I speak not only with my own authority but with that of God. Some may grumble that they don’t want to hear me talk about money, abortion, religious liberty, or sexual sin. Yet to the degree that I know that I am called to speak on these things, I still do so and do so with courage. Yes, I am summoned. I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! … for God has given me this sacred trust (1 Cor 9:17).
Do you know that you have been summoned? Have you experienced this call? Do you see it as a mandate, as something you have been summoned to do? Priests and deacons need to recognize our call to preach the Word of God unambiguously. We are under orders from the Lord. As Scripture says, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:1-2). Can any of you who are parents not see that you are called to do the same for your children? Who of us can say that any but perhaps the youngest are exempt from the summons to preach, to declare the Word of God?
Knowing and experiencing that you have been summoned is freeing!
II. The Freedom of SIMPLICITY – The text says, He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
One the fundamental reasons that people do not evangelize is that they have way too much baggage. What kind of baggage? Consider that our lives are
CLUTTERED – We have too much stuff, and stuff needs attention, maintenance, and money; it takes up space and ties us down. We also have the baggage and clutter of too many commitments. We’re overscheduled and overbooked. We have many wrongful priorities such that we spend too much time worrying about things that don’t matter all that much in the end, and what does matter gets put on hold. Read Bible stories to your children? No time for that; we’ve got to get to soccer practice! Yes, our lives are cluttered with distractions. What is a “dis-traction”? It’s something that gets you off track and makes you lose traction in what really matters.
COMPLEX – Most of our lives are so cluttered and choked with excess baggage that we don’t even know where to begin to simply it. We don’t know how to break the cycle, how to say no. We end up becoming enslaved to the many demands.
COMPROMISED – All of this extra baggage weighs us down and entangles us with the world. In this way, our values are not the values of the gospel. Instead, we are tied down to the world, loyal to it, invested in its thinking and its ways.
We need to be free to preach the Gospel and to evangelize. The Lord says, simplify! Obsession with money, food, clothes, possessions, and popularity will hinder you.
Think of a runner in a race. He does one thing only and carries nothing extra that would weigh him down. Travelers, too, do not take all their possessions with them, only what is necessary. Remember, in terms of this world, we are just traveling through.
Most of us just have too much stuff. Because of this, we are tied to this world and lack the kind of freedom necessary to witness prophetically to what is beyond it. Ask the Lord to help you gently but persistently simplify your life so that increasingly it becomes centered on the one thing necessary.
III. The Freedom of STABILITY – The text says, He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.”
Stability is the freedom to accept what is and work with it rather than to be constantly looking for something better. It is the freedom to bloom where you are planted and to use what God has given you rather than waiting for something better.
There’s a real freedom to staying put and developing the deeper relationships that are usually necessary for evangelization to be effective and lasting.
One of the bigger problems with handing on the faith today is that there is very little stability in families, communities, and parishes. When things and people are passing and ephemeral, how can values rooted in lasting things be inculcated?
Preaching the gospel often depends on well-founded relationships, patience, perseverance, and taking the long view of life. Running here and there and living life only on the surface will not cut it. Shallow soil does not sustain taller growth. Only deep roots can do that.
Ask for the freedom to stay put and to be less anxious about the possibility that there may be a better job, a better community, a better deal out there somewhere. There is value in being grateful for what you have and working with that, in setting down deep roots and lasting relationships. This is the deeper and richer soil in which evangelization can happen.
IV. The Freedom of SURETY – The text says, Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.
Here is one of the greatest freedoms of all: the gift to be free of our obsession with being liked, approved of, and popular. We care too much about what others think of us, at the expense of the truth of the gospel.
Jesus implies here that rejection will surely happen, and He counsels that when it does we should shake it off, let it pass over us. Speak the truth and don’t worry about rejection; expect it! This is a very great freedom.
Too many parents are desperate to have their children like them. They avoid discipline and difficult teachings. It is necessary to be free of this “need.” The Lord can give that to you.
We are not talking here about becoming sociopaths, caring not one whit what others think. This is not an invitation to be impolite or to fail to groom ourselves and be presentable. Rather, it is an invitation to be free of our obsession with popularity so that we can shake off the rejection of the gospel that we will inevitably experience. The Lord can give that to us.
V. The Freedom of SUBSTANCE – The text says, So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
There is freedom in knowing what to say and what to do. This freedom flows from the substance, for we do not preach ourselves, but Christ crucified. This is freeing, for we cannot be compelled to change or adapt the message that has already been set for us. There is a freedom in sticking to the message proclaimed once and for all. The world demands compromise, insists that certain passages of Scripture be modified. We, who in no way can do this, are free of such compulsion.
Only those who are enslaved to the times and to the mentality of this world can be so compelled. To the degree that we know we are summoned, sent, and given the substance of what to preach, we are free to announce, and free from coercion to compromise.
Substance was “repentance.” The Greek word μετανοῶσιν (metanoosin) means more than simply to clean up one’s behavior. It means “to come to a new mind,” or “to change one’s thinking.” Hence, the evangelizer seeks to appeal to the whole person. It is not only a person’s behavior that is important, but also how he thinks and what is taking place in the deepest part of his soul.
The Lord seeks to heal the whole person from the inside out. Thus, the apostles and those of us free enough to be true evangelizers are not seeking merely to inform but to transform.
Note that the text describes them as driving out demons and curing the sick. Is this merely some exotic ability of the early apostles? No. By this proclamation, we too drive out the demons of sadness, meaninglessness, ignorance, misplaced priorities, atheism, agnosticism, worldliness, materialism, and so forth. We also bring healing and peace to those who accept the power of the Word of God into their lives. These healings are very real. I know them in my own life and have seen them in the lives of others.
Are you free enough to evangelize, to preach the gospel, and to bring healing and peace to others? Are you free enough to be a means of God’s transformative Word??
A rather succinct and accurate summary of our current malaise is that we live in the age of “the imperial, autonomous self.” In effect, many if not most people claim an authority, a right, to craft their own reality and live according to their own notions of it. Not so long ago, it was generally accepted that reality was something outside ourselves, something that we had to go out to meet, study, and obey. There was a certain “is-ness” to things. Conformity with the basic and revealed nature of things produced thriving and the kind of happiness that comes from being in harmony with what fundamentally is.
Recently however, there has been the ascendency of the notion that reality is what I say it is. The “soft garments” version of this is, “That may be true for you, but I see it differently. You live your truth and I will live mine.”
A Supreme Court decision of the early 1990s gave voice to this notion in its ruling defending a woman’s “right” to abort her baby:
Such vapid language from the highest court in the land undermines the very concept of law. If someone can just define abortion as good, or define even the very nature of the universe, why can’t someone commit mass murder and call it good? This is the exultation of the imperial, autonomous self with almost no qualification! No family, community, nation, or culture can exist as a collection of imperial, autonomous individuals; it would be moral and political anarchy! Something outside ourselves (e.g., reality, the real (not imagined) universe, divine law, natural law, agreed-upon legal norms) must unite us.
The imperial, autonomous self cannot stay soft when, as the court suggests, the heart of liberty is neither the truth nor law (divine, natural, or civil). As we have seen in recent years, the imperial, autonomous becomes the imperious, combative self; the battle is not won by those with the most reasonable stance but by the most powerful, richest, loudest, fiercest, most exotic; or by those with most access to the media and popular culture.
The soft version of the imperial, autonomous self marches under the banners of tolerance, kindness, and open-mindedness. The fiercer version that has emerged more recently substitutes tyranny for tolerance. Few of these tyrants will admit their tyranny; they prefer to call it tolerance, but they have substituted a new meaning for the word.
Tolerance used to be understood as “a measured willingness to live with differences.” Today it has come to mean “agreement” and even “approval.” Of course, if I agree with you and approve of what you do, I do not need to practice tolerance. Thus, the redefinition of tolerance vacates the original meaning of the word entirely. Interestingly this new definition still permits calling others intolerant using the original meaning! It illustrates the “brilliance” of the cultural left in refashioning our very vocabulary and harnessing the power of words. I have written more on this matter here: Misunderstood Tolerance.
We ought not to be mistaken; the “tolerance” of the cultural elites is in fact tyranny. This is evident time and time again when anyone dares to stray from the acceptance and approval that are demanded by this new meaning. If one transgresses by not approving whatever previously sinful behavior currently demands approval, the repercussions include denouncement and demonization. The person or group is labeled unkind, hateful, intolerant, bigoted, phobic, discriminatory, and/or guilty of aggression (or the newly coined “microaggression”) and is accused of making people “feel unsafe.”
Having successfully demonized people or groups, the next move is to silence and suppress any expression of alternate views. Speakers delivering oppositional lectures on campuses are not merely protested, they are interrupted, shouted down, and even subjected physical disruption. All of this is deemed acceptable because the protesters are silencing the views of “bad” and “intolerant” people. In this way, the cultural left—which once held free speech as among the highest freedoms—is increasingly silencing oppositional speech.
The next stage is not merely to denounce opponents, but to legally punish them and criminalize their non-cooperation in the latest cause-du-jour. They are threatened legally, hauled into court, decertified, fined, and/or shut down for failing to approve of whatever the theoretically tolerant people say they should.
A recent Supreme Court case granted some relief to a Colorado baker who was subjected to this. This does not mean that such actions are going to stop. The cultural elites and self-appointed enlightened ones will just keep at it until they reach their objectives. Wearisome, lengthy, and expensive lawsuits, along with increasingly severe legislation, will likely continue until complete compliance has been achieved.
Thus, we see how the imperial, autonomous self gradually becomes the imperious, authoritarian self. Tolerance becomes tyranny. Our current Pope warns of ideological colonization. Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI warned of the “tyranny of relativism” and subjectivism. When we shift the locus of truth from the object (reality) to the subject (the individual), “truth” becomes about power and who has more of it.
that there are deep truths built into the world, into human beings and into human relationships;
that these truths can be known by reason;
and that knowledge of these truths is essential to living virtuously, which means living happily (p. 124).
With these three great ideas weakened, we are left with a very small world; we are turned inward and have become self-referential. These are the ultimate parameters of the imperial, autonomous self: it is a small world, closed on itself, with a population of one. It is centered on me and whatever I think. Forget about anyone else. Forget about heritage. Forget the collected wisdom of millennia. Because little can be agreed upon (even the patently obvious sex of male and female bodies), we are left with a fierce power struggle between competing visions of “reality.”
If Western culture was the fair flower of the Judeo-Christian vision, the post-modern world is an ugly dandelion with deep tap roots. It is a dandelion that has gone to seed, and its white, cotton-like seeds are blowing in the breeze and taking root everywhere.
What are we to do? First, we must see the revolution for what it is. There is a hopelessly fatal shifting of the locus of truth away from what is revealed by God in biblical revelation (Divine Truth) and in the Book of Creation as grasped by reason (Natural Law). This is our Judeo-Christian heritage; it was what grounded us and united us. Having removed and denied the efficacy of this, our modern world has become unmoored and unraveled, mired in hopeless power struggles.
Only a return to our roots can save us. Therefore, St. Paul’s mandate to Timothy must also become ours:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction. For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:2-5).
This is true not only for bishops and priests, but for parents, Catholics in general, and all believing citizens of this land. America remains a great country, and our religious sensibilities are not completely lost. There is time, but the door is closing, and our cultural opponents are more fierce and bold than ever before. This is a good fight, and if you find a good fight you should get in it.
Memorial Day for many means the beginning of summer. To others, it is a day off to go shopping. But as I am sure you know, Memorial Day is really a day to honor those who have died in the service of this country. Here are some thoughts based on two words that arise on a day like this: “memorial” and “monument.”
The word “memorial” comes from the Latin memorare, an imperative that means “Remember!” Therefore, Memorial Day is “Remember!” Day. To remember something is to allow it to be present to our mind and heart so that we are grateful, sober, aware, and different because of it.
This is a day to remember that there are men and women who died so that you and I are able to live with greater security, justice, and peace. May these fallen soldiers rest in peace. We owe them both a debt of gratitude and our prayers.
In a secondary sense, we can also honor today those who currently serve in the military because they also place their lives on the line for our security and peace. On Veterans Day we will have a second opportunity to thank those in the military who are still living.
God bless them all and may the dead rest in peace. We must remember that freedom is not really free—others paid the price for our freedom.
The second word is “monument,”which comes from the Latin words monere (to warn, remind, or advise) and mens (mind). Hence a monument exists to admonish or advise us to remember the dead and/or what they have done. Not only do we owe a debt of gratitude to our fallen soldiers, but we must also hold in our memories all they have done for us.
There are many memorials and some monuments as well honoring our fallen soldiers. Here in Washington, D.C. and in most cities, there are memorials to the soldiers who died during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam. Soon enough there will be monuments to the fallen from the Gulf War and to those who gave their lives in other wars. The Tomb of the Unknowns is a poignant monument to the many fallen who remain unknown to us. And who can forget the deep impression that the rows of white crosses in a military cemetery make?
Love of one’s country, patriotism, is related to the fourth commandment. The Catechism teaches,
It is the duty of citizens to contribute to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity (CCC # 2239).
The Lord Himself makes it plain: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).
We must never forget the price that others have paid for our freedom. Pray for our fallen soldiers from every generation and for their families.
Here is the text of the song “Mansions of the Lord”:
To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord
No more weeping,
No more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just Divine embrace,
In the Mansions of the Lord
Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,
We shall stand and guard
Though the angels sleep,
Oh, through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord
Perhaps you might use the following video as a way to meditate on the sacrifices they have made:
In the Gospel for this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we step back nine months to March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation, an all-but-hidden event that changed the world. God, whose focal presence departed the Temple just prior to the Babylonian invasion (cf Ez 10:18) and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, now returns to the ark of Mary’s womb. The glorious presence of God returns now to His people, in an obscure town of fewer than three hundred, a town so small that no road led to it.
We are reading here of a pivotal moment in the history of mankind. God not only returns to His people but also becomes one with them in the Incarnation.
We do well to consider four aspects of this crucial moment. As we do so, we consider not only Mary’s glories but ours as well (in a subordinate yet real way). Mary is the perfect disciple and her glories typify in a most excellent way the glories that God wishes to bestow upon us, though in a different but still substantial way. Let’s look at four aspects of this Gospel.
I. The RESPECT of God – The text says, The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man name Joseph and the virgin’s name was Mary … Mary said “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Note that God asks Mary for her cooperation. Although the angel Gabriel’s words are not delivered in the form of a question, it is clear from Mary’s response that she considers this to be a request from God. She says yes, understanding it as a request rather than merely a statement of what shall be.
Here we see an important indicator of God’s respect for Mary’s freedom. Surely He has prepared her and equipped her with every good grace to say yes, but in the end her freely offered yes is significant. It is something that God seeks and respects. Otherwise, why would He bother to send an angel at all? Why would He come through Mary at all? Why not simply appear suddenly as a full-grown man and start to work? As it is, God wills to come through Mary (cf Gen 3:15) and seeks her yes in the place of Eve’s no.
God’s respect for Mary’s freely offered yes also extends to us. Indeed, we can see here how God’s respect is in direct contrast to the behavior of the devil, who provokes, shouts, and intrudes. Through cultural noise and other avenues, Satan tempts and provokes us. God, however, whispers and respectfully invites. He does not force a decision on us but rather summons us in love and then patiently awaits our answer.
In Scripture we read this of Jesus: Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). Hence, although all-powerful and able to coerce, God does not do so; He does not act violently or impose His will. He respects the freedom He Himself gave us and invites us to cooperate in His plan for us.
God respects Mary’s and our freedom; He “needs” us to open the door for Him to go to work.
II. The Revelation of God – Note the great love, appreciation, and regard that God extends to Mary through the angel. The text says, Hail, Full of grace! The Lord is with you … Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Gabriel reveals Mary’s sinless state. Mary is surely God’s masterpiece, the result of His grace and work. She is sinless by being “full of grace.” Filled with grace, she has no room in her for sin.
In his greeting, Gabriel speaks to Mary’s dignity and perfection: Χαιρε κεχαριτωμενη (Chaire, Kecharitomene) (Hail, full of grace). Kecharitomene (full of grace) is a perfect, passive participle indicating an action completed (perfected) in the past but still operative in the present. Thus Gabriel salutes her not by her name, “Mary,” but in a different way: “Hail to her who was perfectly graced and is so now!” Mary had been freed of all sin in the past. She was and is perfectly, fully graced. Gabriel greets Mary and regards respectfully the work of God in her.
In a less perfect (but still true) way, God also loves us and loves in us the perfection we will one day attain by His grace and mercy. A couple of texts come to mind:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness (Jer 31:3).
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior … you are precious and honored in my sight, and … I love you (Isaiah 43:1-3).
God does not love us because we are good. Rather, God loves us and then if we accept His love we are good. Mary was, by a singular grace, wholly open to God’s love and perfection. If we are faithful, each of us will one day become the man or woman God has always intended us to be.
God shows great regard for Mary (through Gabriel) and also knows the glory we will one day share.
III. The RIDDLE in the middle – There remains Mary’s mysterious question: “How will this be since I do not know man?” Had she been thinking in biological terms she would have known the obvious answer to the question: she and Joseph would conceive. But her question implies that she had other notions about her future than regular marital relations.
Some contend that the question does not really come from Mary, but rather is a rhetorical question placed here by Luke so that the angel can inform us, the readers, that God alone is the true Father of the Son. Such a notion seems more like the concoction of nervous moderns attempting to solve the mystery. Reducing a pivotal question like this to a mere literary device seems unbecoming.
Catholic tradition sees evidence here of the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. To be sure, many other questions are raised by this resolution. Why would two people get married and then live as virgins? Were such arrangements common at that time? (It would seem not.)
In the end, Mary’s question seems to point to some expectation on her part that she would “not know man” going forward. We are not going to be able to completely satisfy our curiosity in this matter and ultimately it is none of our business.
One thing is sure: the Church teaches, without ambiguity, that Mary remained ever-virgin. It seems reasonable to conclude that Mary’s question indicates that she was clear on this. There remains also an element of mystery that we must respect.
Protestants and others who deny Mary’s perpetual virginity have some thinking to do. Mary’s question is neither meaningless nor naïve. It is a true question with a true context and it ought to be respected as at least pointing to her virginity even if it does not prove it.
IV. The REASSURANCE of God– Mary is in the presence of an archangel. This alone is frightening enough, but in addition her world is shifting dramatically. Hence, her fear and anxiety are understandable. Gabriel gives Mary a number of reassurances: Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God … Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the most high, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end …
In effect, Gabriel is telling Mary that however the details unfold, there will be total victory in the end; she is to bear a son, who is the Son of the most High God and who will have a kingdom that will never end or be conquered. In spite of any concerns she has, this will all lead to victory.
Mary will need this reassurance for there are some difficult days ahead: homelessness at the time of Jesus’ birth, the flight to Egypt, Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart, and the actual thrusting of that sword while she is at the foot of the cross. This knowledge of ultimate victory is an important reassurance for her to hold close.
It is an important reassurance for us as well. We, too, have some difficult valleys to cross, some arduous hills to climb. We must constantly keep in mind the end of the story: Jesus is the victor. Even if we might think that we are losing, total victory belongs to Jesus in the end and to us if we stay with Him. The conclusion of the story is already declared: Jesus wins, overwhelmingly. All of His enemies will be placed under His feet (e.g., Rev 20-22; 1 Cor 15:25-26; John 16:33 inter al).
Consider this magnificent passage from Isaiah:
I am God there is no other. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand. I accomplish my every purpose. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it and I will do it. Listen to me you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give my glory to Israel (Isaiah 46:12ff).
If we were to memorize and internalize this passage, so many of our fears and anxieties would flee; our trust would build and we would live victorious lives. At times it may seem that evil has the upper hand, but God has the ultimate victory. No matter how dark it may appear at any given time, God has already won; it’s just that the news has not yet leaked out.
This truth and reassurance must be emblazoned on our hearts, for like Mary, we have difficult days in our future. All the more reason that God’s reassurance is essential for us. It got Mary through the cross and it will get us through our trials.
Hence, we have here a pivotal moment in history, when God’s presence returns to the human family. And it all happens so quietly, in Nazareth, a town so small that there was not even a road that led to it. Quietly, but clearly and powerfully, He has thrust the first blow at Satan’s realm. God’s Victory is certain.