Straining Out Gnats but Swallowing Camels, as Seen in a Commercial

In the Gospel of Matthew (Mat 12:1-8), Jesus is rebuked for violating the Sabbath. This reminded me of the video below, which illustrates how we sometimes follow smaller rules while overlooking more important ones in the process.

The Lord Jesus was often scorned by the people of His day, who claimed that He overlooked certain details of the law (often Sabbath observances). But those who rebuked Him for this were guilty of far greater violations. For example,

  1. [Jesus] went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus (Mk 3:1-6).
  2. Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone (Luke 11:42).
  3. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Lk 13:14-16)
  4. 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. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (Matt 23:24-25).

Yes, they are straining out gnats but swallowing camels, maximizing the minimum but minimizing the maximum. Note that in the first passage above they are actually planning to kill Jesus for healing on the Sabbath!

Perhaps my all-time favorite illustration of this awful human tendency is in the Gospel of John:

Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out … (John 18:28-29).

They are plotting to kill a just and innocent man; indeed, they are plotting to kill God. They are acting out of wickedness, envy, jealousy, hatred, and murderous anger, but their primary concern is avoiding ritual uncleanliness! Yes, they are straining out gnats but swallowing camels.

We who are pious and observant need to be wary of this tendency. Sometimes in congratulating ourselves over adherence in lesser matters, we can either offend or neglect in weightier ones. Perhaps I attend Mass each Sunday (a grave obligation); perhaps I pray the rosary (a highly commendable practice); perhaps I tithe (a commendable precept). These are all things that ought to be done (one is commanded, one is commended, and one is a precept). But what if at the same time I am hateful toward someone at the office, unforgiving to a family member, and/or insensitive to the poor?

The danger could be that I let my observance of certain things allow me to think that I can “check off the God box” and figure that because I went to Mass, prayed the rosary, and gave an offering, I’ve “got this righteousness thing down.” Too often, very significant and serious things like love, mercy, forgiveness, and charity are set aside or neglected as I am busy congratulating myself over my adherence to other, sometimes lesser, things.

This oversight can happen in the other direction as well. Someone may congratulate himself for spending the day working in a soup kitchen, and think that he therefore has no need to look at the fact that he is living unchastely (shacked up, for example) or not attending Mass.

We cannot “buy God off,” doing certain things (usually things that we like) while ignoring others we’d rather not. In the end, the whole counsel of God is important.

We must avoid the sinful tendency to try to substitute or swap, to observe a few things while overlooking others.

We see a lot of examples of this in our culture as well. We obsess over people smoking because it might be bad for their health while ignoring the health consequences of promiscuous behavior, which spreads AIDS and countless venereal diseases and leads to abortion. We campaign to save the baby seals while over a thousand baby humans are killed each day in the United States. We deplore (rightfully) the death of thousands each year in gun homicides while calling the murder of hundreds of thousands of babies each year a constitutional right. The school nurse is required to obtain parental permission to dispense aspirin to students but not to provide the dangerous abortifacient “morning after pill.” We talk about the dignity of women and yet pornography flourishes. We fret endlessly about our weight and the physical appearance of our bodies, which will die, and care little for our souls, which will live. We obsess over carbon footprints while flying on jets to global warming conferences at luxurious convention center complexes.

Yes, we are straining gnats but swallowing camels. As the Lord says, we ought not to neglect smaller things wholly, but simply observing lesser things doesn’t give us the right to ignore greater ones.

Salus animarum suprema lex. (The salvation of souls is the highest law.) While little things mean a lot, we must always remember not to allow them to eclipse greater things.

The ideal for which to aim is an integrated state in which the lesser serves the greater and is subsumed into it. St. Augustine rightly observed,

Quod Minimum, minimum est, Sed in minimo fidelem esse, magnum est (St. Augustine – De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35).

(What is a little thing, is (just) a little thing, but to be faithful in a little thing is a great thing.)

Notice that the lesser things are in service of the greater thing—in this case fidelity. And thus we should rightly ask whether some of the lesser things we do are really in service of the greater things like justice, love, mercy, fidelity, kindness, and generosity. Otherwise we run the risk of straining out gnats but swallowing camels.

Enjoy this commercial, which illustrates how one rule (no loud voices in the library) is observed while violating nearly every other.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Straining Out Gnats but Swallowing Camels

The Ten Commandments Are a Picture of the Transformed Human Person – A Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

The first reading this Sunday (Year B) contains the Ten Commandments and thereby communicates a brief but sweeping summary of the Christian and biblical moral vision. Too often, there is a tendency to reduce the Christian moral vision to a set of rules. It is sad that many people today resent the Church for her “rules” because of this reductionist notion. Every group or activity has rules. If you join a bowling league there are rules; if you drive on the highway there are rules. There are rules at work; there are rules at the grocery store. Languages have rules. Whenever people interact, rules are necessary.

However, to see the Christian moral vision or the Ten Commandments simply as “rules” is to miss the point entirely. The goal of the commandments is not so much to enforce obedience as to open us to what God can do for us. They seek not so much to compel us as to conform us to the image of the transformed and glorious humanity that Christ died to give us.

The Ten Commandments do not merely prescribe; they describe the transformed human person. They are expressed in imperative form not to order us about, but rather to convey the power that comes from God’s Word. The same God who commands, “Let there be light” (and thus there is light) also says, “Be holy” and thus conveys to us the power to actually become holy if we will accept His transformative work. He thus commands to create in us the very holiness He announces.

If we would but see the commandments as promises, as power, as prolepsis, many would be far less resentful and far more joyful in what the Lord offers. Let’s consider aspects of the Ten Commandments that may help us come to a richer understanding of the Christian and biblical moral vision. They describe the life Jesus died to give us, a wholly transformed and increasingly glorified life, as we see sins put to death and every kind of virtue come alive.

The First Commandment

I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.

In this first commandment is the promise that we experience increasing love of God above all things, above all people, and above life in this world.

We were made to know God and to have our life centered on Him. This is what properly orders and orients us. Whenever we value any person or thing above God, our life quickly becomes disordered and miserable. If we live for money, power, sex, possessions, popularity, or anything other than God, we are not happy.

God promises us an increasingly well-ordered heart, one that loves Him and His heavenly kingdom above all earthly things. He promises us freedom from the shackles of this world—which seeks to claim us, divide our hearts, and misdirect our life from its true goal.

In this commandment, the Lord seeks to heal our duplicitous and adulterous hearts and to order us to the “one thing necessary,” which is to know and love God above all things. What a blessing, what a promise it is to have our petulant, divided, wounded hearts made whole and directed to God! So much serenity comes from being focused on the One, who is God—and He can do this for us.

The Second Commandment

You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.

In this commandment, the Lord promises a heart with which to love Him. To revere God’s name is to have a deep love for Him, a deep sense of wonder and awe. It is also to have experienced God’s tender and abiding love for us. With this gift to love God comes a heart that is sensitive and open to every gift He wants to give us.

When we love God we keep his ways—not because we have to but because we want to. To fear His name is to revere Him, to love Him, to have deep gratitude to Him, and to be docile and open to His every word. We love God’s name because we love Him.

God can give us this gift to love Him in a deep and abiding way. He promises it in this commandment.

The Third Commandment

Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.

In this commandment, the Lord promises us a joyful sense of resting in Him and of allowing Him to minister to us.

Many people today consider attending Mass a duty, but to those who are transformed by God and abide in His love, it is the greatest privilege of their lives. What a joy it is to go and be with God and among His people, to hear the joyful shout, and to praise Him whom we love! What a privilege it is to be taught by God and fed with His Body and Blood, to be strengthened for every good work!

As the Lord begins to transform our heart, we start to look forward to the greatest day of the week: Sunday. We joyfully anticipate being with our Lord, hearing His voice, and having deep communion with Him and all the angels and saints.

Yes, God can give us a heart for worship, a desire to praise, a hunger for His Word and for the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. No more is Mass a tedious ritual; it is a transformative reality. God promises this and can do it for us.

The Fourth Commandment

Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.

This is a promise by God to give us a deep love for our parents, elders, and lawful authority, and an openness to the wisdom of those who have preceded us. He promises to cool our pride and the rebelliousness that closes us off from the blessings of reverence for the wisdom of elders.

One of the chief problems in the modern age is disrespect for elders. Even those who are not perfect (and none are) have important things to teach us. I probably learned as much from my parents’ struggles as from their strengths.

Without reverence and respect, there can be no teaching, no handing on of wisdom and knowledge. We live in times that are largely cut off from the past; we tend to be dismissive of previous generations.

Because of our pride, there has emerged a hermeneutic of discontinuity, of disconnectedness from the past. We do a lot of foolish things today; we seem to lack the wisdom that was common in the past. In this commandment, the Lord promises us a heart that is docile (i.e., open to instruction), a heart that reveres and listens to the wisdom of elders, lawful authority, and past generations.

The Lord wants to unlock for us the collected wisdom of thousands of years of experience. He taught our ancestors and guided them over and through many trials, difficulties, victories, and joys. In this commandment, the Lord promises to quell the rebelliousness and pride that lock us down and turn us inward on ourselves.

The Fifth Commandment

You shall not kill.

In this commandment, the Lord promises to subdue the anger, hate, resentfulness, and vengefulness that eat away at us and unleash terrible destruction.

The Lord describes a transformed person, one who has authority over his anger and is able to love even his enemies, one who is able to forgive and maintain serenity even under trial. He describes a person who loves and respects life, a person who works to build up life in others rather than tearing it down.

He describes a person who reverences the sacredness of every human life and sees in it the hand and the love of God.

God describes here one who is joyful in this life, ecstatic over the prospect of eternal life, and eager to share life and love with others both here and in the life to come. What a gift it is simply to love others! God can do this for us.

The Sixth Commandment

You shall not commit adultery.

The Lord promises to quell the often unruly passions of lust. He declares that the transformed human person has authority over his or her sexuality. The Lord also offers us a joyful reverence for marriage and the sacredness of human life.

Too many people today are slaves to sexuality through addiction to pornography. Many struggle with fornication, masturbation, and adultery. Participation in homosexual acts is also a terrible problem today. The consequences of all the sexual bondage of our times are high: STDs, AIDS, abortion, teenage pregnancy, high divorce rates, single motherhood (absent fatherhood). All of this takes a huge toll on children who are raised amidst this confusion and lack of proper family foundations.

God wants to set us free. He wants to subdue our lust, to give us authority over our sexuality, and to bring us to sexual maturity.

The transformed human person God describes here reverences the gift of sexuality and knows its purpose and place. God can give us pure hearts and minds and He promises it in this commandment.

The Seventh Commandment

You shall not steal.

In this commandment, the Lord wants to instill in us a gratitude for what we have, to overcome our greed, and to cool our fear. Some steal out of fear that they do not have enough. Others do so on account of greed; they are not satisfied with what they have.

God also wants to give us a love for the poor and a desire to share our excess with them. If I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor. To withhold my excess from the poor unreasonably is a form of theft.

The transformed human person God describes is generous, grateful, and increasingly free of the fear that makes him hoard. God promises us a new and generous heart. He who commands it is He who will accomplish it.

The Eighth Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

God promises a great love for the truth and respect for the reputation of others. In a way, there is nothing more precious in human terms than our reputation, for by it all other doors are opened.

The transformed human person loves others and is eager to point out their gifts. He is not interested in sharing or hearing unnecessary information about others; he says only the good things and only those that people really need to hear.

The transformed person speaks the truth in love. He has a well-trained tongue and speaks only to glorify God. His conversation is always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6). God, who commands this, is the same God who can and will do this for us.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.

Here the Lord wants to quell the fires of greed within us. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. When it takes off, we are miserable—never having enough, always wanting more, always thinking we need more.

The Lord wants to set us free from the aching desire to possess what another has.

He wants to give us a heart that is increasingly focused upon and satisfied with the good things waiting for us in Heaven. Once again, the Lord describes the transformed human person as one freed from enslaving passions. God can do this for us.

Do you see how different this understanding is from merely seeing the Christian and biblical moral vision as rules? They are not rules; they are releases. They are not hoops to jump through; they are hopes that inspire.

In the Gospel today, Jesus cleanses the Temple, saying that they have turned it into a marketplace. But you are the Temple of God, and the danger is that you sell yourself short by accepting mediocrity. We sell our souls to the world, the flesh, and the devil, accepting in exchange false and empty promises.

The Lord enters the temple of our souls and seeks to drive out every huckster who seeks to buy us out. Jesus has already paid the price of our redemption. Our totally transformed life, the life described in the Ten Commandments and the moral vision of the Scriptures, is the life that Christ died to give us. Don’t settle for anything less!

Look for Christ in Advent and Do Not Be Dismayed

Wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.”

During Advent we are reminded to look to Christ and ask for His presence in our life so that we can become deeper, brighter, and richer by His grace. One of our unfortunate tendencies is to be dismayed by the world around us. We must be soberly aware of both the events and conditions in our world—sober, not drunk with excessive attention on 24/7 news feeds.

In our spiritual lives, too, we ought to be careful not to become consumed with lesser things and end up “majoring in all the minors.” We should be soberly grateful for signs and wonders such as the Shroud of Turin, the miraculous Tilma of Guadalupe, and the approved apparitions of our Lady. Special appreciation was given this past year to Our Lady of Fatima and to how presciently she set forth the struggles of our current age. Our Lady of Akita (Japan) also spoke very accurately to the current travails in the Church.

Here, too, sober gratefulness does not mean being drunk with an excessive preoccupation with the details of apparitions, miracles, and messages. Indeed, our Lady’s most basic message always boils down to this: Listen to my Son and do whatever He tells you. The basic meat and potatoes, the pure wine of the Christian, is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to look to Him, listen to Him, and judge everything by what He has taught us through His apostles in the New Testament and the teachings of the Church.

St. John of the Cross gives the following advice in a passage we read in this week’s Office of Readings:

Under the ancient law prophets and priests sought from God revelations and visions which indeed they needed, for faith had as yet no firm foundation and the gospel law had not yet been established. Their seeking and God’s responses were necessary. He spoke to them at one time through words and visions and revelations, at another in signs and symbols. But [these] were either partial glimpses of the whole or sure movements toward it.

But now that faith is rooted in Christ, and the law of the gospel has been proclaimed in this time of grace, there is no need to seek him in the former manner, nor for him so to respond. By giving us, as he did, his Son, his only Word, he has in that one Word said everything. There is no need for any further revelation.

This is the true meaning of Paul’s words to the Hebrews when he urged them to abandon their earlier ways of conversing with God, as laid down in the law of Moses, and set their eyes on Christ alone: In the past God spoke to our fathers through the prophets in various ways and manners; but now in our times, the last days, he has spoken to us in his Son. In effect, Paul is saying that God has spoken so completely through his own Word that he chooses to add nothing … he has now said everything in Christ.

Therefore, [to] anyone who wished to question God or to seek some new vision … God could then answer: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear him. In my Word I have already said everything. Fix your eyes on him alone for in him I have revealed all and in him you will find more than you could ever ask for or desire (St John of the Cross, the Ascent of Mount Carmel Lib 2, cap. 22).

This, then, is the substantial food of teaching and understanding: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, ascended and reigning; the Lord of history and of all that is.

This, too, is the truest message of our Lady: Listen to my Son if you seek blessings; if you fail to listen to Him, expect nothing but disaster—one you bring upon yourself.

During Advent this salutary reminder continues: Look to Christ. Let Him be born into your life. Listen to Him and allow Him to grow within you. Although He may come to you as an infant, He seeks to draw you to maturity. Be sober but not dismayed by the roaring and raging of this world. Christ has already conquered.

 

Some Advice from Mother Church, as Pictured in the Book of Ruth

Given our brief sampling of the Book of Ruth in daily Mass, perhaps a reflection is in order.

The detailed background to the text is too lengthy to go into here, but a few points will help. The story features three main characters: Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi. Boaz is clearly a picture (or “type”) of Christ. He was born and lives in Bethlehem; he ultimately acts as Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” by rescuing her from poverty and paying the price so as to cancel her debt. This, of course, is just what Christ does for us: He redeems us by His blood, canceling our poverty and debt. Ruth is a picture of the individual soul in need of Christ’s redemption and mercy. Naomi plays several roles in the book, but in the passage we will consider here she is a picture of the Church; she advises Ruth in what to do and draws her to Boaz, her redeemer.

Consider the following text and then let us see how Naomi symbolizes the Church.

Naomi said to Ruth, “Is not Boaz … a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered (Ruth 3:2-5).

The advice that Naomi gives to Ruth is very much in line with the instruction that our Mother the Church gives us. In our poverty and under the debt of our sin, we are exhorted by the Church to seek our “Boaz,” who is Christ. (I am indebted to Rev. Adrian Rogers for supplying the alliterative headings below. They are his; the rest of the text is mine).

Be Firmly Convinced – Naomi says, Is not Boaz … a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Ruth knows her poverty, her pain, and her debt; so does Naomi. She exhorts Ruth to seek Boaz because he is near and can help. Boaz is wealthy and thus has the power to save Ruth, to draw her out of her overwhelming poverty; he has the capacity to cancel Ruth’s debt. She is to seek him at the threshing floor, where he is preparing and providing the bread that will sustain her. She must go, firmly convinced that Boaz will love her and save her.

So, too, does the Church exhort us: Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Is. 55:6). Yes, there is one among us, a near kinsman, who is not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb 2:11); His name is Jesus. As God, He has the power to save us and to cancel our debt. Cast your cares on him, for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus is at the threshing floor of His Church, preparing a banquet for you in the sight of your foe (Psalm 23:5). The grain He is winnowing is the Eucharistic Bread of His own flesh. Yes, says the Church, come to Jesus, firmly convinced of His love and His power to save.

Be Freshly Cleansed – Next, Naomi simply says, “Wash.” In other words, the first step in finding help from Boaz is to be freshly cleansed.

So, too, does the Church draw us to Christ with the exhortation to wash. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Yes, the love of God will be poured forth on us and the cancellation of our debt will take place as we are cleansed of our sins.

Here are some other texts in which the Church—our Naomi, our Mother—exhorts us to be washed:

●  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8).
●  Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Cor 7:1).
●  Wash and make yourselves clean (Is 1:15).
●  Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the LORD (Is 52:11).
●  And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name (Acts 22:16).
●  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:22).

Be Fragrantly Consecrated – Naomi says to Ruth, “and perfume yourself.” In other words, make yourself nice to be near; Come with an aroma that is sweet and pure.

So, too, does the Church, our Naomi, exhort us to be fragrantly consecrated. The fragrance we are called to is that of a holy life, which we receive in baptism. Our life in God should be like a sweet incense or perfume. Consider some of the following texts that the Church gives us:

●  Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).
●  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Cor 2:15).
●  [The groom (Christ) speaks to his beloved:] You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain. Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices (Song 4:12).
●  Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps (Ex 30:7).

Be Fitly Clothed – Naomi says to Ruth, “and put on your best clothes.”

Our Mother the Church also advises us to be fitly clothed. For a Christian, this means to be adorned in the righteousness that comes to us in Christ by baptism. In the baptismal liturgy, the Church says to the newly baptized of the white garment that he or she wears, You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. Receive this baptismal garment, and bring it unstained to the Judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may have everlasting life.

In other words, be fitly clothed. Wear well the garment of righteousness that Christ died to give you. Scripture, too, speaks of the garment in which we are to be fitly clothed:

●  I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Is 61:10).
●  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7).

Be Fully Committed – Naomi continues, Then go down to the threshing floor, … until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down.

In other words, she is telling Ruth to place herself at the feet of her redeemer. This action of Ruth’s was a way of saying to Boaz, I put myself under your protection; I am fully committed to you.

The Church bids us to do the same: go to the threshing floor, to that place where the threshed and winnowed bread becomes the Eucharist.

Beneath or near every Catholic altar is the cross; on that cross are the uncovered feet of Jesus Christ.

The most sacred place on earth is at the feet of Jesus Christ. The Church, our Naomi, bids us to gather each Sunday at the altar, beneath the uncovered feet of Christ. The Church says to us just what Naomi said to Ruth: Place yourself at the feet of your Redeemer.

Be Faithfully Compliant – Naomi says to Ruth, confidently and succinctly, He will tell you what to do.

Here, too, the voice of the Church echoes what Mother Mary said long ago regarding her Son: Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5). How can our Naomi, the Church, say anything less or anything else? The Church has one message: Do whatever Christ, your redeemer, tells you.

So Naomi is a picture of the Church, Boaz a picture of Christ, and Ruth a picture of the soul in need of salvation.

How does the story end? I’m tempted to tell you to read it for yourself, but since Boaz is a picture of Christ you already know the ending. Ruth, firmly convinced, freshly cleansed, fragrantly consecrated, and fitly clothed, fully commits herself to Boaz and is at his feet. Boaz, who saw and loved Ruth before she ever saw or loved him (cf Ruth 2:5), arises and takes her as his bride, paying off all her debt and giving her a new life. Sound familiar? It is the story of salvation, if we but have eyes to see it.

Why and How Does Satan Roam the Earth?

One of the more puzzling aspects of demonology is the freedom that Satan and demons appear to have in roaming the earth, causing trouble. If the condemned are consigned to Hell for all eternity, why is Satan allowed to wander about outside of Hell? Isn’t he supposed to be suffering in Hell along with his minions and the other condemned? Further, it doesn’t seem that he is suffering one bit, but rather having a grand time wreaking havoc on the earth. How do we answer such questions?

Some texts in Scripture do speak of Satan and the fallen angels as being cast into Hell:

  • God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).
  • And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 1:6).
  • Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [likely a reference to the age of the Church and the going forth of the Gospel to all the nations] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. (Rev 20:1-3).

Yet other texts speak of the fallen angels (demons) as being cast down to the earth:

  • But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. And the great dragon was hurled down—the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:8-9).
  • The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it” (Job 1:7).

Thus, though consigned to Hell, it would seem that some or all of the demons have the ability to roam the earth as well. Demons, however, do not have bodies and thus do not “roam the earth” the way we do. Their “roaming” is more an indication of their capacity to influence than their ability to move from one place to another. Further, Satan and demons are described as being “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness.” This is likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or “roam” is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, just that it is not unbounded. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!

Near the end of the world, Scripture says that Satan will be wholly loosed and will come forth to deceive the nations for a while; after this brief period, he and the other fallen angels will be definitively cast into the lake of fire and their influence forever ended.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, … their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:7-10).

So for now, demons do have influence, but it is limited. At the end, their full fury will be unleashed, but this is only to bring about their final, complete defeat, after which they will be forever sequestered in the lake of fire.

Why God permits some demons the freedom to wander about the earth is mysterious. We know that God permits evil as a “necessary” condition of freedom for the rational creatures He has created. Angels and humans have free, rational souls; if our freedom is to mean anything, God must allow that some abuse it, even becoming sources of evil and temptation to others.

For us, this life amounts to a kind of test: God permits some degree of evil to flourish yet at the same time offers us the grace to overcome it. Further, there is the tradition implied in Scripture that for every angel that fell there were two who did not (Rev 12:4). Thus, we live not merely under the influence of demons, but also under the influence and care of angels.

On account of temptations and trials, our “yes” to God has greater dignity and merit than it would if we lived in a sin-free paradise.

As to Satan having “a good time” wreaking havoc, it would be too strong say that demons and Satan do not suffer at all. Demons, like human beings, suffer both victories and defeats; there are outcomes that delight them and those that disappoint and anger them.

Anyone who has ever attended an exorcism can attest that demons do suffer great deal, especially when the faithful pray and make pious use of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., holy water, relics, blessed medals, rosaries). Faith and love are deeply disturbing to demons.

We all do well in the current dispensation to remember St. John Vianney’s teaching that Satan is like a chained dog: He may bark loudly and froth menacingly, but he can only bite us if we get too close. Keep your distance!

While these videos are light-hearted, their message is serious:

The Biblical Roots of the Assumption of Mary

While the actual event of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is not recorded in the Scriptures, there is a biblical basis for the teaching that, considered as a whole, confirms Catholic teaching as both fitting and in keeping with biblical principles. Let’s ponder this feast in stages:

The Assumption Explained To be “assumed” means to be taken up by God bodily into Heaven. As far back as the Church can remember we have celebrated the fact that Mary was taken up into Heaven. We do not just acknowledge that her soul was taken to Heaven, as is the case with the rest of the faithful who are taken there (likely after purgation); rather, Mary was taken up, soul and body, after her sojourn on this earth was complete. There is no earthly tomb containing her body, neither are there relics of her body to be found among the Christian faithful. This is our ancient memory and what we celebrate today, Mary was taken up, body and soul, into Heaven.

The Assumption Exemplified – While Mary’s Assumption is not described in Scripture, several other “assumptions” are; thus the concept itself has a biblical basis. The actual event of the Assumption is not described in Scripture. However, there are “assumptions” recorded in the Scriptures and thus the concept is biblical.

EnochEnoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Gen. 5:24). By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

ElijahAnd as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven … And he was seen no more (2 Kings 2:11).

Moses – Some say that because the location of Moses’ grave is not known, he too was taken up into Heaven. We read in Monday’s first reading at daily Mass: He was buried in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is (Dt. 34:6). The text of course does not say that his body was taken up, and if it was, it occurred after death and burial. The Book of Jude hints at this: But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses … (Jude 1:9). Some further credibility is lent to the view of Moses being assumed by the fact that he appears with Elijah in the account of the Transfiguration. Some of the Church Fathers also held this opinion. Further, there is a Jewish work from the 6th century A.D. entitled The Assumption of Moses. In the end, though, the assumption of Moses is not officially held by the Church.

The Assumption Evidenced (John Sees Mary in Heaven) There is one other scriptural account that may provide evidence of Mary’s whereabouts. Today’s second reading, a passage from the Book of Revelation, features John’s description of his sighting of the ark of God:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads …. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter (Rev 11:19 – 12:5).

The woman in the passage is clearly Mary, since the child is obviously Jesus (although she also likely represents Israel and Mother Zion). And where is Mary seen? In Heaven. Some argue that this does not necessarily indicate that her body is in Heaven; they say that it might be referring only to her soul. However, the physical description of her seems rather strong to support such a view.

Others believe that because John mentions the ark and then continues on to describe Mary (the woman clothed with the son), that he is in fact still describing the ark. (I have written on this elsewhere: Mary: The Ark of the New Covenant.) If Mary is the ark described, then she is clearly in Heaven.

So, the Bible, while not specifically recording Mary’s Assumption, does present other assumptions, thus showing it to be a biblical concept. Further, Mary’s physical presence in Heaven seems at least hinted at, if not directly described, in the Book of Revelation.

The Church does not rely solely on Scripture. In this case, what we celebrate is most fundamentally taught to us by Sacred Tradition; the memory of Mary’s Assumption goes back as far as we can remember.

The Assumption Extended to Us The Feast of the Assumption is of theological interest and provides matter for biblical reflection, but eventually these questions are bound to arise: So what? How does what happened to Mary affect my life? What does it mean for me? The answers are bound up in nearly every Marian doctrine. Simply put, what happened to Mary will also happen to us in the end. As Mary bore Christ into the world, we bear Him in the Holy Communion we receive and in the witness of His indwelling presence in our life. As Mary is (and always was) sinless (immaculate), so too will we one day be sinless with God in Heaven. As Mary cared for Christ in His need, so do we care for Him in the poor, suffering, needy, and afflicted. Finally, as Mary was assumed, body and soul, into Heaven, so too will we be there one day, body and soul.

After our death and subsequent purification, our soul goes to Heaven; our body, though, lies in an earthly tomb. But one day, when the trumpet shall sound, our body will rise and be joined to our soul.

For we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” … Thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:51-57).

So our bodies shall rise; they shall be assumed and joined to our soul.

Improved model! An older woman once said to me, upon hearing that her body would rise, “Father if this old body has to rise, I’m hoping for an improved model!” Yes, indeed; me too! I want a full head of hair, a slim build, and knees that work! I want an upgrade from this old, general issue model to a luxury edition. In fact, God will do that. Scripture says,

  • He will take these lowly bodies of ours and transform them to be like his own glorified body (Phil 3:21).
  • But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body …. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power …. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (1 Cor 15:35-49).
  • I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another’s (Job 19:25-27).

The assumption of our bodies, prefigured by Christ in His own power and also in Mary by the gift of God, will one day be our gift too.

The following song is an African-American spiritual and describes that “great gettin’ up morning” when our bodies will rise. If we have been faithful, our bodies will rise to glory!

I’m gonna tell you about the coming of the judgement (Fare you well) There’s a better day a coming …. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well! Oh preacher fold your Bible, For the last soul’s converted …. Blow your trumpet Gabriel …. Lord, how loud shall I blow it? Blow it right calm and easy Do not alarm all my people …. Tell them to come to the judgement …. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well. Do you see them coffins bursting? Do you see them folks is rising? Do you see the world on fire? Do you see the stars a falling? Do you see that smoke and lightning? Do you hear the rumbling thunder? Oh Fare you well poor sinner. In that great gettin’ up morning fare you well.

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).
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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.

Fortitude, Patience, and Meekness: Three Virtues We Often Separate, but That Belong Together

fortitude
There is an important interplay and balance between the virtues that many modern minds set in opposition to one another. False dichotomies often prevail when the subtlety of virtues are lost or their meanings are grasped in simplistic or inaccurate ways.

Consider three virtues that are related and which enable and moderate one other: fortitude, patience, and meekness. To most people, these virtues seem more opposed than related. Today, fortitude conjures up an image of a fearless warrior in battle, or an intense prophet fearing nothing of the opinion of men. And meekness seems to be thought synonymous with weakness and conciliation. Finally, patience in modern parlance often means either not acting at all, or acting indecisively and without courage.

There are, of course, many problems with this thinking; the modern understanding of these words is quite different from their biblical or scholastic meaning. So part of our task is to recover a more accurate understanding of these words. But another aspect is to see how these virtues balance and moderate one another.

Fortitude Consider first that fortitude is the virtue that enables us to withstand even great difficulties that hinder us from attaining our true goal. A chief feature of fortitude is enduring difficulties and seeing an act or decision through to the end. Thus it is not merely being brave in the face of danger or of sallying forth into battle; it is also being steadfast in spite of obstacles and enduring without sadness or loss of faith.

As with any virtue, there are certain sins that may emerge (by excess or defect) in relation to fortitude. Timidity, pusillanimity, faintheartedness, and softness are defects of fortitude. Yet there are also excesses related to fortitude such as being foolhardy, presumptuous, overly ambitious, vainglorious, and headstrong (pertinacious).

And thus patience and meekness are aspects of fortitude, especially in helping to govern excesses related to fortitude. While the modern mind considers them to be in opposition to fortitude, they are actually integral parts of it, since they not only moderate fortitude but are ways of living and expressing it.

Patience This is perhaps the most frequent form under which fortitude is exercised in the face of the difficulties of life. St. Thomas Aquinas said that patience is attached to fortitude because it helps us to resist giving way to sadness, and to bear up under the difficulties of life with a certain equanimity or steadiness of soul. By it, we do not give way easily to emotional sadness or excessive anger. Thus patience is an act of fortitude, since it bids us to endure painful or difficult things without weakening in our faith or our commitment to the truth. With patience, we are steady in the face of the vexations and contradictions of life.

Sadly, many in our culture equate patience with weakness. But to be patient and to endure is a great strength.

Now the fact is that many troubles and contradictions last for a long time. Not all (or even most) things can be changed for the better simply or quickly. And so patience and suffering are often necessary acts of fortitude; they require great strength and brave endurance. Jesus says, In this world you shall have tribulation, but have courage, I have overcome the world (John 16:33). And St Paul adds, Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21).

So while fortitude will often summon us to face danger bravely, to proclaim the faith, and to do what is right; while it will rebuke cowardliness, faintheartedness, and softness; it will also enable us to endure difficulties without sadness, fear, depression, or excessive anger. In all these ways there is strength and courage to be found. While the modern mind does not often connect patience with fortitude, it is in fact one of its most common manifestations.

MeeknessEven more so the modern mind does not connect meekness to fortitude. The average person today does not even know the real definition of the word “meekness.” Most consider the word to be associated with being a pushover or a doormat. In this flawed sense, meekness is despised as weakness and fearfulness.

But meekness, in its traditional and theological sense, is anything but weakness. The meek are those who have authority over their anger, who can command and control its power, moderating and directing its energy to good rather than destructive ends.

Aristotle defined meekness as the proper middle ground between too much anger and not enough. Anger has an important place in the human psyche but it must be mastered and moderated, for it is unruly. The meek are those who have mastered their anger and know how to use its creative power to set things right.

In our culture, the “angry prophet” gets some credit as he denounces the powerful and vents his anger. But a prophet who is merely angry is not a true prophet. True prophets love God’s people; their anger results from the love of God, of His truth and of His people. Beware mistaking true zeal borne out of love from angry zeal, which sermonizes indiscriminately. The angry prophet preaches to get something off his chest and to vent his anger. The true prophet speaks out of zealous love and from a meekness that is able to have authority over his anger and zeal.

Fortitude without patience and meekness is like fire with nothing to contain it. Such a fire spreads wildly and destroys what it should illuminate and heat; it destroys what it should purify and transform.

Therefore patience is not opposed to fortitude but is itself an act of fortitude, since it courageously resists discouragement when the battle seems long and fierce. It enables fortitude to act over a long period, consistently and persistently, to attain an end that mere zeal would impatiently forsake in the absence of immediate results.

Similarly, meekness is also not opposed to fortitude but is also a form of it, by authoritatively governing the anger directed against injustice and error. The meek person is ultimately at peace deep inside, even while engaging in a struggle on the outside. This, of course, is essential for fortitude to reach its goal since reaching a goal (say, of establishing the truth, refuting error, or restoring justice and respect for life) is nearly impossible for a soul consumed by anger. Meekness therefore is the courage of fortitude along with the control that helps focus anger, zeal, and brave action.

Thus, as with so many things, we ought not to separate what God has joined: in this case fortitude, patience, and meekness. Scripture says, be angry but sin not (Eph 4:26). And for our virtues we might add: have the courage and zeal of fortitude, but be not foolhardy, presumptuous, or headstrong.

So, have the courage and zeal to enter the battle. Don’t be like so many today who are soft, cowardly, and indiscriminately conciliatory. But enter not with wild, ungoverned fortitude (which isn’t really true fortitude at all); enter with a fortitude that is patient and willing to endure through what may well be a long battle. Enter with a fortitude that is authoritatively mastered and stable through meekness.

By God’s grace, true fortitude will win the day.