In today’s first reading for Mass (Tuesday of the 23rd Week) St. Paul writes clearly of the danger of certain behaviors that many celebrate today. Others minimize them as of any importance:
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)
To say that someone who does not repent of such behaviors “will not inherit the Kingdom of God” is to say that they will go to hell. This is very clear and very strong. Willfully persisting in sins and “lifestyles” such as these leads to destruction.
Note, this warning extends to those who defiantly stubbornly refuse to cease such behaviors and even more to those who celebrate and encourage them. The warning is not to those who many fall in weakness but acknowledge their sin, confess it and seek to get free.
Sadly the celebration and glamorization of such things is widespread in our culture today. Certainly, fornication (pre-marital sex), adultery and homosexual acts (spoken of in this text as sodomy) are depicted and celebrated in our movies, music and in many other ways. These forms of illicit sexual union are depicted as normal and “no big deal.”
In reference to homosexual acts there is the further problem that lifestyles and identities centered on this behavior are celebrated in our culture as something in which one should have “pride.” And, how shocking it is hear certain bishops in certain countries, along with certain priests, indicate that the Church should change her teachings on homosexual acts. But St. Paul, and the Holy Spirit never got the memo and have set forth a clear teaching that homosexual acts, along with other illicit forms of sexual union such as fornication, adultery and prostitution, cannot be approved. The Church has no authority to overthrow what God has clearly taught at every stage of Scripture, from the early pages to the last pages.
In addition to these forms of illicit sexual union the text also consigns other forms of sinful behavior to hellfire: theft, greed, drunkenness, slanderers and robbers. And yet, many of these things are also depicted in movies which glamorize the mafia, violence, theft (e.g. Oceans 11), drunkenness (e.g. Animal House), and so forth. Greed to is often normalized and celebrated in shows such as the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous etc.”
St. Paul indicates that those who engage in or celebrate such sins and sinful drives as those who are deceived. They actually think that such matters are either fine, or no big deal. But this is not what Scripture says and, this passage is not the only place where such warnings are given. (Seeanother article I have written that collates other similar teaching).
These sins and drives are certainly human problems and many of them afflict most of us. Surely, as any confessor knows our human condition is weak and we must have common recourse to God’s mercy and seek his grace. There may well be less concern with the salvation of those acknowledge their sin and seek absolution. What is more worrisome are those who are defiant and refuse to admit that what they do in such matters is wrong. Dangerous indeed is the fate of those who celebrate, take pride in, or call no big deal what God calls sin. Indeed, our biggest sin is pride and it is really what leads us to every other sin.
Listen to God! Be humbled and at the same time privileged to hear his word and abide by it. Do not call good what God calls sin. We must humbly acknowledge our sins, even the popular and celebrated ones in culture. And having acknowledged them, we ought to repent, seek confession and strive to free of them by God’s grace.
Do not be deceived by false prophets who contradict God’s Word, even if they wear a roman collar or a miter. Let God’s word clearly reach you and humbly accept it and strive to live it. The Lord Jesus loves us but he expects to be taken seriously and for us to heed the full Word of God. What is more authoritative for you: the Word of God, or the customs of a world gone mad?
When it comes to our personal and final judgment, after we die, there are many caricatures and distortions that are possible. One is of Jesus as a stern and grouchy judge who is looking for reasons to keep us out of heaven. This is the “sinners in the hand of an angry God” distortion. Or perhaps the Lord is weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds in a kind of impersonal, numerical manner. This is the Pelagian distortion where salvation depends on our earning it.
But at the other end of the spectrum and far too common today is the universalist distortion which presumes that almost everyone is saved with little or no reference to one’s preferred spiritual or moral life. It is an overreaction to the stern and litigious “God” of the first two distortions because it trivializes and reduces the Lord to a kind of harmless hippie, tokin’ on a number and saying, “Who am I to judge?” and, “All are welcome.”
The truth, of course, is in what the Lord actually teaches, not in such distortions. God wants to save us (e.g. Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Tim 2:4). But the real question is what do we want? Sadly, as the Lord laments, many prefer the wide road to destruction, rather than the narrow road to heaven (cf Mat. 7:13).
There are two scriptures (among others) that illustrate this well.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned… (John 3:16-18a)
But, even here there comes a warning rooted in our response:
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.(John 3:18b)
And then comes an analysis by the Lord as to why some refuse, and in what judgment consists of:
And this is the judgment: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been accomplished in God.” (John 3:19-21)
Notice then, the judgment, the verdict, consists in whether or not one loves or hates the light. The Greek root word used here is ἀγαπάω (agapao), a word that indicates a strong love, a preferential love above other things. The Lord further teaches that those who love and prefer the darkness also hate the light. The Greek root word here isμισέω (miseo) – which means, to detest, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another. So, there is a love of the darkness and a hatred of the light due to the prideful aversion of not seeing their sins and errors exposed for what they really are: sinful, wrong and harmful.
Why then are some excluded from heaven? Is it NOT because a mean and hateful God seeks to keep them out. No, it is that they prefer the darkness. They are accustomed to darkness and prefer it. And thus, the Lord teaches that the judgment that excludes the unrepentant is due to the Lord recognizing their preference and consigning them to the outer dark they prefer (Mat 22:13).In reality, they cannot stand the bright light of heaven where the truth of God radiates, vividly and intensely, leaving no shadow. Indeed, the Lamb of the Light is the city of God (Rev 21:23)! The saddest truth of the damned is that they would be more miserable in heaven. For those who hate the truth see the truth as hateful and irksome, and those who prefer the darkness experience the light as harsh. We see this frequently today when secular people denounce their opponents of faith as hateful and phobic and want to exclude them from their world.
The second Scripture is from this last Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 12:32-48;19th Week, Cycle C) wherein the Lord paints a picture of two reactions to his coming. He begins by teaching the principle:
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Lk 12:33).
If our treasure is what we value most, is the world, then our heart is with the world. If our treasure is God and the things of heaven, then our heart is there. As most of us know, this is the great human drama. A very honest question that even Church-going Catholics must ask is, “Do I love God more than this world?” The honest answer for most is that we struggle to love God most of all. And, any look to the world around us today is that many, if not most, are obsessed with the things and priorities of the world and have marginalized God; some have marginalized Him completely. Their treasure and preoccupation is here, and so also is their heart. Far fewer are those who long for God and have their life directed to him and the things of heaven. And this is why we must constantly ask the Lord to fix and redirect our hearts.
Next, the Lord paints two responses, two groups, if you will, at our summons to death, and to the judgment seat.
Group One is described:
like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Group Two sees the Lord as
A thief who is coming, and they do not want their house be broken into.
Why does Group Two see the Lord as a thief? Because their treasure, and therefore their heart is this world and the things of this world. And when the Lord comes they will see him as a thief coming to take away all they think is theirs, but is not. They are not happy to see Him, they wail and grind their teeth, seeing hm as one who is putting an end to their frivolities. They do not want what he offers, (the Kingdom of Heaven), for they prefer the darkness of this world: its priorities, personalities, power and possessions.
But Group One the Lord describes as like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. He also describes them as having girded their loins, and lighted their lamps. To gird the loins is the ancient equivalent of “rolling up our sleeves.” It is to be ready for and doing the work that God has given us by setting our house in order, growing in holiness and eagerly anticipating being with the Lord in heaven. To “light our lamp” is to read the Word of God and be deeply immersed in God’s wisdom, his vision and priorities. It is to be imbued with the Kingdom values and to be longing for God’s justice and the Glory of heaven. This group has their treasure in heaven and, so also, their hearts. They look forward to the Lord’s coming with eager expectation and joyfully and actively prepare to meet him with longing in their hearts, repenting of their sins and setting their house in order. Hence, when the Lord comes they see him as Savior and Lord who will bring to completion in them whatever is undone (Phil 1:6) and lead them to the glory of heaven which they so desire. They do not see him as a thief, like Group One.
Thus, judgment consists in the Lord recognizing and ratifying that some joyfully come to the light, others are repulsed by it. So, ultimately, the judgment is on us. If someone prefers darkness, he gets the darkness he wants. If someone loves the light and comes to it by God’s grace, he enters the Kingdom of truth and Light he desires. God respects our freedom to choose, and at the judgment seat of Christ our preference and decision are recognized and ratified by the Lord Jesus. “Here is the judgement in question,” says the Lord, “that the Light has come into the world but some prefer the darkness.” In the end you get what you want.
So, one Lord, Savior and Judge comes to us (or we go to him) but the two groups experience him differently based on the disposition of their own hearts rooted in what they value and where their treasure is. God is not angry, though some are repulsed by him and regard him as a thief.
Some have said in recent years, something to the effect: “God does not judge us, we judge ourselves.” But this is only partially true. The Lord Jesus does in fact judge us (e.g.John 5:22), but his judgment is rooted in and recognizes what we ourselves have chosen and manifest by the way we live our lives. These two pictures of judgement make that point rather clearly.
This song from Camelot “playfully” ridicules goodness and prefers a wicked world:
At a past parish gathering there was a demonstration of different dance styles. One of our young adults, Lola, is a student of classical and ballroom dance. She, along with her dance partner, danced a modest tango in a most elegant way.
What was most fascinating to me was that Lola kept her eyes shut during the entire dance; I wondered how it was even possible to dance with closed eyes. So I asked her why she did that. Lola responded that it was easier for her to dance that way; it was less distracting. “I close my eyes so that I can better follow his lead.” She says that this is common in this form of dance.
All this made perfect sense to me the moment she said it. Indeed, all of us must learn this lesson in our walk, our dance, with God. Scripture says,
For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen (2 Cor 4:18).
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Heb 11:1).
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8).
We, too, must learn to dance with our eyes shut to the world’s disruptions and demands lest they distract us from the Lord’s lead. Jesus said, You must follow me (Jn 21:22). Whoever serves me must follow me (Jn 12:26). I know my sheep, and they follow me (Jn 10:27).
So easily do our eyes become mesmerized by the flickering and distracting lights of the world. Soon enough, in the dance of faith, we get out of synch with the Lord; we stumble or lose our way. Better to close our eyes through careful custody of them and listen to the Lord, feeling His subtle moves and promptings. Scripture says, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).
Beware; we are very visual creatures, but our eyes are easily deceived and too easily drawn to what is fast and flickering. Faith comes through quiet hearing, patient listening, and experience of the Lord’s subtle moves and promptings. Blinded by the world’s flickering lights we fall in the dance of God’s love.
For some years now there has been a constant onslaught of images, lights and colors that blind man. His interior dwelling is violated by the unhealthy, provocative images of pornography, bestial violence, and all sorts of worldly obscenities that assault purity of heart and infiltrate through the door of sight.
The faculty of sight, which ought to see and contemplate the essential things, is turned aside to what is artificial … In the cities that shine with a thousand lights, our eyes no longer find restful areas of darkness.
… Our eyes are forced to look at a sort of ongoing spectacle. The dictatorship of the image, which plunges our attention into a perpetual whirlpool, detests silence. Man feels obliged to see ever new realities that give him an appetite to own things; but his eyes are red, haggard, and sick …. He is riveted to ephemeral things, farther and farther away from what is essential.
Our eyes are sick, intoxicated, they can no longer close. The tyranny of the image, forces man to renounce the silence of the eyes. Humanity itself has returned to the sad prophecy of Isaiah, which was repeated by Jesus: “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand… For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing and their eyes they have closed to me, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.” (Matthew 13:13, 15).
[The Power of Silence pp. 43-46]
There is great wisdom in Cardinal Sarah’s Book. I concur with Michael O’Brien, who commented on the Cardinal’s book in this way: It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this profound, uniquely beautiful book. Yes, in an audibly and visually noisy world, we must regain our reverence for and experience of silence.
Lola is right. Regarding the dance, she said, “I close my eyes so that I can better follow his lead.”
For us who would seek the Lord and take up the dance of love, we too must say, “I close my eyes so that I can better follow his lead.” The “night” of the senses leads to an inner illumination and unity with the Lord, who says, “Follow me.”