Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
The story of Genesis from the Fall in Chapter 3 to the discovery of a silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag in Chapter 44 is one of brother against brother to the point of theft and murder. Abram and Lot’s herdsmen quarrel over grazing (Gn. 13:7), there is rampaging war between the four kings and the five kings in chapter 14, and then the contesting becomes intra-family as the story turns to Abraham and his descendants.
Isaac, who lost his relationship with Ishmael because of Sarai’s jealousy, is the father of sons who contest in the womb even before they are born. This sets the stage for deception and dissension at the end of Isaac’s life, when Jacob obtains a blessing meant for Esau (Gn. 27:29).
The pattern of fraternal enmity and violence continued in the sons of Jacob, as Joseph’s dream drives his brothers to consider killing him before choosing the kinder path of slavery when they sell him to travelers on their way to Egypt. Years later, Joseph’s dream does come true, and through a series of deceptions on his part, all his brothers are together with him without knowing it is Joseph to whom they bow (Gn. 42:26). Joseph lays a trap for his brothers, so that the youngest, Benjamin, will be found with stolen goods in his possession.
The cycle of wickedness, deception, and killing stops when Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin (Gn. 44:33) in an act of filial devotion to Jacob and his special love for Benjamin. Judah’s act of sacrificial love heals the fracture and is the first step in establishing the nation of Israel. It is also a foretaste of the sacrifice by Jesus to heal the fracture of the relationship between Man and God.
In Judah’s offer, we see that God has a plan for salvation, for us, and he works it out over time inviting us to co-operate with his will and his plan. In Judah’s act, we are reminded that what looks like weakness is often really strength, that sacrifice is noble and good, that brothers are each others’ keepers, and that communio is what we were made for. In our daily lives, we can follow the path that Judah followed, and in so doing we can break the cycle of pain and division. If we love our Heavenly Father, as Judah loved his earthly father, we will be strong enough to display our weakness and overcome the strength of the world with strength beyond the world’s comprehension.
I have said more than once that it is possible to condense the entire message of the Bible into two words: “love” and “obey.” The Jewish people regularly recited the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:5): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” And Jesus connects love with obedience in the Olivet discourse when he tells Phillip and the others, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (Jn. 14:15) He says later to Judas (not Iscariot), “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (Jn. 14:23). Love is a state as much as it is will or emotion. Obedience is the means to that state. Somewhat related is a maxim often heard from oldtimers at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous: “bring the feet and the head will follow.” Sobriety is a state; to not drink and to go to meetings is the means to that state.
After the Fall, man does not see clearly. St. Paul acknowledges this difficulty when he says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully.” (1 Cor. 13:12) Not able to discern perfectly, we need the helps that are the laws of the Church just as the Hebrews needed the Law of Moses. Truth and love are a Person, the one who declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn. 14:6) If we practice obedience to what we accept despite lacking full comprehension, we will find ourselves living the Shema and seeing less dimly. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, “Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord.”
Frank Sheed opened his magisterial masterpiece Theology and Sanity with a beautiful summary of the importance of seeing clearly in order to act in accordance with what ultimately is our heart’s desire: to be in communion with our Creator and Redeemer:
The soul has two faculties and they should be clearly distinguished. There is the will: its work is to love — and so to choose, to decide, to act. There is the intellect: its work is to know, to understand, to see: to see what? to see what’s there. (p. 3)
The law reminds us what is reality. It is there speaking for reality even when we are dominated by our subjectivity and cannot find the positive motivations for which we were made. Using Sheed’s terminology, our will is impaired. Despite an impaired will, burdened by sin, we still have a path back to relationship with our Lord. Obedience is seeing – truly seeing – and then submitting to the truth we see. It does not depend on our subjective condition for its efficacy. This is the great gift of obedience: it does not depend on our current state of holiness to move us toward our intended state of holiness. We can obey even when we don’t want to. We can obey even when we are not “feeling it.” Repeated obedience will inevitably reform our will and lead us to know and love the Lord.
Since the late 18th century, and particularly from German Lutheran universities in the 19th century, Bible scholars have developed advanced techniques of analysis to apply to the canonical writings of Jews and Christians. Historical critical analysis, in which we examine the historical context of the human writer and his contemporary human audience, has helped modern readers more fully understand the world in which the people of Israel and the people of Hellenic Palestine lived. Literary criticism, in which the words chosen by the author are drawn out to demonstrate distinct themes and perspectives, helps make sense of Biblical writings that otherwise might be repetitive or contradictory. Source criticism helps the reader better understand how the various books in the Bible are connected. Form criticism, which analyzes structures for communication, illuminates the ways in which the Biblical teachings are communicated. And redaction criticism considers how the oral stories were transferred to written media.
These powerful tools help the serious student of the Bible see the connections that stretch through the centuries as well as the phenomena that were limited to particular groups or periods in time. A thorough understanding of the post-Alexandrian Hellenization of the land of Judah, for example, helps the reader understand the motivation of the Maccabeans as he reads in the books of the Maccabees about religious uprising and revolt. Likewise, redaction analysis spurs the reader to notice and then consider why quotations of the Old Testament in the new Testament are not necessarily direct and contiguous but sometimes separate verses patched together.
As powerful as these tools are, the carry with them a risk that must be acknowledged and considered by the Catholic student of scripture. These tools are the tools of the empiricist; they examine evidence and draw inferential conclusions about books the Catholic Church holds to be the Word of God. These tools are those of the rationalist; they apply reason – and only reason – to books the Church teaches contain some truths attainable only through revelation. The new methods introduced by the Germans are a blessed counterpoint to believers who read the scripture literally with no appreciation for the other ways the words can be examined. The authentic Catholic is not limited to this either/or choice. Believing in a transcendent God who is being itself rather than a being, who by his will alone binds up all existence including time and space, the authentic Christian student of scripture will use the new methods while not losing sight of the deeper realities and the a priori truths of Church doctrine.
We are not limited to evidentiary approaches, we are not limited to what we can reason to by our own efforts. We claim a God who is truth, who is beyond our vocabulary and beyond definition. Our scriptural study and our preaching on scripture should use the full range of analytical tools to communicate the Good News to the faithful. We must speak to the head and the heart, reading the scripture as family history, literature, poetry, and a call to our deepest interior. Assisted by knowledge of the times, the form, the words and the edits, we read and preach scripture to meet a Person.
From the Vatican Insider we hear news of more scientific testing of the Shroud of Turin. The cloth seems to be roughly 2,000 years old, based on the average of a battery of testing approaches.
New scientific experiments carried out at the University of Padua have apparently confirmed that the Shroud Turin can be dated back to the 1st century AD. This makes its compatible with the tradition which claims that the cloth with the image of the crucified man imprinted on it is the very one Jesus’ body was wrapped in when he was taken off the cross. The news will be published in a book by Giulio Fanti, professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua’s Engineering Faculty, and journalist Saverio Gaeta, out tomorrow. “Il Mistero della Sindone” (The Mystery of the Shroud) is edited by Rizzoli (240 pp, 18 Euro).
Source: Vatican Insider
The Shroud of Turin speaks to us or repels us as we embrace or reject the Catholic orthodoxy of an eternal God incarnate by the Holy Spirit. If Jesus Christ was just a man, then the Shroud of Turin could be the burial cloth of any number of 1st century Jews beaten and crucified by the Roman governors of Palestine. It is the claim that Jesus is also God that makes the Shroud such a challenge.
According to the Christian scriptures, nothing was found in the tomb but the burial cloth. If that is a true account, as orthodox Christians believe it to be, then it is entirely possible that the followers of Jesus Christ would preserve such a holy relic. We don’t doubt the authenticity of the scrolls found at Qumran 2,000 years after the death of Jesus, but we quickly discount as excessive credulity the discovery and testing of the burial cloth of the Christ risen from the dead.
The Christian claim is doubly mysterious: God is transcendent and immanent. He is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, creator of heaven and earth, of space and time. Yet he is present in the person of Jesus Christ so intimately that even before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs he knew us. He gives us the freedom to be remote from him, but he constantly seeks an intimate relationship with us. He is beyond history yet operates within history. The Shroud of Turin is a stark reminder of that mysterious claim: fully Man and fully God, who died and on the third day was resurrected.
I just noticed another nice little connection between the Fall in Genesis 3 and the Passion of Christ. Verse 22 of Chapter 3 in the book of Genesis reads (from the NIV):
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
From the prayers and intercessions for Morning Prayer in the Breviary today, there is this:
By your decree, the cross has become the tree of life:
give its fruit to all who are reborn in baptism.
Thus, in his mysterious Providence, God does not allow us to reach out and take from the tree of life but gives it to us through his own loving sacrifice.
Our relationship with God must be one of obedient humility rather than prideful presumption, and we have only one thing to do:
Accept the Gift
The story of the Fall of Man told in Genesis 3 relates to us how sin entered the world and the effects of sin. A simple tale, it also explained to the people of the time it was written why they had a visceral aversion to snakes and why there were nomadic peoples and settled peoples rather than just one cultural construct.
The essential decision freely made by Adam and Eve is to believe and obey Yahweh, the Father of Truth, or to believe and follow the Father of Lies, the tempter that is presented as a serpent in this chapter. Having made their choice, they discover the consequences. The most immediate consequence is the shame they feel upon being “like the gods who know what is good and bad [Gn. 3:5].” They see their nakedness and make loincloths to cover themselves [Gn. 3:7]. Where they had blissfully lived in the presence of the Lord (prefiguring Jesus’ instruction to approach God as children), Adam and Eve suddenly see the consequences of disobeying their Father, and they hide from him [Gn. 3:8]. Having recognized their sin, they seek to evade accountability. Adam’s response to Yahweh’s question in v. 12 is the gold standard for the correct assessment of blame: the woman – or Yahweh himself because he gave Adam the woman – is the responsible party in the transgression, but it certainly not Adam.
God responds with perfect respect for our free will and immediately intimates that he will repair the breach between Man and God. He enforces discipline (“I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing” [Gn. 3:16], and “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat” [Gn. 3:19]) but he interposes a promise in v. 15 when he tells the serpent that the woman’s offspring “will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” God shows in the first act of justice after the Fall that, in Him, “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” [Ps. 85:10]. Banished from the idyll of Eden, we lost the full sight promised by the serpent, and we would from that point forward see (in the words of St. Paul) “dimly, as through a mirror.”
The story of Cain and Abel points that the full effect of sin is death, and we see that the first recorded death was a murder borne out of resentment against accepting divine Providence [Gn. 4:5-8]. Unable to see clearly the mind of God, Cain gives in to the temptation to let resentment grow. A temptation becomes a sin of the mind (malice) and finally a sin of commission (murder). Again, God responds with true justice: Cain is banished to live a nomadic life but his life is protected by God [Gn. 4:15]. God chooses life over death, and he gives the family of Man another opportunity to return to him when he gives Eve another son, Seth.
OT: Is 50:4-7
Epistle: Phil 2:6-11
Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:47
Today we read through the Passion of our Lord, according to Mark’s account this year. During this Holy Week, we are brought face to face with the cost of discipleship, and we start with the Palm Sunday readings. We read before the Processional hymn of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem amid the Hosannas and the waving palm fronds. Ten minutes later we are hearing him taken away by the high priest’s soldiers, and his Passion is under way.
The reading from Isaiah and from Paul’s letter to the Church in Phillipi describe the characteristics of the Lamb of God, the one who was sacrificed for our sins. It is inescapably obedience. Isaiah prophetically describes Jesus: a man with “a well-trained tongue,” given to him for a purpose: “that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” In our own less powerful lives, we are given skills for a purpose — for God’s purpose. Isaiah intimates our free will, our freedom to say ‘no’ to God, as he says “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” God speaks to us. He leaves it to us whether to listen. Elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” [Mk. 4:9] We choose to rebel or not. We choose to walk with God or turn back. Our act of obedience to God’s will is our act of Love, since God is love. Co-operating with God’s will, we can offer ourselves in love to everyone, even our enemies. Isaiah says the good man gave his back to those who beat him. Perhaps more jarring to our modern ears is the claim he “did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Our popular culture seems to take more offense at “disrespecting” than at something truly awful. The obedient servant is strengthened to the point of being able to endure our time’s greatest sufferings.
Paul reminds us that Jesus was able to endure his time’s greatest suffering: death on a cross. Somehow his deep obedience became a source of strength. Like the prophesy by Isaiah, Jesus did not retaliate when he was beaten. He too offered his back. His obedience was the perfect sacrifice. His obedience glorified him such that at his name every knee shall bend. Because of his submission to the Father’s will, every tongue shall confess Jesus as Lord of all.
In my own broken life, perhaps I can seek to be just a little more obedient to my heavenly Father’s will. It is a form of slight suffering for me when I demur from my usual stance of equating myself with God. But is is possible, and I can receive, as Isaiah and Jesus did, strength through my suffering because my suffering suddenly has a purpose. My little Passion (the root word is suffering) can in a small way be a holy sacrifice. It is my choice. I do not have to turn back from Him.
In the Passion we see the people of this world mock Jesus and his weakness. They taunt him, daring him to call on his angels or come down from the Cross under his own power. They think they know what power is, but they are blind to the ultimate power. Jesus preaches through his actions, or more precisely his inactions, on the Cross. He is meek, he is weak, he endures indignity for obeying his heavenly father. He commends himself into his Father’s hands.
May God give me the strength to be weak and in so doing glorify Him.
OT: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Epistle: Hebrews 5:5-10
Gospel: John 12:20-33
The new covenant promised by God through the prophet Jeremiah is coming through Jesus Christ. Jeremiah says it will be a new covenant, not like the old. It seems from what he says that the new feature is our inability to break it. God’s commitment to us in the new covenant is unconditional. He loves us so much he sends his only begotten son to offer a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
We hear in the letter to the Hebrews that the Son’s suffering perfected the offering. The sacrifice was perfect because redemption came through one who obeyed even to acceptance of a terrible death he did not deserve. Truly, there is nothing we can do to work our way into Heaven. Only God’s love is sufficient to the task. His love is so great it overwhelms our ingrained patterns of sin and disobedience. His obedience redeems our disobedience.
In his discourse during the Last Supper, Jesus said that he knew what was coming. He opened briefly to us the mystery of how his two natures exist in one Person. In his human nature, Jesus was like us in every way except sin. In his divine nature, Jesus is eternal and omniscient. On the night before he suffered, Jesus admitted he was troubled. What man would not be troubled as he anticipated the events of Good Friday? Beyond the awful physical abuse — the loss of sleep traveling from official to official all night, the beating, the crown of thorns, the carrying of the cross, nails in his arms and feet — there was the injustice of it all. He was the one Good Man there, yet he would be beaten and killed as one having committed the worst crimes. Luke tells us his agony was so great he sweat blood, that the physical stress was so great capillaries broke and mixed his blood with his sweat. The flow of blood and water from his side mark both the beginning and the end of his Passion.
Jesus admits his suffering, but he knows he must do it. He says, “but it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” Only his divine nature could know what that really meant. In his divine wisdom, Jesus knew the Fall of Man, God’s repeated embrace of his people, and our repeated rejection of his embrace. Jeremiah was one of those holy messengers sent from God to save his people, to tell his people to turn around and walk toward him. The people of God rejected Jeremiah, as they rejected all God’s messengers. Finally, the world rejected God through the Crucifixion. But God never rejected the people of God. He retained his claim on us, extending his claim to anyone who turned to him. Only a remnant remained at the foot of the Cross, but his sacrifice was so perfect it made sense and opened the eyes of disciples as they walked the road to Emmaus, and it opened their mouths as they preached at Pentecost. It opens our hearts even today.
Jesus illuminates in his discourse the root of the problem as he explains the power of his anticipated sacrifice: “the ruler of this world will be driven out.” Satan rules this world. He whispered lies to us — Adam stands for every man that came after him — and we chose to believe those lies. Death and destruction entered into the world as a result of our choice. God’s messengers came to call us back, but Satan rules this world. The pull of evil was too strong, and God’s people refused to listen.
In Jesus’ offering of himself — both priest and sacrifice, as Hebrews tells us — was the perfect oblation. Satan, the father of lies, could not see Truth because he had lived in lies so long his eyes were darkened beyond all hope. He had lived in despair so long, he could not see Love. Love offered itself and the offering was sufficient: Love triumphed over Death. Communion with God triumphed over alienation from God.
In his image of the necessity of the wheat to die so as to yield a rich harvest, Jesus is calling us to do more than just open our hearts. He is calling us to see the nobility, the mercy, and the righteousness of the sacrificial life. When I deny myself the desires of this world for the glory of God, I participate in some small way in the Way of the Cross. Perhaps he will not ask me to give up my life as he gave up his: brutalized by a bureaucratic machine marching to the Devil’s drumbeat. Perhaps he will only ask me to give up some small pleasure I pursue when nobody is looking, the kind of thing that I might be tempted to tell myself brings no harm to anyone. The acts of self denial we take on in Lent are training opportunities for greater acts of self denial the rest of our lives. (When we use the term “self-denial” we are talking about saying “no” the self-centered impulses and designs that otherwise run amok in our lives.)
We already redeemed. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross paid the debt incurred by Adam’s sin. We have an opportunity, an invitation, to be sanctified, to become more holy. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross — his obedience and self-denial — is a model for our sanctification. As we grow stronger in our faith, we will be able to be more obedient, and we will be able to deny our selfish impulses, just a little bit more than we could. Our sanctification will increase the Kingdom of God just a little bit, and Love will triumph over Death just a little bit more through our sanctification. We will participate in a small way in the Way of the Cross and the Easter joy that follows Good Friday.
OT: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23
Epistle: Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: John 3:14-21
This Sunday is a joyful reminder that Lent leads to Easter, that purgation leads to purity. Forty days can seem such a long time, especially if one is diligent in the extra practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that are part of a traditional Lenten observance. Our merciful Lord reminds us we are on the road to Glory in the readings of Laetare Sunday. He also reminds us that ultimately He is the road to Glory. All things come through Christ, who willingly gave himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of the people.
We hear two stories of disobedience by God’s people, followed by God’s allowing the consequences of disobedience to run amok, and then followed by God’s providing a means to overcome the consequences and return to a right relationship with him.
The Old Testament reading from 2 Chronicles is a summary of the kingdom of Judah’s wandering from a right relationship with God. Judah was one of the two tribes that were not lost after the Israelite kingdom split upon Solomon’s death. Already the ten tribes were under the thumb of a foreign overlord, but Judah remained faithful and independent. But the people of Judah were weak, as all people are weak. They listened to the lies of the father of this world, so they could not hear the truth of the prophets of their heavenly father. Not only did they not listen, they turned on those holy messengers of truth and love. God allowed the consequences of this disobedience and faithlessness to follow their course: foreign powers overran Judah and the people were dispersed. Their community and distinctive life of worship was destroyed by their sins, and they lost their way. But God never abandons us, even when we abandon him. God used a pagan, Cyrus of Persia, to save the Israelites and return them to their city and their house of worship.
Jesus alludes to another story from the Old Testament when he says, “Just as as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Nicodemus, the man with whom Jesus is talking, was a scholar and immediately knew the reference to chapter 21 of the Book of Numbers. The people of God, having been saved from a life of slavery in Egypt, were impatient with God. They wanted the good life on Earth and they wanted it immediately. They resented the food he sent them daily, and they were tired of following and obeying Moses. These, of course, were the same people who had seen Moses transfigured after his direct encounter with God; they knew he was a holy man, consecrated by God to lead them to the Promised Land. But they gave in to temptation and refused to continue the arduous journey. So God allowed the consequences of their choice to run amok. Serpents were among them, biting the people. Many Israelites died. When they turned back to God by turning back to Moses and acknowledging their sin, God had Moses fashion a bronze snake on a pole. It says in Numbers 21:8 “The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” God used a bronze snake (the kind of pagan image he seemed to have proscribed in the Ten Commandments) to effect his saving way. He reminds us we cannot understand his thoughts, for they are much higher than ours.
Jesus offers himself on the Cross to be lifted up like the bronze snake of Moses. Like the wayward Israelites, we can look upon him on the Cross with eyes of faith. Through faith in the crucified Christ, we are healed, just as the sin and sickness of the Israelites was healed when they looked with faith upon the bronze snake lifted up on the pole. God used a pagan punishment, Roman crucifixion, as the central tool in his ultimate gift of himself to us. His thoughts are much higher than ours; we can approach him with faith and obedience even if we cannot understand everything about him.
Our God is Love. We cower and try to avoid the light because we know we are not worthy of his love. But God does not condemn us; we condemn ourselves. God created us in his image; he loves us more deeply than we can fathom. He loves all of us, for he knows as we often do not that the minor distinctions over which we obsess are lost in the chasm between us and Him.
Only one thing can bridge that chasm. Jesus Christ, Son of God. Begotten, not made. Born of the Virgin Mary, a woman. True God and True Man. St. John the Divine sums it up for us: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
The Church in its wisdom has given us a Sunday halfway through our penitential season to remind us we got in this mess through our own efforts but we will get out of it because of his loving efforts. Like the Israelites with Moses or the people of Judah dispersed at the Babylonian empire, we can acknowledge our sinful choices, turn back toward him, look upon him crucified, and accept the gift of redemption and salvation. It is truly a day to be joyful.
OT: Exodus 20:1-17 (Ten Commandments)
Epistle: 1 Cor. 1:22-25 (Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and madness to the pagans)
Gospel: John 2:13-25 (Jesus vs. the temple merchants and his statement to the Jews)
The desire for a “humanized” and “human-sized” deity is strong. We are told of Moses’ reading the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, but let us be reminded that they sent him alone to the holy place at the top of the mountain because they were afraid of direct intimacy with the Deity. We find it hard to live out the simple commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” By “heart,” do we mean “the deepest, most interior part,” as the people at the time of the writing of the Scriptures meant it? Or do we mean it as “a powerful wave of uplifting emotion,” which is the meaning of the current age? By “mind,” do we mean that deepest part of our thinking, where knowledge and wisdom come together and recitation and cleverness are left behind? Or do we mean rhetorical techniques perfected to permit us to push people in arguments to the position we prefer? What of “strength?” Am I as a Christian somehow to have the burst of strength that comes easily to men and the sustained strength that is so often characteristic of women? Is this what God meant in Genesis 1:27-28 about “male and female, in his image he created them?” It is more than any man can do.
That is all just too much work for most of us. Ten rules read to us by the holy man is much more attractive. Moses was a man, just like me. The Ten Commandments are rules we can follow, and they are guardrails that offer protection from wandering too far along the path to Perdition. Some of the rules are dramatic and compliance is easily verified: do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie. Others are more subtle rules for our minds as well as our actions: do not let thoughts dwell on others’ property and perhaps lead you to violate the injunction against theft, and do not let your thoughts dwell on others’ spouses and perhaps lead you to adultery.
We might say that the first of the Ten Commandments given to us by God through Moses is so difficult we should not be surprised that man was unable to keep the covenant of the Old Testament. “Have no other gods except me.” Every aspect of this fallen world conspires to promote polytheism: it is the rare person in human history who has not worshipped, if only for a moment or two, the gods of celebrity or authority or safety. The effort to “leave one’s mark on the world” is service to the god of being known by strangers to the glory of oneself. The effort to “change the world” by activists of every persuasion almost always devolves into the pursuit of power, albeit for allegedly noble ends. How do we reconcile our constant efforts to accumulate enough resources to ensure our long-term comfort with the commandment to rely totally on God?
Our human understanding is overwhelmed by the Cross. Surely we have some sympathy for Judas Iscariot, a zealot looking for the messiah promised in the scriptures. Judas had fixed in his mind what the messiah would do, and it involved political action even to include violence if necessary to effect the noble outcome. This weakling, Jesus, needed to be removed from the scene so a stronger and more combative messiah could emerge. The ends justified the means, the omlette could not be made without breaking a few eggs. But the Cross is the unavoidable path if we are to obey the Ten Commandments with all our heart, our mind, our soul and our strength. We may not be lifted up on a wooden cross and killed by that terrible method, but we will only live in Eternity if we are willing to die to self. The message of the world is to glorify self, and so the Cross is insanity to the world.
Our commitment to following God can mean we engage in behavior that confounds the sensibility of the world. We are temples of the Lord, and we must be willing to drive from our temples the comfortable accomodations we have made to the world’s priorities. Are we renewing and purifying our practices, or have we become comfortable in our religious routines? The path after Baptism is one of sanctification, or growth in holiness. God will not give me more than I can handle, but he knows better than I what I can handle. We are told the road is narrow but straight. I think most serious Christians would add that it slopes upward. We do not coast our way to Heaven.
This time of ascetic reflection we call Lent prepares us to be more attuned to the reality of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Like a a careened ship, we are turned on our sides so the debris to which we have become attached can be scraped away. Like a ship from which the barnacles have all been removed, we will move toward our destination more smoothly and with more efficiency. Our intended destination is reunion with the risen Christ. We cannot be an Easter People, however, if we refuse to participate in the Lenten preparation.
Turn me on my side, O Lord, and scrape away!