Trademarks of the True Messiah – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

In Sunday’s Gospel the Lord firmly sets before us the need for the cross, not as an end in itself, but as the way to glory. Let’s consider the Gospel in three stages.

I.  The Pattern that is Announced – The text says, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

The Lord announces not only the Cross but also the Resurrection. In effect, He announces the pattern of the Christian life, which we have come to call the “Paschal Mystery.”

The expression “Paschal Mystery” refers to the suffering, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus as a whole. The word “Paschal” is related to the Hebrew word for Passover, “Pesach.” Just as the shed blood of a lamb saved the people from the angel of death and signaled their deliverance, so does Jesus’ death, his Blood, save us from death and deliver us from slavery to sin.

So He is announcing a pattern: the Cross leads somewhere; it accomplishes something. It is not an end in itself; it has a purpose; it is part of a pattern.

St. Paul articulates the pattern of the Paschal Mystery in this way: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Cor 4:10). It is like an upward spiral in which the cross brings blessings we enjoy. We often circle back to the crosses God permits, but then there come even greater blessings and higher capacities. Cross, growth, cross, growth—so the pattern continues until we reach the end, dying with Christ so as to live with Him.

This is the pattern of our life. We are dying to our old self, to this world, to our sins; but rising to new life, rising to the Kingdom of God and becoming victorious over sin. The cross brings life; it is a prelude to growth. We die in order to live more richly. An old spiritual says of this repeated pattern that “every round goes higher, higher.”

Do you see the pattern that Jesus announces? Neither the Lord not the Church announces the cross so as to burden us. No, the cross is part of a pattern that, if accepted with faith, brings blessing, new life, and greater strength.

II.  The Prevention that is Attempted – The text says, Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Notice Peter’s exact wording: “No such thing shall ever happen to you.” We ought to ask, “What such thing?” Peter, in precluding that Jesus suffer and die, also implicitly blocks the rising and glorification of Jesus, for Christ cannot rise unless He dies.

Peter, of course, is not thinking this all the way through—but neither do we when we seek to avoid crosses for ourselves or to hinder others improperly from accepting their crosses. The cross brings glory and growth; we run the risk of depriving ourselves and others of these if we rush to eliminate all the demands and difficulties of life. We may do this through enabling behaviors or perhaps by spoiling our children.

We also hinder our own growth by refusing to accept the crosses of self-discipline, hard work, obedience, suffering, consequences, limits, and resistance of temptation. In rejecting the cross we also reject its fruits.

All of this serves to explain Jesus’ severe reaction to Peter’s words. He even goes so far as to call Peter, “Satan,” for it pertains to Satan to pretend to befriend us in protesting our crosses while really just wanting to thwart our blessings. Peter may not know what he is doing, but Satan does—he seeks to become an obstacle to Jesus’ work.

Jesus’ severe reaction is rooted in protecting our blessings.

III. The Prescription that is Awarding – Jesus goes on to teach further on the wisdom of and the need for the cross. The text says, Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

The heart of Jesus’ teaching here is the deep paradox that in order to find our life we must lose it. More specifically, in order to gain Heaven, we must die to this world. That dying is a process more so than just an event at the end of our physical life here. Although we cling to life in this world, it is really not life at all. It is a mere spark compared to the fire of love that God offers; it is a single note compared to the great symphony God directs.

Jesus instructs us to be willing to exchange this tiny, dying life for that which is true life. The Lord says that whatever small blessings come from clinging to this life and this world are really no benefit at all.

Of course what the world’s cheap trinkets offer is immediate gratification and evasion of the cross. We may feel relief for a moment, but our growth is stunted and those cheap little trinkets slip through our fingers. We gain the world (cheap little trinket that it is) but lose our souls. It’s a total loss, or to use a modern expression, it’s a FAIL!

Jesus’ final words, however, remind us that the choice is ours. The day will come when He will respond to our choice. Either we accept true life and win or we choose the passing, dying life of this world and lose.

This song speaks of life as a kind of spiraling climb between cross and glory. As the spiritual says, “Every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the Cross.”

 

Paradoxes of Evangelization

There are mysterious aspects to the growth or decline of the Church. Jesus said,

This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how (Mark 4:26-29).

Thus, the Lord teaches that much of the growth in the Kingdom of God is mysterious; it works “we know not how.”

Perhaps with this and other things in mind, St. Paul further developed the paradox in today’s first reading (Friday of the 21st Week of the Year) of God’s ways of reaching the world. What we tend to think is good “marketing” does not seem to impress God. He delivers to the world a message that is not popular, but because it is of Him it wins the day. Consider this passage:

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:20ff).

Consider some of the paradoxical and countercultural ways in which St. Paul says that must we engage the world:

  • The cross, not comfort – Many people today say that we should speak more tenderly. We should be more positive, less demanding, and more merciful. We should strive to be known more for what we are for than what we are against. It is said that honey attracts more than vinegar, but clearly St. Paul and the Holy Spirit don’t agree, for we are exhorted to preach “Christ crucified” even though this is an absurdity to the world. Let us not forget to manifest our joy, but even in doing so let us not neglect to embrace the paradox of the cross.
  • Fools more so than formally educated – Studying and learning have their place. Learn your faith well and be prepared to defend it with patience and love. Parishes need to do a better job of teaching the faith to those who would spread it. However, we must not equate learning with godly wisdom. As St. Paul notes, the early Church did not draw foremost from the educated classes, but rather from the humble, the poor, and the uneducated. They won the ancient world not merely by learning, but also by joy, faith, courageous martyrdom, and simple virtue.
  • Apologetics but not apologies – Notice that St. Paul accepts that many in the world call us foolish. Apologetics has its place (so that we can reach the reasonable of this world by explaining and setting forth the reasonableness of faith), but it involves explaining and defending the faith, not making apologies for it. It is easy to make the mistake of trying to make the faith agreeable to others, watering down truths that challenge or forever delaying talking about the “hard” truths. Jesus started with the hard things. “Repent!” was His opening word. Whatever methods we choose, we cannot through endless prudence forever postpone proclaiming the whole counsel of God, in season and out of season. Some will scoff and say, “This is a hard saying who can endure it?” (John 6:60) A true apologist has not necessarily lost when someone scoffs; he has only lost when he fails to proclaim the whole faith. Scoffers may reconsider; those who reject the truth may repent; but truth unspoken, distorted, or watered down is a total victory for Satan.
  • Pure more than palatable – “Marketing 101” principles would say that in order to sell our “product” we should try to make it palatable to our target audience. However, faith that is made too palatable is almost certainly not the faith at all. True evangelization does not fit easily into the tidy categories of marketers and sociologists, who are often horrified at how “off-message” the faith can seem to the modern world. Even in the Church, many people demand that the faith be conformed to what the majority of people think. Remember, God has been at this just a little longer than marketers and publicity folks. His paradoxes have a way of winning the day when the ephemeral and fickle views of the world fade away.

Should we continue to do everything we can to spread the faith through various media, dynamic training opportunities, and trying to get the widest possible exposure? Sure! Today, at least, this is how we prepare the soil, sow the seed, and help to cultivate.

However, in humility and serenity, we must also accept that there are mysteries to what works and what does not. Growth sometimes comes out of nowhere for no discernible reason. God often surprises us with sudden growth spurts that are hard to explain. Meanwhile, we must work as best as we can and do what seems wisest.

How about a little humility that allows paradoxical things to work (paradoxical because they do not conform to the rules of the world)? How about a little humility that is willing to listen to God? We are always asking God to bless what we do. Why not (at least occasionally) find out what God is already blessing and do that?

Paradox and mystery may well have a lot more to do with effective evangelization than all our grand plans and glossy marketing campaigns.

Lord, we seek a miraculous catch of fish in our day and we are open to surprises. Keep us faithful to your teachings, which are “out of season” today. Help us to cast your nets faithfully and to be willing, like Peter, to cast them where you say even if it does not agree with our own instincts. And, like Peter, may we experience the astonishing miracle of a great catch that will make us fall to our knees in wonder and humility at the mystery and paradox of your work. Have mercy on us, Lord, and work—often in spite of us—to enrich your kingdom in ways “we know not how.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Paradoxes of Freedom (part 1 of 3): True Freedom Is Found in Obedience

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.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Paradoxes of Freedom (part 1 of 3): True Freedom Is Found in Obedience

Less is More, as Seen in a Commercial

There is an old saying that sometimes “less is more.” In other words, at some point excess becomes burdensome and pointless.

In the commercial below, the upgrades to mowing equipment begin as helpful, but end as silly and even dangerous. Meanwhile, the poor wife struggles with an “upgraded” watering can that is downright burdensome.

One of the secrets of life is learning to enjoy things in moderation. A glass of wine brings joy; a full bottle brings inebriation and a hangover. A nice dinner is satisfying, but too much food brings obesity and even disease.

What in your life has become excessive? Where have you come to realize that less is in fact more?

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Less is More, as Seen in a Commercial

Paradoxes of Christmas

j-and-m-and-jIn the ancient Church and up until rather recently, one genuflected at the two references to the Incarnation during the Mass: during the Creed and in the Last Gospel (John 1). Why was this done? It was explained to me that the mystery of the Incarnation is so deep, one can only fall in silent reverence.

There are many paradoxes and seeming impossibilities in the Incarnation. They cannot be fully solved, so they claim our reverence. We genuflected in the past, and today we bow at the mention of the Incarnation in the Creed, for it is a deep mystery.

As we continue to celebrate Christmas, I would like to list some of the paradoxes of Christmas. I want to say as little about them as possible—just enough to make the paradox clear. This paucity of words (not common with me) is in reverence for the mystery and also to invite your reflection.

  1. The Infinite One becomes an infant.
  2. An antiphon for the Christmas season says, How can we find words to praise your dignity O Virgin Mary, for he whom the very heavens cannot contain, you carried in your womb.
  3. An old Latin carol (in Dulci Jublio) says, Alpha et O, Matris in Gremio (Alpha and Omega, sitting in Mommy’s lap).
  4. He who looks down on all creation looks up to see His Mother. The most high looks up from a cradle. Of this moment, even the pagans wrote with longing and tenderness: Incipe, parve puer, risu cognoscere matrem … ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores, occidet et serpens, et fallax herba veneni occidet (Begin, little boy, to recognize the face of your mother with a smile … for you, your own cradle will bear delightful flowers; the serpent will die and the plant that hides its venom) – Virgil 4th Eclogue.
  5. He who indwells all creation is born in homelessness, no place to dwell.
  6. He, to whom all things in Heaven and on earth belong, is born in poverty and neediness.
  7. He is the mighty Word through whom all things were made. He is the very utterance of God, the Voice which summons all creation into existence. Of this Word, this Utterance, this Voice, Scripture says, The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, upon many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is full of majesty … The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness … The voice of the LORD makes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare; and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps. 29) Yet this voice is now heard as the cooing and crying of an infant.
  8. His infant hand squeezes His mother’s finger. From that infant hand, the universe tumbled into existence. That same hand is steering the stars in their courses.
  9. He who holds all creation together in Himself (Col 1:17) is now held by His Mother.
  10. He who is the Bread of Life is born in Bethlehem (House of Bread) and lies in a feeding trough (manger).
  11. He who is our sustainer and our food is now hungry and fed by His Mother.
  12. Angels and Archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and Seraphim thronged the air! But only his mother in her maiden bliss, could worship the beloved with a kiss (Christina Rosetti “In the Bleak Midwinter”).

Each of these is meant to be a meditation on the great mystery of the Incarnation. Please chime in with your additions to this list!

A paradox is something that defies intuition or challenges the common way of thinking. It unsettles us or startles us into thinking more deeply. The word paradox comes from the Greek para (beside, off to the side, or above) and dokein (to think or to seem). Hence a paradox is something “off to the side” of the usual way of seeing or thinking about things. If you’re going to relate to God you’re going to deal with a lot of paradox, because God’s ways and His thinking often defy those of humans. God is not irrational but He often acts in ways that do not conform to worldly expectations.

This Christmas, consider these paradoxes and learn from them. Remember, though, that mysteries are to be lived more so than solved. Reverence is a more proper response to mystery than is excessive curiosity. More is learned in silence than by many words.

Forsaking Everything and Receiving More Besides

Church of Holy Comforter St. Cyprian. Photo credit: C. Pope

In the Gospel for Sunday’s Mass, we read this funny story about Peter that speaks to the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it more abundantly:

Peter began to say to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:  houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:27-31).

Every priest knows well the paradox of these verses. Each of us gave up being the father of children and yet thousands call us Father. We gave up the bride of our dreams and yet have the most beautiful and perfect bride: the Church. She is indeed beautiful but has a long “honey do” list! As for buildings and land? We don’t have our own homes on a parcel of land, but we oversee multimillion-dollar buildings, often occupying an entire city block or a country acre.

Talk about receiving back a hundredfold! I don’t have a house of my own with a great room, but you ought to see the “great room” where I live! It seats 800 people and has a 35-foot ceiling of arches with a painted firmament with gold leaf stars; it has marble floors and a frescoed clerestory! You ought to see the windows, all works of stained-glass art. Yes, it is a glorious space, and at the center, the Lord of the universe is tabernacled under a glorious baldachino!

Every priest knows the richness of his life in terms of buildings and land, but above all in people—in family. Such is the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it even more richly.

I think that God has a certain sense of humor about this as well and must have Himself a good laugh as we begin to realize the paradox.

I remember once, back when I was considering the priesthood, it occurred to me with some relief that at least I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my job or keeping a roof over my family’s head. Hah! God must have had a good laugh over those thoughts. I had a chuckle myself as I signed checks a few years ago totaling more than $300,000 just to replace the roof on our school. Somehow, we survived just fine financially; next come the boilers and other big-ticket items. I just can’t avoid a smirk and an eye roll when I think back on my once-naïve notion of the financial ease of being a priest. What was I thinking? Becoming a priest added at least two zeros to my financial world and all the headaches (what Jesus calls persecutions) that come with such large numbers.

But God has been good to me, so very good. In losing my own personal family I gained God’s family. In setting aside something lesser, I obtained something greater, far greater than I could ever have imagined. I forsook the rich blessing of marriage and family only to be astonished at the even larger family that would be mine.

Somehow for all of us the paradox rings true. When we lose our life to this world in some way, God has even greater things waiting. My mother set aside the more lucrative salary of a public-school teacher in order to teach in a Catholic school, but by her own testimony she got back more than she ever gave up. I know another woman who left a six-figure salary to be a stay-at-home mother. The beautiful and holy title of Mom meant so much more to her than her former executive title.

In losing our life we find it. Yes, while the full impact of this will only be seen in Heaven, many of us experience this truth even in this life. St. Paul expressed the rich tapestry of the paradox best of all. Looking to his own life and the lives of those who accompanied him, he could only marvel as he said,

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything (2 Cor 6:8-10).

Yes, all is lost, but all is gained. Some is gained even right here in this world, as a kind of foretaste, but one day all will be gained beyond measure. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:39). Yes, Lord, and we will find it in abundance! Thank you, Lord.

What is your story of losing your life to this world only to find it more abundantly in the Lord?

Marriage and family are wonderful gifts. That some are called to forsake them for the kingdom points to the depth of the sacrifice, but the return is priceless.

Paradoxes of Evangelization

There are certain paradoxes and mysteries that underlie the growth of the Kingdom. While we should strive to implement “best practices” (e.g., good liturgy, dynamic preaching, Eucharistic adoration, a welcoming parish atmosphere), even when many of these things are in place, growth may still not occur; in fact, sometimes number may decline. Conversely, in some parishes where the liturgy is perfunctory, preaching is weak, and devotions are hurried, there may be significant growth. I know parishes that should be growing but are not; I also know ones that are growing almost in spite of themselves.

There are mysterious aspects to the growth or decline of the Church. Jesus said,

This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how (Mark 4:26-29).

Thus, the Lord teaches that much of the growth in the Kingdom of God is mysterious; it works “we know not how.”

Only one thing is clear: we must sow the seed. That’s “job one.” Indeed, we must work ardently to “scatter seed.” By extension, we should do our best to prepare the soil well and after sowing the seed, cultivate. However, there much that is mysterious and lies beyond our knowledge or control.

Perhaps with this and other things in mind, St. Paul further developed the paradox of God’s ways of reaching the world. What we tend to think is good “marketing” does not seem to impress God. He delivers to the world a message that is not popular, but because it is of Him it wins the day. Consider this passage:

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:20ff).

Consider some of the paradoxical and countercultural ways in which St. Paul says that must we engage the world:

  • The cross, not comfort – Many people today say that we should speak more tenderly. We should be more positive, less demanding, and more merciful. We should strive to be known more for what we are for than what we are against. It is said that honey attracts more than vinegar, but clearly St. Paul and the Holy Spirit don’t agree, for we are exhorted to preach “Christ crucified” even though this is an absurdity to the world. Let us not forget to manifest our joy, but even in doing so let us not neglect to embrace the paradox of the cross.
  • Fools more so than formally educated – Studying and learning have their place. Learn your faith well and be prepared to defend it with patience and love. Parishes need to do a better job of teaching the faith to those who would spread it. However, we must not equate learning with godly wisdom. As St. Paul notes, the early Church did not draw foremost from the educated classes, but rather from the humble, the poor, and the uneducated. They won the ancient world not merely by learning, but also by joy, faith, courageous martyrdom, and simple virtue.
  • Apologetics but not apologies – Notice that St. Paul accepts that many in the world call us foolish. Apologetics has its place (so that we can reach the reasonable of this world by explaining and setting forth the reasonableness of faith), but it involves explaining and defending the faith, not making apologies for it. It is easy to make the mistake of trying to make the faith agreeable to others, watering down truths that challenge or forever delaying talking about the “hard” truths. Jesus started with the hard things. “Repent!” was His opening word. Whatever methods we choose, we cannot through endless prudence forever postpone proclaiming the whole counsel of God, in season and out of season. Some will scoff and say, “This is a hard saying who can endure it?” (John 6:60) A true apologist has not necessarily lost when someone scoffs; he has only lost when he fails to proclaim the whole faith. Scoffers may reconsider; those who reject the truth may repent; but truth unspoken, distorted, or watered down is a total victory for Satan.
  • Pure more than palatable – “Marketing 101” principles would say that in order to sell our “product” we should try to make it palatable to our target audience. However, faith that is made too palatable is almost certainly not the faith at all. True evangelization does not fit easily into the tidy categories of marketers and sociologists, who are often horrified at how “off-message” the faith can seem to the modern world. Even in the Church, many people demand that the faith be conformed to what the majority of people think. Remember, God has been at this just a little longer than marketers and publicity folks. His paradoxes have a way of winning the day when the ephemeral and fickle views of the world fade away.

Should we continue to do everything we can to spread the faith through various media, dynamic training opportunities, and trying to get the widest possible exposure? Sure! Today, at least, this is how we prepare the soil, sow the seed, and help to cultivate.

However, in humility and serenity, we must also accept that there are mysteries to what works and what does not. Growth sometimes comes out of nowhere for no discernible reason. God often surprises us with sudden growth spurts that are hard to explain. Meanwhile, we must work as best as we can and do what seems wisest.

How about a little humility that allows paradoxical things to work (paradoxical because they do not conform to the rules of the world)? How about a little humility that is willing to listen to God? We are always asking God to bless what we do. Why not (at least occasionally) find out what God is already blessing and do that?

Paradox and mystery may well have a lot more to do with effective evangelization than all our grand plans and glossy marketing campaigns.

Lord, we seek a miraculous catch of fish in our day and we are open to surprises. Keep us faithful to your teachings, which are “out of season” today. Help us to cast your nets faithfully and to be willing, like Peter, to cast them where you say even if it does not agree with our own instincts. And, like Peter, may we experience the astonishing miracle of a great catch that will make us fall to our knees in wonder and humility at the mystery and paradox of your work. Have mercy on us, Lord, and work—often in spite of us—to enrich your kingdom in ways “we know not how.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In this clip from the very unusual television series “The Young Pope,” the attractiveness of hiddenness and mystery is developed. It is way over the top, but the point remains that evangelization should inculcate mystery and draw forth the curiosity to which Jesus said, “Come and see.”

https://youtu.be/WmFcUUIVIeQ

Less is More, as Seen in a Commercial

There is an old saying that sometimes “less is more.” In other words, at some point excess becomes burdensome and pointless.

In the commercial below, the upgrades to mowing equipment begin as helpful, but end as silly and even dangerous. Meanwhile, the poor wife struggles with an “upgraded” watering can that is downright burdensome.

One of the secrets of life is learning to enjoy things in moderation. A glass of wine brings joy; a full bottle brings inebriation and a hangover. A nice dinner is satisfying, but too much food brings obesity and even disease.

What in your life has become excessive? Where have you come to realize that less is in fact more?