What Was Moses’ Sin?

At Thursday’s daily Mass (Thursday of the 18th week of the year) we read of the sin that excluded Moses from leading the people to the Promised Land. While there are some mysterious elements to it, one thing seems clear: the grumbling of the people got on Moses’ nerves. Indeed, grumbling often affects more than just the one doing the complaining. Through it, infectious negativity can be set loose. Even if only a small number are grousing, it can still incite discontent, anger, and/or fear in others. Yes, the people nearly wore him out. At a particularly low moment, when the people were complaining about the food, Moses lamented to God,

Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,” to the land that you swore to give their fathers? … I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness (Numbers 11:11-12, 14-15).

Moses was so dispirited that he preferred to die rather than continue on in this way. In his weariness, he spoke rashly, and God excluded him from leading the people into the Promised Land:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this wretched place which has neither grain nor figs nor vines nor pomegranates? Here there is not even water to drink!” But Moses and Aaron went way from the assembly to the entrance of the meeting tent, where they fell prostrate.

Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:2-12).

Many have pondered the precise nature of Moses’ sin and why the punishment for it was so severe. A few different explanations have been posited:

    • Moses sinned by not following the Lord’s instruction. The Lord told Moses to take his staff in hand and bid the rock to bring forth water. He was told to speak to the rock, but instead he struck it—twice. The striking of the rock, while not specifically directed according to the passage in Numbers, does not seem particularly egregious; in fact, in another description of this event (see Exodus 17:6) God does tell Moses to strike it. The Fathers of the Church (e.g., St. Jerome) did not view this as sinful, even interpreting the striking of the rock twice as a sign of the two bars of the cross.
    • Moses exhibited sinful pride. Having assembled the people, Moses reviled them, saying, “Hear now, you rebels!” He then continued, perhaps pridefully, “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Neither Moses nor Aaron can bring forth water, however; only God can do that. Some of the Fathers of the Church interpreted this not as pride on Moses’ part but rather as an indication of the wavering of his faith.
    • Moses sinned by speaking harshly and rashly. Psalm 106 seems to favor this interpretation. They angered the Lord at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips (Psalm 106:32-33).

This third explanation leads us back to the heart of our meditation: grumbling causes harm to the ones who grumble and to others who hear it. Moses was worn out by their complaining; as Psalm 106 says, his spirit grew bitter. He spoke rashly and reviled the people; in a flash of anger, he may also have yielded to sinful pride.

Why God punished him so severely is somewhat mysterious. St. Basil the Great used it as an object lesson to us all: “If the just man is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” (Preface on the Judgment of God).

Whatever the reason for the drastic punishment, behold what grumbling does. It fuels discontent and bitterness. Be careful, fellow Christians; we can all succumb to the temptation to draw others into our anger, doubts, dissatisfaction, and fears. After all, misery loves company. Sharing concerns with friends is good and necessary, but this must be tempered by the knowledge that too much can harm them and us. A steady diet of grumbling is not good for anyone.

Grumbling, grousing, and complaining seem to be all around us. In our relative affluence, we often expect or even demand comfort. We are very particular about the way we want things to be, and often expect that it be made so without much if any effort on our part.

Moses was worn down by the constant grumbling of the people. Be cognizant of the toll that such behavior takes on others. Practice gratitude, an important antidote to the poison spread by grumbling.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Was Moses’ Sin?

Which Do You Prefer: Melons and Leeks, or the Bread of Heaven?

The first reading for daily Mass on Monday (18th week of the year) was taken from the Book of Numbers. It features the Israelites grumbling about the manna in the wilderness:

Would that we had meat for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna (Numbers 11:4-5).

While it is easy to be astonished at their insolence and ingratitude, the scene presented depicts very common human tendencies; it is not unique to these people once in the desert. Their complaints are too easily our own.

Let’s look at some of the issues raised and note that many of us today struggle in the same way.

I.  They prefer the abundance of food and creature comforts that come along with slavery in Egypt, to the freedom of children of God and the chance to journey to the Promised Land. Too easily, this is our struggle as well. Jesus points to the cross, but we prefer the pillow. Heaven is a nice thought, but it is in the future and the journey is a long one.

It is easy for us to prefer our own version of “melons and leeks.” Perhaps it is possessions, or power, or popularity. Never mind that the price we pay for them is a kind of bondage to the world and its demands. When the world grants its blessings, we become enslaved by the fact that we have too much to lose. We are willing to compromise our freedom, which Christ died to purchase for us, and enter into bondage to sin. We will buy into lies, commit any number of sins, or perhaps suppress the truth—all in an attempt to stay popular and well-connected. Why? Because we have become so desperate for the world’s blessings that we will compromise our integrity or hurt other people just to get those things we think we can’t live without.

We don’t like to call it bondage, though. Instead, we call it being “relevant,” “modern,” “tolerant,” and “compassionate.” Yes, as we descend into deeper darkness and greater bondage to sin and our passions, we are pressured to call it “enlightenment,” “choice,” and “freedom.” Although we use different terminology, it is still bondage for the many who are afraid to break free from it.

We are in bondage to Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. We prefer that to the freedom of the desert, with its difficult journey to a Promised Land (Heaven) that we have not yet fully seen. The pleasures of the world, its melons and leeks, are displayed to us in the present and available for immediate enjoyment.

The cry still goes up: Give us melons; give us leeks; give us cucumbers and fleshpots! Away with the desert. Away with the cross. Away with the Promised Land, if it exists at all. It is too far off and too hard to reach. Melons and leeks, please. Give us meat; we are tired of manna!

II. They are bored with the manna. While its exact composition is not known, it would seem that manna could be collected, kneaded like dough, and baked like bread. As such, it was a fairly plain substance, meant more to sustain than to be enjoyed.

Remembering the melons, leeks, and fleshpots of Egypt, they were bored with this plain manna. Never mind that it was miraculously provided every day by God in just the right quantity. Even miracles can seem boring after a while. The Lord may show us miracles today but too easily do we demand even more tomorrow.

We are also somewhat like children who prefer brownies and cupcakes to more wholesome foods. Indeed, the Israelites’ boredom with and even repulsion to the miracle food from Heaven does not sound so different from the complaint of many Catholics today that Mass is boring.

While it is certainly true that we can work to ensure that the liturgy reflects the glory it offers, it is also true that God has a fairly stable and consistent diet for us. He exhorts us to stay faithful to the manna: the wholesome food of prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and stable, faithful fellowship in union with the Church.

In our fickleness, many of us pursue the latest fads and movements. Many Catholics wonder why we can’t we be more like the mega-churches that have all the latest bells and whistles: a Starbucks, contemporary music, and a rock-star-like pastor delivering a sensitive, toned-down, multimedia sermon with many promises and few demands.

As an old spiritual says, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months, they’s all turned out!” Yes, some will leave the Catholic Church and other traditional forms that feature the more routine but stable and steady manner, in favor of the latest and greatest. They often find that within six months they’re bored again.

While the Church is always in need of reform, there is a lot to be said for the slow and steady pace as she journeys through the desert relying on the less glamorous but more stable and sensible food: the manna of the Eucharist, the Word of God, the Sacred Liturgy, prayer, and fellowship.

III. Who feeds you? Beyond these liturgical preferences of many for melons and leeks over manna, there is also a manifest preference for the food of this world. There is a tragic tendency for many Catholics—even regular church-goers—to get most of their food not from the Lord, Scripture, and the Church, but from the Egypt of this world.

Most dine regularly at the banquet table of popular entertainment, secular news media, and talk radio. They seem to eat this food quite uncritically! The manna is complained about, but the melons and leeks are praised without qualification.

While Christians cannot wholly avoid all contact with the world or eschew all its food, when do the melons and leeks ever come up for criticism? When do Christians finally look closely and say, “That is not the mind of God!” When do they ever conclude that this food is inferior to what God offers? When do parents finally walk into the living room, turn off the television, and tell their children that what they have just seen and heard is not the mind of God?

Tragically, this is rare. The food of this world is eaten in amounts far surpassing the consumption of the food of God. The melons and leeks of the world are praised, while the manna of God is put on trial for not being like the food of this world.

For a Christian, of course, this is backwards. The world should be on trial based on the Word of God. Instead, even for most Catholics, the Word of God and the teachings of the Church are put on trial by the standards of the world.

The question is this: who is it that feeds you? Is it the world or the Lord? What proportion of your food comes from the world and what from the Lord? Which is more influential in your daily life and your thinking: the world or the Lord? Who is really feeding you, informing you, and influencing you? Is it the melons and leeks of this world or is it the faithful, stable, even miraculous manna of the Lord and His Church?

These are some probing questions for all of us, drawn from an ancient wilderness. Tired of the manna, God’s people harmed themselves and others. It is easy to blame others for the mess we’re in today, but there are too many Catholics who prefer the melons and leeks of this world and have failed to summon others to the manna given by the Lord.

Have mercy on us, Lord our God. Give us a deep desire for the manna you offer. And having given it to us in abundance, help us to share it as well!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Which Do You Prefer: Melons and Leeks, or the Bread of Heaven?

Sin on Sale – 50 Percent Off – But Beware of the Side Effects

I usually like to keep things light on Friday evening when I post. And the video at the bottom of the page is something of a spoof on drug commercials, treating sin like a drug. Wait till you hear the side-effects disclaimer at the end. 🙂

I also thought today of doing a little post on the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance since I was talking to a parishioner today, who is suffering because his employer has not paid him for three weeks. The employer, a government agency says this is due to “administrative difficulties” in the bureaucracy where he works. He was angry (rightfully so) and getting desperate. I reminded him that withholding wages was a sin that cried to heaven and that God was angry with him. The rest of our conversation I’ll keep private.

With that painful situation in mind and how the negligent sin of one affects another, it occurs to me offer a few lists of sins, that may prove as helpful reminders to all of us in our struggle against it. Sometimes it helps to see sin in categories and to be able to “name the demons,” as a help to combat them. These are just a few helpful lists. There are others and I invite you to add to them. For the sake of brevity, I do not fully develop them all.

In keeping with the video below, consider these lists a kind of “Sin on Sale” a clearance sale if you will. The lists below can be purchased separately or together in packages. But do beware of the potential and likely side-effects!

The sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: (CCC 1867)

  1. Murder (Gn 4:10),
  2. Sodomy (Gn 17:20-21),
  3. Oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23),
  4. Defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4).

Seven Deadly Sins

  1. Pride
  2. Greed
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

Sins against the Holy Spirit:

  1. Despair,
  2. Presumption,
  3. Envy,
  4. Obstinacy in sin,
  5. Final impenitence,
  6. Deliberate resistance to the known truth.

Sins against faith: (CCC 2088-2089)

  1. Hesitating doubt – delaying the overcoming of doubts, difficulties, or objections due to indifference or laziness
  2. Voluntary doubt – disregarding of the truth or on-going resistance to overcoming doubt.
  3. Incredulity – willful refusal to assent to revealed truths of the faith.
  4. Heresy – the choosing and over-emphasizing of certain truths of the faith to the exclusion of others.
  5. Schism – Refusal of submission to the Pope or Catholic communion.
  6. Apostasy – Total repudiation of the Christian faith.

Sins against God’s love: (CCC 2094)

  1. Indifference
  2. Ingratitude
  3. Lukewarmness
  4. Sloth – sorrow or aversion at the good things offers to the soul
  5. Hatred of God – usually rooted in prideful notion that refuses to be second to God.

Sins against the Honor that is Due to God – (CCC 2111-2117)

  1. Superstition – the elevation of certain practices such that they are regarded as more important or powerful than prayer or trust in God.
  2. Idolatry – divinizing what is not God, false worship, holding creatures more precious than the one Creator who is God.
  3. Divination – undertaking practices meant to disclose the future, e.g. horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, recourse to mediums etc.
  4. Magic and spiritism – attempts to tame occult powers and place them at our service, or to have power over others in this way.

Sins of Irreligion: (CCC 2118-2128)

  1. Tempting God – Putting God to the test
  2. Sacrilege – stealing sacred things, profaning sacraments or liturgical actions, desecration or speaking irreverently of sacred persons, places or things that are blessed or consecrated to God.
  3. Simony – Buying or selling spiritual things, seeking to profit on them merely because they are blessed.
  4. Atheism – Denying the existence of God, to include the practical atheism of materialism and utopian notions that man can save himself.
  5. Agnosticism – an indifference toward God that refrains form formally denying his existence.

Sins against the name of God: (CCC 2142-2155)

  1. Promises – infidelity to promises or oaths made with God’s name
  2. Profanity – using God’s name in vain ways that do not respect its sacred character, (e.g. empty expressions like “Oh my God!”
  3. Blasphemy – to speak ill of God, trivialize, curse or ridicule him. By extension, to ridicule sacred things or the Saints.
  4. Swearing – calling God to witness in matters that are trivial. Also swearing a false oath, committing perjury when under oath.
  5. Cursing – using God’s name to curse or call down evil on others.

Sins against the Lord’s Day: (CCC 2185)

  1. Refusing the worship owed God
  2. Refusing the joy proper to the Lord’s day
  3. Refusing the relaxation of mind and body commanded on the Lord’s day.
  4. Refusing reasonable works of mercy proper to the Lord’s day.

Sins Against life: (CCC 2268-2283)

  1. Intentional homicide – all unjust killing
  2. Abortion
  3. Euthanasia
  4. Suicide
  5. Acting with reckless disregard for the safety and life of our self or others

Sins against Chastity: (CCC 2351-2357)

  1. Lust – willfully entertaining inordinate or disordered desires for sexual pleasure
  2. Masturbation
  3. Fornication
  4. Adultery
  5. Pornography
  6. Prostitution
  7. Rape
  8. Homosexual Activity

Sins of Injustice and theft: (CCC 2409ff)

  1. Theft
  2. Deliberately keeping lent things
  3. Damaging the goods of others without restitution
  4. Fraud
  5. Paying unjust wages
  6. Forcing up prices
  7. Refusing to pay debts
  8. Work poorly done
  9. Tax evasion
  10. Forgery
  11. Excessive and wasteful practices
  12. Hoarding
  13. Excessive and unnecessary exploitation of natural resources
  14. Refusing our legitimate obligations to the community
  15. Refusing our legitimate obligations to the poor

Just a few helpful lists drawn from the Catechism with reference also to the Catholic Source Book and other places.

So there it is a clearance sale on sin. Now here’s a word from our sponsor!


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Sin on Sale – 50 Percent Off – But Beware of the Side Effects

Learning the Lessons of Lazarus and the Rich Man

The well-known story of Lazarus and the rich man was read at Mass this morning (Thursday of the Second Week of Lent). On one level the message of the story seems plain enough: neglecting the poor is a damnable sin. However, there are other important teachings: about death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Those teachings are hidden in the details, but the subtlety is part of the story’s beauty. Let’s take a look at some of the teachings, beginning with the obvious one.

1. Neglect of the poor is a damnable sinThere was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.

The vision of Lazarus’ poverty is dramatic indeed. The unnamed rich man (dubbed Dives by some because it means “rich” in Latin) does not so much act in an evil way toward Lazarus as he does commit a sin of neglect and omission. He seems undisturbed by and removed from Lazarus’ suffering. This neglect, this omission, this insensitivity, lands him in Hell. The rich man died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes.

Care for the poor will be a central theme of our judgment, as is made clear in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31 ff), in which Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, the just from the unrighteous, based on whether they cared for the least of their brethren. To those who failed in this regard the Lord Jesus says, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41).

How best to care for the poor is a matter of some dispute, but that we must care for them is clear. Hence, the rich man who neglected Lazarus is now in Hell. This is a call to sobriety about the reality of judgment; we must consider whether our care for the poor is what it should be.

2. Although he is in torment, the rich man has not changed The rich man, in torment, raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.”

Notice that the rich man still fails to see Lazarus’ dignity. In effect, he still sees Lazarus as an errand boy. Though he has to look up to see him, the rich man still looks down on Lazarus. He does not ask Abraham to send Lazarus to him so that he can apologize for his sinful neglect and seek his forgiveness. Rather he merely wants Lazarus to serve him. Even though he is in torment, the rich man is unrepentant. Although doesn’t like where he is, he does not reconcile with Lazarus or even realize that he should do so. This rich man is hardened in his sin. While Lazarus was alive, the rich man never recognized his dignity, and he remains blind to it.

Over time, sin hardens our heart. The more we remain in sin, the harder our hearts become, and the less likely it is that we will ever change. Why is Hell eternal? Look at the rich man: He cannot and will not change; his decision, character, and demeanor are forever fixed.

There is an old litany that goes like this: Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. The mystery of the world to come is that our character is forever fixed. The Fathers of the Church described this mystery as being like clay on a potter’s wheel. As long as the clay is moist and on the wheel, the potter can shape and reshape it, but there comes a time when the clay form is placed in the kiln to be fired, fixing its shape forever. It is this way for us when we come before God, who judges us by fire (cf 1 Cor 3:12-15).

Fire will forever fix our character; this judgment through fire will either purify us or bring us condemnation. The fixed quality of the human person is illustrated in the rich man’s unchanged attitude.

3. The rich man does not ask to come to Heaven – It is very strange that the rich man does not ask that he might come to Heaven; rather, he asks that Lazarus be sent to Hell.

One of the saddest facts about the souls in Hell is that they would not be happy in Heaven anyway. After all, Heaven is about being with God. It is about justice, love of the poor, chastity, the heavenly liturgy, the celebration of the truth, the praise of God. God is at the center rather than us. The fact is, many show by the way that they live that they do not want many of these things. Why would someone who has disliked, even hated, these things will suddenly become enamored of them at the moment of death? Someone who ignores or disdains God and considers His faithful to be hypocrites would hardly be happy in Heaven.

The rich man demonstrates this by the fact that he does not ask to come to Heaven. He surely does not like where he is, but he shows no repentant desire for Heaven, either. The teaching, though subtle, seems clear enough: the souls in Hell have little interest in Heaven despite their dislike of Hell.

4. The Great Reversal – Abraham further indicates to the Rich Man and to us the “great reversal”: My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.

We spend a lot of time trying to be on top in this world. We want comfort, wealth, position, and power. The Lord warns here that we ought to beware the great reversal that is coming. Lazarus, who was poor, is now rich; and the rich man is now poor.

Jesus teaches this elsewhere: But many who are first will be last, and the last first (Mk 10:31). Mary remarked that He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones but lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty (Lk 1:51-53).

This is the great reversal. We so want to be rich and comfortable in this world, running from any suffering or setback. But the Lord warns of riches, How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mk 10:23). Yet still we want to be rich. He also says, Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27) Yet still we run from the cross and suffering. In the great reversal, many who are first in this world will be last in the world to come.

We cannot assert a direct correlation between success here and loss in the world to come, but neither should we ignore the teaching that striving to “make it” in the world and “be somebody” can be a dangerous path. And if we have amounted to something, we’d better humble ourselves through generosity to the poor and associating with the humble. The goal of worldly success is a dangerous one, for the great reversal is coming. Better to be found among the humble and the poor, or at least well-associated with them, than to be mighty and high. Yes, beware the great reversal!

5. Refusing the truth of Revelation is a damnable sin – The rich man does not repent to God, nor does he seek to be reconciled with Lazarus; but he does have some concerns for his brothers, for his family. We need not assume that the souls in Hell have no affections whatsoever. However, their affections are not for God and what He esteems. And so the rich man, still viewing Lazarus only as an errand boy, asks Abraham to dispatch Lazarus to his family carrying a warning. Perhaps a vision from the grave will convince them!

But Abraham indicates quite clearly that they have the clear witness of God through Moses and the prophets. In other words, they have the Scriptures, the very Word of God, to warn them. The rich man insists, “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

The last point is dripping with irony, considering the fact that Jesus would rise from the dead. Abraham says clearly that there are many sinners who are so hardened in their sin that no matter what the Scriptures say or what the Church solemnly teaches, they will never be convinced. This is so very true today; many remain hardened in their sins. No amount of Scripture or Church teaching will convince them that they are wrong. This is what happens to us if we remain in unrepented sin: Our hearts are hardened, our minds are closed, and our necks are stiffened. In the end, this story teaches that such hardness is damnable.

These are five basic teachings from a well known parable. We do well to heed these lessons!

This song, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” amounts to a wish that we will find our way to glory. Heeding the lessons of this parable is surely one way to find our rest in God.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Learning the Lessons of Lazarus and the Rich Man

On the Necessity of Prayer

blog1201To say that something is “necessary” is to declare that it is so essential that to be without it causes grave if not deadly harm. The word comes from Latin: ne– (not) + cedere (to withdraw, go away, yield). The root sense is that what is necessary is something from which we cannot stray, something from which there is no withdrawal, something we cannot evade. There is an expression in Latin, sine qua non, which literally means “without which not.” Its fuller meaning expresses something so essential that without it, other required things cannot proceed.

Do you see prayer in this way, as necessary, as essential? Do you view at something without which other things cannot happen? Sadly, it would seem that many do not. Prayer is something easily postponed. It’s something to be done if the mood is just right, or if we have an urgent need. It is seldom scheduled and easily skipped in favor of almost any other activity. We seem to be able find time for everything else, but prayer is easily set aside—I’m busy; I’m tired; I forgot; something came up.

These sorts of issues arise because most people don’t really view prayer as necessary.

But prayer is necessary. St. Augustine said, “God who made us without us, will not save us without us.” Jesus stands at the door and knocks (see Rev 3:21), but we must open the door of our heart for him to enter and feed us. Prayer is our way answering, of opening the door. Little else will happen until we open the door each day to Him.

This brief column is not intended as an exhaustive exposition on prayer. Rather, it is intended to remind us that we should see prayer as a necessity. To that end, here are just a few quick thoughts underscoring the essential nature of prayer.

  • Jesus said, This sort of demon can only be driven out by prayer (Mk 9:29). Those who do not pray and are not prayed over may suffer intractable demonic attacks.
  • Jesus said, Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt 26:41). Deadly temptations will certainly assail us if we do not pray. How can we expect to avoid serious temptations and Hell if we do not pray?
  • Jesus said that we must always pray and not lose heart (Lk 18:1). We must pray, we must not give way to discouragement.
  • James said, You have not because you ask not (James 4:3). How many gifts are lacking for us and others because we do not pray? Some gifts are only unlocked and sent forth by prayer.
  • John Chrysostom said, “As the body without the soul is dead, so the soul is dead without prayer” (Homily lxxvii). We are dead without prayer!
  • Augustine said, “God gives, without prayer, the first graces such as the vocation to faith and to repentance; but all other graces, and particularly the gift of perseverance, he gives only to those who ask them” (De Dono Persev, xvi). Notice that it is only to those who ask!
  • Thomas Aquinas said, “Now after baptism man needs to pray continually, in order to enter heaven: for though sins are remitted through baptism, there still remain the fomes (tinder) of sin assailing us from within, and the world and the devils assailing us from without. And therefore it is said pointedly (Luke 3:21) that ‘Jesus being baptized and praying, heaven was opened’: because, to wit, the faithful after baptism stand in need of prayer” (Summa Theologica, III, q. 39 art. 5).
  • St Teresa of Avila reasoned, “Ask and you shall receive … then he who does not ask will not receive.” Now that is some straightforward wisdom!
  • Alphonsus said, “He who prays is certainly saved; he who does not pray is certainly lost” (Considerations on the Eternal Maxims 13.2). Prayer is necessary! It is the sine qua non.

Pray, my brethren; pray. Pray for the gift of prayer. Pray for the desire to pray. Pray! Prayer is necessary; it is essential.

We do not always know everything we should pray for; we do not always remember to pray for everything. God knows our weakness. But failing to pray as a general norm is deadly to our life and our salvation.

Did I mention that we ought to pray?

Would Jesus Have Come If Adam Had Not Sinned? Why Did He Wait So Long Before Coming?

Reproduction of image by Georg Cornicelius (1888)(original destroyed)

Continuing our series of questions related to the Incarnation, we next ponder whether Jesus would have come at all had we not sinned in the garden. We also consider why He waited thousands of years before coming to our rescue.

Would Jesus have come if Adam had not sinned?

St. Thomas Aquinas (in his Summa Theologica) first states that there are different opinions on the matter. He also notes that God’s power is not limited and therefore God could have become incarnate even if sin had not existed. However, St. Thomas believes that if man had not sinned then the Son would not have become incarnate. As I often do, I’ve presented St. Thomas’ words in bold italics, while my commentary appears in plain red text.

For such things as spring from God’s will, and beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in the Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is made known to us. Hence, since everywhere in the Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, Incarnation would not have been (Summa Theologica, Part III, Question 1, Article 1).

While theological speculation may have its place, it is certain that the Incarnation was instituted by God first and foremost as a remedy for sin. While the Incarnation offers more than is required to remedy sin (e.g., an increase in human dignity (because God joined our family), God’s visitation, the opening of a heavenly (not merely earthly) paradise), Scripture presents remedy for sin as God’s primary motive. In remedying our sin, God shows the greatness of His mercy because He does not merely restore us but elevates us to a higher place. The least born into the Kingdom of God is greater that the exemplar of the Old Covenant, John the Baptist. Had we not sinned and had God merely wanted to elevate us, He could have done so in other ways. It seems to me that St. Thomas’ position is best suited to the evidence.

If the Incarnation is a remedy for sin, why did God wait so long to apply it?

St. Thomas provides a sensible answer that addresses aspects of the question we might not have considered. His answer is found in the Summa Theologica (part III, question 1, article 5). First, he addresses why the Incarnation did not happen before sin:

Since the work of Incarnation is principally ordained to the restoration of the human race by blotting out sin, it is manifest that it was not fitting for God to become incarnate at the beginning of the human race before sin. For medicine is given only to the sick. Hence our Lord Himself says (Matthew 9:12-13): “They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill … For I am not come to call the just, but sinners.”

Next, St. Thomas addresses why the Incarnation did not happen quickly, soon after Original Sin, rather than thousands of years later. He sets forth four reasons:

First, on account of the manner of man’s sin, which had come of pride; hence man was to be liberated in such a manner that he might be humbled and see how he stood in need of a deliverer. … For first of all God left man under the natural law, with the freedom of his will, in order that he might know his natural strength; and when he failed in it, he received the law; whereupon, by the fault, not of the law, but of his nature, the disease gained strength; so that having recognized his infirmity he might cry out for a physician, and beseech the aid of grace.

Quick solutions to problems do not always permit proper healing to take place. Most parents know that if they solve every problem a child has, important lessons may be lost. It is often beneficial to live with our questions for a while so that the answers are more appreciated and more effective.

Indeed, it took us humans quite a while to acknowledge the seriousness of our sin and pride. Shortly after Eden, the tower of Babel indicated that human pride was still a grave problem. Even when given the Law, a good thing, the flesh corrupted it, turning its perfunctory observance into an occasion for pride. The prophets then had to keep summoning Israel and Judah back to the Lord and away from prideful self-reliance. The Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom and the Babylonian Captivity only further illustrated the depths of our sin, so that this cry went up: “O Lord, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Is 64:1).

We had to be led gradually to recognize our profound need for a savior. Otherwise, even if the remedy were offered, too few might reach for it.

Secondly, on account of the order of furtherance in good, whereby we proceed from imperfection to perfection. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 15:46-47): “Yet that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual … The first man was of the earth, earthy; the second man from heaven, heavenly.”

There is a kind of theology of grace implicit in this answer. Grace builds on our nature, and it is our nature, physically and spiritually, to grow gradually. While sudden conversions and growth spurts have their place, the best and most typical growth is that which occurs steadily and in stages.

Thirdly, on account of the dignity of the incarnate Word, for on the words (Galatians 4:4), “But when the fullness of the time was come,” a gloss says: “The greater the judge who was coming, the more numerous was the band of heralds who ought to have preceded him.”

Here is underscored the dignity of the Son of God, that many should precede Him, announcing Him. There was also a need for us to be prepared to meet Him, so that we would not miss Him or refuse Him when He came. As Malachi says, See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction (Mal 4:5-6). Those who were prepared were able to abide the day of the Lord’s coming and heed His call.

Fourthly, lest the fervor of faith should cool by the length of time, for the charity of many will grow cold at the end of the world. Hence (Luke 18:8) it is written: “But yet the Son of Man, when He cometh, shall He find think you, faith on earth?”

This is an interesting aspect of the question that many might not consider; we typically ponder more what is good for us than what is good for succeeding generations. It is sadly true, though, that fervor, both collective and individual, can fade as a wait becomes lengthy. Therefore, St. Thomas suggests that God appointed a time for the Incarnation within human history such that the greatest possible number of people could be saved.

Love and Lament Alike – A Brief Reflection for All Who Care About the Church

As a priest and pastor I work very closely with others: clergy, religious, laity who work for the Church, and laity who volunteer. We all work for the Church because we love her and her people.

At times, though, there is disappointment, hurt, or even disillusionment. Perhaps these feelings result from issues in the wider Church: sexual abuse by clergy, the lack of courage and leadership from some bishops and priests, the scandal of dissent at the highest levels, questionable partnerships with anti-life and anti-Catholic organizations, the breakdown of discipline, and the strange severity of response to some infractions contrasted with the almost total laxity in the face of others. Perhaps they are the result of local problems found in any group of human beings: gossip, hurtful actions, hypocrisy, power struggles, misplaced priorities, favoritism, and injustice.

While these things happen everywhere, many hope that there will be fewer occurrences in the Church. Some who come to work for the Church begin by thinking, How wonderful it will be to work for the Church instead of out in the cutthroat business world! Maybe they envision a place where people pray together and support each other more. Perhaps they think the Church will be a place with less competition and strife.

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

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

For all these sorts of situations that engender irritation, disappointment, or disillusionment, I keep a little prayer card near my desk. Sometimes I read it for my own benefit and sometimes I share it with those who feel discouraged at what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the Church. It is a beautiful mediation; it recalls that although great love often generates the deep disappointment, in the end love still abides.

Consider, then, the following words. They are perhaps over-the-top in places, but love has its excesses. Take these words as a kind of elixir that speaks to the pain that love can cause.

How baffling you are, Oh Church,
and yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer,
and yet how much I owe you!
I would like to see you destroyed,
and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal
and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.
I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity,
more compromised, more false,
and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,
and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

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

Would I establish another?
I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,
for they are the same faults I carry in me.
And if I did establish another,
it would be my Church,
not the Church of Christ.

(from The God Who Comes, by Carlo Carretto)

Yes, where else would I go?

https://youtu.be/U55m_TzM7jw

The Stain of Sin, as Seen in an Advertisement

The video below, an ad for a carpet cleaning product, is masterfully done and has a surprise ending. In the ad, the horror caused by the carpet stain is palpable.

I’d like to relate this mere carpet stain to the growing and ominous stain that represents evil.

This stain (macula in Latin) should cause us revulsion and horror similar to that which we have for things that go bump in the night.

Sin ought to spook us! The horror of the stain of sin can lead us to the Lord, who alone can make us immacula (without stain).

“Enjoy” this video!

https://youtu.be/80juKtg1TSk